Christianity 201

November 16, 2017

More than a glimmer of hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

“I lift up my head, the world is on fire”. This is a lyric from a song that struck me as being all too true these days. It seems every time you look up, something bad is happening in the world or to your loved ones. The lyric is from a song called “Pray“, by Sam Smith, which captures a tension that many people feel today. Here is a selection of the lyrics:

I lift up my head and the world is on fire
There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones
And I just don’t know what to say

Maybe I’ll pray, pray
 Maybe I’ll pray
I have never believed in you, no
But I’m gonna pray . . . .

You won’t find me in church (no)
 Reading the Bible (no) 
I am still here and I’m still your disciple
I’m down on my knees, I’m beggin’ you, please
I’m broken, alone, and afraid . . . .

And I’m gonna pray (Lord), pray (Lord), maybe I’ll pray
Pray for a glimmer of hope

On the one hand, where is God when the world “is on fire”? On the other hand, what else can people do but pray for a glimmer of hope? Here is another take on hope from another man whose world was on fire:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

What a contrast. From prayer out of desperation, to a prayer of confidence. From a glimmer of hope, to hope shining brightly. What is the path to having hope, to more than just a glimmer of hope? Let us go back to where Paul’s discussion of hope began:

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, …
Romans 15:7-13

Hope is found in the promises of God.  Jesus is the evidence that God keeps His promises. The phrase “the truth of God” refers to the fact that God will do what God says He will do. He is honest. Jesus is the confirmation that God is making good on all His promises. The apostle Paul goes on to give a sampling of some of these promises from the Old Testament Scriptures. Let us make some observations on them.

First, there will be praise:

. . . and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”; Romans 15:9

. . . and again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”; Romans 15:11

Far from questioning the existence of God, the goodness of God, or the love of God; when we come to realize He has fulfilled His promises in Jesus, we instead praise the Lord for who He is, what He is like, and for His amazing love. As we grow in our relationship with Him, lingering doubts are replaced with confidence. We should not think of this praise as being dutiful and forced, but spontaneous and joyful. When we see God keeping His promises, how could we do anything but joyfully praise Him?

. . . and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; Romans 15:10

Second, those who are oppressive rulers over us now will be replaced by Christ and His rule:

. . . and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.” Romans 15:12

The emperor was the ruler at the time Paul quotes these Old Testament verses. Something we should know about the emperors in those days, that whatever you may think of Donald Trump, they all made President Trump look like an angel! Hope is dashed when our leaders fail to lead well. Hope shines brightly when we have good leadership. There is no better shepherd than Jesus!

When we think of people that have oppressive rule over others, we should also think of things that can rule over us. Things like poverty, addiction, disease, toxic relationships, discrimination, abuse, bullying and the like. Whatever things seem to rule over you now, gets the boot. Jesus is Lord and He shall reign. We begin seeing this in the here and now. We will see it fully in the days to come.

Third, God’s promises are accessible. The word that shows up through all the Scriptures quoted by Paul is “Gentile”, i.e. non-Jew. Though God had chosen a specific family to be the people through whom He would work out His promises, His promises went far beyond them:

2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:2-3 (emphasis mine)

In the first three chapters of Romans Paul speaks about the Jews and non-Jews alike. There was an advantage to being Jewish in that the Jews had a much fuller revelation of God and a closer relationship to God. However, that advantage was similar to the advantage of someone stuck on a  Caribbean island without drinking water compared to someone stuck in a desert lacking drinking water. I think we would all agree, that the person on the island has the preferable situation. Yet without water, they both face the same outcome. So, in conclusion, “both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9). They will both pay the penalty of sin, which is death. However, Jesus is the water. Both can come and drink and live. The invitation is open to anyone who thirsts. Including you. The words of Jesus:

37 “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” John 7:37-38

When we look at the world around us, when we lift up our heads and see the world on fire, we may wonder if there will ever be a glimmer of hope. When we look back at the promises of God, promises confirmed by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, hope shines brightly.

(All Scriptures are taken from the NRSV)

 

 


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 9, 2017

Prayer is not Cathartic

Today we’re paying our second visit with Joe Waller at the blog As I Learn to Walk. Click the title below to read this at the original page or to leave comments.

A Realization

Asking for prayer is not just a sanctified sympathy request (though I often unconsciously see it that way).

Verses such as 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter calls believers to “[cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you,” bring great comfort to Christians. We revel in the fact that God comforts the downcast, that he cares about us though we are as fleeting mists before him. As the psalmist testifies, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). God, the creator and the sustainer of all, gives ear to his children. Though infinitely transcendent, God is also beautifully immanent.

In spite of this profound truth, I live like God is only transcendent, separate from my life and experiences. When I find myself struggling, in need of support, I often desire the sympathy of my friends rather than the strengthening of God. I ask those near me for prayer, but, recently, I’ve noticed that I share those requests in part to get attention, not simply to seek the Lord. (To clarify, I don’t mean to say that all of my prayer requests are solely for the sake of attention; I’m simply highlighting a problematic tendency I’ve noticed in my walk.) I’ve noticed the issue extend into my personal prayers as well. I pour out my heart to God, yet I do so in some ways more for catharsis than for the pursuit of God’s help. I pray, but I don’t consider the fact that God may answer, that God may speak.

As I considered this trend, I realized that such a practice is completely bogus. Biblically, God not only cares about our needs, but he responds to our prayers. James writes that God will give wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5-8). Toward the end of his short book, he calls believers to pray for one another, citing the example of Elijah who “was a man with a nature like ours, [who] prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:16-18). The psalmists also speak of God’s faithfulness to answer prayers. One writes,

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
Psalm 66:16-20

Throughout Scripture, we find testimonies of those who prayed and were answered, of those who turned to the Lord and were heard.

I can relate to the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). I am no expert on prayer. In fact, I regularly feel inadequate when I pray. Slowly, graciously, God is teaching me to pray, to come before him in humility and in hope. God’s Word changes how I think about prayer and about prayer requests by changing how I think about myself and how I think about God. Meditating on Scripture, mining the depths of God’s self-revelation, turns my gaze away from myself and fixes it upon him. I worry less about feeling better and focus more on honoring him. Suffering becomes an avenue of sanctification (James 1:2-4), and joys become opportunities to praise (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This week, let us live, and pray, for his glory, trusting that our good is found in the pursuit of his kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

October 7, 2017

Constant Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog, The River Walk written by BJ Richardson. I encourage you to click through to read this at source by clicking the title below. Note: The link to the day’s scriptures takes you Bible Gateway displaying all the indicated scriptures on a single page.

Day and Night, Continually

O Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen on your walls; they will pray day and night, continually. Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord. (Isaiah 62:6)

Read: Isaiah 62:6-65:25, Philippians 2:19-3:3, Psalm 73:1-28, Proverbs 24:13-14

Relate: I tend to read a lot. If there is such a thing as reading too much, I skirt that line awfully close. It isn’t just fluff that I like to read either. Some of my recent titles would be Summa Contra Gentiles (Brilliant mind, antiquated philosophy), Insurrection (reading Peter Rollins is like enjoying a train wreck. What stupid heretical things will he say this time?), Aids to Revelation (I like Watchman Nee but this was a disappointment), and Reaching Out (always love Henri Nouwen).

Goodreads says I have read seventy-four books this year. It also says I am three books behind my 100 book goal but since I will probably be finishing up Peace In the Post Christian Era by Thomas Merton tonight, I’m not doing all that bad. I have read between seventy-five and a hundred books a year every years since I started keeping track a decade ago. The most common question people like to ask on hearing this is, “What is your favorite book?” That is a tough one to answer. There are just so many. This year is a tough one, but I would probably say Bonke’s biography, Living A Life of Fire. Last year is much easier to answer. All In by Mark Batterson probably has had the greatest immediate impact on my life of any book outside the Bible.

Another book that joins All In on my short list of all time favorites has got to be Practicing the Presence. It is one of the shortest, easiest reads I have ever picked up. Probably an hour cover to cover. But it is also one of the hardest, most challenging reads I have ever read. Brother Lawrence was an illiterate monk who served in the kitchens half his waking life, and spent his other half in prayer. Over time, his discipline and devotion was such that, wherever he was, whatever he was doing, the man was in steady constant prayer.

React: I have my devotions in the morning. Then, by the time I have stepped out the door to start my day, my mind has run in a thousand directions. Someone shoves their way to the front of the queue to get on the bus or subway, and I’ve got words running through my mind that certainly not prayer. Little things throughout the day, some good, others… not, tend to pull my mind in a thousand directions.

God has called me to be an intercessor. I have no doubt of this. It is stronger in my life than that to be a writer, or a teacher, or a witness, or a… worker for Daddy on foreign soil. My primary calling is that of an intercessor. So why is it so difficult for me, for us to live up to the directive given here in Isaiah, “I have posted watchmen on your walls; they will pray day and night, continually. Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord.” Why can I not follow Paul’s directive to “pray without ceasing.” I know it can be done. God does not call us to the impossible. Brother Lawrence is evidence of how it can be, but the discipline in getting there is…

Respond: 

God, I come to You again in prayer. Let me never leave. Even though I have to step from this moment to continue forward in my life, please go with me. Help me to develop the discipline of constant and consistent communication with You every moment of every minute in my life. Help me to practice the presence of a life ever surrendered to You. Keep my mind from wandering. Give me a touchstone, or a reminder point that will constantly pull my mind back to You no matter where I am and no matter what I am doing.

September 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

While worship – acknowledging the worth of God – should be part of our everyday lives, we tend to do this best in a corporate setting. While we began this series saying that worship is more than just music; more than what we sing; we often forget that in that same corporate setting, we can ascribe worth to God, along with his majesty and greatness and power, in the words we pray.

This begs the question: Should those words be planned or spontaneous? While the terminology may differ if you’re taking a course in public speaking, rhetoric, debate, etc., in The Church we usually speak of extemporaneous worship vs. liturgy. So in prayer we’re talking about prayers which are generated on the spot, as opposed to those read from prayer books, from the prayers found in the Bible itself, or prayers simply written in advance.

Although the context is slightly different, I’m often drawn to this verse in this debate:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
-1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV

While I’m sure there is much to find online about the negative aspects of spontaneous prayer — “Well, uh, Lord we just want to tell you and Lord we just want to ask you from the bottom of our hearts that, um, well, Lord… I just forgot what I was going to say…” — there are times when prayers simply overflowing from a heart of both gratitude and devotion are exactly what is needed.

But instead, we want to focus today on the positive aspects of perhaps planning to use something which has been previously written. This is a small part of an article by David Bennett at the website Ancient and Future Catholics. Click the title below to read the entire article.

Objection: Why Do You Pray Using a Book

1. Written Prayers Provide a Solid Structure for Worship
The original intention of using written prayers was to provide a basic order for worship and prayer. This basic order can be traced back to the earliest church, and the words and phrases of most written prayers and liturgies (such as you may encounter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church) are practically lifted verbatim from the Bible or the writings of saints. The traditional order of worship includes the spiritually necessary parts of a worship service: confession, thanksgiving, communion, etc.

2. Written Prayers Allow for Common Prayer
The early Church was a tight-knit community. Today, thanks to Western enlightenment values, many tend to view Christianity as a highly personal matter. The early Church did not. Therefore, they often prayed many prayers together, and always would offer an “amen” after the presider said his words. The idea that everybody comes to worship to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and pray their own spontaneous prayers that do not include the entire assembly is foreign to early Christian ideals, and was not a generally accepted way of worshipping until the latter half of the 20th century.

3. Written Prayers Allow For Real Freedom of Worship
(See # 1) I remember trying to piece together something for morning devotions, asking myself continually, “where in the heck do I start?” This became a bigger problem as I would spend more and more time just wandering during my private prayer time. Once I discovered the written forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, I found that having the structure actually gave me more freedom. Instead of wandering aimlessly, lacking any focus, I had a structure to work within. Keep in mind, written prayer forms allow for plenty of spontaneity, if not more, than structure-less prayer. Think of it like a football game. There are structures and rules…but…think of how much excitement is allowed within the structures! If we showed up to a field every Sunday and just acted spontaneously, we would rarely have as much fun as playing football, because the form of football is a proven, fun game. In the same way, liturgical form worship is proven, meaningful, and biblical worship, where a whole lot of cool things happen.

4. Written Prayers Connect Us to the Past and to the Wider Church
When we pray written prayers together, we are doing so with billions of past and present Christians. Thus, when praying written prayers we are not spiritually isolated within our own region or time period. Instead we are saying prayers that have been faithfully said throughout history. We are praying with Africans, Asians, Europeans, etc, and not just those of our same culture. Think of how many people have recited the Lord’s prayer, or the Agnes Dei, or the Sanctus. The number is certainly in the billions and includes peoples of all races and classes.

5. Written Prayers Are Time-Tested
Most well-known written prayers, including those used during Mass by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, are time-tested because of their theological orthodoxy and clearly-stated themes. I have been in many non-liturgical churches, and sometimes the spontaneous prayers are so long and rambling that I wish the pastor had written down something! Sometimes they are so theologically thin that they seem so sickly and superficial when compared to great prayers of the past.

6. Jesus Gave Us a Set Form For Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us what has been traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer” or, more commonly in Catholic circles, the “Our Father.” When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he gave them a useful form, which they could use and build from. He did not say, “when you pray, simply speak to God like you’re his best buddy, and say whatever comes from your heart.” While spontaneously speaking to God from the heart is very important, Jesus’ model for prayer is a form, showing the value of this type of prayer.

7. Written Prayers are Scriptural
Liturgical prayer, that is, prayer mixed with ritual, is firmly rooted in ancient Jewish worship. Ancient Jewish worship was not only strikingly ritualistic, but relied heavily on written prayers (for example, the Psalms). Christian worship follows in this pattern. Catholic worship even regularly integrates a Psalm (or similar canticle) into daily and weekly prayer services and Masses, usually sung, as in ancient Hebrew worship. This shows that many written prayers used in Catholic worship are taken directly from the Bible! Thus, written prayers allow a person to “pray Scripture.” Many written prayers that are not directly taken from the Bible are nonetheless full of biblical themes and symbols. Thus, far from being unbiblical, written prayers are probably the most biblical prayers available.

Does this mean there is no value to spontaneous prayers? Of course not! While written prayers are good for a variety of reasons, their use does not exclude made-up prayers. In fact, having a written form as a basic structure allows one real freedom to be spontaneous. Yes, written prayers can be misused, and are often said by people who don’t believe them, but this is hardly the fault of the prayers themselves. Spontaneous prayers can be misused as well. So why not give written prayers a try?

June 16, 2017

The Biblical Role of Incense

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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We linked to Elizabeth Prata at Thinking Out Loud but I believe this is the first time here at Christianity 201. This article follows from another from her blog The End Time and you might want to pause in the first paragraph and click the link in order to go deeper.

In the meantime, for this article, click the link in the title below to read at source.

How is incense like prayer?

by Elizabeth Prata

Yesterday I wrote about incense, and how the LORD told Jeremiah to tell the people that their sacrifices of incense were not going to be received, because of their sin. He was going to send judgment instead. I’d said that there is a connection between incense and prayer, to be explored today.

First, let’s look at the Temple and the altar of incense, called the golden altar. (Exodus 39:38).

for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 28:18–19).

The Lexham Bible Dictionary explains that pure incense was manufactured from equal parts of the following substances:

•      stacte—oil of myrrh
•      onycha—an extract from a Red Sea mollusk
•      galbanum—thought to come from the gum of an umbelliferous plant
•      frankincense

This mixture was seasoned with salt (Exodus 30:34–38). The LORD raised up perfumers whose job it was to produce the incense. (Exodus 30:34-38). One of the responsibilities of the priest was to keep incense burning on the altar daily. (2 Chronicles 13:11). Not to burn it was disobedience. (2 Chronicles 29:7-8).

There’s much more to the actual incense ingredients, blending, burning, and spiritual uses, but for now, let’s turn to the main idea for today- the connection between incense and prayers.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Zechariah, in Luke 1:8-11)

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews makes a distinction between the two times incense is used in the temple.

Whereas, therefore, there was a twofold use of the altar of incense; the one of the ordinary priests, to burn incense in the sanctuary every day; and the other of the high priest, to take incense from it when he entered into the most holy place, to fill it with a cloud of its smoke; the apostle intending a comparison peculiarly between the Lord Christ and the high priest only in this place, and not the other priests in the daily. discharge of their office.

Incense both accompanies and symbolizes prayer. ( Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4). The burning of incense as a sweet smelling offering before the Lord, indicated the worshiper’s duty to present prayers or offerings that were pleasing to God (1 Samuel 2:28).

When the New Covenant came, the new way of praying came. (Matthew 6:9,) No longer needing a priest to intercede, no longer needing incense to symbolize types and shadows, we now have the Spirit in us to intercede, and resurrected Jesus next to the right hand of the Father to intercede. We can ourselves go boldly before the throne of grace.

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.

1.) In that it was beaten and pounded before it was used. So doth acceptable prayer proceed from “a broken and contrite heart,” Isaiah 51:17.

(2.) It was of no use until fire was put under it, and that taken from the altar. Nor is that prayer of any virtue or efficacy which is not kindled by the fire from above, the Holy Spirit of God; which we have from our altar, Christ Jesus.

(3.) It naturally ascended upwards towards heaven, as all offerings in the Hebrew are called “ascensions,” risings up. And this is the design of prayer, to ascend unto the throne of God: “I will direct unto thee, and will look up;” that is, pray, Psalms 5:3.

(4.) It yielded a sweet savor: which was one end of it in temple services, wherein there was so much burning of flesh and blood. So doth prayer yield a sweet savor unto God; a savor of rest, wherein he is well pleased.

Owen further observes:

We are always to reckon that the efficacy and prevalency of all our prayers depends on the incense which is in the hand of our merciful high priest. — It is offered with the prayers of the saints, Revelation 8:4. In themselves our prayers are weak and imperfect; it is hard to conceive how they should find acceptance with God. But the invaluable incense of the intercession of Christ gives them acceptance and prevalency.

What an inexpressible privilege it is to pray. The curtain is parted, we may boldly approach the throne of God. He not only hears our prayer, he Himself intercedes for us when we utter groanings too weak to understand. (Romans 8:26).

Do not neglect prayer, a sweet smell of our sacrifice of praise to our Lord who hears.

April 29, 2017

Praying for Those Who Lead Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today a new writer recommended to us, who posts under the banner Life Lessons from an Imperfect Lady. (Aren’t we all?) I love the idea of thinking of leaders as not just people in government. That it could apply to whoever is leading us; the idea of praying for the people who have input into the lives of ourselves and our community. And while I’ve provided an alternative scripture reading, the vocabulary in verse 9 of the KJV below is not to be missed!

Click the title below to read this at source and look around; there is some very good devotional writing happening on her blog.  (For today’s scripture in a more modern text, click this link.)

The ‘Bridge’ of Prayer

There are days when we find it difficult to pray.

Maybe, we aren’t in a ‘thankful’ state of mind. Maybe, are hearts are heavy with physical or mental pain. Maybe we are burdened by guilt. Whatever the reason, Jesus gave us our instructions on how to approach His Father in the Lord’s prayer. Most people recognize that prayer with no trouble but there are other instructions on prayer.

Paul gives us another example of things to be included when conversing with God and we would do well to attempt to practice these…although they may seem hard.

1 Timothy 2: 1-9–I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

Okay…my first thought is OUCH!!

We are to pray for everyone, especially our leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not altogether happy with how our so-called ‘leaders’ have been leading us lately.

But wait. Maybe we don’t get the entire picture when we think about that word.

A leader is defined as a person who ‘directs or guides’. One immediately puts kings, presidents, and CEO’s in mind of leaders but a conductor is a leader of an orchestra. And a counselor is one who leads us to understand things about ourselves and/or the paths we undertake in life.

As hard as it may be, we should all pray for those who are ‘leading’ whether it be a politician or a pastor. God wants us all to come to him. Those in authority are under a greater burden as they are sometimes elevated to higher standard when we look at them.

Paul also goes on to remind us that Jesus is our leader. His blood is our bridge between sin and perfection which leads us back to fellowship with God. Paul is eager to establish his credentials that Christ appointed him a leader and given him a mission to minister to the Gentiles.

We are to live our heads and hands to God. Paul reminds us that we need not act as if we are better than others–wringing our hands, crying out to be noticed, dressing as if we are special, or touting our earthly goods. We are to come to Him simply, in honesty and humility to pray for those who are in positions of leadership and all others who accompany us to the feet of Christ who remember His grace and mercy.

When we pray for those in leadership, even when we don’t like or respect them, God is charging us to come honestly. Those that don’t do this will be judged by The One who is far greater that we are to have them answer for their actions.

The world may be in turmoil…but the bridge of life built for us built for all humanity by Jesus Christ is eternal and open to all.

April 3, 2017

Pray for People in High Positions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I’m not sure who recommended it, but I have had it bookmarked in my computer for some time to introduce you to Thomas Mathew whose website banner is ‘Praise the Lord Jesus Christ.’ also known as Believer Blogs. I had a really hard time choosing which article to post here, so you’re encouraged to click the title below and then surf the site for more interesting and helpful articles.

Pray for Kings

1Tim 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior

Dear friends, I thank God for the freedom that we enjoy in many nations in this world to worship Jesus in spirit and truth and to proclaim our faith freely. But not every place has this privilege. Always, everywhere, the “spirit of the world” is opposed to the proclaiming of the truth! In the apostolic times, we see the men of God much taunted and persecuted for their passionate preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In such a context, Paul exhorts the church to pray for all people, especially to those who are in authority & the kings especially.

Why should we do this ? Because it’s pleasing in God’s sight. Because, this prayer will help the authorities to change their mind concerning our faith and will cause us to lead our lives in a quiet & peaceful manner with the precious fruits of godliness & honesty.

These people may even come to the faith!! Verse 4 says: It’s God’s will that all men are saved and that they should come to the knowledge of Truth. Dear child of God, the Lord has uniquely positioned you to minister the gospel to certain people who may be your friends, relatives and colleagues. No other evangelist may reach them, but the Lord has given them into your hands to lead them to a knowledge of Truth.

A verse in Phil 4:22 is a great encouragement for me. It says: All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. Someone in those times had the anointing and calling to go into the Caesar’s palace to proclaim the gospel to them, and as a result many were saved there.

I thank God for all the blessed missionaries who are taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unreached nations and people groups. But that leaves a lot of people within our reach: Whom we can reach with the message of God’s love, if only we are filled with God’s love for them, and boldness for declaring the gospel to them. Like Paul says, we need to come to the stage where we say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God to salvation!”

Pray for all people without ceasing! Pray for Kings and rulers and governments! Pray for nations! Pray for your near & dear! Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send His chosen ones into the fields. Ask the Lord to show you the people whom you should be reaching with the Gospel. As we pray faithfully, we will see the hand of the Lord moving in our nations and turning the hearts of even the rulers towards the Lord Jesus.

God bless you !

March 17, 2017

Peace for Jerusalem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our second visit in six months to the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. You may learn more about her books at this link. To read today’s post on her blog (with an appropriate picture) you are encouraged to click the title below:

A Prayer that Will Change Your Perspective

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
‘May you have peace.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”
Psalm 122

This psalm is one of David’s songs of ascent, probably written to be sung as God’s people ascended on their trip to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem, after all, is on a high hill, and there is no way to approach the city without ascending. This fact, and this psalm, never meant a whole lot to me until I actually visited Jerusalem. I had valued these pieces of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, but I had not truly understood the meaning and significance of a song meant for ascent.

On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more about that beautiful city’s significance to God’s people from before David’s time to the present. During my trip to Israel several years ago, I was looking forward to visiting Jerusalem, and I knew it would be a powerful experience. I also knew about the importance and sacredness of this city to so many around the world. But honestly, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of walking its streets. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history, and passion present there. The sense of culture is incredibly rich; history greeted me at every turn; and nearly every corner features an expression of faith.

And at the center of it all is the site of the ancient temple: lovingly built, destroyed, rebuilt, reviled, revered, mocked, contested, and excavated for more than 3000 years. Seeing the temple within the city walls helped me understand so much about significance of this site in Scripture. The temple that stood there was high atop a mountain, towering over valleys below. It was huge, visible to everyone, and infused with the indwelling presence of God. It gave hope, guidance, purpose, a sense of unity, and faith to God’s people. A holy place, indeed!

It’s truly impossible to describe the experience of seeing the remains of that temple and the city that surrounded it. Jerusalem is a capsule of much of human history—and God’s ongoing work among people—packed into a larger dose than I could swallow at once, much less communicate. But as our group ascended the temple steps—many of which are the same steps Jesus and his disciples walked on—our devotion leader read Psalm 122. And I understood a bit of why God’s people were and are drawn to the place where his presence was made manifest. I felt small in the presence of a holy God who has reached down to people and lovingly called them to himself throughout all ages.

Turning around and looking down from that spot, I realized it’s no wonder David focused on Jerusalem in this song. All pilgrims would have passed through its gates, then its narrow streets, to reach the temple. Then, looking down from that holy place, they would have seen the city flowing around them, houses hugging the hillsides.

It’s no wonder David prayed for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem “for the sake of the house of the Lord our God” and “for the sake of my family and friends.” The security of the city meant the security of the temple, and peace in its spiritual center meant peace for everyone in the nation.

They say that after you visit Israel, you’ll never be the same. It was true for me, and one of the many ways that visit challenged me was in hearing this Psalm of ascent as I climbed the ancient temple steps and prayed for peace in Jerusalem, this spiritual microcosm of the world. A prayer without answers, prescriptions, or solutions. A prayer without the arrogance of believing I know what is best. A simple prayer for peace and the best from God’s hand.

Do you pray a similar prayer for the well-being of our nation, our churches, and our global community? I can’t wait to see the day when God truly does bring lasting peace to Jerusalem–and to the whole world. In the meantime, we don’t always know what’s best for the world around us, and conflicting priorities can make peaceful resolution seem impossible. But as God’s people, for the sake of God’s glory and the well-being of all the people God loves, it’s always appropriate to pray for peace and desire what is best in God’s eyes.

Like everyone, we are tempted to limit our vision for the good life to what would make our own lives better (or more comfortable or easier or more apparently successful). Our prayers might change if, instead of wanting just what seems best for us and to us, we were to truly seek the peace and well-being of everyone. We don’t have to know what that means. We don’t have to have all the answers or stop grieving over the fact that people can, do, and will turn their backs on God. We simply have to agree with what God wants. And he will change our hearts when we do. He will help us see the world a little more like the way he does. The closer we get to God’s holiness, the more we long for peace and well-being within the city that surrounds us.

From where we stand right now, if we open our eyes, we can see the whole world. And we are in the house of the Lord.

December 13, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Upward

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. – Psalm 57:5 (also 11)

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? – Psalm 89:6

Like so many, I often wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep. I have found that simply focusing on scriptures passages I have memorized is very helpful, but often I take 20 minutes before I remember to focus on those scriptures.

The Psalmist said he had hidden God’s Word in his heart “so I might not sin against thee;” but in a recent article Jacob Young remembered something John Piper had said about memorizing scripture for the inevitable onslaught of old age:

He commented that one aspect of the value of Scripture memory for him was to fill his head with as much Scripture so that when everything else goes (via dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there will hopefully remain the truths from God’s mind. When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what are the studs and foundation?

So it was several nights ago while processing the words of The Lord’s Prayer (what Catholics call The Our Father) that I realized there are two nouns in the prayer which occur twice.

The first is “heaven” occurring in Matthew 6:9

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

and also in the next verse:

“…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

It was interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in verse 9 all the English translations kept the same word (Phillips used ‘heavenly Father’) and in verse 10 only The Message dropped the term, replacing the phrase with ‘as above, so below’ which keeps the simile but phrased in reversed order.

You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required.

While your first reaction might be to look up the term in Greek (Matthew is New Testament after all) it’s interesting to see how heretofore Jesus’ followers would have understood the Hebrew term Shamayim. The word is taken from a root not found in scripture which means lofty. BibleStudyTools.com provides this definition:

heaven, heavens, sky

  1. visible heavens, sky
    1. as abode of the stars
    2. as the visible universe, the sky, atmosphere, etc
  2. Heaven (as the abode of God)

and informs us the Hebrew equivalent term is used in the Old Testament 392 times with other meanings including horizons and sky.

This prayer, which includes an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, the establishing of his kingdom, the carrying out of his will, the petition for daily provision, the request to be kept from temptation, etc. is also a prayer which causes us to look upward.

BibleStudyTools also contains Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. There we read:

“Heaven” is the created reality beyond earth. “The heavens and the earth” ( Gen 1:1 ) circumscribe the entire creation, or what we call the universe. God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well.

“Heaven” designates two interrelated and broad concepts, the physical reality beyond the earth and the spiritual reality in which God dwells…

Three nuances of meaning are given first, and then we are brought to:

…Fourth, the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness, however, is a spiritual, not a spacial, fact. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, he acknowledged, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ).

The Dwelling Place of God. Heaven most commonly refers to the dwelling-place of God. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed in pristine clarity. The term “glory, ” therefore, has popularly been used as a synonym for heaven ( Rom 8:18 ). Actually, God’s glory is above the heavens ( Psalm 113:4 ; 148:13 ) because it is the sum total of his attributes that are expressed wherever he is present ( Exod 13:21-22 ; Psalm 108:5 ; 2 Col 3:7-18 ). In heaven there is a continual acknowledgment of God’s glory ( Psalm 29:9 ). Various figurative expressions identify God’s heavenly abode such as “the highest heaven” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ), “the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ), and “his lofty palace in the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ). Paul speaks of being taken up into “the third heaven” ( 2 Cor 12:2 ). Although he does not identify the first two, possible references to the atmospheric and celestial heavens are suggestive.

The Heavenly Perspective. God invites human beings to adopt his heavenly perspective. All blessings, whether natural or supernatural, are from God ( James 1:17 ; see John 3:27 ), who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe ( Rom 11:36 ). Israel rightly regarded rain as a heavenly gift from God ( Deut 28:12 ). Likewise, drought was a sign of God’s displeasure ( Deut 28:23-24 ).

So we are not only being asked to look upward, but we are looking beyond.

  • Beyond what we can see from our perspective
  • Beyond what we know; God is wholly other
  • Beyond what we can fully comprehend; the place of God’s glory

The other noun which occurs twice, depending on which version of the prayer you learned, is kingdom and we’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Previously at C201: We looked at two songs, How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place and Better Is One Day.

all sections today were NIV

October 20, 2016

Non-Stop Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today I messed with Clarke Dixon’s original title! It appears along with the link below…

Pray Always, and . . .

by Clarke Dixon

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and . . . Luke 18:1

We might get thus far into this parable of Jesus and already be off to a false start. We could read “their need to pray always” and jump to the conclusion that this parable is about being persistent in prayer. We might then find ourselves persistent in what I call amazon.com prayers. What are those? Well with Amazon, you pay for something and it shows up. We may expect something similar with God. We pray for something and it shows up. Therefore we may think from this parable that if it does not arrive, be persistent and keep praying and it will eventually show up. However, there is something far deeper going on here. Let us turn to the parable, and as you read, watch for a certain theme that shows up a lot. I have used underlining to help you spot it:

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8

Spotting the word “justice” is crucial in understanding this parable. Knowing that Jesus has promised opposition for his followers also helps. This is not, “Why hasn’t God given me what I want yet,” but “Why are God’s loved ones, if God loves them, facing opposition and injustice?” Christians have faced opposition and injustice from the get-go. We still do, in fact we are said to be the most oppressed people group around the world today. This sounds hard to believe in the West where we are conditioned to believe that Christians are the worst oppressors ever known. This conditioning is also part of the opposition that we face. We sometimes face opposition in the form of ridicule and contempt which is far milder, of course, than the threats and death faced elsewhere. This opposition is why Jesus calls us to “pray always and not to lose heart.”

When I tell my boys about all the hard work and homework that is required to be successful at school, they may be tempted to drop out. A temptation to drop out in the face of opposition is reflected by Jesus when he asks at the end of the parable if “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  So why not drop out? With school, my boys ought not drop out because all that hard work and homework turns out to be worth it in the end. Here is another key to understanding this parable of Jesus. Look to the end. Jesus gives us a better option to dropping out, namely keep praying and do not lose heart! We will find justice in the end.

The gist of the parable is this: if at the end of the day an unjust judge will grant justice for someone he does not care about, then how much more can we expect to see God deliver justice for people he loves deeply?! So keep praying and do not lose heart, hang on and look forward to the day God brings justice.

We find these same themes reflected throughout scripture. Consider, for example, this example from 2nd Thessalonians:

4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10

The Christians at Thessalonica were facing persecution. Facing injustice as they were, they might begin to question if they should drop out. But the Lord will put things right and the persecutors, if they do not repent, will be facing separation from God. Justice is coming, so keep praying and do not lose heart!

Likewise consider this from the book of Revelation, a book written originally for people facing persecution for their faith in, and loyalty to, Jesus:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11 They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. Revelation 6:9-11

Later on in Revelation we learn about the Millennium:

4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Revelation 20:4

There is great discussion as to whether these particular scenes should be taken literally or symbolically. Either way, this scene points to a great reversal. Justice will come to the oppressor and for the the oppressed. So keep praying and do not lose heart.

Another thought; we may assume this parable is thinking of prayer as a shopping list of wants. However, it is perhaps better to see prayer here as a means of remaining solid in our relationship with Christ in the face of troubles. Prayer is part of what we do to “abide” in Christ which we are instructed by Jesus to do in John 15. It is interesting to note that immediately following the instruction to abide, or “remain” in Him, Jesus goes on to talk about the world hating His disciples. Prayer is an important part of a relationship with Christ and a relationship with Christ is an important part of facing opposition.

This parable of Jesus is not for those who may be tempted to quit praying when their ‘letters to Santa Claus’ are not answered by God. Rather this parable is for God’s children who may be tempted to drop out or sell out under opposition. Hang on, keep praying and do not lose heart. How will your life be an answer to Jesus’ question?

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Luke 18:8

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

October 1, 2016

“I Am Willing”

This is our sixth visit with Ben Nelson at the blog Another Red Letter Day. He has been faithfully writing since June 2012, and if you click the title below, you can then browse other posts.

I Am Willing

Join me in Mark 1 today and let’s think about what Jesus said in these three little words. But first … a little context.

And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” – Mark 1:40-41 NASB

Jesus ran into people every day during His ministry years. It is in fact why He came, to seek and to save the lost, to run into people and bring the kingdom of heaven into their lives. No two of the folks He encountered were alike. It was not as though everyone who came to Him for a miracle came with the same level of faith and expectation.

Some knew deep inside that if they could reach Him, they would find healing, like the woman with the issue of blood.

for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” – Matthew 9:21 NASB

Some were not even sure He had any power whatsoever.

“It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” – Mark 9:22 NASB

Some understood He was not limited to proximity, and could heal across the miles like the centurion.

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. – Matthew 8:8 NASB

So what about this leper we meet in Mark 1? He had a concern I often hear voiced in Evangelical circles. It’s common thought today that Jesus can still heal and does still heal, but it is linked to some sort of whim or fancy or divine fiat. We come to the Lord in prayer asking for healing as though we hoping He’s in a good mood and might just condescend to do us a little favor and heal our loved one.

This phrase only comes up five times in the NASB and three of them are three accounts of this event. One is when Jesus is talking about John the baptist, explaining that he was Elijah who would come. The only other time we hear this phrase is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus cries out to the Father:

saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” – Luke 22:42 NASB

Many have adopted this phrase as part of their prayer life.

Here’s the thing.

Jesus answered the question.

He answered this man in no uncertain terms.

He could have simply healed the leper to demonstrate His will without saying a word.

But Jesus—the Word of God—the very Will of God incarnate—the express image of God—Jesus—answered.

I am willing!

And if this doesn’t answer it for you with enough clarity, look at His ministry. He healed all who came to Him. Time after time we see Him heal them all.

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. – Matthew 4:24 NASB

But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, – Matthew 12:15 NASB

We are not calling out to God for something unclear, or something unprecedented.

Jesus, in the Garden, placed Himself into a circumstance we could never see. He was facing separation from the Father, He was facing the cup of God’s wrath stored up against all our sin and the prospected was horrifying.

This is not our case when the come to the Lord Jesus for our healing. He told us His name is Jehovah Rapha – the Lord our Healer.

I understand that when we are talking about our future James tells us to leave it in the Lord’s hands.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” – James 4:15 NASB

But James is not teaching us to pray. He’s talking about our attitude toward life.

Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, said without hesitation:

“I am willing; be cleansed.” – Matthew 8:3 NASB

Hallelujah! (That’s a place for shouting!)

June 14, 2016

Our Father

Praying In Jesus NameMaybe it was the point form (or bullet point) nature of yesterday’s post, but lying in bed this morning I considered the possibility of doing something similar on a phrase-by-phrase basis with the Lord’s Prayer.

Specifically, I wondered, “What does this tell us about our Father?”

Our Father

  • The form of address is abba. It’s a familial term, a mark of family intimacy. But you’ve heard that before in countless sermons, so we’ll move on…
  • He provides us with the means to initiate the conversation.
  • He wants to continue to commune with us as he did in those Genesis moments before the fall.

In heaven

  • He dwells in eternity, outside of time. We don’t. His location versus our location shows that each time we pray, we are ripping apart the curtain separating his world from ours.
  • We basically access eternity when we begin to pray; our prayers take place at the intersection of the two realities.

Holy is your name

  • Despite the intimacy, he wants us to remember who he is. He is holy. His very name is to be treated with reverence.

Your kingdom come

  • We invite the coming of a kingdom that is very much in the future.
  • We are invoking the manifestation of something that is described in terms of the rule and reign of a monarch, and that is often expressed in terms of realm or territory.
  • We see a glimpse of the majesty of God.

Your will be done

  • God has volition, and undoubtedly has a plan for the bringing about of that which is in his will.
  • In stating this, we are placing our will and our plan in submission to his. If there is a conflict, we would defer to him. Better yet however is the idea that his will becomes ours. Then there is no conflict.

On earth as it is in heaven

  • Again we see the intersection of two worlds, the earthly realm mirroring the heavenly realm. We are to be an echo here of what takes place there.
  • In the heavenly realm, God simply speaks and it happens or it is.

Give us today our daily bread

  • This one is complicated, because here we are being told to petition and make supplication for our basic, mundane, run-of-the-mill provisions; some would have it that prayer should be more high-minded than this.
  • Implicit in this also is the idea that such provisions, though we may feel we earn them by the our own labor and effort, ultimately come, as do all good gifts, from God; he is the Lord our provider.

And lead us not into temptation

  • Theologically, this one gets even more complicated than the phrase it follows. Does God ever lead anyone into temptation? He certainly allows temptation to cross our paths.
  • Always important to note that the verse asks for help avoiding temptation, but not the sin that can result from it; in other words, while God may allow us to face temptation, he doesn’t lead us into sin. That’s not his nature.
  • Temptation reflects the freedom — I’m avoiding free will for obvious reasons — we are given. We continue to face choices. But we can also enjoy the contentment of not living in the place of temptation.

But deliver us from evil

  • Depending on your vocation or your location, temptation may abound even where a change of job or address isn’t possible. But the prayer asks God to rescue us from the consequences of bad choices vis-a-vis those temptations.
  • This tells us that God is able to deliver.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory

  • The prayer returns full circle to the majesty of God. Kingdom is repeated; the only key word to appear twice in the English text.
  • As a model prayer, God is asking us to affirm that it’s all his, it all belongs to him, it all emanates from his authority and omnipotence, and in all that happens he is glorified.

Amen.

 

May 28, 2016

Paul, Silas and All the Other Prisoners

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

[Click here for the full text from Acts 16:16-40]

This is from a sermon by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. You can read the entire text of the sermon and/or listen to it in full (only 12 minutes) at the link below.

Sermon on Paul, Silas, and the Prayers of My Mother

…Prayer plays an interesting role in the divine jailbreak story we just heard from Acts, because it sort of feels like something out of a comic book – as if Paul and Silas have obtained superhero levels of faith. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and Spiderman has heightened senses but Paul and Silas can cause earthquakes that free them from prison just by praying and singing hymns.

I really really really want to see myself in Paul and Silas kind of in the same way that I realy really want to see myself in Wonder Woman. I want to think of myself as having that kind of super-hero faith. The kind that, were I falsely accused, stripped of my clothing, severely beaten with rods, thrown into the depths of a first century jail cell and shackled, that I too would respond not by crying like a baby or being immobilized with fear and hatred but like Paul and Silas I would respond in the dark of night by praying and singing hymns. I’ve not been in that particular situation or anything vaguely like it and maybe in true hardship I would surprise myself, but given how I respond to even minor irritations, that super hero response feels unlikely.

Because if I’m honest I have to admit that if I pull a muscle and can’t work out for two weeks or even if I just run out of coffee at home, I lose faith.

I’ve never known what to do with messages that tell me to “just pray and have more faith and everything will be fine”. Because those kinds of messages never make me have more faith. They make me have more guilt for not having more faith. And then I just feel more stuck in this feeling of spiritual inadequacy…

…So, as someone who is not unfamiliar with the feeling of spiritual inadequacy, which character do I really relate to in the story of Paul and Silas in prison? It’s not really Paul and Silas at all, it’s the other prisoners. Verses 25-26 tell us: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.

Everyone’s chains were unfastened. Not just the ones praying and singing. But everyone.

I love that it was only Paul and Silas who prayed and sang hymns and yet it was all the prisoners who were freed. Like somehow the faith of two was sufficient for the whole group. And later the belief of the jailer was enough for his entire household to experience salvation.

I relate to being in the dark. I relate to feeling shackled to certain ways of thinking and feeling and acting. I relate to not being able to free myself and yet still experiencing freedom. In other words, I relate to relying on the faith of others, the songs of others, the prayers of others.

So many of us have felt tortured by not knowing if we have enough faith or the right kind of faith. I’ve said this before but perhaps it bears repeating: faith is never given in sufficient quantities to individuals…it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Because this thing isn’t an individual competition, it’s a team sport.

God has provided in us all the faith sufficient for our freedom. We just have to take turns being the ones being lowered through the roof to Jesus and being the ones doing the lowering.

There’s enough. There’s enough faith. There’s enough love. There’s enough hymn singing. There’s enough freedom.

And for we who bear the name Christian prayer and love and faith and hymns are our birthright. Even if we don’t always know how to pray and we love poorly and have little faith and don’t like all the hymns…even then all of this is ours just as it has been the birthright of all the people I’d God for millennia. Even when we don’t have enough of our own, there is enough…

…There is just so much prayer and faith surrounding us all the time and affecting us in ways we don’t even know and for this abundance in the face of my own insufficiency, for your faith and prayer and song which unshackles me over and over and for the God who made it all possible, I give thanks. Amen.

 

May 15, 2016

The Forgotten Ministry

•••by Russell Young

John wrote,If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.(1 John 5:16, NIV)

This is a curious promise written by John.  There are many different opinions as to what John meant when he spoke of a sin that does not lead to death.   For this writing, however, consideration will be given to the issue of life that John has promised.  Is he promising physical life or spiritual life?  Throughout his epistle John has been speaking of one’s spiritual health and well-being, not his physical well-being.   However, applying the notion of spiritual life or death does not make sense to those who claim that one’s spiritual hope was assured at the time of their confession of faith.  They would proclaim that the ‘believer” was saved eternally at that point and this reality cannot be altered.  If this is so, how can sin bring about his spiritual death?  Consequently, they must attribute the death being spoken about as one’s physical death.  And examination of the Scriptures reveals that John might very likely be addressing one’s eternal health or spiritual life.  Disobedience, and walking in sin has been revealed to bring about one’s spiritual destruction or death.

John has recorded the Lord’s teaching that one’s doing will either allow him to rise to live or rise to be condemned.   “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29, NIV) That is, his practices are what determines his outcome.

Erroneous teaching about the nature and application of God’s “grace” and of “works” has allowed God’s children the freedom to engage in sin without concern for judgment and death.  The Word is clear that eternal salvation is only accomplished through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Paul taught that we are not to be DECEIVED, a man reaps what he sows.  “The one who sows to please his sinful nature from his sinful nature will reap destruction.” (Galatians 6:7-8) Paul also recorded: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 5:16) He also taught that the believer was to offer his body in slavery to righteousness which leads to holiness (Romans 6:19), resulting in eternal life. (Romans 6:22) Further in his letter Paul wrote: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

It is not the gospel message that God’s grace will deliver the confessor into His eternal presence.  In order for that to be accomplished he must utilize the resources that have been provided according to God’s grace and mercy and live a life of obedience.  Sin is disobedience.

Just before the Lord’s crucifixion He washed the disciple’s feet.  Many take this as an act of humility and command to service.  It certainly is that, but much more.  Peter was appalled and at first would not submit.  However, the Lord rebuked him.  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) And clarified,A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean.” (John 13:10) The soil of daily sins (dirty feet) according to the Lord still needed to be washed clean if the Lord was “to have any part with him.”  That is, known sin must be repented and confessed if it is to be forgiven and removed.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9, NIV)

It is in the context of these understandings that the passage under consideration and the “forgotten ministry” makes sense.  If you see your brother (a fellow believer) commit a sin you are to pray for him so that he might have life.  It is unfortunate that this ministry is not promoted more within the church.  It is both an act of service and of love.  The reality of this ministry has been lost in exaggerated and misleading teaching concerning the nature of God’s grace and of His “unconditional” love, but it still remains in force.

May 14, 2016

Is There a Conflict Between Predestination and Prayer?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV Luke 11:5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This is Chapter 15 of a 1982 book Why Pray: An Exposition of Luke 11:5-13 and Related Verses by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, best known as the originator of the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible available in several translations.

God has made everything; He knows how everything works; He knows what everybody will do.  Why, then, does He tell us to pray, when He already knows what the end result will be?  What difference does it make whether we ask, seek and knock?

There are two things that are clearly indicated throughout the Word of God, and especially by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and we might as well accept them because they come from Him.  One is God’s sovereignty.  He sends rain whenever He wants it to rain.  He sends snow whenever He wants it to snow.  Whatever He wants to do, He does and we cannot hinder Him or influence Him in the doing of it.  He is sovereign.  We can’t change that.

But the fact also remains that He wants us to pray, and that is just as much a part of His sovereignty as everything else.  He says, “Pray, ask, seek, knock.”  The fact that He wants us to pray is a recognition of the sovereign freedom of our will.  He has given us freedom of will to come to Him, the omnipotent, all-sovereign God, as a Father and talk to Him about our needs.

If God entered a heart against its will, He would be violating the freedom of will with which He created us.  Only when our will voluntarily comes into harmony with His will can we ask and expect to receive.

Now, there is something we must understand about the Lord’s prefacing the words, “Ask, seek, knock” with the declaration, “And I, myself, say unto you,” and that is He has the authority to say so.  He is the Creator, and “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).  Here He is declaring that He is God Himself.  he is the Creator, and the Sustainer, also, of all things.  As the Sustainer of all things He is able to hear us and to do what we ask if it is in accordance with His eternal will – or even to give us something better than what we, in our limited wisdom, ask for.  John 1:3 says, “By him were all things made, and there isn’t a thing that was made that wasn’t made by him.

Colossians 1:17 is a mind-boggling verse, which I’ll translate directly from the Greek: “And he it is who is before all things, and all things in him consist.”  In other words, in Him everything holds together.  He is the cohesive force of everything.

Have you ever thought what happens when you ask something from God and then another child of God asks exactly the opposite? Take a farmer who needs rain and another believer who needs sunshine. Now since God cannot please both, what will He do?  In His eternal wisdom and providence, He will answer in a way that will best further his plans. If the believer needs the sunshine more than the farmer needs the rain, then God may bring the sunshine. Otherwise, He might bring rain – unless, of course, in His larger view of the needs of all, or His plans for all, He sends what is best for all. Our prayers are often so competing that when the Lord looks from above He must decide what is best from His own point of view. Unlike a human parent, He is not perplexed as to whom to please.  Have you ever had this happen:  one child in your family wants to do one thing and another child wants to do the opposite, and you as a parent don’t know what to do? I sometimes think it is not easy for God to be God. He created, He sustains everything, and I’m glad that He sees all of humanity from above and answers accordingly.

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