Saturday, February 28, 2009

Christians: Not Different but Very Different!

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . .

124 Q. What does the third request mean?

A. "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means,

Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good.

Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.

2) Scripture

Ephesians 5:15-20, 22, 25, 6:1, 4-5, 9: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. . . . 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. . . . 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ . . . Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

1 Thessalonians 5: 12-13: We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

1 Peter 2:13-15: Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Comment:

The catechism’s explanation of this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer itself. We have two petitions in the catechism's prayer, each beginning with a cry to the Lord for help.

The second petition is a cry for help concerning our daily work. It is easy for us to separate the will of God from our daily lives. Sometimes when we think of doing God’s will we think of some sort of super spiritual task like caring for the poor in some far off land.
[1] But God’s will is closer to home than that! Our Father would have us learn to be faithful in the office and vocation he has already given us.

I am always amazed at the rather down to earth advice John the Baptist gave to those who wanted to do God’s will in keeping with their new found repentance. He did not require hard things of them, but called on them to be faithful in the office and work the Lord had already given them:

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:11-14).
Be generous. Be faithful and honest. Be content and not greedy. It is remarkably simple advice about God’s will for our lives!

What difference does being a Christian make in our every day lives? In one sense, our lives remain the same. We are citizens of a country. We are parents or children, husbands or wives, employers or employees. But in each of our callings the Lordship and grace of Jesus Christ is to transform our outlook and actions:

Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. Children obey your parents in the Lord. Parents raise your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Employees serve your employers as you would Christ. Employers treat your employees with gentleness as those who know the Lord. Respect and recognize authority in the home, church, or state, for the Lord's sake.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that our heavenly Father’s will be done on earth. When we carry out that will it may not change our outward vocation or calling, but it will change the way we view our relationships in our families, jobs, churches, and nation. May the Lord “help us and all people” to “carry out the duties of his office and calling.”
[2]

Discussion: What is meant by saying that “the catechism’s explanation of this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer itself?” How is God’s will “down to earth” in Luke 3:11-14 and the verses from Ephesians? How is respect for authority seen in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and 1 Peter 2:13-15?

Prayer Starter: Confess any failings you are aware of with regard to any office or calling the Lord has given you. Pray for help “to carry out the work [you] are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.”




[1] Certainly we should support world missions and do what we can to help the poor of the world!
[2] The original German of the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes two ideas: office and vocation. One English translation puts it like this: “Grant also that everyone may carry out the duties of his office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.”

The Father's Will and a Submissive Spirit

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . .

124 Q. What does the third request mean?

A. "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means,

Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good.

Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.


2) Scripture

Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Exodus 17:3-4: But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Philippians 2:12-14: Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Comment:

The catechism’s phrase “without any back talk” is translated in most English translations as “without any murmuring.”[1] I like “murmuring” better than “back talk” because it alludes to Scripture and the sin we are so easily prone to, namely, grumbling and complaining.

There are two aspects of God’s will, and we are inclined to complain against them both. We see these two aspects of God’s will in Deuteronomy 29:29. First, there is God’s revealed will. This is the will God makes known in his Word. The Lord’s revealed will is not a secret, nor is it hard to find out. The Lord wants us to know his revealed will and to learn it through our reading and study of Scripture. Second, there is the Lord’s secret will. This is his will that has to do with his providential rule of all things. Included in God’s secret will are all the events of history which he has ordained, including the days and events of our lives. The secret will of God belongs to him, not to us.

What should our attitude be toward these two aspects of God’s single will? Toward the revealed will of God the catechism teaches us to pray: “Help us . . . to reject our own wills and to obey yours.” We pray for light to know the Father’s revealed will and for grace to love his commands and to do them.

The secret will of God is unknown to us until it happens, but when we learn of it we pray that the Lord would help us to accept it without murmuring or complaining. We ask for his help to submit to his providential governing of our lives without complaining. Especially in difficult times when we are under the Lord’s chastening hand, we pray for a spirit that says, “Your will be done.”

As believers in Jesus Christ and children of the heavenly Father, it is vital to fix the eyes of our faith on the revealed will of God, especially the promises of the gospel. In the gospel we learn that God is our Father who loves us. In coming to Christ we have moved from God’s wrath to God’s favor, from God as our judge to God as our Father, from God’s frown to God’s gracious countenance upon us. As his children, we must learn to view the difficult providences he sends into our lives in the light of his gospel. The secret will of God once discovered, must be viewed by his children in the light of his gospel of grace and good will.

This was Israel’s mistake in the wilderness. Israel failed to read the Father’s providence in the light of the Father’s gracious deliverance from Egypt. Instead of trusting their Father to provide for them on the basis of the salvation they experienced from Pharaoh and Egypt, they murmured and complained. Instead of fixing their faith on their Father’s good will known by their recent deliverance, they only saw the hard trial of his secret will.

Hard times will also come to us as children of the heavenly Father. Acts 14:22 reminds us that it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” How can we avoid complaining and “back talk” in such trials? The answer is the gospel which has been revealed to us. The gospel tells us:
  • In Christ we have a heavenly Father who is for us.
  • Our Father is working out his secret will for our lives in the light of his revealed gospel.
  • Our Father is good.
  • Our Father’s will (both revealed and secret) is good.
  • Our Father knows us perfectly, and will lead us home in the best way possible for our good and his glory.

Discussion: What are the two aspects of God’s will according to Deuteronomy 29:29? What should we pray for with regard to God’s revealed will? What should we pray for with regard to God’s secret will? When difficult times come in our lives, what will keep us from murmuring or back talk?

Prayer Starter: Pray for yourself with regard to the revealed and secret will of God. Use the prayer of the catechism (Help us…Help us…) to guide you.


[1] The catechism was originally written in German. A Latin version was also available early on.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good People Who Have No Regard for God's Will?

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . .

124 Q. What does the third request mean?

A. "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means,

Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good.

Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.


2) Scripture

Genesis 3:4-5: But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Genesis 3:22a: 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.

Numbers 15:37-41: 37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

Comment:

A dear elderly woman in one of the congregations I once served explained her dilemma in speaking to her unbelieving next door neighbors about Christ: “The non-Christian family next door to me is just so nice that it doesn’t seem like they need Christ or the gospel at all.”

All of us are familiar with unbelievers who live outwardly excellent lives. Was this woman in my congregation right? Are some unbelievers living such morally excellent lives that they don't need God’s gospel of grace?

Question 124 teaches us that the heart of our problem with sin is that we have preferred our own wills to the will of God --- that the essence of sin is that we refuse to follow God’s wisdom and will, and instead follow our own. Instead of following the Lord and obeying his revealed will, we “follow after [our] own heart and eyes,” and this is the core of sin.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they were told by the serpent, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Indeed, they did become like God knowing good and evil, for the Lord confirms this was what happened in Genesis 3:22. But, sadly, they became like God not in the good way of reflecting his character, but in the bad way of usurping his authority. Instead of living according to God’s will and command, they now lived by what they thought was best. Each person now determined good and evil, not by God’s revealed word, but by his or her own understanding.

The catechism is calling us back to be what we were created to be. As Jesus said, man was created to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mat. 4:4). The Lord created us to know right and wrong by his revealed word, not by our own hearts and eyes. The Lord is calling us “to reject our own wills,” so that we might obey his will, which alone is good.

What is heaven like? Heaven is the place where God’s will alone is obeyed and there is perfect blessing. What is hell like? Hell is the place where God’s will is hated and there is awful misery. Should we speak the gospel of God’s grace to our “good” unbelieving neighbors? Yes! For no one is truly good who doesn’t love God’s perfect will, and no one will be eternally happy until God’s will is loved and obeyed “as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.”


Discussion: Can a man be good if he is following his heart/will, and not God’s will? Jesus said, “Man shall . . . live by . . . every word that comes from the mouth of God.” How did Adam and Eve stray from this way of living? How do “good” non-Christian neighbors stray from this way of living?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father for making his revealing his will for us in his Word, the Bible. Ask for his help in rejecting your own will and accepting his will as found in his Word.



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sola Panel | Creating the right question

The Sola Panel | Creating the right question

Posted using ShareThis

Jesus as Gift, Then Example

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . .

124 Q. What does the third request mean?

A. "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means,

Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good.

Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.

2) Scripture

John 4:34: Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

Philippians 2:5-8: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Mark 3:31-35: And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Comment:

As we consider this petition, “your will be done,” we need to remember that only Jesus ever accomplished the Father’s will perfectly, and it is Christ’s accomplishment of the Father’s will that brings us salvation. Through our Lord’s obedience in life and in death, we find salvation from sin and death. We are brought into a favorable relationship with the Father, not through our own obedience, but through Christ’s obedience.

Before Jesus is our example for us, he is first a gift to us. Before Jesus is our model, he must be our Savior. Christ’s obedient life to the Father’s must be freely received, before we concern ourselves with imitating his life. The order of the Christian life is always faith then love, trust then works, freely receiving before freely giving.

If we reverse this order, we dishonor God. Trying to earn God’s favor through our works is an abomination to him. If we think we can earn salvation by doing God’s will, we insult the work of his beloved Son on the cross. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can make satisfaction for our sins and bring us grace, mercy, and peace with God.

In Mark 3:35, Jesus teaches us that God’s will is for us to come to him, the Son of God. We enter the family of God by uniting ourselves to the One the Father sent into the world and who did the Father’s will perfectly. Entering into the family of Jesus Christ is not a matter of blood relations, for in Mark 3 the physical family of Jesus is outside the family circle. No, we enter the family by hearing and believing Christ’s voice in the gospel and coming to him.

Once some Jews, who mistakenly thought we are saved by doing and working, asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work (the will) of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29). In other words, the main requirement of the Father is to believe in his heaven-sent Son!


Why is Jesus the only door into the kingdom of God? Because he alone earned eternal life for us. He alone is uniquely qualified to give us life through his perfect obedience to the Father’s will. As Jesus says of himself in John 6:27: “For on him God the Father has set his seal.” The first and most important step in doing God’s will is coming to Jesus Christ as the author and perfecter of our salvation.

Discussion: Who alone has perfectly obeyed the Father’s will? Why must Jesus be a gift to us before he is an example for us? What brings us favor with God and into his family, doing good works or believing in the One the Father sent?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord Jesus for his obedience to the Father’s will which brings you forgiveness and justification. Praise the Father for freely giving you the gift of his Son. Accept that gift by faith for the first time or thousandth.


The Self Defeating Quest for Self-Fulfillment

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . .

124 Q. What does the third request mean?

A. "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means,

Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good.

Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.
2) Scripture

Psalm 40:6-8:

6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,

but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”

Hebrews 10:5-7: when Christ came into the world, he said,


“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

Hebrews 1:9: You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Comment:

As we begin the 21st century, we live in an era of self-fulfillment. It’s a time where psychology has replaced theology as queen of the sciences. Today, in times of crisis, people call in therapists and psychologists to counsel, rather than ministers of the gospel. Melody Beattie, the author of the popular book, Codependent No More, typifies this new (but old as the Fall) outlook, with a chapter entitled: Have a Love Affair With Yourself. Taking her own advice, Beattie writes in the forward to her book, “This book is dedicated to me.”

But Christians love and follow a Lord, whose command goes against the grain of a personal fulfillment obsessed culture. Our Lord says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Just in case we mistakenly think that dying to self is only an occasional element in Jesus’ teaching, we read in Luke’s gospel the same words with the addition of the word daily: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

No one could accuse Jesus of not heeding his own advice. He came into the world to do his Father’s will. He denied himself to the point of taking up the cross where he offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He came to do the Father’s will, even when that will involved self-denial and sacrifice.

Yet, no one should think that Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the Father’s will through self-denial and obedience meant that Christ was joyless and unhappy. Jesus is described as the most joyful human being ever to walk this planet. Hebrews 1:9 teaches that Jesus, as a result of loving righteousness and hating wickedness, was anointed by his heavenly Father “with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions.” Maybe we would be justified in adding the gloss or explanatory word, "way beyond his companions!"

What was the key to Christ’s joyful fulfillment? Notice in Hebrews 10:5-7, which is a quotation from Psalm 40,
[1] Jesus always lived for the substance and not the forms, the reality and not the things that point to the reality. He understood that outward things, like the rituals of the Old Testament, or the bodies we have been given, were not the main thing. Outward things, like worship rituals and bodies, point to the main thing, but they themselves are not it. The outward symbols serve the reality or truth but they are not the reality themselves.

So much of our problem in doing God’s will is that we live for the outward symbols instead of the truth those symbols were meant to point to. In other words, we live for God’s gifts rather than for the Giver.

For example, today, we are told that personal fulfillment cannot be found apart from sexual expression. No one is supposed to deny his sexual desires, for such self-denial hinders personal fulfillment. But does this mean that Jesus was unfulfilled? After all, Jesus never married and never expressed his sexuality.

But what we forget is that Jesus lived for the very thing marriage symbolizes, namely, a devotion to God as the husband and lover of his people. After all, there will be no marriage in heaven (Mat. 22:30), for then we will be married to the Lord, the very thing marriage on earth is meant to point to and serve.

The sinful human race no longer handles signs and symbols well. Sin blinds us to the things they signify. Sadly, we live for the signs themselves rather than the realities they signify. Jesus never made this idolatrous error. He always used God’s good gifts thankfully and with joy, but he also always lived for the thing they signified and served. Thus, Jesus lived for the glory of his Father by perfectly doing his will.

The quest for self-fulfillment is self defeating until we see as Jesus sees and learn to live as Jesus lived according to our heavenly Father’s will.

Discussion: Did Jesus’ self-denial mean a lack of joy? What did the sacrifices and offerings of Old Testament (outward signs) worship point to (thing signified)? What does marriage (outward sign) point to (thing signified)? Did Jesus live for the sign or the thing signified?

Prayer Starter: Confess your spiritual blindness to the Lord and need for illumination. Confess your spiritual deadness and ask the Father to write his word and ways upon your heart.

[1] Sometimes quotes from the New Testament are not exact because the authors are using the Septuagint which was a Greek version of the Old Testament, rather than the Hebrew text, from which modern English versions are translated.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Corporate Confession of Sins: Part Two

Here are the two other corporate confessions of sins used in the Strassburg Liturgy of 1539:

Make confession to God the Lord, and let everyone acknowledge with me his sin and iniquity.

Almighty, eternal God and Father, we confess and acknowledge unto you that we were conceived in unrighteousness and are full of sin and transgression in all our life. We do not fully believe your Word nor follow your holy commandments. Remember your goodness, we beseech you, and for your Name's sake be gracious unto us, and forgive us our iniquity which, alas, is great.

Then the third confession that was used was this one:

Almighty, eternal God and Father, we confess and acknowledge that we, alas, were conceived and born in sin, and are therefore inclined to all evil and slow to all good; that we transgress your holy commandments without ceasing and ever more corrupt ourselves. But we are sorry for the same, and beseech your grace and help. Wherefore have mercy upon us, most gracious and merciful God and Father, through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Grant to us and increase in us your Holy Spirit, that we may recognize our sin and unrighteousness from the bottom of our hearts, attain true repentance and sorrow for them die to them wholly, and please you entirely be a new and godly life. Amen.

One thing especially catches my attention. A sound corporate confession of sins should acknowledge original sin as well as actual sins. In both of these confessions we acknowledge that "we were conceived and born in sin." Why is this so necessary?

It is necessary because the worst part of our sinfulness is the disease of sin rather than the symptoms of sin. Original sin is like a virus. Actual sins are like the symptoms the virus produces. But which is worse? Actually, the virus is worse for it produces the symptoms that bring about our misery.

Original sin is that anti-God/Christ virus or inclination in our being, and it is this that produces the sins we actually commit. Our confession of sin is incomplete if we don't fail to confess that we sin because we are sinners.

An awareness of our original sin deepens the problem we have before God. Our problem before God is not superficial but deep. Sin has infected our whole being in all its parts. The very springs and motivation of our lives have been adversely affected by sin in the singular, that is, our original sin.

We want to confess not only our transgressions to the Lord, but also our deep sinfulness which is the result of the original sin that still clings to our nature even as followers of Jesus Christ. When we confess our sin in this way at a level beyond the surface, we come closer to truly humbling ourselves before the Lord. This kind of honesty and humbling is the preface to grace and the gospel and a holy life pleasing to the Lord.



Friday, February 20, 2009

Corporate Confession of Sins: Part One

Lately, I've been reading Liturgies of the Western Church. The corporate confessions of sins in the litugies coming out of the Reformation were phenomenal. It seems to me we need to recover the corporate confession of sins where we really have a confession that is meaningful. What I often find is that the confession of sins these days is very trite and far from thorough. So I thought it might be helpful to consider some of these liturgical confessions as part of a series.

The first corporate confession of sins comes from the Strassburg Liturgy from 1539 written by Martin Bucer. This particular confession is based on the Ten Commandments.

I poor sinner confess to you, O Almighty, eternal, merciful God and Father, that I have sinned in manifold ways against you and your commandments.

I confess that I have not believed in you, my one God and Father, but have put my faith and trust more in creatures than in you, my God and Creator, because I have feared them more than you. And for their benefit and pleasure, I have done and left undone many things in disobedience to you and your commandments.

I confess that I have taken your holy Name in vain, that I have often sworn falsely and lighty by the same, that I have not always professed it nor kept it holy as I ought; but even more, I have slandered it often and grossly with all my life, words and deeds.

I confess that I have not kept your Sabbath holy, that I have not heard your holy Word with earnestness nor lived according to the same; moreover that I have not yielded myself fully to your divine hand, nor rejoiced in your work done in me and in others, but have often grumbled against it stoutly and have been impatient.

I confess that I have not honored my father and mother, that I have been diobedient to all whom I justly owe obedience, such as father and mother, my superiors, and all who have tried to guide and teach me faithfully.

I confess that I have taken life: that I have offended my neighbor often and grossly by word and deed, caused him harm, grown angry over him, borne envy and hatred toward him, deprived him of his honor and the like.

I confess that I have been unchaste. I acknowledge all my sins of the flesh and all the excess and extravagance of my whole life in eating, drinking, clothing and other things; my intermperance in seeing, hearing, speaking, etc., and in all my life; yea, even fornication, adultery and such.

I confess that I have stolen. I acknowledge my greed. I admit that in the use of my worldly goods I have set myself against you and your holy laws. Greedily and against charity have I grasped them. And scarcely, if at all, have I given them when the need of my neighbor required it.

I confess that I have born false witness, that I have been untrue and unfaithful toward my neighbor. I have lied to him, I have told lies about him, and I have failed to defend his honor and reputation as my own.

And finally I confess that I have coveted the possessions and spouses of others. I acknowledge in summary that my whole life is nothing else than sin and transgression of your holy commandments and an inclination tward all evil.

Wherefore I beseech you, O heavenly Father, that, you would graciously forgive me these and all my sins. Keep and preserve me henceforth that I may walk only in your way and live according to your will; and all of this through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our Savior. Amen.

In contrast, here was a recent corporate confession at the church I attend:

Father in heaven, as we approach another celebration of the birth of your Son, we acknowledge and confess our short-sighted rejoicing. As we just sang, may our joy for "things" be overwhelmed by the truth that Jesus' birth has opened heaven's door . . . that Jesus Christ was born to save . . . that now we need not fear the grave! Replace our short-sightedness with the blinding truths of the incarnation. Amen.

Now while I acknowledge that we often love "things" more than we love our Lord, is this confession broad enough? Will it really lead people to confess the sins they have committed during the week, not to mention the original sin which still clings to them? These are the sorts of things we need to consider in our corporate confession of sins.

J. Gresham Machen once wrote: "A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law." One place to begin this proclamation of the law is in our worship services and corporate confession of sins. It might be time for many churches to consider the role of the liturgy in discipleship, which can teach the people of Christ to mourn over their sins that they might be comforted by the gospel.







Monday, February 16, 2009

The Glory of the Coming Kingdom



Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

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

123 Q. What does the second request mean?

A. "Your kingdom come" means,

Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Keep your church strong, and add to it.

Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word.

Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.


2) Scripture

Revelation 21:1-3: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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.

Revelation 21:9-11: Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

Revelation 22:17: The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Comment:

God’s kingdom is already here, but it is also coming! This is what theologians call the already-not yet aspect of God’s kingdom. Already people are entering God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel, but the kingdom will not come in its fullness and perfection until Jesus Christ returns from heaven.

It has always been difficult for me to imagine what the kingdom of God will be like in the future. Whatever it will be like, it will be wonderful beyond our imagination. Jesus described it as “paradise” for a believer to enter the Father’s presence at death (Luke 23:43), so what will his kingdom be like when he creates a new heaven and earth!

Part of the difficulty of knowing what the future kingdom of God will be like is that all of the biblical descriptions of it are symbolic. This does not imply that the kingdom won’t be real, for there will literally be a new heaven and earth. But it does mean that the reality of the future kingdom is hard for us to comprehend and must presently be described to us in symbols. But when one considers that the reality always exceeds the symbols used to portray it, one begins to see the glory of what is coming.

The glory of the coming kingdom is the glory of the triune God. When the apostle John uses the brilliance of rare jewels to describe the glory of the coming kingdom, this symbolic language points to the glory of God which his people will share. If already we see the glory of God in the old heavens and earth, then what must be the glory of the new heavens and earth!

The comfort or blessing of the kingdom is the presence of God with his people. Our great privilege and delight will be to be in the place where God dwells with us and we dwell with him in perfect fellowship.

If you are at all like me, the glory of such a kingdom reminds me of my present state of uncleanness, and my lack of qualifications for such a kingdom. But none of us deserve this kingdom, and this is why the invitation comes to us in the gospel and visible gospel of our baptism “without price” (Rev. 22:17). No sinner can pay the price to get into such a kingdom. Therefore, let us lean on our Lord, who has paid the high price of entrance into his kingdom with his precious blood. Let us come to him once more, accepting the Spirit’s invitation to “come” and “take the water of life without price.”


Discussion: How is God’s kingdom both already and not yet? What will be the glory of the coming kingdom? What will be the greatest blessing of the kingdom? What will enable us to enter the coming kingdom?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Lord for his great glory. Praise him for his presence with us. Praise him for his payment of the price that was too high for us to pay to give us the glorious treasure of his kingdom.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sola Panel | This is not a real church

The Sola Panel | This is not a real church

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Prayer and Evangelism

Persistent, Believing Prayer
February 15, 2009 @ 6:30 AM Posted By: Tim Challies

Eric Alexander:

Left to our selves, there are many things of which we are capable: we can persuade people intellectually; we can arouse and inspire them emotionally; and we can win them to ourselves psychologically. But the one thing we cannot do is to regenerate them spiritually. That task is exclusively God's. When one of my friends, who had been in the pastorate for many fruitful years, was asked by some seminary students, "What, in your experience, is the best and most effective evangelistic method?" he replied, after some thought, "Prayer--persistent, believing prayer."

Now, if you think about it, that reply does not come from some profound theological insight. Rather, it comes from a foundational truth. If only God can save, then to whom do we turn to see our friends brought to salvation? The logical answer is, "To God!" The awkward question that sometimes follows is: "Then why is it that in most ministries and churches, prayer is supplemental rather than fundamental?" This is the background against which we need to think about evangelistic preaching.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Briefing Library: The Church and the denominations

The Briefing Library: The Church and the denominations

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The Briefing Library: How to survive your denomination

The Briefing Library: How to survive your denomination

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The Briefing Library: What the church is

The Briefing Library: What the church is

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Michael Jensen's Valentine Meditation

Love: the last god standing?
By Michael Jensen

In Australia this year, given the fiery trial that some of us have just been through, Valentine's Day could be a day on which we might reflect more seriously than usual on the significance of love in our lives.

If anything, in our disenchanted and agnostic age, love is the last god standing. If we are not able to say 'God is love', then can we at least say 'love is God'? Against the turbulence of modern life, love seems to be the one thing that promises both constancy and fulfilment; it is the one credible transcendental. Love, we feel, is stronger than death itself.

The divinity of love seems convincing because it is an idea that is both grand enough to be universal and yet also deliciously present to me in my own experience. It connects me to a greater purpose: one that excites me, but also exceeds me.

Gazing at the scarred and broken statues of a medieval knight and his lady placed on top of their tomb, Philip Larkin, that rather grim agnostic poet of 1960s England, wrote of his 'almost-instinct, almost true': that 'what will survive of us is love'.

Jewel said pretty much the same in her song 'Hands': 'in the end, only kindness matters'. We can't live on - our words are lost and forgotten, our deeds dissolve, our bodies melt away; but we hope we can live on in love. Can we not leave behind a legacy of love which contributes in some way to greater good? Or, in the immortal words of Celine Dion: 'our hearts will go on'.

I don't think we should be too cynical about this; but rather recognise that is natural to human beings that they should find it this way. Love is like that; and we are beings built for love. Love is a force that springs from my own desire, but draws me into community and communion with others. It is not merely selfish, but it doesn't mean that the self disappears, either. Love is me and not-me at the same time: it promises a way to encompass at the one time our one-ness, and our many-ness, our individuality and our plurality.

It is not surprising that even in a brutal world we should see glimpses of this. Love compels amazing acts of courage and self-sacrifice such as we have seen even this week. It brings out from human beings our greatest dignity.

But the secular prayer - that love will transcend and conquer all - is a recognition that human beings are actually rather prone to division; that even the communities set up with the best intentions and ideals are pock-marked by the failure to live out love in reality. That our community comes together in adversity is perhaps a sad reminder that we are apart in our prosperity. Love is not always the hallmark of our lives.

Finally, our faith in love is compromised by our mortality. It is a great mistake to somehow imagine that love can endure when we do not; that love might become a principle or even a divine force that will live on in some vague echo that rings down the ages - 'echoes in eternity', as Russell Crowe put it in Gladiator.

Love does not endure without lovers. But which lovers can endure?

Which is why Christians will insist, not that love is god, but that God is love. In Christian thinking, love indeed never ends, because Jesus Christ, the chief of lovers, himself has never ended. He embodied a unique life of love - a life that was lived among us, and given wholeheartedly for us. This was divine love, humanly lived.

Happy Valentine's Day, then: because (to borrow a little from saxophonist John Coltrane) love is, finally, supreme.



The Rev Dr Michael Jensen lecturers in theology at Sydney's Moore College
And here is the rest of it.

Why Christians Need the Heidelberg Catechism in a Therapeutic Age

Recently, I came across this quote from philosopher Robert Roberts:
"We are verbiverous beings, the words we chew, swallow, and digest will determine how we see the world, what we take to be important, how our behavior, our character and our very life are shaped."
Roberts is getting at the idea that all of us look at ourselves and the world through a lens, and this lens is determined by words. All of us have a framework through which we understand reality. The question, however, is not whether we have a lens or a framework, but whether our lens or framework match reality as determined by the One who determines reality, our triune God.

Presently, many evangelical Christians have a faulty framework for understanding reality. Their framework is psychological and therapeutic rather than biblical. These therapeutic categories distort reality, and keep people from thinking God's thoughts after him. These psychological categories prevent people from truly hearing the Lord and his Word.

Again, Roberts weighs in on what is happening among many professing Christians:
"The various psychotherapies and personality theories that are influential today are not just neutral medical technologies or scientific theories; they are philosophies of life that endorse particular virtues, character traits, or features of personality.

"These are the traits a person would have if the therapist succeeded in making him or her into a fully functioning mature person---mature, that is, by that therapist's reckoning. And they are traits the therapy is designed to foster."
G. A. Pritchard writes that many "Christians have accepted the psychological framework as foundational to their self-understanding and as a trsutworthy guide for daily living. The result of these psychological categories are psychological identities." Again, Roberts says, "Those who seriously interpret themselves in Christian terms will tend to have Christian selves; those who seriously interpret themselves in Rogerian or Jungian terms will tend to have Rogerian or Jungian selves."

Do you see the problem here? Christians are not called to be followers of Carl Rogers or Carl Jung, the psychiatrists noted above, but followers of Jesus Christ. Until our categories for interpreting ourselves and the world match our Lord Jesus Christ's, we will never be healed and come to Christian maturity.

So how, then, can the Heidelberg Catechism help us? The catechism can help to give us a biblical framework for understanding the world and ourselves from a biblical standpoint. The Heidelberg Catechism is a faithful echo of the Bible, but the Bible is a very big book. The catechism's faithful summary of Scripture can give us a biblical framework, which will help us understand reality and apply that reality to ourselves and the world.

As it stands now, too many Christians are functionally guided by rival understandings of reality, despite their claim of following Christ. They view themselves and their problems not in Christian terms but in psychological terms. Until we stop following Jung or Rogers or the latest psychological/philosphical fad (Eph. 4:13-16), we won't truly follow Jesus Christ, whom we call Lord. And, as Jesus reminds us, not everyone who calls him "Lord" will be accepted by him on the day in which he judges the world (Mat. 7:21-23).

Jesus defines his people as those who hear his voice, and who refuse to listen to a stranger (John 10:1-6). The Heidelberg Catechism is a faithful echo of our Lord's voice. It can help us to listen to him. It can give us a framework for understanding ourselves and the world.

Do we have to keep reading and studying Scripture to ensure that the catechism itself is not giving us a faulty framework and false categories for understanding God's Word? Of course. But the Bible is a big book, and the Heidelberg Catechism is a tested summary of that book. It can help us, especially in this modern therapeutic age, as an effective hearing aid to truly hear our Lord and his true understanding of reality. In a psychological age like ours that barely hears or sees, the Heidelberg Catechism as a hearing aid and as corrective lenses would greatly aid our understanding of reality, as our triune God determines it.










Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You"

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

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

123 Q. What does the second request mean?

A. "Your kingdom come" means,

Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Keep your church strong, and add to it.

Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word.

Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.



2) Scripture


Luke 11:14-27: Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.


24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”


27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”


Comment:


In the Old Testament, David, God’s anointed king, vanquished all of the Lord’s enemies, casting out the Canaanites and surrounding nations. He then began the work of building the temple (2 Samuel 7:1-3). In the New Testament, Jesus, God’s true, anointed king, whom David merely foreshadowed, casts out the true enemies of the Lord’s people, the devil and his forces. He then begins the work of building his temple, the church he gathers around himself in heaven.


When Jesus casts out demons in the Gospels, it is a sign that the kingdom of God has come. Thus, Jesus says, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”


The simple fact is that the kingdom of God cannot advance unless simultaneously “the devil’s work” and “every force which revolts” against the Lord is destroyed. “Every force” would include the other two enemies of the Christian life besides the devil, namely, the world and the flesh or sinful nature. All three of our spiritual enemies are traditionally mentioned in the Christian baptismal service, when the baptized person or parents are asked:



Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?

Answer. I renounce them all.
[1]

In the passage from Luke 11:14-28, we learn a number of truths about God’s kingdom:



  • First, Jesus has defeated the devil (the strong man) and his forces through his life, death, and resurrection.

  • Second, by the gospel Jesus is taking people for himself (“spoil” v. 22) from the devil’s domain.

  • Third, the arrival of the kingdom of God through Christ demands a response from us (v. 23). Neutrality is not an option.

  • Fourth, moral reform without turning to Christ as Lord and Savior will never do (v. 24-26). 12 Step programs that simply get rid of a problem are inadequate. Devotion to Jesus Christ and his kingdom must replace the idols of drink, sex, drugs or any other force opposed to Christ.

  • Fifth, Jesus would not have us distracted away from the vital importance of his Word. Focus on Mary, the saints, ritualism, traditionalism, or even family, is a distraction from the primary thing. True blessing and life are mediated to us through God’s word, both the word of the gospel, and the Bible.

How much is packed into those three simple words: “your kingdom come!” May these three words pattern and shape our prayers as we ask the Lord to destroy the devil and his work in ourselves and others, so that “more and more we submit” to him.

Discussion: What was the significance of Jesus’ casting out of demons with regard to God’s kingdom? Can God’s kingdom come if the devil and his forces are not destroyed? Which of the five truths about God’s kingdom from Luke 11:14-28 stood out to you?

Prayer Starter: Are there besetting sins you need to confess and forsake? Pray that Christ would destroy this sin in your life. Renew your commitment to Jesus as your Lord and Savior through the promise and strength of the Spirit.




[1] Book of Common Prayer.









Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two Keys to the Real Growth of the Church

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

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

123 Q. What does the second request mean?

A. "Your kingdom come" means,

Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Keep your church strong, and add to it.

Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word.

Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.

2) Scripture

2 Corinthians 2:17: For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

2 Timothy 4:3-4: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Hebrews 12:28-13:7: Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

13:1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;what can man do to me?”

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Comment:

The catechism is rightly concerned with the health of the church and the growth of the church. Let’s consider both of these concerns beginning with the growth of the church.

We live in an era of marketing. Marketing research discovers the needs and desires of its “target market” and seeks to meet those needs with its product. There is a great temptation for the church in its desire for growth (and success?) to use the methods of marketing. How should we reach unbelievers? Let’s do market research. Let’s use surveys to find out the felt needs of the unchurched. Then, let’s meet those felt needs to cause our churches to grow. Thus, people are viewed as consumers, the gospel becomes a product, Christians become salesmen, and pastors become CEOs.

But the problem is that Jesus does not call us to satisfy consumers, but to make disciples. The gospel is not a product, but news. Christians are not called to “peddle” a product, but to speak God’s Word with sincerity. And, pastors are to teach sound doctrine regardless of the “itching ears” of their hearers, whose passions turn them aside from the truth.

The first key, then, to real growth is faithfulness to the gospel message. Paul spoke God’s word coram deo, in the presence and sight of God. He was “commissioned by God” and was not allowed to distort the message to meet the felt needs of consumers. Instead he focused on the true need of sinners that the gospel of grace answers.

A second key to real church growth is to be what we are in the world, which is loyal members of Christ’s heavenly kingdom. This is counter-intuitive, for we naturally think that if we become just like unchurched, earthy Harry we will have a better chance of bringing him into the kingdom. But our king is calling us to be what we are, citizens of his heavenly kingdom, who reflect the light of his kingdom above in a dark world below.

How do we reflect his kingdom in this world? Starting in Hebrews 12:28 and throughout chapter 13 we learn some of the answer. Some of the kingdom values are:
  1. Gratitude to God (v. 28)
  2. Offering ourselves to God as an act of worship (v. 28)
  3. Reverence or fear of God (v. 28-29)
  4. Love for our fellow believers (v. 1)
  5. Hospitality to all kinds of people (v. 2)
  6. Identifying and supporting those who are persecuted for the gospel (v. 3)
  7. Obeying the Lord’s instructions about sexuality (v. 4)
  8. Contentment rather than greed (v. 5)
  9. An intimate walk with the Lord, who is our treasure (v. 6)
  10. Respect and affection for sound leaders in the church (v. 7)

If our churches are filled with these kinds of kingdom people, then our prayer to Christ, “keep your church strong” will be answered.

Discussion: What is the first key to church growth, and why is it important? What is the second key to church growth, and why is it important? Discuss the passage from Hebrews. Does this describe the Christians and churches you know? Does it describe you?

Prayer Starter: Pray for the growth of your local church, for its faithfulness to the gospel message, and for its members that they might reflect the light of Christ’s kingdom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Eternal Gospel and the Changing World

It is interesting how the world is constantly changing. Fads and trends come and go. Thankfully, Christians possess an eternal gospel that brings them into an eternal kingdom and a new culture founded on the unchanging character of the triune God. --Bill

Is postmodernism passe?
Michael Jensen

While I was giving a lecture not long ago, a man asked me rather hopefully: ‘is the whole postmodernism thing now old-hat? Can we now say we have moved on?’

I found it a hard question to answer - partly because any of those zeitgeist questions are impossible to give an answer to, I guess. And also because the word ‘postmodern’ has always been used by different people to mean different things - from an architectural movement to a description of a whole era in western culture; from a high-blown francophone post-Nietzchean linguistic turn to the fact that Pulp Fiction has several narratives in a non-linear fashion.

It is/was a style as well as a philosophy, which I have to say many Christian thinkers have failed to understand. And that style was ironic, playful and practical. It was a philosophy to get by on, and to have a few laughs with. It was never straight-faced and earnest – it was always unsaying itself just as it was saying itself.

And it was, contrary to what you hear, not all bad news for Christians. Postmodernism challenged the dangerous arrogance of the modernist worldview in imagining that human reason, without God, would be triumphant over all – just as Christians would, too.

As a non-philosopher, I think my friend’s frustration was with what we might call ‘popular postmodernism’: postmodernism as it has been filtered down through newspapers and education departments and so on. Derrida for dummies. The Fool’s Guide to Foucault. In this sense, ‘postmodernism’ indicates a kind of skepticism towards universal claims about the world. Postmoderns are/were those irritating people who would always say (when I met them at uni in the 1990s) ‘well, that’s just your perspective’ in reply to you trying to say something meaningful.

Three things have altered the picture somewhat.

Firstly, the inescapable fact of September 11 blew apart the idea that you could just be happy with a blend of perspectives. The challenge of the terrorists to the western world was stark: are we good, or evil? Can you domesticate our lethal religious faith by turning it into a matter of opinion?

Second, and not unrelated to this, the rise of the magisterium of new atheists – Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris – is evidence of the rise of new church, a church whose faith is in the trustworthiness of the hard, material, unalterable and yes, universal facts. They have no truck with moral relativism, or any kind of relativism.

Third, the apocalyptic tone of environmentalism, now almost universally accepted by public and politicians, bears a universalizing message that will not accept an ironic or witty response to it. We need to act in concert to avert calamity, runs the message.

It is, in short, a much more serious time. It is now much harder to be coolly ironic about the world than it was in former times. ‘Postmodernism’ is looking more than a little last century.

However, that doesn’t mean (as I think my student was hoping) that ‘normal service has been resumed’ (whatever that was). Postmodernism, whatever it was, has left its mark on Western culture.


Michael Jensen is a lecturer at Moore College and the author of the book You.
And here is the rest of it.

Sincerely Praying "Your Kingdom Come" --- Becoming a Kingdom Person

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

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

123 Q. What does the second request mean?

A. "Your kingdom come" means,

Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Keep your church strong, and add to it.

Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word.

Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.

2) Scripture

1 Chronicles 11:10, 15-19: 10 Now these are the chiefs of David's mighty men, who gave him strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the Lord concerning Israel.

15 Three of the thirty chief men went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, when the army of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 16 David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. 17 And David said longingly, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” 18 Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and took it and brought it to David. But David would not drink it. He poured it out to the Lord 19 and said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.

Acts 28:30-31: He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Philippians 2:29-30: So receive him [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.


Comment:

Are you a kingdom person? Is the kingdom of Jesus Christ near and dear to your heart?

When we think about God’s kingdom, it is helpful to recognize that the kingdom has come, is coming, and will come.

The kingdom has come because Jesus Christ has come. Jesus brought the kingdom of God through his life, death, and resurrection. Graeme Goldsworthy speaks of Jesus this way:


“He was at once both creator and creature, king and obedient subject, Word of God and listening servant. Thus Jesus of Nazareth not only brings the kingdom; he is the kingdom in himself.”
The kingdom is coming at the present time as people hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and positively respond through repentance and faith. The kingdom of God does not come today through political elections or getting the right people in power. Instead it comes through God’s gospel word, which the Spirit uses to work repentance and faith in people’s hearts.

The kingdom of God will come when Jesus Christ returns from heaven. Then, evil and sin will be finally vanquished and the kingdom of God will be established forever “as a new people of God in fellowship with him in a new Eden, a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth.”

To sincerely and meaningfully pray, “your kingdom come,” is to treasure God’s kingdom and king, Jesus Christ, so that we become kingdom people---people who strongly support Christ and his kingdom.

Consider David’s “mighty men” “who gave him strong support in his kingdom.” Why did David’s men risk their lives for David and his kingdom? Why did they strongly support David, even to the point of personal sacrifice? It was because they loved David.

Our king is much greater than David. Our king has done so much more for us than David. Why should we pray for Christ’s kingdom and strongly support it? The answer is that we love him, for he gave his life for us.

How can we become kingdom people, who strongly support Jesus Christ’s kingdom? Morally, we can obey his Word, because we love him. Financially, we can give to his gospel cause, because we love him. Relationally, we can support his faithful ministers, ministries, and churches, because we love him. Evangelistically, we can pray for the spread of the gospel, because we love him. Personally, we can do all that we do for Jesus Christ, because we love him.

May the God the Father send forth his Spirit so that more and more we might be Christ’s “mighty men” --- his kingdom people.

Discussion: How has the kingdom come? How is the kingdom coming? How will the kingdom come? When we pray, “your kingdom come,” what should be our underlying attitude? What does it mean to be a “kingdom person?”

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father that his kingdom has come. Pray for the kingdom to come in the present through the preaching of the gospel. Praise the Father that his kingdom will come in a perfect way when Christ returns.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Authority: The Key Issue of Life

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

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

123 Q. What does the second request
mean?

A. "Your kingdom come" means,

Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Keep your church strong, and add to it.

Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every
conspiracy against your Word.

Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.


2) Scripture

Genesis 2:16-17: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3:1: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
Matthew 4:1-4: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,



“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Comment:

I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that authority is the key issue of life. Who will we listen to and obey? Who has the right to rule our lives?

This was the issue in the garden. Man was given great freedom and blessing in the garden, but within that freedom and blessing man must acknowledge God as his creator and king. From the beginning, man was meant to be ruled by God through God's word. The kingdom of God was already present in the garden, for the king was the Lord, the people were Adam and Eve, the place of the kingdom was the garden, and the first couple were ruled by God’s word, even as they enjoyed his great blessing.

Satan has attacked God’s kingdom by attacking God’s word. Since the Lord rules his people by his word, the enemy must create distrust for the instrument of his rule. Therefore, in Genesis 3:1 the serpent casts doubt on God’s word with his question, “Did God actually say . . . .?” In other words, “Can you really trust God’s word?”

The enemy has continued this line of attack to the present day. His goal is to disrupt God’s rule by changing or attacking the true instrument of God’s rule, that is, his word. For example, Roman Catholicism has changed the instrument of God’s authority from his word to his church. In Roman Catholicism, the church’s teaching is the final authority for faith and practice. But this effectively nullifies Christ’s word of repentance to his church (Mat. 4:17), for repentance is not possible unless the church submits to an authority greater than itself.

The Charismatic side of the Christian church has also stumbled with regard to the issue of authority. Often Charismatics set the Spirit in opposition to the Word, instead of understanding that God has chosen to link his Word and Spirit together under the new covenant for his people’s rule and blessing (e.g., Isaiah 59:21).

Mainline Christians have also stumbled with regard to authority, for they have accepted the enemy’s attack on God’s Word to the extent that they no longer believe the Bible to be his breathed out words. This throws mainline Protestants back upon themselves as the final authority for faith and practice, but this is the very essence of sin! For sin is ultimately about human autonomy and choosing to determine for ourselves right and wrong (Gen. 3:5).

Let’s understand that when we pray, “your kingdom come,” our words will be hollow if we attempt to strip the Lord Jesus Christ of the very instrument he uses to rule his people. To pray, “your kingdom come,” while blatantly disregarding our king’s rule of us by his word will simply not do!

If you have doubts about God’s Word, I urge you to resolve them. One of the ways to resolve those doubts is by simply reading God’s Word and asking his Spirit to testify to your heart that this book, the Bible, is the very Word of God.[1] Jesus had great confidence in God’s Word. Repeatedly he appealed to Scripture in times of temptation and conflict as our final authority. If our Lord had this kind of confidence in God’s word, surely we can have that same confidence too!

Discussion: How did God rule his people in the garden? How did Satan attack God’s kingdom in the garden? How did Jesus show his confidence in God’s Word in Matthew 4? Did Jesus look to the authority of the church (God’s people) or God’s Word in Matthew 4? Did the Spirit lead Jesus to neglect the Word in his temptation?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father for giving you his Word, the Bible. Ask him to increase your trust in it, so that “more and more” you might submit to him for his glory and your blessing.


[1] There are many wonderful books that deal specifically with the reliability of the Bible. F. F. Bruce, for example, has written books about the reliability of Scripture. Walter Kaiser, Paul Barnett, Craig Blomberg, B. B. Warfield, and many others have also written on this subject showing that there are good reasons to trust the Bible as God’s Word.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

God's Kingdom: King, People, Place, Rule or Blessing

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

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

123 Q. What does the second request mean?

A. "Your kingdom come" means,

Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Keep your church strong, and add to it.

Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word.

Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.

2) Scripture

Matthew 4:17: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Comment:

In the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray for God’s kingdom to come. But what exactly is God’s kingdom?

Compare these two verses:

Psalm 103:19: The Lord has established his throne in the
heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Psalm 59:13b: God rules over Jacob to the ends of the
earth.

Scripture speaks of God’s kingdom in two senses. God’s universal kingdom is spoken about in Psalm 103:19. Because the Lord is King, he rules over everything he created. As Psalm 103 says, “his kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 59, however, is not talking about God’s universal kingdom, but his kingdom of grace. This is the kingdom that was given to Jesus Christ by the Father because of his wonderful work on our behalf as our mediator and Savior. It is the kingdom in this second sense that we pray to come.

One of the easiest ways to get a handle on Christ’s kingdom is to think about what is necessary for any kingdom. In order to have a kingdom you need four things: a king, a people, a place, and a rule or blessing. These four elements of God’s kingdom are discernible in Question 123 of the catechism.

First, a kingdom must have a king. We are praying to the Father, so, of course, he is our king. But the Father has given his authority to Jesus, so that he rules his kingdom through Christ. As Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Second, a kingdom must have a people, and Christ’s people are those who have submitted to his rule by receiving his gospel message. “Rule us,” says the catechism, and the “us” are Christ’s people who have come to him and taken his easy yoke (Mat. 11:28-30).

Third, a kingdom must be ruled through things like laws. Jesus rules his kingdom by his “Word and Spirit.” Just as we enter Christ’s kingdom by responding to his words (the gospel) as the Spirit enables us, so that same pattern continues in our lives. Christ our king rules our lives by his Word and Spirit.

Fourth, a kingdom must have a place. It is commonplace to say that the kingdom of Christ is sort of placeless now, since his disciples are spread throughout the world, and some who have died are in heaven. But I would argue that Scripture teaches that the kingdom is wherever the king himself is. The reason the kingdom of heaven was “at hand” in Matthew 4:17 is that Jesus was right there!

But where is Jesus now? Jesus is in heaven, and that is the place of his kingdom. This is why our Lord, when asked about his kingdom at his trial, said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Isaiah 2:2-3 has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. His kingdom is not found on a mountain in Samaria or in a mountain temple in Jerusalem (John 4:20). Rather, his kingdom is found in the heavenly Mt. Zion, heavenly temple, and heavenly Jerusalem:

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3 and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

How privileged we are to be members of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, where we dwell already by faith through the Spirit who lifts us to heaven and enables us to learn the Lord’s ways through his Word! We are the king’s people, under the king’s rule and blessing, and our country is above where Christ is found. With such privilege, is it any wonder that we pray, “Your kingdom come!”

Discussion: What four elements make up Christ’s special kingdom of grace? Of the four elements, king, people, place, rule/blessing, which made the biggest impression on you in today’s reading? Why?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father for the blessing of membership in his Son’s kingdom. Pray that his kingdom might come to you in such a way that more and more you might submit to him.

Let's Not Forget the Price Some are Paying to Follow Jesus

Here are two stories about brothers in Christ who are glorifying God through their willingess to suffer for the Lord Jesus.

February 6, 2009
Three Christians Dead in Eritrean Prisons

Since October, three Christians imprisoned for their faith have died in Eritrean military prisons, according to Compass Direct News.

Mehari Gebreneguse Asgedom died on Jan. 16 from torture and diabetes while in solitary confinement at the Mitire Military Confinement Center. Asgedom's death followed the revelation in January that another Christian died in the same prison, Compass reports. Mogos Hagos Kiflom was said to have died as a result of torture he endured for refusing to recant his faith, but the exact date of his death was unknown.

In October, Teklesenbet Gebreab Kiflom died while imprisoned for his faith at the Wi'a Military Confinement Center. He reportedly died after prison commanders refused to give him medical attention for malaria.

These latest deaths reflect the Eritrean government's harsh treatment of believers. The Eritrean government targets Christians, often placing them in metal containers that are extremely hot during the day and cold during the night. Nearly 1,800 Eritrean Christians are believed to be under arrest because of their religious beliefs, held in police stations, military camps and prisons in 12 known locations across Eritrea. It is believed more than 28 clergymen are being held.

Jailed Christians are routinely subjected to physical beatings and severe psychological pressure to deny their religious beliefs. Police and military authorities continue to demand the prisoners return to one of the three "official" Christian denominations recognized by the government. But even the legally recognized denominations — the nation's historic Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches — have come under government disfavor in recent years, incurring threats and even jailing by security police officials.

The Voice of the Martyrs provides assistance and encouragement to persecuted believers in Eritrea. VOM supports the families of martyred believers through our Families of Martyrs fund. VOM encourages you to pray for Christians in Eritrea. Pray for the families of the deceased believers Ask God to encourage other Christians suffering for Christ's sake in Eritrean prisons.


Posted by Hal in Christian Persecution, compass direct
Link to this post

February 6, 2009
Pakistani faces death for defending fellow Christians.
Hold in prayer Hector Aleem, our fellow brother in Christ. He has lobbied for the rights of Pakistani Christians in Islamabad and is in police custody.



He was framed for sending a blasphemous text message against Mohamed. Since his arrest the court has thrown out the charge of blasphemy but is still holding under another charge. He has been robbed by the police, beaten, and denied proper health care for his heart condition. Local citizens are demanding his death.


Please click over and read the full report on Compass Direct:


Here's a snippet:


Sources said they believe Aleem was framed due to his social activism as director of a small Non-Governmental Organization that lobbies for the rights of Pakistani Christians in Islamabad.



In November he became involved in a land dispute between a congregation and a local municipality that wanted to demolish their church building. He has been wrongfully implicated in the past for minor offenses, a government deputy said, particularly for his advocacy work against the Capital Development Authority, a municipal works agency that has been charged with unlawful confiscation and destruction of Christian property.


And here is the rest of it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hallowing God's Name by Receiving the Whole Christ

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


1 Kings 14:1-6: At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. 2 And Jeroboam said to his wife, “Arise, and disguise yourself, that it not be known that you are the wife of Jeroboam, and go to Shiloh. Behold, Ahijah the prophet is there, who said of me that I should be king over this people. 3 Take with you ten loaves, some cakes, and a jar of honey, and go to him. He will tell you what shall happen to the child.”

4 Jeroboam's wife did so. She arose and went to Shiloh and came to the house of Ahijah. Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age. 5 And the Lord said to Ahijah, “Behold, the wife of Jeroboam is coming to inquire of you concerning her son, for he is sick. Thus and thus shall you say to her.”

When she came, she pretended to be another woman. 6 But when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, he said, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why do you pretend to be another? For I am charged with unbearable news for you.

Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Comment:

When we pray, “hallowed be your name,” we are asking that God’s name be glorified. But it is not enough for us to glorify our Father only on Sundays when we are gathered together with Christ’s people. Glorifying our Father involves “all our living.” True worship of God is about responding to God’s grace by offering ourselves to him, and this offering is a daily thing, not merely a Sunday thing (Romans 12:1).

The catechism understands that knowing the Lord ought to change us. “Help us to really know you,” is tightly connected to “help us to direct all our living!” To truly know God must bring some sort of transformation in our lives. It affects “what we think, say, and do,” as we desire to live lives that honor our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, and not ourselves.

Sometimes people want just a part of Christ. They want Jesus as Savior, but not Jesus as Lord; Jesus as priest and offering, but not Jesus as king. They want Jesus’ rest, but not his yoke. They want to be in the kingdom, without submitting to the king. Jeroboam was one such person in 1 Kings 14.

Jeroboam wanted a favorable word from the Lord’s prophet, Abijah. But Jeroboam had discarded the Lord’s rule in his life long ago. So he thought maybe he could deceive the old prophet in order to get a favorable word about his son. So he involves his wife in his scheme, and she takes off her queenly wardrobe in the hopes of finding a good word from the Lord. After all, how could the old prophet deny a poor Israelite woman a favorable response? But though Abijah could not see well, his spiritual hearing was just fine, and the Lord spoke a hard word to Jeroboam about his son.

Dear reader, we cannot deceive the Lord. We cannot receive the favorable word of Christ, if we refuse to wear Christ’s yoke. Christ’s yoke is his Lordship, and we must wear it. It is an easy yoke, for he is with us, and he is also our Savior, who died for us. But let’s not kid ourselves thinking that we can have a partial Christ: Jesus as our Savior, but not as our Lord; Jesus as priest and sacrifice, but not Jesus as king.

Yes, we will stumble many times and fail our Lord and Savior often. We will always need his cross and his cleansing. But if our faith has united us to the whole Christ, including his Lordship, then we will want to please him with the way we live, and we will earnestly pray: Father, “Hallowed be your name” in my life. “Help me to direct all my living---what I think, say, and do---so that your name will never be blasphemed because of me but always honored and praised.” Amen.

Discussion: Why does glorifying and worshipping God involve “all of our living?” How does knowing Christ relate to living for him? Why can’t we have a partial Christ, and expect salvation?

Prayer Starter: Use Q&A the two petitions in Q&A 122 (Help us . . .) to begin your prayer to the Father.

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