Christianity 201

January 26, 2021

Unscheduled Time … With God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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Today while wandering the bookstore, I picked up a copy of Wonder, Fear, and Longing: A Book of Prayers by Mark Yaconelli (Zondervan, 2009). This section particularly caught my attention and asked Ruth to transcribe it for us. It’s really the first one-third of the chapter which continues with quotations, scriptures, sample prayers, and practical advice of pray-ers (my word).

Rest

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Jesus in Matthew 11:28b-30, The Message)

Giving your heart time to pray is like allowing the sun to shine on wintering seeds. I notice that as I pray, my soul is slowly warmed and given room to expand, infused with God’s peace and mercy. Prayer is the way in which I nurture and grow my life in God. Prayer is the way in which I hear Jesus calling from the centre of my life, “Learn from me…and you will find rest for your soul.”

The ancient understanding of the word pray within the Christian tradition is “to rest.” Any experience of rest requires a release–we have to set down our work, our plans, our worry and activity. The fact that Jesus spent long periods of time resting is one of the most overlooked aspects of Jesus’ life. He prayed and rested in the midst of suffering people. He prayed and rested in the midst of countless opportunities to do good.

Why did Jesus rest? Why did he withdraw from crowds of people desperate for healing? We know from Scripture that Jesus rested in order to commune with God. For Jesus (even Jesus!), prayer was necessary in order to sustain and deepen his capacity for love.

When we rest in prayer, we become open and receptive to God’s presence. In the Christian tradition the experience of receiving God in prayer is called contemplation. Contemplation is an experience of being bathed in God’s love and presence. It’s an awareness of God, attained not through thinking but through loving. It is the experience Jesus refers to when he says, “abide in me” (John 15:4) or what the psalmist speaks of when he writes, “Be still and know” (Psalm 46:10). It’s the experience the psalmist refers to when he describes a child resting on her mother’s lap (Psalm 131:2). Contemplation in prayer is when suddenly we need no words, when we can relax and enjoy God’s love with humility and gratitude.

I once took a bus full of high school kids to the coastal dunes two hours north of San Francisco. This diverse group of young people from across the country had gathered to spend the week exploring prayer. Midway through the week, we spent a day in the deserted Bodega dunes along the northern California coast. Amidst the rolling sand, native grasses, and twisting cypress trees, I talked to the students about the history of silence and solitude in the Christian tradition. I reminded them of the many times Jesus would leave people and towns to go out in the wilderness and spend time alone with God. I then asked the young people to go out along the sand and surf and spend the afternoon in prayer and solitude, just like Jesus did. As patches of fog drifted over us from the Pacific Ocean, I handed out journals and blankets and sent the young people out to pray.

I remember walking through the dunes carefully observing the praying teenagers. Some students sat atop mounds of sand, looking off to the horizon; others preferred low places, clefts and crevices stacked with driftwood. Some students lay on their backs, heads resting on their journals, watching grey shrouds of mist creep over the blue sky. Other students seemed oblivious to their surroundings, their heads bowed as they scribbled intently in their journals. As the hours passed, some people rolled themselves up in their blankets and closed their eyes, while others stood and meandered slowly toward the sea.

When the prayer time came to a close, I gathered the students together in small groups. “What was it like to pray?” I asked. “What were you like? What was God like?”

At the end of the week I asked the students to evaluate the week-long retreat: “What was the most enjoyable aspect of our time together?” Despite game nights, talent shows, volleyball, karaoke, discussion groups, outings to San Francisco, and plenty of cute guys and girls to flirt with, the great majority responded, “The afternoon praying in the dunes along the beach.” When I asked them why, they responded with, “I’ve never had that much unscheduled time before;” or “It was so peaceful to just rest with God;” or “My life is so stressful. I’ve never had time to just relax and be myself with God.”

For years I’ve listened to people talk about their spiritual lives. One of the most interesting insights I’ve gained in these conversations is the way in which people described their deepest encounters with God. Often these experiences of God are moments of rest, solitude, silence, reflection, and wonder. These encounters with God often take place as people lie on their beds at night, or in moments outside, in nature, looking at trees and earth and sky. Every one of these moments feels timeless, unscheduled, unhurried–as if they’d stepped out of the normal pace of their life.

Like the students who experienced an afternoon praying among the Bodega dunes, we may find that prayer offers us a release from the stress and busyness, the excessive activity that overwhelms each of us. Prayer gives us permission to loosen our shoulders, relax our jaws, and soften the walls around our hearts so God’s love might make a way. Prayer is that increasingly rare opportunity to lie down in green pastures and rest beside still waters despite the fear and worry that we constantly feel.

Christians teach the message that “God loves you”–but this teaching means nothing unless we actually spend time in this love, unless we stop and kneel down in the grass and driftwood, down in the sand, down in the misery of a suffering world, down into God’s compassion and peace.

“It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’” (God, via Moses in Exodus 31:17 NLT)

“…In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength…”
(God, via the prophet Isaiah in 30:15 NIV)

Even though Jesus said not to talk about what happened, soon every conversation was consumed by these events. The crowds swelled even larger as people went to hear Jesus preach and to be healed of their many afflictions. Jesus repeatedly left the crowds, though, stealing away into the wilderness to pray.(the biographer Luke in 5:15-16, The Voice)

“Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Jesus to his disciples in Mark 6:31 NKJV)

pp 90-95


Mark Yaconelli is a writer, retreat leader, spiritual director, story-catcher, husband, and father. He is the founder and executive director of  The Hearth: Real Stories by Regular Folks, a registered non-profit that assists cities and service-based agencies in producing personal storytelling events designed to help communities and individuals deepen relationships and cultivate compassion. His latest book is The Gift of Hard Things; Finding Grace in Unexpected Places (IVP).

(c) 2009 Mark Yaconelli / Zondervan

November 15, 2020

Andrew Murray on the Names of the Holy Spirit

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
 – John 14:26 NLT

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
 – John 16:7 NASB

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
 – John 16:13 ESV

 

Ten years ago at this time I was slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the two chapters, he was been looking at the passage that begins,If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different;How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.” Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continuously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

November 9, 2020

Using the Scriptures as a Model for Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm
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For today’s thoughts, we have some very short excerpts from a 2019 book, A Genesis to Revelation Guide to Prayer by Pamela L. McQuade (Barbour Books). I’ve chosen a few that were perhaps not as obvious as others to give you a sense of how the book works. There are also some longer articles about prayer as well but for me the centerpiece is section 4, which consists of 144 references to prayer. This 224-page book comes in a smaller size that can be carried with you in a pocket or purse or lunchbox.

Prayer in the Middle of Disaster

As judgment fell upon the land because of Judah’s unfaithfulness, Joel called out to God, the creator of the earth, to intervene and stop the destruction of the pastures, fields, and woodlands — All the elements of the earth that supported people’s needs. Only God could end the disaster and lift his judgment from his unfaithful people.

Lord help us! The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and flames have burned up all the trees. Joel 1:19 NLT

Prayer for Sanctuary

In a vision, Ezekiel saw the people of Judah destroyed by God’s command, and the prophet cried out to God for them. Though they had fallen far from God, Ezekiel still had compassion. Though God did not seem inclined to ease their plight, in Ezekiel 11:16 he promised that even though the people would go to foreign lands, he would be their sanctuary.

When they were killing and I was left alone, I fell face down, crying out, “Alas, sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” Ezekiel 9:8 NIV

Prayer for God’s Workers

Anyone who works in ministry will come to recognize that more workers are essential. Jesus told the disciples to ask God to provide workers in order to bring in the harvest of human souls. He will answer this prayer.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 NIV

A Prayer that God Overhears

Concerned about the state of their nation, a remnant of faithful Jews spoke to one another about their failings in God’s eyes. Even though they weren’t really praying, God heard their concerns. He honored them with a scroll of remembrance and promised to spare them.

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. The scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. Malachi 3:16.

God Hears Short Prayers, Too

Hezekiah heard from the prophet Isaiah that God was prepared to take his life. The faithful King prayed a fervent, short prayer, and before Isaiah could leave the palace, God turned him around with a new, hope-filled message for the king. God hears every prayer, even our shortest, most desperate ones.

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember oh Lord how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. 2 Kings 20: 2-3 NLT

July 30, 2020

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Do our prayers sound like the Lord’s prayer? Notice I am not asking if we pray the Lord’s Prayer itself, but rather if our prayers reflect it. Jesus did not say “pray this,” but rather “pray in this way.” Do our prayer requests sound like the requests found in the Lord’s prayer?

In twenty-three years as a pastor, having received many prayer requests, and having attended many prayer meetings, the number one prayer concern that has shown up is for good health. This is not surprising as health is so important. Surprising, however, is that though Jesus was known for healing many, many people, when he taught us to pray, he did not teach us to pray for good health!

What are the first prayer requests Jesus put before us to pray about?

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

Matthew 6:9-10 (NRSV)

We may find that our prayers often begin from a self-centred place. Indeed we might not even feel like praying until something happens to us that causes us to go looking for help. It is not wrong to pray out of our needs, for the Psalmists often do, therefore we are in good company. We cannot pray, however, as Jesus taught us to pray and stay in a self-centred place. When we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, we learn to focus on God and God’s agenda for the world.

What does that agenda look like? What does it look like when God’s will is being done? The Bible teaches us what life in the Kingdom looks like. Let us take just two examples:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:21-24 (NRSV)

In the kingdom of God, people experience justice and righteousness. Far too many empires have been marked by the opposite.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)

In the kingdom of God, even those considered as “the least” are valued and helped. Far too many empires have oppressed their people rather than helped.

We sometimes have a negative reaction to the idea of a “kingdom.” We want democracy! In Bible times, however, a kingdom was considered a good thing, a safe place. You did not want to find yourself on your own, defenseless against marauders who lusted after your possessions, your land, and your family members. You wanted to belong to a people who could stick together and be stronger together. It was even better if the people you belonged to had a good army, and a good king. The king of a kingdom was supposed to take care of the people and ensure their safety. In fact kings in ancient times were often referred to as shepherds.

In the Kingdom of God, people are taken care of. God is our shepherd. There is a good king indeed, one who is concerned for the welfare of his people.

We cannot pray as Jesus taught us to pray and stay in a self-centred place. We will focus on God’s kingdom and the good king’s love for all kingdom people. We will focus on others, and God’s concern for them.

If there is a focus on self here as we pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it is on how we might be part of the problems of this world, rather than the solutions. It is on how we might be supporting the empires of this world, rather than advancing the Kingdom of God. Let us consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

There is a word for being transformed in one’s mind: repentance. The New Testament Greek word behind our English word “repentance” literally means to have a change of mind.

Did you know that repentance can become self-centred? It becomes self-centred when our line of thinking is nothing but “I repent so that I can go to heaven.” Such assumes that the greatest problem to be solved is the disruption in my relationship with God, which will negatively impact my future. It is all about me.

Repentance runs much deeper than that. It is not just about negative consequences of sin for ourselves. Let us read again the passage from Amos above and consider how the injustice and unrighteousness was negatively impacting others. Let us read again the passage from Matthew 25 above and recognize the potential for positive and negative impact on others. Repentance is part of a growing relationship with God, yes, but it is also about leaving behind the old ways of empire and their negative consequences in the lives of others, to live instead in God’s kingdom ways, which have positive consequences. Repentance is not just about me getting to heaven, but about God, through me, making life a little more heavenly for everyone around me.

When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we will want to be aware of the old empire ways which harm others. When we do go to a self-focused place, we will consider if we are living in old empire ways, we will consider our impact on others. We do not want to stand in the way of God’s coming kingdom. Far from standing in the way of the experience of God’s kingdom, we will be ambassadors for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus became for us the ultimate example of living out the prayer, of becoming the answer to the prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. Jesus’ life was an example of helping people, until of course his kingdom principles got him into trouble with the empires of the world, the Jewish leadership, and the Roman leadership, each trying to protect their own interests, each seeking to advance their own agendas. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, on the night he had to decide between fighting the bullies, or flight from them, said “not my will, but thy will be done.” He chose the cross.

At the cross we saw how things work on earth. We saw how empires work. We saw the best man the world has ever known beaten up, mocked, and crucified as empires tried to hold onto their power. At the cross we also saw the ultimate example of things happening on earth as they do in heaven. We saw, and still see today, God’s love and grace overwhelming the powers of hatred. At the cross we saw an answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As we learn to pray that prayer, we will learn to pick up our cross and follow.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more of Clarke’s writing here each Thursday, or at the source, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Or should that be ‘shrunken sermon?’)

February 13, 2019

Prayer Attention Deficit

A few months ago we introduced you to whose site is called Feeding on Jesus. The title of this one really caught my eye. Ever tried to start out on a serious prayer quest only to find yourself chasing squirrels?

As usual, click the header below to read this at source.

Overcoming Prayer ADHD

I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me… (Hab. 2:1, ESV).

The other day, I saw a Facebook post that made me smile. It went something along the lines of, “Does anyone else have prayer ADHD? I’m trying to talk to God, my mind wanders, and then I’m like, ‘I’m sorry God, where was I?’”

I am absolutely certain that every single one of us working on growing in spiritual disciplines has experienced this. It can be quite frustrating when our spirit is hungry for God, but our mind seems to have a mind of its own! Daddy God is exceedingly patient with our frailty as beings made from dust. However, if we yearn to hear from Him more regularly, training our mind to focus will be an essential component of our growth towards this goal.

Our verse today from Habakkuk reveals a vital key as we move forward in our listening journey. Here the prophet shares with us his approach to leaning in for God’s voice. We can gather from his description how important our spiritual posture is for maximizing our listening focus. Stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower depicts the attitude of a watchman. The person in this position is alert and on the lookout. He or she is scanning the horizon, watchful. All senses are sharpened in anticipation of some expected sign.

This is how we are to wait on the Lord. With anticipation. Alert. Focused. Leaning in. Eager and expectant. Our spirit says, “I will look out… to see what he will say to me.” Not, “Maybe He’ll feel like communicating with me today. Maybe not. We’ll see.” This kind of biblical posture is not wistful wishing. Rather, it’s full-on expectancy.

Every day of our lives, Daddy wants to impart something to our spirit. What delights His soul the most is to be with us, to commune with us. When we deeply internalize this truth, we will draw near to Him accordingly. The eager willingness of a beloved child who knows she is wanted and welcomed will mark our approach and our listening posture.

This, in turn, will enhance our focus and aid us in our efforts to grow in prayer and concentration. For this reason, Hebrews 11:6 expresses, Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him” (NCV). Daddy wants to gift us with profound conviction of His longing to reward our seeking with more and more of Him.

As you press into His presence, I want to share with you two exercises that have aided me in the process of sharpening and training my listening focus:

  • Ten minutes of silence. You set a timer for the allotted time. Close your eyes. Work on focusing in on the truth that He is real, He is intimately close, and He loves to reward those who yearn to find Him. Ask Him for heightened awareness of His presence. Don’t spend the minutes going through requests or even saying much. Just focus on Him being there with you. On Him as a beautifully attentive Person, as an intimately present Friend. Enjoy Him. Drink Him in. (Sometimes when I do this, I curl up against a back support pillow on my bed, visualizing myself cuddling into His embrace.)
  • Worship song on repeat. Pick a worship song that Holy Spirit is currently using to speak to your heart. Maybe something from the service on Sunday that you really connected with. Or one that you “randomly” woke up hearing in your head (hint: it’s not actually random. It’s Holy Spirit). Put it on and settle into your listening posture. Intentionally push all the noise in your head aside. Aggressively focus into every single word being sung. Oftentimes, joining in with the music and singing along will help you focus. So sing with your entire being to Him. Imagine His eyes gazing on you with deep love as you sing your adoration right to Him.

I find many times that when I am starting out my quiet time, my mind resists coming into focus. This last exercise helps me force it to get into gear. If the whole song went by and I wasn’t able to focus much, I don’t get down on myself. I simply put it on again, and repeat the effort.

Sometimes I will play the same song five or six times, for two possible reasons: One, because I just needed that much help getting focused. Or two, because once I do get focused, Holy Spirit comes in powerfully on that song. It begins to go so deeply inside of me, that I don’t want to stop. His intimacy shows up in a breathtaking way that gets more and more intense with each repetition.

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What about you? What have been some strategies that have helped bring your mind back to center from its wandering ways?


Tomorrow’s blog post doesn’t acknowledge February 14th, so for those of you who are new and may have missed these, here’s a recap of previous Valentine’s Day Devotionals:

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

February 27, 2017

The Importance of Names

Today we’re paying a return visit to Jeremy Serrano who we connected with briefly here about a year ago. Jeremy is currently the Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Concord, CA.  Before that he was a Youth & Family Minister for 14 years. And his name is not Joshua, as you’ll learn in a minute!  Click the title below to read this and many other articles at his blog.

What’s in a name?

I just heard a very thoughtful Pastor (Gypsy Pastor) ask the question, “I wonder why we get so wrapped up in proper names?”

I think it’s a question worth asking.  I have to confess, I do find myself getting wrapped up in proper names. I think proper names are important; when I use proper names, its because I want to show respect to the person who has given me their name.

I appreciate when I am in an environment where people can self-identify using the name they want to be called, the gender they wish to identify as, the pronouns they want others to use about them. I think names are important because they tell others how they want to be identified.

I know a tiny bit about multiple names.  As a twin I go by two names.  If you call out my name, or my twin brother’s name, in a large crowed of people, I will respond to both.  Not because I’m my brother, but because I understand that other’s may be making an honest mistake.  I am never bothered when people call me by my brother’s name unless they’re being rude and are trying to tell me that I am my brother.

We leave room for everyone to self-identify, yet we seem to have trouble with that when it comes to God. God has chosen to reveal God’s-self in a specific way, yet we seem to just give only a slight nod to that and say, “there must be more.”  So instead of focusing on how God has chosen to reveal Gods-self, we see similarities in other religions and proclaim “Look, God is there too.”  I am not denying that God is at work in other places, at the same time, we seem to neglect the place God has promised to be revealed, and that is through Jesus.

Proper names are important because they identify and differentiate the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Ba’al, Molech, Ashtoreth, and for all you Game of Thrones fans—The Many Faced God and Lord of Light.

christians-praying-to-allahOn the one hand, Christians praying to “Allah” should be no big deal—we’ve been doing that for thousands of years—Allah is God in Arabic.  On the other hand, if by Allah we mean the God of Islam then there’s something that needs to be clarified. The God of Islam is not the same God revealed in Jesus Christ nor are the Gods’ of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism (among others).

In fact, it’s offensive to many in those other religions to claim that they worship the same God we do—Jesus by another name.

So, I think it’s important that we allow God to self-identify, as Christians believe God does in Jesus.

We as Lutherans have a ground up, earth to heaven, physical to metaphysical way of doing theology. We begin all of our understandings about God through God’s self-relation in Jesus Christ who we believe is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1).

Jesus is God on earth according to scripture.  When we look at Jesus way of being in the world, we are looking at God’s way of being.

For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9)

He [Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb 1:3)

Likewise we know who we are to follow as God’s revelation.  We follow Jesus because we believe that he is God’s self-disclosure to the world, especially in his act of sacrificially love.

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son [Jesus]… (Heb 1:1)

It is to this God. This self-revealed, specifically named God, that we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”

When we use a name for God from other religions and call all God’s the same we are no longer identifying God in the way God chose to be self-identified.  We are not taking God’s self-revelation to heart.

I think names are important and I get wrapped up in proper names because I want to show respect to the person named, including God.

With all that said, I don’t have a problem referring to God as the Great Spirit, or Creator, or Olodumare, or Waengongi. Let us be clear in what we are doing though—we are using foreign names and appropriating them to identify the God revealed to Abraham and Moses, who came to earth as Jesus, and who is the One God now and forever.

January 20, 2016

A Key to Anxiety You Might Have Missed

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Today’s post is by Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber and is taken from the archives of a blog called The Three Taverns which ran from 2006 to 2013 and from which we excerpted some material about a year ago. Click the title below to read at source.

Praying with Thanksgiving

Philippians 4:6-20

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Those who don’t have much, who are scraping by, can easily become anxious. And yet, anxiety does not afflict only those who are in great need. There are plenty of people who have plenty and yet are riddled with anxiety.

The apostle Paul’s direct exhortation is “do not be anxious about anything.” That’s easy to say. It’s hard to do. Even as Christians we suffer anxiety. Paul does not say how not to be anxious. He just says, “Don’t be anxious.” About anything.

But he does give a contrary exhortation: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Do not be anxious about anything but in everything let your requests be made known to God. We are not to be anxious about anything. Conversely, in everything we are to make our requests known to God.

On further pondering, perhaps Paul is telling us how to not be anxious about anything. It is by prayer and supplication. It is by not dwelling on those things we are anxious about but rather bringing them to God in prayer.

AnxietyBut Paul is very specific about the prayer we offer to God. Anxiety is not simply to be done away with. Prayer to God is not simply to take its place. The kind of prayer and supplication in which we make our requests made known to God is prayer with thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This is the antidote to anxiety. Thanksgiving. You are not to be anxious about anything and you are to make your requests known to God in everything. The way you do this is by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.

When you are anxious you are caught up in what is afflicting you. When you are giving thanks, and that is in everything, there’s no opportunity for anxiety to wedge itself in. You are too busy being thankful to God in everything to be anxious. You are too filled with gratitude to consider how you are overly concerned about what is afflicting you.

Paul is not saying to ignore those things in life that are trials. Far from it. Rather than ignore, we pray! Rather than ignore those things, we give thanks for them!

That’s easy to say. It’s easy to do a New Year’s resolution kind of thing and say, “Okay, next time I’m distressed and fall into anxiety I’m going to pray instead. Instead of worrying or getting caught up in my trials, I am going to give thanks in them.” Just like so many resolutions, these attempts will quickly fall by the wayside. You will dwell on those things afflicting you. You will be anxious about them. You will forget to pray or you will be too weary, or perhaps wary, to pray. You certainly will not feel like being thankful for these trials!

So what will you do? Will you hear the words of St. Paul, do not be anxious about anything, and quickly fall into despair because you can’t overcome your anxiety by attempting to heed the exhortation? You very well may if you hear this exhortation as, You’d better turn things around you ungrateful Christian.

His exhortation is one of grace. His exhortation is one of showing you the better way. The way of anxiety leads only to being overcome by the things you’re anxious about. Being ungrateful, even for trials, only leads to not seeing that God is gracious and merciful.

The way of prayer, that is, prayer with thanksgiving, is the way in which you see that even those things you’d rather not endure are blessings from God. Because there’s another blessing He gives that you could not see otherwise.

It is the peace of God. You cannot see it otherwise because it goes beyond your ability to get a handle on it. You think you can’t overcome your trials? You’re right. And that’s a good thing. Because it’s only by the peace of God in which you will be able to not be anxious but rather rest in His grace and mercy. It is only by the peace of God that you will be guarded in your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

That’s the blessing He gives you. But it also shows you how God works this way. Namely, in Christ Jesus. In Jesus overcoming every trial that comes your way. In Jesus accomplishing what He does so that you are granted peace.

It’s not just a nice thought to be thankful in all things, including your trials. Jesus is the actual basis for you to be able to be thankful in all things. In becoming man He endured far more than we could ever imagine. The trials He endured would bring us to our knees in helplessness and despair. We would quickly see that anything we go through is a wisp compared to His suffering He endured in our place.

Through everything—His life, suffering, and death—Jesus never despaired. He was never anxious. He only gave thanks. He prayed and made supplication with thanksgiving and made His requests known to God His Heavenly Father.

Because of this, His peace, peace that surpasses all understanding, guards your heart and your mind in Him. Amen.


Regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon returns in early February.

July 13, 2015

Prayer: Uses and Abuses

The Heavens Declare 1Three times previously we’ve borrowed material from Alabama pastor Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Each Tuesday he’s been running insights on the subject of prayer. You can investigate all the articles at this link. We’re going to run one today, and then choose a second one for tomorrow. Click the title below to read this one at its source…

Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.


Go Deeper: Here’s a link to another article by Scott on a different subject that we considered running today, but it’s a bit longer. Check out Who Is Jesus? Really?

July 9, 2015

Got Needs? Finding Your Perfect Intercessor

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints – Ephesians 6:18

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.  – Hebrews 13: 18-19

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority… – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

This was written by prolific author R. T. Kendall and appears at his blog at the link in the title below.

prayer1The Perfect Prayer Partner

I am almost afraid to ask people to pray for me. I need it more than anything. But sometimes the cost is too high. Those who offer to pray for you often say, “How can I pray for you?” You tell them. Then they want your address and phone number and before you know it they want to move in with you!

I suspect Billy Graham could have had millions praying for him thirty  minutes a day if he promised that his intercessors could spend an afternoon with him at his Black Mountain home in North Carolina – and repeat it annually.

Who is willing to pray for a leader and keep quiet about it?

It is often said that D. L. Moody’s success came largely through one man who prayed for him regularly. When I was at Westminster Chapel I had one man who prayed for me an hour a day for the whole of my twenty-five years there. No one knew about it, neither did he phone several times a day to see if any of his prayers were answered or if there were more needs I might share with him.

By the way, I do have one or two who pray for me regularly – and they do it unselfishly. I so thank God for people like this. They are more valuable than gold.

I read an article nearly sixty years ago entitled “Where are the intercessors?” The title speaks volumes to me. Jesus’ chief role at the right hand of God is that of intercessor. And yet we are still asked to pray for one another. The Apostle Paul pleaded for people to pray for him. I suspect one of the most unselfish things you can do for another person is to pray for them – truly pray for them.

Who is the perfect intercessor?

I reply:

1. They are faithful. Some promise to pray for you. You never know if they do. And yet you are afraid to ask them if they did; otherwise you are diverted and end up spending more time talking about praying than praying. The devil does not mind talk about prayer. He does not want praying.

Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

The perfect intercessor really will pray for you.

2. They feel. They don’t merely utter perfunctory words to the Throne of Grace; they feel what they pray. Jesus is touched with the feeling of our weaknesses (Heb.4:15- -KJV).

The perfect prayer partner not only takes your requests on board but will pray with a burden in your behalf. Wow. Think about that. Who do you know who will pray with feeling for you? They care. They care whether God steps in to answer them. They know that what you want them to pray about they do with compassion and earnestness. After all, that is the way Jesus prays.

Who do you know who prays for you like this? Your mother (perhaps)? To find someone who will take on your request with a burden is like finding a diamond in a forest.

3. They are faceless. They won’t be in-your-face asking, “How else can I pray?” Or “Have you had an answer yet?” Or “Could I spend time with you and pray with you about these things?” Or “How often can we meet?”

When people want your time more than they want to pray they are not what you need.

Where is that faceless person who will take on the burden of a leader and pray faithfully with feeling and be willing to be rewarded in Heaven – and not on earth?

You may say: “The perfect prayer partner does not exist”. You may be right. But, that said, I would somehow like to think that the Holy Spirit will use this word to grip someone out there to be an intercessor – and keep quiet about it. They tell nobody that they pray for you. They tell God. They might tell you – once. Good.  Or twice. After all, it is sweet to know that someone promises to pray for you. And it would be nice to know if they were faithful. The truth is, one can convey this to the person without being manipulative. One way is to tell them afterwards – that is, that you have been praying for them.

Josif Tson was almost overwhelmed when Martyn Lloyd-Jones told him, “I have prayed for you everyday” during a time Josif was being persecuted in Romania.

You may say, “You are being unfair. People need to know they are needed and appreciated”. Granted. I accept that. I still pray for that person out there who might hold me up with my needs who will seek God’s face and not be in my face – and who prefers the reward in Heaven to my approval.

 

March 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

December 16, 2010

A Different Kind of Prayer

Prayer is something I really struggle with.

We pray together as a family each night, and I am in touch with God many times throughout the day, though I would hardly characterize it as “without ceasing.”   And I am more than willing to pray with people at my job on a moment’s notice; “praying on a dime,” I call it.

But I’ve been reading a lot lately about prayer and feel that this is one area of my Christian life that while it exists in measurable quantity, it is seriously lacking.

For example, I’ve never been big on prayer meetings.    I’ve been reading lately about the way God intends for us to bring our needs to him corporately; and in fact I’ve been challenged on this subject three different ways in the last 48 hours.   It’s been a long time since I’ve prayed with people outside the family in any significant way, or for any significant length of time.

In the middle of all this I’ve been thinking about something else…

God wants me to pour out my heart to him, but sometimes I feel like I can’t find the words.   Yet there are other places in my life where I am never at a loss for words — at my computer.

So I’ve been thinking about writing e-mails to God.   This is something anybody reading this right now can do, because you’re all online to read this which means 99% of you probably have e-mail.  And you probably write many — perhaps dozens — of e-mails and/or Facebook status updates and/or Tweets every single day.

So why not pour out your heart to God in an e-mail?

(You could address it to yourself if you feel the need to actually hit the “send” button, or save it as a draft when you’re done, or simply read it over a few times and then delete it.   Just don’t type “God” in the “To” field or your auto-complete might just send it to your good friend Godfrey Smith, or your sister’s daughter who you have tagged as “Godchild.”)

Writing an e-mail is the most natural form of communication known to many of us, and usually the words flow without hesitation.  It’s also a great way of organizing your thoughts.

And don’t think for a minute that God isn’t “hearing” that kind of prayer. Or that He can’t. Or that it counts less because you didn’t verbalize it audibly.

Willing to join me in a prayer experiment?

November 22, 2010

Names of the Holy Spirit: Andrew Murray

I’m slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the last two chapters, he has been looking at the passage that begins, “If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?”   This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, “How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different; “How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.”   Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continiously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

September 24, 2010

Sunder Krishnan: Pray Big

Well, here we go…

This is the longest post ever on Christianity 201; twenty-five minutes long in fact.   Not everyone will stay with this.   But even if you only give it ten minutes I think it will give you much to consider.

Sunder Krishnan is the pastor of Rexdale Alliance, a Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in the northwest suburbs of Toronto, Canada.    This was filmed by 2100 Productions, the media division of InterVarsity at IV’s student missions conference, Urbana.

And let me be honest; I’m posting this partly because I want to come back and watch some of it again.