A Better Way To Pray…

Last Sunday at Fellowship I led the congregation in a Scripture reading and prayer. The text was Deut. 30:11-20. A key verse in the text was Deut. 30:16:

For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Often the temptation is to respond to such a text by praying something like this:

Heavenly Father, help us to keep your commands so that we might live and receive your blessing…

We’re tempted to pray this way because we want God to bless us. We want God’s favor upon us.

The problem is that this kind of prayer is, in some way, unnecessary.

Here’s why….

You and I will never (this side of heaven) be able to walk in perfect obedience to God. We will never be able to perfectly keep all of God’s commands. We will never be good enough to receive God’s blessing.

God actually knows this.

So why then does God give us commands?

God’s commands exist for two reasons. First, they exist as a reflection of the character of God. God’s commands show us just how holy God is. Second, God’s commands show us just how unholy we are.

In other words, the commands of God show us we need help. They show us we need a savior.

Jesus Christ is that Savior.

When Jesus lived on earth he did what we could not do. He walked in perfect obedience to God the Father. He fulfilled every command of God. He showed us what a perfect life actually looks like.

But Jesus did more than just show us how to live. Jesus lived a righteous [right relationship to God] life for a bigger reason.  He desired to give his righteousness away…

In Romans 3:21-24 the Apostle Paul writes:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Paul’s point is this: because none of us can keep the commandments of God perfectly, none of us on our own can be righteous [in right relationship to God]. Therefore we need another way of being righteous. A way that is outside of the law of  God. Jesus is that other way.

Furthermore, when we put our faith [trust] in Jesus Christ, we are justified [judged innocent] by God. And redeemed [put back in right relationship] by God.

This is called “The Great Exchange”. When we repent and put our faith in Jesus, he takes on all our sin, and in turn gives us all his righteousness.

This changes how we pray.

Now when we read verses such as Deut. 30:16, we can respond very differently than before.

Our prayer no longer needs to be “God help me to keep your commands,” but instead something like this:

“God, thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to keep all the commands on my behalf.

Thank you, Jesus, that you lived a righteous and perfect life, and that you gave the righteousness you earned to me. Thank you that by your grace you delivered to me the favor and blessings of God.

Jesus, I want to do your will—not so I can earn your favor, but as an act of gratitude for what you have done for me!

When we see Jesus Christ as our righteousness, we will no longer be burdened by the law of God. What is more, the entire Old Testament will open up to us, beautifully displaying just how much Jesus has done for us. Understanding this will allow us to pray in a better way.

 

Today,  I pray that you will put your trust in Jesus. That you will trust that Jesus has made you righteous. I pray that you would know that, because Jesus has made you righteous, the favor and blessing of God is already upon you. And I pray that, because God’s favor is already upon you, your life today will be filled with grace and gratitude.

A Better Kind of Love

Love is not what you and I think it is. Or at least not what the culture around us says it is.  In our world “love” is just code for “a positive emotion”. It comes and it goes. You can fall in love with someone. And you can fall out of love with someone. I once read an article about wedding vows the understood love in this kind of way.  Instead of promising to be together “till death do us part”,  the bride and the groom promised to be together “as long as our love shall last”. Yikes!

Christian love is a totally different kind of love. In the New Testament there are a few different words used for “love”. But the most significant and the most often used is the word “agape”. Agape was a common Greek word for love, but early Christians injected new and deeper meaning into it.

When Christians spoke of agape they did not merely speak of an emotion. Agape was not just a way of feeling something toward someone. Agape was not something that could come and go. Agape was not something that could run out.

Agape-love moved the idea of love from a noun to a verb. Instead of love being just a feeling, love was now something more. It was an action.  The action was self-sacrifice.  It was the choice to lay down one’s life for another.

The Apostle Paul speaks of this kind of agape-love when he encourages husbands to love their wives. He writes, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph. 5:25) The point Paul is making is that a husband’s “love” for his wife should have little to do with how he feels about her in a given moment. Instead it should have everything to do with his choice to sacrifice his own life (ambitions, time, and career) for the well-being of his wife.

This agape-love is a very different kind of love then what we are used to. But it is the same kind of love that God through Christ shows us. In his letter to the church at Rome the Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom.5:8)

God had every right to feel a whole host of negative emotions toward us, as we were his enemies. But God made a choice to pursue us, to sacrifice himself for us, to love us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God laid down his life for us. He showed us his agape-love.

God’s love for you is not only a different kind of love, but it is a better kind of love.

God’s love for you is not just an emotion or a feeling, it does not come and go. God’s love for you can not run out. God can not fall out of love with you.

God’s love for you is a choice. It is a disposition. It is through Christ Jesus absolutely secure.

It is for this reason the Apostle Paul wrote the beautiful words of Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

God’s love displayed through Jesus Christ is not like our love. It is a different kind of love. And it is a better kind of love.

 

 

10 Things Jesus Never Said To God The Father

Last week the 10 Things Jesus Never Said…post received a pretty good response. So here’s another one.

10 Things Jesus Never Said To God The Father…

 

 

 

#10.  I think Joseph knows I don’t look like him.

 

 

 

 

 

#9.  Remind me again, why we didn’t send the Holy Spirit first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#8.  I feel like I am talking to myself…

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7.  FOR THE LOVE OF…, oh never mind!

 

 

 

 

 

#6.  You’ve seen what happens on a cross…, right ?

 

 

 

 

 

#5.  The food here stinks!!

 

 

 

 

 

#4.  You are REALLY old!

 

 

 

 

 

#3.  This would be a lot easier if you weren’t invisiable…

 

 

 

 

 

#2.  I’m starting to think those Pharisees don’t really like me.

 

 

 

 

 

#1.  I could really go for some bacon…

Tozer on Whole-Life Worship

Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being who and what He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full Lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less.

The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator-creature circumstance makes proper.

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way. We shall acquire a new viewpoint; a new and different psychology will be formed within us; a new power will begin to surprise us by its upsurgings and its outgoings.

 

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Excerpt from A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst For the Divine p.96

When debate is unnecessary…

I love a good debate. But sometimes debate is unnecessary. Sometimes just letting another person talk will expose the absurdity of their beliefs.

Such is the case in this great exchange between comedian Jon Stewart and biologist and notable atheist Richard Dawkins.

 

Even if I was not a Christian, I think there are at least four assertions from Richard Dawkins I  would  find incredibly hard to swallow:

1. Life progressed from a self-replicating gene (of unknown origins).

2. We exists, simply because of statistical  probability (“a stupefying rare event”).

3. All religion is destructive.

4. Morality is constructed (and we’re more moral than we used to be).

 

Call me crazy but I think it makes far more sense to believe four counter assertions:

1. An all-powerful God created life.

2. We exist because God made us for himself to enjoy him and his creation.

3. Religion when it reflects the heart of God is good.

4. Morality is a reflection of the character of God and how he has ordered the world.

 

Richard Dawkins is attributed with saying, “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.”

Yes. I could not agree more.

 

 

 

St. Augustine on Praising God

 ‘You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps. 47:2): great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being ‘ bearing his mortality with him'(2 Cor. 4:10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that your ‘resist the proud’ (1 Peter 5:5). Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. Your stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

‘Grant me Lord to know and understand'( Ps. 118:34, 73, 144) which comes first– to call upon your or to praise yo, and whether knowing your precedes calling upon you. But who calls upon your when he does not know you? For an ignorant person might call upon someone else instead of the right one. But surely you may be called upon in prayer that you may be known. Yet ‘ how shall they call upon him whom they have not believed? and how shall the believe without a preacher?'(Rom. 10:14). Thy will praise the Lord who seek for him'(Ps. 21:27).

In seeking him they find him, and in finding they will praise him. Lord, I would seek you, calling upon you– and calling upon your is an act of believing in you. You have been preached to us. My faith, Lord, calls upon you. It is your gifts to me. You breathed it into me by the humanity of your Son, be the ministry of your preacher.

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Except from Saint Augustine’s Confessions p.3

Butterflies and Hope

The other day I watched a video on the life cycle of butterflies with my six year old daughter, Adeline. I was reminded just how amazingly mysterious metamorphosis really is.

Curious, I did some research to find out how science explains this process. Turns out there’s some debate.

In an interview with NPR, biologist Bernd Heinrich, contended that one animal (the caterpillar) is reincarnated into another animal (the butterfly). As he put it, “The radical change that occurs, does indeed arguably involve death followed by reincarnation… the adult forms of these insects are actually new organisms.”

Yet others, like Ferris Jabr, tell us something else is happening. In Scientific America he describes the process of metamorphosis as a caterpillar digesting itself and then maturing into a butterfly by activating certain previously unused cells. He writes:

First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on.

Did you get all that? Yeah me neither.

But here’s what I did get.  Whether through “reincarnation”, or “imaginal discs” there is something still kind of magical about the whole thing.

And this gives me hope.

Hope in a God who creates moments that are fun, magical, and mysterious. Moments that display his art, his work, for all to see, yet will largely go unnoticed. Moments that are just for his enjoyment.

Hope in his creation. That there is still so much more to be explored. And there is still so much more worth exploring. Hope that there are so many more magical moments to be discovered.

Hope that there are still things worth staring at. That there are moments worth watching over and over again. That there are still simple creations to marvel at, because their wonder never goes away.

In some strange way watching a video on the life cycle of butterflies with my six year old daughter gives me hope.

I hope it gives you hope too!

Here’s the video, enjoy!

Why Are There Martyrs?

Chris asked, “If God provides for all of our needs, why are there martyrs? How are their needs being met?”

I love good questions. And these are good questions.

For this post we’ll have to work our way backwards. I’ll answer the second question first, because that will in turn answer the first question.

So let’s begin with the answer to the second question by focusing on the notion of “need”. For example, when the Apostle Paul writes, “And my God will meet all your needs” (Phil 4:19a), what is he saying?

Paul, appears to be saying, “With God, you will never be needy.” But that can’t be accurate because, in Philippians 4:12 Paul writes,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

We see that for Paul there were times when he was clearly in need. So how can he write, “And my God will meet all your needs”?

The answer has to do with Paul’s “secret of being content in any and every situation”. What was Paul’s secret?  The answer is in the next verse,

I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength. (Phil 4:13)

Paul is saying that there have been times of need and times of abundance, but because he has Jesus, he has the strength to be content in all situations.

Now, understanding this is important because Paul uses the same logic in Philippians 4:19. The entire verse actually reads:

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Similar to Philippians 4:12-13, Paul is saying two things:

  1. God promises to meet your needs
  2. But, God will meet your needs through Jesus Christ.

What does all this have to do with our original questions about martyrs?

Everything.

The Apostle Paul understood that Jesus Christ is the only thing you need. If you have Jesus you have everything. Because, as he writes in Colossians, “Christ… is your life” (Colossians 3:14).

Paul knew that Jesus gives you life (John 14:6; 17:3). Jesus sustains your life (Colossians 1:17). Jesus directs your life (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus provides purpose to your life (Colossians 1:16). And Jesus demands your life (Matthew 16:25). Thus to have Jesus is to have no other need. Or as Pastor Tullian Tchividjian famously put it, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”.

So now let’s apply this to Christian martyrs.

When Christians are killed for their faith (martyred), God actually supplies all their needs. Because God is giving them Jesus Christ. Paul knew this, when he wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”(Phil 1:21). Paul looked forward to death because he knew that after death he would instantly enter into the full presence of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:8). Therefore, he would not lose anything, but instead gain everything.

There is no such thing as a needy martyr. Because Jesus Christ fulfills every need. When we die we get all of Christ. We therefore, lose nothing, and gain everything.

God allows Christians to be martyred, because their deaths proclaim one simple and glorious truth—to have Jesus Christ is to have everything.

Friday Fun

If you’ve never watched The Colbert Report, here are a couple of things to know about the host, comedian Stephen Colbert. On the show, Colbert portrays a caricatured version of conservative political pundits, and often pokes fun at his guests. The guests know this when they go his show. But in real life Colbert is a practicing Roman Catholic who even teaches Sunday School. The interview below with bible critic Bart Ehrman, is intended to be funny (and it is). But I especially like it because most of Stephan’s arguments are actually valid. Enjoy!

http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:1a2a488e-ed01-11e0-aca6-0026b9414f30