JESUS IS FULL OF SAVING GRACE

As you well know SGC, we have been walking through our denominations Statement of Faith this summer. And, this summer sermon series, ‘Pillars of the Faith’ – so named from 1 Timothy 3:15 – has been a wonderful time in God’s Word together. Our time together during this series has been primarily based upon God’s Word, even though it’s aiming to explore our Statement of Faith (SoF), simply because our SoF is grounded in and founded upon the Word of God as revealed in the Bible. 

This why our SoF begins with an affirmation of ‘The Scriptures’. God’s revealed Word, the Bible, is the vox dei or the Voice of God, preserved for us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is the very Word of God.

Following our time together considering the doctrine of God’s Word, we touched on the biblical truth of our Triune God and how Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equally, yet, uniquely involved personally working out our salvation. 

We then explored the nature of sin and how our sinful condition requires our God’s saving rescue. This rescue from our sinful condition and from God’s judgment of our sin, is known only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is God’s saving work in Jesus Christ that all of human history -a sinful history- centers on. And, it is what your life and my life are centered around. 

While all three person of the Trinity -Father, Son and Holy Spirit- are uniquely and personally working out our salvation in a perfect unity, they are, as One God, working our salvation out – along with the renewal of all creation – in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul affirms when speaking about Jesus being all in all (Eph. 1:22-23{15-23}; Col.1:15-20, 3:11; 1 Cor. 15:28; Heb.1:2). 

God’s salvation only comes together in Jesus Christ. He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He alone reveals to us the invisible God of our salvation (John 1:18; Heb. 1:1-3); the One and only true God (Deut. 4:35, 6:4-5; John 17:3; Isaiah 43:11) whom we are saved to worship and enjoy renewed fellowship with (1 John 1:3-4; John 17:3).

This salvation of God in Jesus Christ, is a salvation offered and provided according to God’s gracious nature. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace. As Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved (by God is assumed) through faith. And this (salvation by God’s grace) is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. . .” (Eph.2:8). This salvation of grace as God’s free gift in Christ, is uniquely delineated and affirmed in Romans 5:12-17(18-21) as we have seen the last few Sunday’s. 

As we have seen, the language of grace and free gift quintessentially speaks to how our God relates to us in Jesus Christ. He freely and lovingly chooses to provide His gift of salvation – rescue from His judgment of our sin and rescue from the power or bondage of sin – for sinners such us! Our salvation, is His own gift SGC! One we received by faith. A faith, that is also a gift of grace (Acts 16:14; 2 Tim. 2:25-26; Heb,12:2; Eph.2:8-9; Phil.1:29; ).

One astonishing gift of we are given in Christ, through God’s saving grace, is the gift of justification as we saw from Romans 5:15-21 the other Sunday. God’s justifying grace speaks to his provision of righteousness through the sinless life of Jesus Christ. A righteousness that He provides us with because of our unrighteousness. A necessary provision, because we lost right standing (righteous condition) with God through Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:16,18) and due to our sin. Because of this condition, we couldn’t enjoy acceptable standing in God’s presence because of this. We needed God’s gift of justifying grace in Christ, because He only accepts us having the righteousness of Jesus (Rom.5:1-2; 4:22-25 et al).     

Another amazing gift we are given in Christ, through God’s saving grace, is the gift of eternal life. We also saw this the other Sunday while in Romans 5 together. God freely gifts us with eternal life (Rom. 5:17-21; 6:20-23) SGC! This is huge! Considering that we were dead in our sinful condition (Rom.5:12;15,18; Eph. 2:1-3 et al) we need new life. Well, God gifts us with this grace in Jesus Christ, even though we deserved and earned the judgment of death and damnation, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.6:23; see also Eph.2:4-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5; et al)

Having explored these gifts of God’s grace together in particular, it is also imperative to recognize that Scripture additionally helps us see that Jesus personally and freely gifts us with both Himself. As Paul reinforces in Romans 5:15 that, “the grace of God and the free gift (of righteousness 5:17) by the grace of that one man Jesus Christabounded for many.” The grace of our God unto salvation is uniquely and personally given by Jesus Himself. As the apostle John reminds us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . .the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . .And from his (Jesus’) fullness we (who have faith) have all received, grace upon grace. . . grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17). 

Jesus came to dwell among, via His incarnation, us to personally gift us with God’s grace unto salvation. The fullness of salvation, which includes both justification and eternal life. 

Jesus Himself, SGC, gifts us with this saving grace. It is Jesus, the shepherd of our souls, who leaves the flock of 99 sheep to rescue every sinfully wondering sheep (Matt.18:10-14) whom Father God has decided or decreed to be apart of His true flock of sheep (John 6:37,65, 10:29). Jesus personally calls out to us savingly, in our sinful condition and rebellion, knowing that we will hear His saving summons (John 5:25, 10:14, 25-27). And, it is the Lord Jesus as Luke records in Acts 2:47(41-47) who, “added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Jesus not only personally secured our salvation objectively through His righteous crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus has also personally gifted us salvation subjectively through His righteous resurrection and exaltation as Lord Who has been endowed with all power and authority to give life to whomever He sees fit (John 5:21,25-26)  

WHAT IS TRUTH? TRUTH’S WE AFFIRM FROM GOD’S WORD

“What is truth?”

This was the remark of Pilate as he was actually in the company of the truth, for Jesus, “the way the life and the truth” (John 14:6) was brought before him. “The Word” who “became flesh” Himself (John 1:14). “The true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). 

Pilate’s question, of course, was a reflection of his religion – his worldview and beliefs. A religion of pluralism among a pantheon of gods. In his day and age, one’s ‘truth’ was situated around or predicated upon which ‘god’ was offended. And, which ‘god’ among that pantheon needed satisfied for the innumerably possible reasons they might be offended. It was a house of mirrors reflecting a confusing array of ‘gods’. 

Pilate’s question was also a reflection of Rome’s philosophy. A situational or conditional pragmatic politic that had come to dominate Rome’s landscape, and thus Pilate’s own judgments and decisions. Not to mention, the influence of the lingering ‘aristocracy’ ideals that saturated Roman thought life. This essentially meant that making choices and judgments were more or less conditioned by how a particular ruling class viewed one’s own personal decisions or accepted one’s own personal judgments. Pragmatism often carried the day.

No wonder Pilate’s reply was, “What is truth?”. This is, I believe, an honest expression of confusion about what is ‘true’ and disorientation because of his worldview. In as much as it was a point of personal principle.  

This question of truth, in the face of truth, is one that has become commonplace in our day and age as well. It is the popular zeitgeist or spirit of the age. We are surrounded by Pilate’s question and confusion. 

Secular culture’s response to this question of truth is expressed through the present and popular mentality of individualism. An individualism that determines identity and sanctity according to one’s own personal preferences and selections. Pliable preferences and selections made, or arrived at, as one takes a stroll through the hodgepodge of carnival booths peddling their own personalized and preferred ‘truth’. This madness actually produces a small car full of clowns endlessly emerging from the trunk with their own unique and specialized persona’s and notions of existence. Notions based upon their own individually selected and preferred ‘truths’. Of course, so many clowns are also endlessly annoying and insufferable. It’s madness! 

We need the truth of Jesus speaking into the carnival of current cultural, political, emotional and individual climate more than ever in the West. The church, you and me, are in a position to be more biblical than ever! We need to be – and the world around us needs us being – personally, authentically, honestly and lovingly biblical or Bible Based.

This is why I am so excited about our denominations Statement of Faith (SoF). We have spent a number of years thoughtfully and carefully thinking through, evaluating and improving our SoF. We embarked on this process with a heart and mind for our SoF to best reflect the truths of God’s Word. And, for our SoF to more fully reflect such established truths.

Our SoF is a wonderfully crafted expression of the Christian faith that is in keeping with consistent biblical theology, historical theology and traditional theology. The link below will take you to an online version to read for yourself. You’ll definitely drink in the truths of God’s Word affirmed therein!

https://sgclagrange.com/about-us/statement-of-faith

‘Woefully’ Woke

Wokeness’, so called, is definitely trending these days. ‘How woke are you?’ seems to be the all pervasive question of our day.  A question and concept aimed at stoking a new and progressive cultural and societal awakening. Interestingly, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus calls upon us to be woke. This blog isn’t about wading into the philosophical and ideological whirlpool – or better, the maelstrom – of cultural and secular wokeness. Rather, it is to contrast Christ’s summons to being woke with present culturally progressive calls to become woke. Jesus wants us ‘woke’ to the reality of His kingdom and intends to awaken within us spiritual life. He is actually enculturating us with kingdom values and attitudes as a means to effect spiritual transformation among his followers. Among the church. Among us. With you.

Conversely, present cultural and secular wokeness is striving to effect and affect a strictly corporeal and physical or material transformation. A cultural, ‘this worldly’ political and sociological kingdom transformation. Not to mention the woke interest in ethical, sexual, anthropological and biological categories.

Interestingly, this is also what the crowds surrounding Jesus were ‘woke’ to. They were anticipating a ‘this worldly’ culturally, nationally, economically and societally woke kingdom. Well, Christ’s teaching, in this Sermon on the Mount, wasn’t a clarion call for such a woke cultural and nationalistic transformation. Jesus is summoning his true followers to a spiritual wokeness. He is awakening us to His kingdom values, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (physical consumption and satisfaction); but of righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (spiritual consumption and satisfaction)” (Romans 14:17). 

This is why we find both the Matthian and Lukan Gospel accounts distinguishing who Jesus is directly enculturating with His kingdom values and attitudes. In Matthew truly ‘woke’ disciples separate from the cultural woke-ness and draw closer to Jesus for kingdom woke-ness (Matt.5:1). In Luke 6:20 we find Jesus lifting “up his eyes on his disciples” over and against the culturally woke crowds and their woke nationalistic and idealistic expectations.

One of the major ‘woke’ motifs throughout His sermon is the righteous kingdom imperatives (5:6,10-20; 7:13-14) and priorities of valuing and pursuing heavenly interests or “treasures” (6:19-24; 6:1-34) while also being ‘woke’ to the kingdom culture of actually doing what Christ teaches, over and against hearing his provocative teaching and outwardly confessing His name (7:13-27). The shallow and empty virtue signaling of secular ‘woke’ culture is ‘woe’fully disapproved of by Jesus. And, more so, condemned. Jesus has no tolerance for or interest in verbal virtue signaling. 

A main feature of Christ’s sermon, is how our Lord draws our attention to being ‘woke’ unto heavenly or spiritual pursuits and interests, as alluded to above! We find Jesus enculturating us with this throughout Matthew 6 in a variety of ways. Most directly, perhaps in verses 19-24. The language of this portion of Christ’s sermon is elaborated on with a noticeably amplified woke-ness in Luke’s account. And, ‘woefully’ so! Luke woefully proscribes a life given to establishing this worldly treasures, satisfactions and economies. And, does so by recording a heightened tone of Christ’s disproval (Luke 6:24-26). Christ says, in a portending tone, “…woe to you who are rich (materially). . .Woe to you who are full now (temporal satisfaction). . .Woe to you who laugh now (temporal easement). . .Woe to you, when all people speak well of you (present repute)”

Jesus is drawing our ‘wokeness’ to be concentrated around how His rule and power transforms us inwardly and eternally, rather than directing our attention outwardly and presently toward finding satisfaction in material equity and wealth or ‘fairness’. Rather than focusing our efforts and activism into political causes and movements to achieve contentment. Rather than channeling our ultimate enjoyments into personal leisure, entertainment and possessions. The apostle John, of course,  warns us to guard against these in 1 John 2:13-17. Christ wants us ‘woke’ to how we live with one another and treat one another relationally, in contradistinction to, how we are identified or acknowledged economically, politically, materialistically and nationally. 

Our Lord and Savior, summarizes the whole of the law and prophets according to this rhyme and reason (Matt.7:12; 5:17-7:12). In so doing, He is drawing our attention to spiritual transformation and personal responsibility over and against personal reparation and national identity or equity. 

Another main feature of Christ’s sermon on the mount is how He adamantly and ‘woefully’ disapproves of outward confession. The distinctive manner Jesus culminates or concludes this sermon uniquely touches on this (7:13-27). Being woke, according to Jesus, isn’t a matter of vacuous virtue signaling according to the cultural interest of the day or season. Being woke isn’t outwardly and verbally supporting a movement or innovative ideology or creative, provocative position contrary to the powers that be. These were the general, personal and national interests of the crowds surrounding Jesus during this sermon.

They followed Him and supported Him and promoted Him, so long as He met their personal, material, political and national expectations. So long as Jesus was a revolutionary in these areas, they confessed allegiance. However, when Jesus didn’t preach their narrative nor promise to fulfill their temporal expectations they rejected and abandoned Him. For instance, the crowds in John 6:60-71 separate from Jesus in a disapproving air, as He made it clear that He wasn’t of the mind to corner the market of the bread industry and establish an economic boom (John 6:26-27;34).

Being woke, though, according to Jesus, is submitting to and acknowledging His call to living righteously. This is what He is inculcating in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them. . .” The “these words of mine” reaches back into His entire sermon beginning in Matthew 5:1 and continues throughout Matthew 7:29. 

Wokeness for followers of Jesus is a matter of actively living out what He espouses regarding righteousness in this Sermon on the Mount, along with all He speaks to us throughout His entire Word to us as revealed in the Bible.

You are truly ‘woke’ as you hear the teaching of Jesus and subscribe to His teaching. However, being ‘woke’ isn’t an arbitrary confession or subscription. Being truly ‘woke’ involves a personally progressive transformation that pursues interacting with one another righteously. And a personally awakened admiration of the whole of Christ’s Word. Herein lies the fundamental difference between Christian wokeness and cultural wokeness. Being woke culturally, ideologically and politically etc entails embracing every individuals personally awakened ‘rightness’ in a manner that affirms and recognizes all subjectively determined identities. Being woke Christologically entails embracing a personally awakened ‘righteousness’ in a manner that recognizes an objectively determined identity. In other words we draw our identity from the same person. . .Jesus Christ, the righteous one ( 1 John 2:1). In being ‘woke’ we declare along with Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). The same righteous life of Jesus in us, brings us all to be ‘woke’ unto the same pursuit of righteousness (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Cor.1:30; 1 John 2:29, 3:7). Not to mention being ‘woke’ to the acceptance of forgiveness when we deviate  from righteousness because, “Jesus, the righteous one” is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1) who accepts us in Him and His righteousness.

WHO IS OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN?

As you are well aware SGC -my dear church family- we have been working our way through Christ’s Sermon on the mount. One of the initial and unique points of interest we picked up on, is how the disciples separated from the surrounding crowds to personally hear Jesus teach them (Matt. 5:1). The disciples, as we have seen, withdrew from the cultural expectations and popular interests of the crowds to be enculturated by Jesus. An enculturation that we have coined as #ChristCulture. A Christ Culture enculturation that has in mind how we are to live and worship, what we are to value and think upon, and what we are to pursue and how we are to understand our identity. 

Church, we need a renewal of this #ChristCulture enculturation. Especially, when surrounded by a toxic and influential protest culture, cancel culture, politically partisan culture, self serving culture, nationalistic culture -and so on- that is drawing our attention and dividing our attention.  We need Jesus uniquely drawing our attention to Father God, rather than being absorbed into the surrounding cultural ghettos and movements. And, we find our Lord and Savior doing just this with his disciples and followers very uniquely from chapter 6-7 of the Sermon on the Mount. As the only begotten Son of the Father, Jesus unmistakably is drawing our attention, very deliberately and concertedly, to our Father in heaven. And, drawing our attention to the Lord God, as Father, in an individual and very personal manner.

God, Is Our Father Personally

It is noteworthy, that during this first public sermon on the mount, that Jesus uniquely draws our attention to God  as Father. In a previously unknown personable and relational manner. A manner, to be sure, that was unique and unfamiliar in Christ’s day. A manner that wasn’t clearly known by God’s people in Christ’s day. Not to mention, in a manner not clearly known among the economies of God’s salvation plan throughout the Old Testament history of the Lord God’s chosen people. That is, His corporate people. 

After all, Israel, as the chosen corporate people -or nation- of God, didn’t know the Lord God as Father individually and personally. They sure did know God as Father nationally. To be sure, as a nation, Israel was birthed by God, as Father (Isa. 63:16-17; 64:8-9; Deut. 14:1-2, 32:9; Jer. 3:19; Mal. 1:6. 2:10; Psalm 103:13; etc). But individually, they didn’t have an awareness of God – as Father – in a uniquely relational and personal manner. This explains (among other things) the confusion of Jesus’ parents in Luke 2:45-51. 

Drawing our attention to God as Father, as Jesus noticeably does throughout the gospels and especially here in His sermon on the Mount, is deliberate and concerted. This is the whole compass of why Jesus routinely and consistently speaks of God as Father. . .being the only begotten Son. He is revealing and clarifying God as Father personally and individually, over and against the corporate or national awareness of Israel as Father among Israel. 

For instance, our Savior and Lord, draws our attention, very directly to God as Father – individually – in promulgating, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Not to mention, the copious occasions, Jesus directs our attention to God as Father via His own prayers and instruction throughout the Gospel accounts (Sermon on the Mount for instance). And, of course, we have the His very direct inculcation for us to pray to God as Father in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, so called (Matt.3:9-14).  

God is our personal Father, individually as saved persons and corporately as saved persons among the church. And, this becomes clear to us as He reveals Himself, in-through-and by Christ, as the Father of our salvation. 

God, Is Our Father Salvifically 

Jesus also draws our attention, very directly and obviously, to recognize the God of our salvation as the Father of our salvation. He is the only true Father of our salvation and adoption as sons and daughters in Christ Jesus. 

Among the gospels, Jesus clarifies this, when particularly teaching how the Pharisees do not and cannot accept Him (Jesus) as Savior and Lord, because they aren’t personally and individually children of Father God. In fact, they cannot, because they are children of the their father, the devil (John 8:18-19, 43-47). 

Just as Jesus is the only begotten Son of God the Father (Psalms 2:7-12; John 1:14-18; 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9) , so we are, ourselves, are ‘begotten’ children of the Father, adopted in Christ Jesus. God Fathers our personal salvation as sons and daughters in Christ. He is the progenitor of our salvation in other words. This is what Jesus is clarifying in John 10:22-30. 

In this teaching, Jesus is revealing how those who actually and genuinely hear His own voice salvifically, only hear because Father God “has given them” (John 10:29) to him (Jesus) to be saved, as sons and daughters. Only those the Father gives the Son to be saved, are those who are actually and effectually saved. Only those who are given to Jesus, to be in Him, are truly sons and daughters of the Father. 

This also bespeaks the ‘spirit of adoption’ as defined by Paul in Romans 8:14-25, where he promulgates that we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. . .” Just as children, in our day and age, are chosen by the adopting parents to be their children, so our being adopted as children of the Father, is predicated upon the Fathers’ choosing. And, just as adoption in our day and age, is something children are given and received by them, so our adoption in Christ is given by the Father and received by we who are chosen to be adopted as spiritual sons and daughters. 

Paul brings all of the above together so profoundly in Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he (Father God) chose us (election=adoption) in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption (election=adoption) as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his (our Father’s) will…”  

Just as Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father who saves, so we, as sons and daughters -adopted in Christ- are the many begotten sons and daughters of the Father who are saved or elected to be adopted in Christ. We receive adoption, because He – our Father – has chosen us to be His children in Christ. 

Peter captures this quite poignantly in saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his (the Father’s) great mercy, he has caused us (you and me) to be born again to a living hope (language of faith) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3). 

SGC, and friends, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are. . .Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:1-2).

And, because we are His children 

God, Is Our Father Provisionally

Isn’t this what Jesus so profusely shares with us in His sermon on the mount? And in doing so, He is wonderfully reminding us that our Father is acutely aware of what we need and how to provide as we need. Not to mention, whenwe need (Matt.6:8,7:7-11).  

Jesus wants us resting in the provision of our Father, as His children. Even in instructing us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, Jesus is ultimately guiding us to entrust ourselves to the Father’s provision, among the unknowns and uncertainties of our daily affairs (See SGC sermon on this. Click here). 

This is only amplified when Jesus reminds us, “If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt.7:11).

As the Father’s children, we know that He will not leave us lacking or wanting. We know that our Father is always present provisionally. And present to provide whatever we are actually in need of, rather than, what we think we might need. Or what we might prefer. This is an incredible comfort and assurance isn’t it? To know that Father God will provide us with whatever it is that we actually need. Whenever we need it. And wherever we need it.

This is what brings Paul to write the church in Rome about how we can, “know that for those who love God all things worked together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ..” (Romans 8:28). As the Father’s children, we can rest assured that whatever His provision is and will be, is the perfect and most beneficial provision for us.

Of course, Jesus knows this better than any, as the only begotten Son. He entrusted Himself to the Father’s will and purposes and provision for Him. And did so, to the point of death. Even as He was overwhelmed, in his humanity, with the weight of His sacrifice, Jesus entrusted Himself to the plan and provision of His Father (Matt.26:38-3). Even to the point of death (Matt.27:45-46 {a Psalm of confidence and trust in the Father’s provision of life}).

Of course, death wasn’t our Father’s provision for His only begotten Son. The provision of transformed and glorified life was! 

This is equally true for you and me. Our Father has adopted us in Christ. And being adopted in Christ, as children of the Father, we are assured of the same glorious inheritance in Christ. An assurance -and certitude- we have, in having received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15-17). The Spirit who provides us with a guarantee of this adoptive inheritance (Eph. 1:11-14).

We can rest assured as children of the Father, “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And If we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:15). 

THE PURSUIT OF PRAYER

So SGC, we have been allowing Jesus to instruct us about how to pray the last 4 Sunday’s. Well, not so much how to pray, as He is guiding us relative to the content of what we are to be praying. Jesus even prays the content of His instruction for us in Matthew 6, in his noteworthy prayer in John 17. One of His final prayers before crucifixion.  

Jesus Himself, prays this content while standing before the threshold of His greatest suffering!  It stands to reason, with this in mind, that our Lord’s instruction on prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 is to be of paramount significance for us. 

Let’s consider how this praying is to play out in our lives. How is prayer to be a pursuit?   

Prayer is a Personal Pursuit

We know from Luke’s account, that the disciples happened upon Jesus praying and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”    Christ’s instruction on praying to our Father precipitates from a personal pursuit of prayer. Who better to ask than the very Word of God, Jesus Christ, regarding what to pray. Right?!

Our pursuit of Christ, much like the disciples, will bring us to want to personally pray like Him. 

Interestingly, the Lord’s Prayer, is instruction on praying to our Father, as the disciples observed Jesus. . .praying to His Father as only begotten Son (Luke 11:1). We also know that, “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). These, of course, weren’t the only occasions (John 17; Luke 22: 31-32, 39-46; Mark 1:35; Matt.27:45-46 etc).

Prayer involves a personal pursuit of wanting to nurture a deeper, dependent and intimate conversation – or communion – with our Father. Just as we will go out of our way to arrange time or make time to nurture conversation with our spouse, children, parent or friend, we will do so with our Father. Just as we prioritize occasions for private conversations with those we are close to, so we need to do so with our Father. 

So, set aside time to pray away from others and all the commotion of life. Rather than busying yourself with yard work or reading, busy yourself with a time of prayer. Rather than spending your personal time playing video games or interacting with social media, spend your time praying. Rather than complaining to your spouse or with another among the church, complain to your Father by way of prayer.

Moreover, the frequency of our texting and messaging and posting to one another speaks to the frequency of how often we ought to be praying to our Father. We have copious prayers preserved in written -texting and messaging- form among the Psalms. Personally journaling is a wonderful way of ‘texting or messaging’ your prayers as you are reading the word. Prayerfully keep a journal where you write down your personal struggles, your personal requests, your personal thanksgivings and praises, your personal interests in our Father’s saving plans and mission, etc. Write down areas of ministry you would like to see develop at your local church, areas where you would like to grow spiritually, areas where you need healing emotionally, mentally and relationally etc. 

And, as you personally address a letter you are mailing to whomever you are mailing that article to, address the Father as you are journaling your prayers.

Prayer is a Daily Pursuit

Praying the content of the Lord’s Prayer is to be essential for our everyday lives, not just our lives generally or sporadically. This, in fact is what Jesus instructs, “Give us this day our daily bread”.  Much like it is necessary for us to daily consume food for physical strength, mental focus and overall physical well being , we need to be daily consumed with prayer for spiritual health and inner well being. 

The language of praying for daily bread assumes that the disciples were turning to the Father in prayer prior to setting out for the day. They lived in a hand to mouth culture and setting, wherein, they weren’t always aware of how the next meal would play out. Jesus is instructing us to a prayerful dependency and trust as sons and daughters turning to the Father for our daily sustenance and well being. Oh, how we need to hear this. So much mention is made of getting up on the wrong side of the bed in the mornings. This is indubitably true when we aren’t beginning the day prayerfully. We would never be getting up wrongly when getting up to pray. Plus, if we are getting up on the wrong side of the bed, how much more ought we to be turning to the Father prayerfully prior to setting out for the day! 

What is more, this daily – and personally – praying is even assumed by Christ. His antecedent remark, “And when you pray” in verses 5 and 7 establishes that prayer is an assumed part of our daily lives. So much unfolds in our lives throughout the day, that we aren’t prepared for. Not to mention what we are prepared for. Daily pursuing our Father in prayer is something that is to be an integral part of our lives throughout the course of the whole day. Prayer isn’t something to be resigned to just the beginning of the day. Prayer isn’t something to put behind us. Prayer is to be continually present with us. This is what Paul is positing when exhorting us to, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) or when he arms us to be, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18). 

Praying daily isn’t simply a praying each day life, but a praying throughout the day life. Praying to our Father everywhere and anywhere. Praying any time and every time. Praying while you are washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Praying while driving to work or resting in the hammock. Praying before a casual meeting or in the middle of a heated conversation.

Pray, Pray, Pray! And, pray with confidence. Knowing that Jesus has made a way for you to enter bodily and personally into the presence of our Father. So much so, that our Father hears our prayers.  

IS THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS?

Is the devil in the details, as the familiar expression announces, or portends? Hmmm. . . I am brought to process this afresh, based upon a recent social media blurb I stumbled upon. Not to mention, a sermon I preached during our 2020 Christmas sermon series, entitled, ‘Why Did Jesus Come? To Destroy And Deliver’. And, who can overlook the amalgamation of hate, conflict, divisive partisan politics, deceptive social media/news and racial hostility that seems ubiquitous. 

At the least, during 2020. . .it would seem as though the devil is pulling at least a few detail strings. Right?

So, is the devil in the details? 

Well, sure. On some level. But, to what end? And, how many details is this stinker involved in? Not to mention, how do such details impact us as believers? And, moreover, how does this play out in the world/culture in which we live? Not to mention, our experiences? A few pertinent questions to be explored in the next two articles.

Let’s begin with ‘to what end’. That is, to what end is the devil involved in the details? What is the aim of his activity and interests in marshaling his minion? 

Well, Scripture characterizes satan, as a deceiver and manipulator. He is an instigator of confusion and distortion. Hisexistence is defined by aiming to distort God’s purposes, plans, will, character and nature among humankind. This includes confusing mankind’s understanding of God and of itself!  

This, as we know from Genesis 3, was his serpentine aim from the beginning. It was the distorting and manipulative influence of satan that brought Eve to re-orient her thinking and understanding of God’s clear command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. His subtle suggestions distorted her interpretation and reasoning while confusing her understanding of what was patently clear according to God’s Word. his unique interest was to bring Eve into questioning and disapproving of the qualities, characteristics and identity that she was naturally and beautifully endowed with, as a created woman and person (Gen.3; 1 Tim.2:9-15). While also, craftily lulling Eve into a disapproving perception of her Creator and life giver, God.  

satan’s modus operandi has always been to manipulate mankind into living contrary to our created nature and to distort the reality of the natural order. He introduced this distortion into human perception through the deception of Eve and, subsequent seduction of Adam. In that ‘paradise lost’ occasion of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, the god of this fallen ‘world’ introduced his deception into fallen humankind’s perception and experience. This is why, in an unbelieving condition and estate, Paul affirms that the ‘god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers’ ( 2 Corinthians 4:4). All unbelievers are under this deceptive power of the god of this world (1 John 5:19) until Jesus gives the light of life and faith (1 John 5:20; John 1:4-5, 12:46) leading to understanding and knowing Him.

The aforementioned is only underscored by the devil’s aim to distort and manipulate the purpose and point of Christ’s own mission, in an effort – however futile – to deceptively lure Jesus into departing from Father God’s will and decree (Luke 4:1-13). After all, as he endeavored to entice Jesus into deviating from the Father’s will, he did so via a distortion of God’s revealed word (Matt. 4:5-6) among other manipulative devices. What is more, there was also the devil’sinterests in betraying and killing Jesus as he entered into Judas’ heart (John 13:27) . A heart, by the way, that was always an unbelieving heart (John 6:70-71). 

Of course, his serpentine interests in ‘the details’ were an effort in futility. After all, JESUS knew what was happening with Judas (John 13:27) and that he was a devil from the moment HE chose him (John 6:70-71). Satan’s efforts were so futile, in fact, that Psalm 2 – a Messianic Psalm – affirms how our LORD GOD laughs at his efforts to manipulate and distort HIS saving plans and purposes in the ‘Son’, JESUS CHRIST vis a vis fallen kingdoms and rulers.

With this in mind -and in the devil’s mind- satan has irrevocably realized that his limited and narrow perspective and plans to frustrate the plans of GOD were impotent and pointless (Rev. 12:13-17). Stupid, even. JESUS, of course, has destroyed the works of the devil (John 3:8) as HE has bound and subdued the devil (Matthew 12:29{12:22-32}) and put he and his minion to open shame, while disarming them (Colossians 2:15).  

Consequently, now that the devil is fully apprised that his stupid efforts to contravene GOD”S purposes were futile – a fool’s errand to be sure – he is ‘red faced’, so to speak. Both embarrassed and angry, as pride is the devil’s bane and shame. In knowing this, fait a compli, the devil has turned his attention and efforts to meddling in the details of the churches life.

his interests are now fixated upon frustrating the details of the lives and experiences of those JESUS has set free or redeemed from being subject to enslavement to sin and his fallen worldly power.  Upon being definitively disarmed and shamed by JESUS, he is throwing an infantile tantrum and instigating conflict among the church; among the lives of those JESUS has set free and saved. This is what Revelation 12:13-17 is describing in elucidating how the devil’sprerogatives are now inordinately governed by making war with the children of GOD who, “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). 

These efforts of satan’s –in the details of our lives– are intended, among other things, to interweave doubt into our faith, shame into our forgiveness, conflict and tension into our relationships and discontent into our worship.

Doubt into our faith? | The letter’s to the Hebrews, 2 Peter, 1 John and John’s letter of Revelation to the church, as a few examples, uniquely and especially speaks to this. In these letters, the Christian life and experience of faith, in this fallen world, is being assaulted by situations and experiences introduced from various ‘worldly’ sources, so that the church is wavering in their faith and contemplating a departure from the faith or embracing more comfortable secular forms of religion into the content of their faith and worship. 

Recall, satan is the god  of this fallen world culture. And, as such, he is instigating and manipulating in an effort to frustrate the faith of those JESUS is saving.

Again, his efforts are futile for those JESUS has saved, the elect of GOD. You see, all who have a genuine, saving faith overcomes the world (1 John 4:4-5) because true faith rests in and trusts in the reality that “Jesus is the Son of God”(1 John 4:5) who protects us from the influence of the world and the deceptive wiles of the devil (1 John5:18-19). Doubt, as it were, is reassured by our faith. A faith that trusts in the ONE who has overcome sin, the world and the devil. Faith, trusts that because JESUS overcame, so we also overcome!          

Shame into our forgiveness? | satan, the already condemned and unforgiven one – destined for eternal damnation – isn’t entirely displeased with the reality that sinners are provided forgiveness for their sin. So, his interests are also in promoting a debilitating and denigrating shame for sin among those who are lovingly saved by JESUS and forgiven by God in JESUS. he is the deceptive accuser of the elect and saved of GOD. he aims at disrupting and interrupting the peace and joy we have in our forgiveness in CHRIST. 

We find this quintessentially illustrated in the death of Stephen. Upon identifying the reality of sin and  preaching faith in God’s plan of salvation in Christ, the faithless crowd adjudged and alleged Stephen to be a shameful blasphemer and subsequently murder him – or silence the voice of sin and forgiveness being preached by Stephen. 

While they aimed to shame Stephen, so much so that they shamefully stoned him, we find Stephen seeing JESUS standing in the heavenlies as the Arbiter of justice. As the ONE who has secured our forgiveness. And, as the ONE who stands in our sinful place before GOD, being the innocent and righteous ONE, WHO communicates forgiveness for our sins. Not to mention acceptance in GOD’s presence, rather than shameful disgrace due to sin. 

The joy and satisfaction of the gospel, is that JESUS suffered for our sinful shame (Isaiah 53) so that we would live without shame and condemnation in CHRIST and because of CHRIST. Isn’t this the beauty and magnificence of Romans 8:1-4,26-39? Our shame and disgrace has been forgiven because of HIS fame and grace!     

Conflict into our relationships? | Recall from above, the devil has an inordinate interest in “waging war” (Rev. 12:17) against the church. One of his tactics, in so doing, is to ‘divide and conquer’ as they say. To effect division and conflict among the church, satan influences those under his power and rule – as the ‘god of this world’ – to instigate such. This was happening among the church at Corinth both theologically, doctrinally and relationally. 

Theologically/doctrinally | There are false preachers disguising themselves or falsely presenting themselves as mediators of truth. Paul distinguishes these guys accordingly, “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And now wonder, for even satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants (who might not even realize they are under his power and influence), also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Cor. 11:12-15). Such ‘servants’ are those who distort, rationalize, manipulate and play language games with God’s Word to suit their preferences, comforts and interests (2 Peter 3:16-17; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11).  

As mentioned above, isn’t this indicative of how the devil distorted the truth of GOD’S word when tempting JESUS? Yep. Isn’t this indicative of how satan manipulated Eve into disbelieving GOD’S word and command as he portrayed or characterized GOD’S clear and explicit Word in a negative or disapproving tone (Gen.3)? Yep.  Isn’t this how healso leveraged GOD’S Word to support his self serving interests (Matt. 4:5-6)? Yep.

Relationally | Nothing pleases satan more than to sow discord among the local church, vis a vis, his representatives (2 Cor. 11:12-15; 3 John 9-10; Jude 17-19). So, the devil actively exerts himself toward bringing Christians to leverage sin against one another. Especially, instigating un-forgiveness. After all, he lives in perpetual un-forgiveness. This is why Paul encourages the church at Corinth to forgive a sinner. . ., “so that we (the church) would not be outwitted by satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs (of perpetuating un-forgiveness and division).” (2 Cor. 2:5-11)   

Those who are under the influence and power of the “god of this (fallen and sinful) world”, are those whose interests are in themselves and their own gratification. They are preoccupied with their own conveniences and satisfactions, so that their actions, subsequently, bring division among the church or detrimentally impact the unity of the church (Titus 1:10-11; Jude 17-19; 3 John 9-10).

JESUS Christ, though, promotes a unity and indivisibility among the church regardless of backgrounds, ethnicities, economies, etc (Ephesians 4:1-6; 1 Cor. 12:12-14). HE brings us to have a mind that doesn’t insist on our own way (or preferences, mannerisms, personalities, traditions etc), but instead, to lovingly prefer others and the local church above ourselves (Philippians 2:1-7; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; Rom. 14-15:7). HE brings us to be incredibly generous in forgiving one another (Matt.18:21-35; Luke 17:4). HE brings us to be incredibly generous in loving one another selflessly (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Cor. 3:1-7).     

Discontent into our worship? | Isn’t this the salient message of Job? Satan appealed to the LORD our GOD to promote discontent into Job’s trust in and worship of the LORD our GOD (Job 1:8-11). As our LORD allowed such temptation, Job resorted to questioning his own existence and purpose, while also, questioning GOD’S faithfulness and sovereignty. He turned to depression, nihilism, and pessimism to assuage his suffering and explain his condition. Job withdrew from the worship of GOD that he had been given to, as he resorted to a posture of discontent regarding GOD’S purposes and a disapproving displeasure of our LORD’S designs, while also wavering in ambivalence germane to our LORD’S providential presence. The devil prefers us to disapprovingly question GOD rather than trustingly worship HIM (Job 1:8-11)! 

In looking to JESUS as we are experiencing such pangs of discontent, we find a satisfying and revitalizing  contentment empowering us toward a lively praise rather than a blithely malaise. Recall, as JESUS was encountering the incredible discomfort of anticipating HIS FATHER’S judgment of sin in our place, while in the Garden of Getshamane, we find HIM lowered to the ground, as HE experiences the weight of it all, asking to be released from such an experience. However, we then find HIM obediently worshipping and trusting HIS FATHERS plan and purpose for HIM (Matt.26:36-39). So much so that HE offers HIS FATHER a final expression of worshipful trust as HE quotes as Psalm of hope and praise (Psalm 22).

This is more or less what happens with Job, as he finally desists from his morose complaints and discontent. He elects to listen to the LORD GOD, rather than continuing in the folly of his complaining discontent (Job 40:3-5). And, as it would happen, upon the LORD bringing him into a position and condition of actually listening, Job is brought to a place of a trusting and satisfying worship (Job 42:1-6). 

So, is the devil involved in the details of our lives? Well, sure. . .to a limited and restricted extent. An extent, limited by our LORD GOD’S providence and sovereignty. Our ability to overcome and endure is found, “in the LORD and in the strength of HIS might”, as we “put on the whole armor of GOD, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11{12-20}). Our confidence and assurance to overcome and endure rests, by faith, in the “mighty hand of GOD” as Peter mentions in his letter to beleaguered Christian’s in exile (1 Peter 5:6-11). A faith trusting that while, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone (believers) to devour”, as we (believers) “resist him, firm in our faith”. . .we won’t be overcome by the limited power of the devil. 

As we trust our Lord’s involvement, in the details of our lives, we know that we are protected from the wiles of the devil or “evil one” (1 John 5:18). As we entrust ourselves to – or trustingly and humbly submit ourselves to – the “hand of GOD” (1 Peter 5:6), rather than the hand of fate, personal power and initiative, creative ingenuity or demonic activity, we are assured that we will overcome.

You may be wondering why references to satan and devil aren’t capitalized. This isn’t an editing issue. It’s simple literary device to reflect the medieval portrait of satan as a red figure with horns, tail and hooves. As a goat like figure. The devil was portrayed this way by the medieval church as an affront to the devil’s ego. It was meant to insult satan. The lack of cap’s is meant degradingly. 

To Gather, Or Not To Gather

Every Sunday during this pandemical season I find myself preaching into a small lens and a small device. As I do, my eyes occasionally shift. . . and sections of the empty chairs in our auditorium come into view.

In these moments, I am reminded of how unnatural and unusual live-streaming is. I am reminded of how much I miss my church family. I am reminded of how much the church needs to physically gather. I am reminded that the church cannot continue socially distancing by way of gathering via video conferencing or viral connections. I am reminded that the church is being deprived of God’s grace on  copious essential levels. I am reminded that our personally gathering uniquely displays the glory of our God and testifies to His majesty.

Well, I might be exaggerating a touch. After all, it sure sounds more pious to have all of these reminders during the actual livestream. While all these reminders don’t actually fully form in my mind while preaching, this shifting glimpse that see’s empty seats returns after we livestream and these reminders come flooding in.

As they flood in, I am reminded of how our physically gathering – in the same location –  is so essential to the Christian life and the essential well being of our faith. So much so, that we are commanded to physically gather in the same location (Heb. 10:25). This verse is God, Himself, telling us how incumbent it is upon us to gather.

What is more, this command to gather, was written to a church who was scattering due to persecution. A persecution that included their very lives being threatened.

This is how central and sine qua none our  church gatherings are. So much so, that not long after, as Christian persecution became more pronounced and  politically formalized, we find the church. . . . socially distancing and sheltering in place? Nope. The church proceeded to gather underground. They began meeting in crypts and the like. Under the threat of death, mind you.

So, ‘To gather, or not to gather? This is the question.’ Why would we not gather with the above in mind? And, how do we go forward gathering?

Why not gather?

To begin, our pandemical season is much different than the situation among the early church, alluded to above. The early church insisted on gathering, despite their lives being threatened. This represents a major difference with their situation and gathering, and our situation and gathering. While the early church was physically threatened because of their gathering, their gathering didn’t physically threaten those around them (At least physically. It sure threatened the community philosophically and religiously). Our physically gathering potentially threatened the well being of those around us.

While the importance of gathering is impressed upon us from God’s own Word, the importance of valuing the well being of those around us is also a Christian imperative (Luke 10:25-37). Our gathering together in the same space could have potentially perpetuated the suffering of our neighbors. Those around us. Those in our community, whom we want to draw to Jesus. Those in our towns we are called upon, by Jesus Himself, to love (Mark 12:31). Those in our cities we are called upon to protect and promote the physical well-being of.

Christian charity compels us to show the love of Christ by way of temporarily suspending our gatherings for the good of those around us and for the good of our own church families. “For the love of Christ controls (compels) us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all. . .and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:13-15).

 


“Christian charity compels us to show the love of Christ by way of temporarily suspending our gatherings for the good of those around us and for the good of our own church families.”


 

Plus, as Christians, we recognize the proper role of government as our God instituted it (Romans 13:1). A government that exists to exercise a civic authority as God’s uniquely endowed and positioned servant (Romans 13:4,6).

As Christians, not to mention all of society, we gladly obey our government’s laws, for disobeying lawful  government is disobeying God (Romans 13:2,5; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Matthew 22:21).  We recognize, that our governing authorities exist to preserve life (1 Peter 2:14; Genesis 9:5-6) and to impugn injustice, while also retarding evil (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Timothy 2:14).

Currently, our state and federal government has issued ‘shelter in place’ and  ‘quarantine’ orders and guidelines as a means to protect and preserve life among our communities. This is within their God given role/s. The church recognizes, affirms and supports this. Churches who have disregarded such protective orders – intended to preserve life – have in fact disregarded God’s own Word. In such a way that the Spirit of God is grieved (Ephesians 4:30; 4:25-32).

Plus, as the Church, we are called to live as responsible Christian citizens who aim to promote peace and live in a manner that doesn’t instigate unnecessary noise among our neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities (1 Timothy 2:1-3; Jeremiah 29:7). Especially, when our nations media is dishonestly instigating unnecessary noise in such a theatrical and maniacal manner.

Conversely, in the event that our government continued to forbid religious gatherings in perpetuity, and far more significantly, in a manner that interdicts with our ability and freedom to gather worshipfully – as we are called and commanded by God to do – we are called upon to exercise respectable and responsible civil disobedience (Daniel 3:8-30,6; Acts 4:19-20). It doesn’t seem as though, this is happening or will happen, as a pattern or law.

With that being said, how do we go forward? How do we resume gathering?

Well, to put it simply, carefully and considerately. As I touched on above, Christian charity brings us to live in such a way that promotes life, both spiritually and physically (Luke 10:25-37). This entails withdrawing from our ‘business as usual’ mentality to promote and protect life (2 Kings 4:8-37). This includes our ordinary physically gatherings, as is our habitus.

The compassion of Jesus towards the physically suffering also evinces this. While His primary mission was to lay his life down and raise it up again to raise us spiritually to new life from being dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-10; John 10:10), Christ also moved and ministered to peoples physical needs. For instance, in Mark 1:38, many who were sick and diseased were left sick and diseased because Jesus needed to move on preaching His gospel. However, after moving on, we find Jesus being moved with compassion to provide for the physical needs and well being of those around him (Mark 6:34, Mark 8:2-3; Matthew 9:35-38, 14:14).

As the church, we are interested in ministering to the whole person, both spiritual and physical. The compassion of Jesus moves us to take measures that insure our members and guests are cared for. So, we conscientiously begin to plan measures for lessening the possibility of infecting, as we resume gathering, to reduce contributing to a resurgence. This entails structuring our gathering/s in ways that maintain responsible distance, such as appropriately spacing chairs, continuing to live-stream for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, providing multiple gatherings to reduce gathering size, and providing an alternating Sunday gathering plan, so forth and so on. Not to mention taking proper cleanliness measures.

 


“As the church, we are interested in ministering to the whole person, both spiritual and physical. The compassion of Jesus moves us to take measures that insure our members and guests are cared for.”


 

Also, determining when to resume gathering includes the valuing of public perception. It is incumbent upon the church to realize the importance of public perception and to have our choices and actions informed – although not necessarily determined – by the “live peaceably with all” mentality (Romans 12:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; 1 Peter 2:15-17).

Inauspiciously,  a number of churches remained ‘open’ during this pandemical season. This evinced a lack of love, compassion and peace for neighbors, community and membership. Even, if doing so was well intentioned. Regardless, such inconsideration of community and communal health has positioned us, as the Church, to keep these legitimate sensitivities in mind.

Such insensitive decisions and actions have positioned the church, generally, to especially bear in mind the need to move forward apologetically. Much like Justin Martyr went out of his way to defend the values and motives of the early church, apologetically.

Of course, his reasons for doing so were due to a misperception of the early church’s legitimate and non-threatening gatherings of worship, over and against such misperceptions that have precipitated in the public arena of our day and age, due to illegitimate and threatening gatherings, during this pandemic.

Nevertheless, a misperception about the churches compassion and communal consideration is in play.

And, this matters to us, as the Church, because our gathered worship also testifies to the compassion and communal consideration of Jesus Christ, Who was considerate of the physical well being of those who gathered around Him.

As we proceed to process how to physically and personally re-gather, and as we actually begin to re-gather, the love and compassion of our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, compels us to be careful and considerate in doing so. After all, we as the church, gather to display the reality that Jesus laid his life down for our physical good and well being (Matthew 8:16-17), as well as our spiritual.

THE BEGINNING OF PRAYER

AS WE HAVE SEEN IN OUR CURRENT GENESIS SERMON SERIES, ‘OUR BEGINNING’ WAS QUITE EVENTFUL AND ASTOUNDING. JAW DROPPING, TO BE SURE. I CAN SURELY SAY, MY FAITH HAS BEEN CAPTIVATED AFRESH BY GOD’S WORD. I CAN ALSO SAY THAT I HAVE EXPERIENCED A RENEWAL OF SPIRITUAL LIFE FROM THIS BOOK OF OUR BEGINNING.

NOW, WHILE THIS BOOK OF OUR BEGINNING GIVES US ORIGINAL KNOWLEDGE OF HOW THE UNIVERSE CAME TO BE, ALONG WITH HOW MAN AND WOMAN WERE FORMED IN THE BEGINNING. . . ORIGINAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE NATURE AND PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE, ALONG WITH MANKIND’S PURPOSE ON EARTH IN THE BEGINNING. . .ORIGINAL KNOWLEDGE OF  THE ORIGIN OF SOCIETY AND ETHNICITY IN THE BEGINNING. . .GENESIS ALSO GIVES US ORIGINAL KNOWLEDGE OF PRAYER. THAT’S RIGHT, PRAYER. PRAYER WAS THERE IN THE BEGINNING!

PRAYER IN THE BEGINNING??? BUT, THE WORD PRAYER IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND, IN THE BEGINNING? AT LEAST, PRAYING TO GOD ISN’T ACTUALLY FOUND – OR RECORDED – UNTIL GENESIS 20.

SO, WHAT WAS PRAYER THEN, IN THE BEGINNING?

FIRSTLY, PRAYER WAS SOMETHING CONVERSATIONAL IN THE BEGINNING. WHILE THE WORD FOR PRAYER ISN’T EMPLOYED TO DESCRIBE COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN GOD AND MANKIND (MALE AND FEMALE) UNTIL GENESIS 20, WE DO FIND COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN GOD AND MANKIND. THESE  COMMUNICATIONS, AS WE DISCOVER, WERE PERSONAL CONVERSATIONS.

RIGHT AWAY IN THE BIBLE’S OPENING CHAPTER – FOLLOWING THE CREATION OF MAN AND WOMAN – WE FIND THAT “GOD SAID TO THEM” (1:28,29). PRAYER INVOLVES GOD SAYING THINGS TO US, AS WITH “THEM” IN THE BEGINNING. PRAYER INVOLVES HEARING THE CONVERSATIONAL COMMANDS, WORDS AND PROMISES GOD IS “SAYING” FOR US TO HEAR AND FOLLOW (2:16-17).  PRAYER, PLAIN AND SIMPLE, IS GOD BEING CONVERSATIONAL WITH US THROUGH HIS PERSONAL WORD/S TO US. OF COURSE, HIS PERSONAL WORD TO US NOW, IS HIS PERSONALLY REVEALED WORD, THE BIBLE.

THIS ALSO MEANS, THAT WE ARE BEING CONVERSATIONAL WITH GOD, THROUGH HIS REVEALED WORD. BEING PRAYERFUL INVOLVES US READING THE WORD OF GOD AND HEARING BY WAY OF ‘RECEIVING’ AND ‘OBEYING’ WHAT HE HAS “SAID” AND CONTINUES “SAYING” THROUGH HIS REVEALED WORD. BEING CONVERSATIONAL WITH GOD’S REVEALED WORD ENTAILS DISCOVERING WHAT HE HAS “SAID” (1:28,29, 3:9,11,13,16,17; 4:6,9; 7:1; 8:15 ETC), AND “COMMANDED AND PROMISED” (2:16-17, 3:3). AND, IN SO DOING, ASKING OURSELVES HOW AND WHERE OUR LIVES NEED TO BE IMPACTED. HERE ARE A FEW CONVERSATIONAL QUESTIONS THAT YOU CAN ASK GOD PRAYERFULLY AS YOU CONVERSE WITH HIS WORD : HOW AM I TO BE LIVING?. . .HOW AM I ACTING?. . .HOW MUCH DOES GOD LOVE ME?. . .WHAT AM I VALUING AND WORSHIPPING?. . .WHAT AND HOW AM I LOVING?. . .HOW DOES THE LORD BLESS ME? . . .HOW ARE HIS PROMISES NURTURING MY SOUL? . . . HOW DO I NEED TO TRUST MY LORD MORE? . . . AND SO ON.

SECONDLY, PRAYER WAS SOMETHING VERY PERSONAL IN THE BEGINNING. APART FROM THE AFOREMENTIONED ON HOW THE LORD GOD CONVERSATIONALLY “SAID”, “COMMANDED AND PROMISED” – IN THE IMMEDIATE COMPANY OF ADAM, EVE, CAIN, NOAH AND HIS SONS, ABRAM – WE FIND LANGUAGE OF HOW PERSONALLY THE LORD GOD CONVERSED WITH MAN AND WOMAN.  HE IS DESCRIBED AS PERSONALLY ‘WALKING IN THE GARDEN’ (3:8) IN THE COMPANY OF ADAM AND EVE. IT IS FURTHER DESCRIBED AS HIS PERSONAL “PRESENCE” (3:8) THAT PERSONALLY “CALLED” OUT TO MAN (3:9) AND PERSONALLY “SAID TO THE WOMAN” (3:13).

THINK UPON THIS FOR A MOMENT. MAYBE A LOOONG MOMENT! CREATOR GOD, PERSONALLY SPEAKS TO MAN AND WOMAN!! THIS IS HUGE. HE SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO ADAM AND EVE. . .IN PERSON, AS IT WERE. WHAT THIS LOOKED LIKE AND ENTAILED, THEN, IS BEYOND OUR ABILITY TO FULLY COMPREHEND NOW THAT SIN HAS DISRUPTED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF BEING PERSONALLY CONVERSATIONAL WITH OUR GOD AS THEY WERE IN EDEN.

HOWEVER, IT IS CLEAR, IN THE BEGINNING, THAT PRAYER WAS ORIGINALLY AN INTIMATELY PERSONAL CONVERSATION. HOW PERSONAL? WELL, WE ARE ABLE TO GRASP JUST HOW INTIMATELY PERSONAL BEING PRAYERFUL WITH OUR GOD IS, BY LOOKING TO JESUS CHRIST. EVEN WITH SIN DISRUPTING OUR BEING ABLE TO PERSONALLY CONVERSE WITH GOD, THE LORD GOD PERSONALLY COMES TO BE CONVERSATIONAL WITH US IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST. JESUS, GOD HIMSELF IN THE FLESH, MAKES VISIBLE GOD’S VERY PERSONAL PRESENCE AMONG MANKIND. THE GOSPEL OF JOHN REMINDS US THAT WHILE, “NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN GOD (PERSONALLY); THE ONLY GOD (JESUS), WHO IS AT THE FATHER’S SIDE, HE (JESUS) HAS (PERSONALLY) MADE HIM KNOWN (JOHN 1:18). HOW DO WE FIND JESUS DOING SO? BY PERSONALLY TALKING WITH PEOPLE. IN PERSONALLY LIVING WITH PEOPLE. THROUGH PERSONAL DISCUSSIONS WITH PEOPLE. HE DID SO AS HE TAUGHT, REBUKED AND BLESSED PEOPLE, IN PERSON. HE ALSO DID SO WHEN SOCIALIZING WITH FOLK IN THEIR HOMES AND EATING WITH PEOPLE AS WELL.

PAUSE FOR A MOMENT AND PONDER THIS. GOD MOVES BEYOND THE CONVERSATIONAL BARRIER OF OUR SIN, TO PERSONALLY ENGAGE US IN CONVERSATION PRAYERFULLY. SO MUCH SO, THAT HE ACTUALLY AND PERSONALLY REMOVES THAT BARRIER OF OUR SIN, THROUGH THE SACRIFICE OF HIS SON. AND HE DOES SO, IN ORDER TO RENEW OUR PERSONAL CONVERSATION WITH HIM (1 JOHN 1:1-4). ISN’T THIS WHY WE FIND JESUS, THE PERSONAL WORD OF GOD, INSTRUCTING THE DISCIPLES – AND US – ABOUT HOW TO BE PRAYERFUL WITH THE VERY PERSONAL TONE OF, “OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN. . .” (MATTHEW 6:8-15)?

FINALLY, BEING PRAYERFUL WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS ORIGINAL IN THE BEGINNING. IT WAS GOD’S ORIGINAL INTENT, IN CREATING MANKIND, TO BE IN A CONVERSATIONAL AND RELATIONAL POSITION WITH MALE AND FEMALE. BEING  CONVERSATIONAL AND PERSONAL WITH GOD WASN’T AN AFTERTHOUGHT OF CREATION. IT WAS A FORETHOUGHT OF CREATION! 

AS I ADUMBRATED ABOVE, GOD WAS ORIGINALLY AND REGULARLY INVOLVED SAYING THINGS TO MANKIND, IN THE BEGINNING. WHAT IS MORE, WE FIND HIM PERSONALLY MAKING HIS WAY TO BE CONVERSATIONAL WITH ADAM AND EVE IN A VERY UNIQUE WAY IN GENESIS 3:8-10. THE LORD GOD IS ACTUALLY DESCRIBED AS PERSONALLY ‘WALKING IN THE GARDEN (HOME OF ADAM AND EVE) IN THE COOL OF THE DAY’. HE THEN BECOMES CONVERSATIONAL WITH THEM (V.9-13).  

THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION OF THESE VERSES IS THAT, BEING PERSONALLY CONVERSATIONAL WITH GOD, WAS AN ORIGINALLY ORDINARY PART OF DAILY LIFE WITH GOD, PRIOR TO SIN’S PRAYERFUL DISRUPTION.   

IN OTHER WORDS,  IT WASN’T INTENDED TO BE AN EXCEPTIONAL EXERCISE, BUT A USUAL EXERCISE. THIS IS NOTEWORTHY. ESPECIALLY, WHEN KEEPING IN MIND THAT TODAY’S CONCEPTIONS OF PRAYER SO OFTEN CONSTRUE BEING PRAYERFUL TO BE SOME SUPRA-SPIRITUAL EXERCISE THAT ONLY EXCEPTIONAL PERSONS ARE GIVEN TO. ESPECIALLY, WHEN KEEPING IN MIND THAT TODAY’S PERCEPTIONS OF THOSE GIVEN TO PRAYER SO OFTEN PORTRAY THOSE PRAYING TO BE GIVEN TO SOME EXTRA-ORDINARY DISCIPLINE THAT EXCEPTIONAL CHRISTIANS ARE COMMITTED TO.

THE PRACTICE AND DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER HAS EFFECTIVELY BEEN RENDERED SO EXTRA-ORDINARY, THAT IT IS NO LONGER CONSISTENTLY UNDERSTOOD IN DAILY TERMS. IT HAS BECOME SO SUPRA-SPIRITUAL, THAT IT IS NO LONGER THOUGHT OF IN TERMS OF BEING SOMETHING ‘ORDINARY’ PEOPLE ARE GIVEN TO.

BUT, WHEN WE LOOK TO JESUS, WE’RE REMINDED THAT HE WAS MORE PERSONALLY CONVERSATIONAL WITH ORDINARY PEOPLE WITH DAILY REGULARITY. CONSIDER HIS CLOSEST CIRCLE OF DISCIPLES AND FRIENDS, HIS DISCIPLES (MARK 3:13-21) AND THE LADIES ACCOMPANYING HIM (LUKE 8:1-3). THESE GUYS AND GALS WEREN’T ELITIST, EXRA-ORDINARY OR SUPRA-SPIRITUAL. THEY WERE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS, RECOVERING SINNERS, BUSINESS MANAGERS, COUNTRY FOLK, CITY FOLK, HUSBANDS, DAUGHTERS, SONS, MOTHERS, BROTHERS ETC. THIS WAS WHO JESUS WAS ORIGINALLY AND DAILY WITH WHEN HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY COMMENCED.

WHILE BEING PRAYERFUL WAS CONVERSATIONAL, PERSONAL AND ORIGINAL (USUAL OR DAILY) IN THE BEGINNING OF CREATION, IT CONTINUES TO BE SO FROM THE BEGINNING OF OUR SALVATION. IN THE WORDS OF THE ORDINARY APOSTLE JOHN, “THAT WHICH WAS FROM THE BEGINNING. . .CONCERNING THE WORD OF LIFE (AKA THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST). . .WE PROCLAIM TO YOU (US)”. WHY? “SO THAT YOU (WE) TOO MAY HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH US; AND INDEED OUR FELLOWSHIP IS WITH THE FATHER AND WITH HIS SON JESUS CHRIST” (1 JOHN 1:1-4). THIS WORD FELLOWSHIP SPEAKS TO BEING CONVERSATIONAL AND PERSONAL, WHILE ENJOYING ORIGINAL OR ORDINARY RAPPORT WITH GOD, HIMSELF.

OUR SALVATION MARKS THE ORIGIN OF A RENEWED PRAYERFUL PRIVILEGE BETWEEN GOD AND MAN/WOMAN. WHAT WAS TRUE, PRAYERFULLY, IN THE BEGINNING OF CREATION IS EQUALLY TRUE, PRAYERFULLY, FROM THE BEGINNING OF OUR SALVATION.

 

 

Joy To The World

In the words of Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell), “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” This remark, in the movie Elf, was followed by his spontaneous song in the middle of a department store, “I’m singing! I’m in a store and I’m singing!”

A hilarious scene, to be sure.

In truth, singing is so often an essential component of Christmas. Among the church, we have a rich history of wonderfully composed Christmas songs. Songs we routinely and traditionally sing during our December Sunday gatherings and among our usual family gatherings. Songs, we also listen to on our devices and hear being sung in Christmas movies we view. Such songs as Shepherds We Have Heard On High, The First Noel, Silent Night, along with copious others. We have such a wonderful tradition of singing Christmas songs.

But, among the church, it isn’t merely the act or environment of singing that precipitates Christmas Cheer, as Buddy the Elf indicates. This is nostalgia. What we believe, among the church, is that what we are singing about is what spreads Christmas Cheer. And, this what, is a WHO. Our cheer comes not simply from singing, but from singing songs about Jesus Christ. True and joyful Christmas cheer enters into our hearts and minds as Jesus Christ is being sung about.

As one of our most memorable Christmas songs reminds us, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come – Let earth receive her King – Let every heart prepare Him room – And Heaven and nature sing – And Heaven and nature sing – And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing”


True and joyful Christmas cheer enters into our hearts and minds as Jesus Christ is being sung about.


 

So, let’s sing heartily this Christmas. Let’s sing aloud. Let’s sing of Jesus Christ who has come! The Father’s only begotten Son! Whose sinless sacrifice for sinner salvation He has gloriously done!

In the words of Ben Johnsons A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior

I sing the birth was born tonight, The Author both of life and light; The angels so did sound it, And like the ravished shepherds said, Who saw the light, and were afraid, Yet searched , and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King, That did us all salvation bring, And freed the soul from danger; He whom the whole world could not take, The Word, which heaven and earth did make, Was no laid in a manger.

The Father’s wisdom will it so, The Son’s obedience knew no “No,” Both wills were in one stature; And as that wisdom had decreed, The Word was now made Flesh indeed, And took on HIm our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win? Who made Himself the Prince of sin, To make us heirs of glory?

To see this Babe, all innocence, A Martyr born in our defense: Can man forget this story?”

Our Pleasing Aroma’s

Aromatherapy has precipitously become more and more commonplace as a form of therapy. This is a form of holistic treatment that utilizes natural plant extracts to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being that promotes forms of healing. As the aromas  produced from such extracts are breathed in, the effects are holistically well-pleasing to both body and mind.

Well, analogously speaking, the Christian life also serves as a veritable form of aromatherapy. A life that will emit various well-pleasing aromas. 1) Aromas, that will be well pleasing among our immediate community. 2) Aromas, that will be well pleasing among our local church family. 3) And, infinitely far more meaningfully, aromas, that will be well pleasing to the Lord our God worshipfully  .

To begin, rather than being a lingering odor among our immediate community, we will be a well pleasing aroma. Well pleasing aroma’s are stimulating and satisfying to those breathing them in,  whereas, lingering odor’s are stifling to those breathing them in. The Apostle Paul touches on this in writing to the Corinthian church. A church known for emitting stifling odors (2 Cor. 2:1-4, 13:1-10; 1 Cor. 1:10-17, 3:1-4, 5:1-2). Paul wrote, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17).

My wife enjoys positioning various scented candles throughout the main living area of our home. These candles produce a different aroma based upon the scent of the candle. If the candle is pumpkin spice, well, the aroma is pumpkin spice. If vanilla cinnamon brûlée, than, an aroma of sauerkraut !!?? Of course not, the aroma emitted is vanilla cinnamon brûlée. The “aroma” or “fragrance” released into the air, will be according to the kind of candle. This is what Paul is getting at, in describing us as “the aroma of Christ”. We will emit the aroma of Christ, because we are burning wicks steeped in His life (as the candle). And this aroma, our aroma, is the spreading of  “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Cor. 2:14) as we are ‘in Christ’, much like the candle wick is ‘in the candle’.

This aroma spreads among our community as our speech and actions diffuse the speech and actions of Jesus.  As we feed the hungry and introduce ourselves to our unfamiliar neighbor (Matthew 25:35-40) we spread the aroma of Christ. As we support, respect and advocate the just and proper exercise of civil government and authority (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) we spread the aroma of Christ. As we strive to promote our communities well being by “doing good” (1 Peter 2:15; Jeremiah 29:7; Genesis 39:1-6). And, most meaningfully, as we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those in our community (Acts 4:1-22).

While our aroma’s are to permeate our community in general, we are also to be uniquely aromatic among our local church family.

Essential oils have become an increasingly utilized form or ‘aromatic therapy’ over recent years. As these ‘essential oils’ are released into the air and inhaled, physical and mental healing is promoted and the quality of life promoted.  In much the same way, our personal aromas are to uniquely be diffused among our own local church family as a life giving and healing aroma. This is what Paul is touching on, when writing, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

This aroma of love, is diffused, as we give ourselves up for the well-being of our local church family; even as Jesus, Himself, “gave himself up” for you (Eph.5:2) – that is gave His very life – for the good and benefit of those He saves. . .His church. This ‘giving ourselves up’ is a loving aroma that diffuses among our church families,  as we give up personal time to have lunch with an isolated church member – as we give up personal interests after the Sunday gathering to have a meaningful conversation with a member we might not share much in commmon with, a conversation about them – as we give up personal comforts by way of sharing personal sin struggles from past or present as a way to identify with a member of our church family as a means to comfort them and empower them to work through their sin struggle – as we give up personal gain by sacrificing our leisure and pleasure to help a church member through their personal pain. . .and so on.

The giving of ourselves, for persons among our church family, diffuses the love of Jesus Christ in life giving and healing ways among the church. Even as the giving of His life, raised our spiritually dead life from the grave. This is, “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” He is well pleased with the aroma of our self-giving love, for those Jesus died for!

And, finally, the well pleasing aroma of personally offering our very lives to the Lord God worshipfully. He – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – enjoys nothing more than the voluntary and grateful offerings of praise and thanksgiving from, we , whom He has graciously and mercifully saved.

Noah’s response to the Lord God saving him and his family (Genesis 6:9-8)  quintessentially exemplifies this worshipful aroma. After Noah and his family are saved from the flooding waters of God’s judgment for sin, the first thing Noah does, is offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise (Gen.8:20). His voluntary and free offering of praise brought great pleasure to the Lord our God – as did Abel’s worshipful offering before him (Genesis 4:3-4). And, our Lord’s response to Noah’s voluntary aroma of praise was that He, “smelled the pleasing aroma…” (Gen. 8:21).

In saving us, as with Noah, the Lord our God finds the aroma of our voluntary and grateful offerings of praise incredibly well pleasing. Aroma’s of praise, to be sure, that encompass ‘all of life’ generally. This is what Paul envisages in his appeal for us to “present our bodies (the entirety of ourselves or ‘all of life’) as a living sacrifice (a continual pleasing aroma), holy and acceptable to God. . .” (Romans 12:1). So, this ‘all of life’ aroma is to be freely offered to the Lord our God as a sweet smelling fragrance. We are to see ‘all of life’ as an occasion to burn sweet incense that pleases our Lord. This ‘all of life’ extends to our parenting, our working, our serving, our investing, our praying, our testifying, our resting, our singing, our aging, our speaking, our forgiving, our messaging, our promising, our leading, our eating, our spending etc.

Isn’t this the ‘all of life’ aroma our Lord and Savior diffused throughout the entirety of His life and sacrificial death? Absolutely!

Through His perfectly obedient life, Jesus spread the aroma of Father God’s glory everywhere and anywhere while on earth (John 17:4). Even to the end of obediently offering His life as the perfectly well pleasing offering to God for our sin. And, being saved through His perfect offering to God, through the perfectly pleasing aroma of His sacrificial death for our sin (Hebrews 10:12-14), WE, “through Jesus. . .continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15, NIV).  Our worshipful offerings and personal sacrificesare pleasing aroma’s to our God, as they are offered through Christ, as His, “single offering. . .has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14).