Monday, April 24, 2017

God-Centered Prayer

Part 4 of Talking to God

Text: Matthew 6:9-10




Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10). 


Prayer Is Not All About Us

There are many inspirational statements about prayer. For example:

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).

“Prayer works.”

“Prayer changes things.”

These statements motivate us to take our requests to God in prayer. But prayer is more than just asking God to do things for us. The Lord’s Prayer—the model for how we should pray—begins by focusing on God. Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which the person only wanted to talk about himself or herself? Our prayers should not be self-absorbed. Prayer is not all about us.


"Your" Before "Our"

There are three different pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer: “your,” “our,” and “us.” There are six requests in the prayer, with each request containing a pronoun. The first three requests use the pronoun “your”: (1) “hallowed be your name,” (2) “Your kingdom come,” and (3) “your will be done.” The last three requests use the pronouns “our” and “us”: (1) “Give us this day our daily bread,” (2) “forgive us our debts,” and (3) “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The first three requests are about God’s glory; the last three requests are about our good.

Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; it’s seeking his agenda for our lives. God is not our errand boy!


God's Name, Kingdom, and Will

While the focus of the first three requests of the Lord’s Prayer is on God, focusing on God is actually beneficial for us.

1. May your name be hallowed. 

God’s “name” refers to who God is. To “hallow” God is to honour him as holy. God is holy in the sense that there is no one like him. He says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me” (Isa. 46:9).

God’s word continually tells us to praise God? For example, Psalm 113:3 says, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!” Does God have an ego problem? No, the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the chief end of man (i.e., our number one purpose) is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” C. S. Lewis writes that “the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.” [1] God knows that we can’t fully enjoy him unless we praise him (like we don’t fully enjoy a great movie unless we praise it). Of course, we can honour God not only with our lives but also with our lives.

2. May your kingdom come. 

In one sense the kingdom of God has already come. When Jesus’ became his earthly ministry, he announced, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Jesus reigns as King over his people (i.e., the church). When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we can pray that God’s kingdom would grow (i.e., more people would make Jesus their King).

But the kingdom in its fullest sense is still future. It will come to earth when Jesus returns. Jesus declared that the sooner all the nations hear the gospel, the sooner he would return: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). The apostle Peter writes that we can hasten the return of Jesus by how we live (“waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,” 1 Peter 3:12).

3. May your will be done. 

“Our ‘prayer doesn’t work’ often means ‘you didn’t do my will, in my way, in my time.’” [2] And remember, sometimes we need to put feet to our prayers. Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The death of Jesus on the cross was the will of God. Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The apostle Paul describes God’s will as “good” (Rom. 12:2). Obviously, the death of Jesus on the cross was good for us. But was it good for Jesus? In the short-term, no. But in the long-term, yes. Not only did it allow Jesus to provide salvation for us, but he also was exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords. It is always best to do the will of God, though doing it might sometimes be very difficult.


Prayer Changes Me

We say, “Prayer changes things.” But if we begin our prayers by focusing on God, prayer changes us. And our prayers will also be changed. We’ll think, “How does this request bring honour to God? How will it grow God’s kingdom? How will it accomplish God’s will?”

____________________

[1] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 95.
[2] Paul Miller, A Praying Life, Kindle location ?.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Conqueror of Death

Part 3 of Christ the Conqueror 

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-58




The last enemy to be destroyed is death (v. 26). 


Taunting Death

Death did all it could to keep Jesus in the tomb, but it failed. Death lost the battle. The tomb was empty. Jesus had risen. And the apostle Paul taunts death, saying, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (v. 55). Jesus is the conqueror of death.


The Destruction of Death

The consequence of humanity’s first sin was death. God had warned Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Their physical death, unless God intervened, would bring eternal separation from God.

Since that first sin, “death reigned” (Rom. 5:14, 17) over the human race. But when Jesus came into this world, he came to put death’s reign to an end. Death could not destroy Jesus. Only one person ever died and then was raised to life, never to die again. And one day he will return to destroy death forever. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (v. 26). Christ’s victory is our victory: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 57).

When a believer dies, his or her spirit goes to heaven. To be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Then when Jesus returns—if we don’t live until that day—our bodies will be raised. “The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (v. 52). Our new bodies will never die. “Death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4).

But why do we need new bodies? Couldn’t we exist in eternity as spirits? If there is no future resurrection, then God will not have absolute victory over death. God is in the process of undoing the damage that sin has done to the world (“Behold, I am making all things new,” Rev. 21:5).

Alan Johnson, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, writes,
My wife’s first experience of meeting Christians who had this hope was as a nurse working in hospital wards where some believers and some nonbelievers were dying every day. “There was such a peace with some patients, I wanted to know why.” Her first interest in the Bible came as a result of this experience. [1]
Do you have this peace?


An Unbelievable Story

Many of us are so familiar with the story of the resurrection that we don’t appreciate how unbelievable it is. “Unbelievable” is an overused word. According to one dictionary, “unbelievable” means “difficult or impossible to believe.” For the person who hears the story of the resurrection for the first time, it really is unbelievable. We must acknowledge that the resurrection of Jesus is a story that’s hard to believe. How could a crucified man rise from the dead? If you were told that [dead celebrity] had risen from the dead, you wouldn’t believe it. Dead people stay dead. What makes the death of Jesus any different?

If you believe that the story of the resurrection is true, why do you believe it’s true? If a non-Christian friend asked you that question, what would be your answer? You could say, “My parents taught me that it’s true.” But your friend would say, “How do you know that your parents weren’t wrong?” You could say, “The Bible says it’s true.” But your friends would say, “How do you know that the Bible is right about the resurrection?” [2]

It’s reasonable to believe that the resurrection is true because it’s the best explanation of the “minimal facts”—facts that are accepted by the majority of scholars, both Christian and secular.

1. Jesus was crucified. 

The crucifixion of Jesus was a public even and is mentioned in secular history books. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Christ “suffered the extreme penalty [i.e., crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [3]

2. The tomb was empty. [4]

If the tomb of Jesus had not been empty, the story of his resurrection would have been easily disproved. The enemies didn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty. Instead they invented a lie to explain why the tomb was empty: “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole him away while [the guards] were asleep” (Matt. 28:3). [5]

3. The disciples really believed that they had seen the risen Jesus. 

The followers of Jesus didn’t act like people who had stolen his body. They were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom to spread the story of the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.

4. A notorious enemy of Christianity was converted. 

The apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church, but something changed the course of his life. Paul claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8). Skeptics will argue that the disciples could have thought they saw the risen Jesus because they wanted to believe that he was alive. But the same can’t be said of Paul.

Yes, the story of the resurrection of a crucified man is an unbelievable story. But what about the fact that the tomb was empty? What about the fact that the disciples really believed they had seen the risen Jesus? What about the fact that a man who had been an enemy of Christianity claimed to have seen the risen Jesus? How do we explain these facts if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?


Happily Every After

Life is short, and then death comes. “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14, NKJV). One popular view of death is that it is simply a natural part of life that we must embrace. But no matter how we tell this to themselves, death never becomes easy for us to accept. Death is an unhappy ending to life, and we crave happy endings.

When our favourite baseball team’s season begins, we long for a happy ending to the season. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we want the story’s main characters to live “happily ever after.” Years ago, instead of “happily ever after,” stories ended with the words “happily until they died,” which does not sound quite as happy. But it’s true that every life ends in death. And death is sad. It’s not a happy ending.

Thankfully, God did not accept death but sent Jesus into the world to defeat it. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection began the countdown to when God would rid his creation of death. And if we are a part of the future resurrection, it will be said of us, “And they lived happily ever after.”

____________________

[1] Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, pp. 29-290.
[2] I am not casting doubt on the truthfulness of the Bible. However, we should not be under no illusion that a non-Christian will accept what the Bible says as fact.
[3] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115).
[4] It’s significant that the Gospels say that women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb. This detail adds to the genuineness of the account since in that culture the testimony of women wasn’t valued.
[5] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).

The Conqueror of Death

Part 2 of Christ the Conqueror

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25




For this word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). 


The Cross

We’ve heard about Jesus dying on a cross to save us so often that we think it sounds normal. If someone from the year A.D. 10 was transported to today, he would be shocked to see crosses on jewelry and in graveyards and people worshiping a man who had been crucified.


Folly or Power?

The apostle Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified” (v. 23a). This message wasn’t well received. It was “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (v. 23b). Why was the message of the cross a “stumbling block” to Jews? “Jews demand signs” (v. 22a). The Jews believed that crucifixion of Jesus was an unmistakable sign that he was not the Christ. Why was the message of the cross “folly to Gentiles”? “Greeks seek wisdom” (v. 22b). The Gentiles thought it was madness to put one’s trust in a man who had been executed as a criminal.

In people’s minds, the death of Jesus on a cross proved that he wasn’t a Saviour. It was obvious to them that the life of Jesus had ended in defeat, not victory. Paul says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (v. 18a). It still is. “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v. 18b). In God’s plan, the death of Jesus on a cross provided salvation to all who believe. 


Our Sin and God's Love

Why would God do this? It can’t be true, can it?

The message of the cross doesn’t make sense until we understand what it’s saying to us. The cross tells us something about ourselves and something about God. First, the cross tells us that we are more sinful than we want to believe. Second, the cross tells that God loves us more than we can imagine.

Sin was a great enemy. But it was no match for Jesus. He defeated sin through his death, and we can be saved from the consequences of our sin through trusting in him.

Why would God do this? Because our sin was great, but God’s love was greater.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Conqueror of Pride

Part 1 of Christ the Conqueror

Text: Matthew 20:17-28; 21:1-11





“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). 


The Greatest Conqueror

Who was history’s greatest conqueror? Napoleon Bonaparte? Genghis Khan? Julius Caesar? Alexander the Great? Alexander the Great was undefeated in battle. By the age of 30, he had created one of history’s largest empires, stretching from Greece to India.

What about Jesus? You might not think of Jesus as a conqueror, but he defeated three powerful enemies: pride, sin, and death. Jesus is history’s greatest conqueror.

One enemy we all have is pride. It was pride that led to humanity’s first sin. Adam and Eve wanted to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). It could be argued that all sin is rooted in our pride. Having humility is extremely difficult for us. (Sometimes people think they’re humble, but in reality they’re proud of their “humility.”) How can we conquer pride?


The First Palm Sunday

Five days before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We call this day Palm Sunday. The event itself is known as the triumphal entry. [1] The people “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the ground” (v. 8). John’s Gospel tells us that the branches were “branches of palm trees” (John 12:13). About two hundred years earlier, a Jewish rebel group known as the Maccabees liberated Judea from Antiochus and the Greeks. One of their victories was celebrated with “palm-branches” (1 Macc. 13:51). In Jesus’ day, the Jews were under the power of Rome, and they were looking for the Messiah to defeat the Romans.

The excited crowd cried out, “Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9). “Hosanna” literally means “save us.” [2]  However, by the first century it had become a cry of praise to God. [3] Regardless, it’s clear that the people had salvation on their minds. The first part of v. 5 (“Say to the daughter of Zion”) is a quote from Isaiah 62:11, which goes on to say, “Behold, your salvation comes.” The people were correct in believing that Jesus had come to bring salvation, but they were confused as to what kind of salvation Jesus would achieve.

In v. 5, Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, which describes the coming king as “humble[4] and mounted on a donkey.” [5] The people in Jerusalem shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 9). “The Son of David” was a messianic title. John writes that the people called Jesus “the King of Israel” (John 12:13). The people were correct in believing that Jesus was their King, but they were confused as to what kind of King he was.

What kind of King was Jesus? A humble King who came to serve. What kind of salvation did Jesus come to bring? A salvation from the consequences of our sins. How would Jesus bring this salvation? Through his death on a cross.


Conquering Pride

During the previous week, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, asked (via their mother) Jesus for positions of prominence in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20-21). The other disciples were indignant at James and John (v. 24)—probably because they wanted the same thing. Jesus rebuked all twelve of his disciples, saying,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vv. 25-28). 
If our Lord lived as a humble servant, who are we to be filled with pride? The apostle Paul used the example of Jesus’ humility when urging the Philippians to be humble. He wrote, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He encouraged them to be humble by reminding them that Jesus, the God-man, “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:8). It’s been said that humility is “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” That’s the attitude that Jesus had. He even washed his disciples’ dirty feet (John 13:5)—as they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest! We are quick to condemn the disciples for their pride, but don’t we often act the same? When we think about the humility of Jesus, doesn’t our pride seem so foolish, so awful, so out of place? 

Jesus could didn’t allow pride to prevent him from completing his earthly mission. He conquered pride. How can we conquer pride? We must be changed by the gospel. The gospel moves us to humbly serve others.

____________________

[1] All four Gospels give an account of the triumphal entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19).
[2] The praise of the people was inspired by Psalm 118:25-26: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.”
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew (NAC), 313.
[4] The Greek word for “humble” (praus) is found four times in the NT, and is also translated as “meek” and “gentle.”
[5] The “donkey” of Zechariah 9:9 is contrasted with the “war horse” of Zechariah 9:10.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

An Appointment with God

Part 3 of Talking to God

Text: Matthew 6:9




“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matt. 6:9). 


An Appointment to Keep

I’m sure most of us had a few appointments on our calendars this past week. An appointment to see your doctor. An appointment to get your car repaired. An appointment to have coffee with a friend. We do our best not to miss our appointments.

We have an appointment to meet with God each day—to hear his voice through his word and speak to him through prayer. But many Christians miss that appointment. This is nothing new. Martin Luther—who lived 500 years ago—wrote a letter to his barber about how to pray. In the letter he said this:
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day. [1]
If you struggle with taking time to pray, my purpose is not to make you feel guilty about your lack of prayer. My purpose is to encourage you—starting today—to make sure you keep your daily appointment with God. How am I going to do this? By emphasizing the incredible privilege it is to meet with God each day.


Our Father in Heaven 

The Lord’s Prayer begins by focusing our attention on God. “We address God intimately as Father, but we immediately recognize his infinite greatness with the addition in heaven.” [2] This is something we should do regularly. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Who is God? Who is the one to whom we pray?

God is triune. He is one God who exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Augustine, while walking along the beach one day was puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity. He saw a young boy with a bucket, running back and forth to pour water into a little hole. Augustine asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean into this hole.” Then Augustine realized that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.

God is our Creator. He possesses infinite power and wisdom. We often talk about the vastness of the universe, but have you ever stopped to consider how vast the universe really is? In 1977, two unmanned space probes were launched, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. In 1987—after a 10-year, 4 billion-mile journey—Voyager 1 passed the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, completing its mission. The Voyager 1 is nearly the fastest vehicle ever made. It continues to travel through space at a speed of 11 miles every second. The closest star to the earth (other than the sun) is Proxima Centauri, a little over 4 light years away. At 11 miles per second, Voyager 1 wouldn’t reach Proxima Centauri until around the year 73,500. That’s amazing.

God is personal. He is our Father who is in heaven. “True prayer is not a technique nor a performance, but a relationship.” [3] Philip Yancey writes, “I have come to see prayer as a privilege, not a duty. Like all good things, prayer requires some discipline. Yet I believe that life with God should seem more like friendship than duty.” [4]

John Wesley said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, then I will show you a man who can comprehend God.” God’s greatness is incomprehensible. But so is his love!

Does this sound like someone you’d like to meet each day? This about the incredible privilege it is to meet with God each day. Probably none of us would miss an appointment with [name a celebrity]. We shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet with our Father in heaven.


Direct Access

When you call to make an appointment with your doctor, you don’t speak to your doctor. You speak to your doctor’s receptionist. And you almost never get to see your doctor immediately. You have to make an appointment to see your doctor on a future day. Then when that day finally arrives and you go to your doctor’s office, you have to sit in a waiting room and wait.

It’s very different when we want to meet with God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Ps. 34:15). We have direct access to God!

____________________

[1] Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray.
[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 144.
[3] R. T. France, “Matthew,” New Bible Commentary, 913.
[4] Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, 17.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pray the Right Way

Part 2 of Talking to God

Text: Matthew 6:7-9a




“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matt. 6:9a).


Where's the Manual?

Instruction manuals are becoming obsolete.

When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to pray (“Lord, teach us to pray,” Luke 11:1), he didn’t give them a prayer manual; he gave them a prayer model. This model prayer is known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).


Do I Have Your Attention?

Before Jesus tells his followers how they should pray (vv. 9-13), he tells them how they should not pray (vv. 5-8). They should not pray “as the Gentiles [i.e., the pagans] do” (v. 7). [1] “They think that they will be heard for their many words” (v. 7). In other words, they think they won’t get their god’s attention unless they keep pestering him.

The pagan’s god is like a landlord. To get a landlord’s attention, you often need to keep pestering until he finally gets your leaky faucet fixed. Our God is not like a landlord; he’s our Father. [2] He won’t ignore us. We are his children, and he loves us. To pray the right way, we must pray believing that we are talking to a Father who loves us. 


Father?

What right do we have to call God our Father? We can call God our Father because he has adopted us into his family. To all who have put their faith in Jesus, “[God] gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

God didn’t simply snap his fingers and say, “You’re in my family.” He brought us into his family through the death of Jesus on the cross. The cross is the proof of God’s love for us. We know that God loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him us for us all” (Rom. 8:32). “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

J. I. Packer writes, “As God’s adopted children we are loved no less than is the one whom God called his ‘beloved Son.’” [3] “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).


We Know Our Father Loves Us

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Pray then like this” (v. 9). [4] In other words, pray like you are talking to a Father who loves you. We don’t have to scream for God’s attention. He is “always more ready to hear than we [are] to pray.” [5]

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 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. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).


Just Show Me!

Some people find it difficult to learn something (e.g., how to play a board game) by reading instructions. In frustration, they finally blurt out, “Just show me!”

This is what Jesus did. He showed us how to pray. And he began by showing us that we are praying to a Father who loves us.

__________________

[1] In this context, a Gentile refers to a pagan (i.e., someone who worships a false god).
[2] Many people’s fathers are/were not good, so it can be difficult to relate to God as his child. We must remember that God is a perfect Father.
[3] J. I. Packer, Praying the Lord’s Prayer, 28.
[4] R. T. France writes, “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[5] Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Listening Before You Speak

Part 1 of Talking to God

Topic: Bible reading and prayer




Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Ps. 119:97). 


A One-Sided Conversation

Have you ever been in a conversation in which the other person wouldn’t stop talking? It’s not very enjoyable. You want to speak, but you never get a chance!

Prayer is talking to God. But God doesn’t want us to do all the talking. He wants to speak to us. And how does God speak to us? Through the Bible (also know as the word of God).


Struggling to Pray 

Many Christians struggle to take the time to pray. Maybe we don’t take the time to pray because we underestimate the importance of prayer. We will usually make time for things that are important to us.
Maybe we don’t take the time to pray because we’re very busy. D. A. Carson, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Cut something out.” [1]

We believe that food is essential, and we make time for it everyday. If we believe that prayer is essential to the Christina life, we must make time for it. Maybe we have good intentions to take time to pray, but we never end up doing much praying. We are like the disciples Peter, James, and John. Jesus said to them, ““Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

It’s probably a good idea to designate a quiet time and place. Jesus often withdrew to “desolate places” to pray (Luke 5:16).


Prayer Is Not a One-Sided Conversation

Before we speak to God, God wants to speak to us. God speaks to us when we read and meditate on his word. Meditate? J. I. Packer writes, “We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask, for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.” [2] A mind meditating on God’s word is like a sponge absorbing water.

Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind. With what do we fill our minds? God’s word. Several times in Scripture we are urged to mediate upon God’s word.
  • “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Josh. 1:8). 
  • “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). 
  • “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). 
  • “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Ps. 119:148). 
  • “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Ps. 143:5). 
Busyness and distractions are the enemies of meditating on God’s word. Stillness and solitude are the friends of meditating on God’s word.

The need for mediating on God’s word is illustrated in the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (v. 39), but Martha “was distracted with much serving” (v. 40). Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42).


Meditating and Praying

Here are a few basic steps for meditation upon God’s word and prayer. [3]
  • Think of the privilege of prayer. Realize God is present. Ask him to help you pray. 
  • Read a Scripture passage. Pick one or two truths you find in the passage. Choose the one that most impresses you and write it in a sentence. Now ask: How does this truth help me praise God? How does it show me a sin to confess? How does it show me something to ask for? 
  • Now turn the answers to the three questions into a prayer—adoration, petition, and suppli-cation. 
  • Pray about whatever needs are on your heart. Also spend time thanking God for the ways you see him working in your life and caring for you. 
  • Take a moment to thank and admire God for what he has showed you today. End with a note of praise. 
This plan only takes about 15 minutes. (Of course, that makes it sound easier than it actually is.) But taking time to meditate upon God word and pray will make a huge difference in our lives.

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[1] D. A Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 114.
[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God.
[3] This plan is taken from Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (254-255).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Made to Work

Part 16 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18




As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (v. 13).


Out of Order 

A machine is made to work. When a vending machine doesn’t work, what do we do? We put an “out of order” sign on it. The phrase “out of order” means “not working properly or at all.”

Some people in the Thessalonian church were “walking in idleness.” The Greek word translated “idleness” (ataktos) literally means “out of order.” [1] They were “out of order” because they were refusing to work. It wasn’t that they couldn’t work; they wouldn’t work.


The Sin of Hardly Working

During my younger years, I was often asked, “Are you working hard or hardly working?” Some of the Thessalonians were hardly working. To make matters worse, they weren’t exactly idle. They weren’t “busy at work,” but they were “busybodies” (v. 11).

This wasn’t something that Paul took lightly. He writes, “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12). If they don’t obey this command, Paul tells the Thessalonians to exercise tough love: “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness” (v. 6). What’s the desired outcome of this tough love? Paul writes, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (v. 14). Is shame the desired outcome? No, Paul writes, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (v. 15). The “brother” is warned so that he will acknowledge his sin and turn from it.


Why Do We Work?

What’s the first thing that the Bible says about God? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God is a worker! “But,” you say, “God doesn’t get tired from his work like we do.” That’s true. Isaiah 40:28 says, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.”

But let’s not forget that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus shows us what God is like. When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell us about his days as a rabbi (i.e., a teacher), but what did he do before he was a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth (Jesus’ hometown) referred to him as “the carpenter.” The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. The word was used for “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone.” [2] Jesus didn’t refuse to do hard work. (This was before the invention of power tools!) And don’t think that Jesus didn’t get tired. [3]

God is a worker, and he made us to be workers. God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). When we work, we act like God. Work was part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:19)—which sounds similar to the command Paul mentions in verse 10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”


Reasons for Working Hard

Paul mentions that he worked hard with his hands—his trade was tent making—while he was with the Thessalonians (vv. 7-9). He was worthy of receiving money from the Thessalonians for his preaching and teaching, but he decided that the gospel would be better received if he supported himself.

There are many reasons why Christians should work and do their best at their work: (1) so that we won’t be an unnecessary burden to others (vv. 8, 12), (2) so that we will have money to share with those in need (1 Thess. 4:28), and (3) so that we may win the respect of those outside the church. How we work can affect how people view the gospel. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul urged them to “to work with your hands…, so that you may walk properly before outsiders” (4:12). 

Notice that all four reasons are other-oriented rather than self-centered. The motive is love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).


Don't Grow Weary in Doing Good

Paul writes, “Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). This is similar to what Paul says in Galatians 6:9-10: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The NIV says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” We might get tired from doing good, but we’re never to get tired of doing good. Remember the good that God has done for us, especially giving his Son to die for us.

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[1] The King James Version translates ataktos as “disorderly.”
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] John 4:6 tells us that Jesus sat down because he was tired (“wearied as he was from his journey”).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Evangelism ... Is It Up to Us?

Part 15 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5




Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (v. 1). 


Is It Really Necessary? 

Some people argue that making their bed is an unnecessary task. (“I’m going to mess it up again tonight anyway.”) An argument in favour of making your bed: Studies suggest that those who regularly make their bed are happier and more productive. An argument in favour of leaving your bed unmade: Leaving a bed unmade allows dust mites to die off. So do you want to be happier and more productive or not sleep with dust mites?

Earlier in the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “God chose you … to be saved” (2:13). Now he writes, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord [i.e., the gospel] may speed ahead and be honored” (v. 1). If God has already chosen who will be saved, is it really necessary for us to evangelize (i.e., share the gospel with others)?


Go, Gospel!

In verse 1, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for his ministry (“Finally, brothers, pray for us”)—specifically, that the gospel (“the word of the Lord”) would (1) “speed ahead” (i.e., be unhindered) and (2) “be honored” (i.e., be accepted). In this prayer request, Paul uses the imagery of a runner in the ancient games. (The runner would “speed ahead,” and, if he won the race, he would “be honored.”)

Sometimes the gospel is accepted (“as happened among you,” v. 1b; see Acts 17:1-4), but other times it isn’t (“and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith,” v. 2; see Acts 17:5-9). So Paul wants the Thessalonians to pray for more occasions of acceptance of the gospel and fewer occasions of hostility to the gospel.


Incompatible Doctrines?

The Bible presents two doctrines that appear to be incompatible: divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

  • “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 
  • “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The people were “appointed to eternal life” (divine sovereignty), but they also “believed” (human responsibility). 
  • Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who send me draws him” (John 6:44). But earlier he said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). 

How should we handle the apparent incompatibility between divine sovereignty and human responsibility? J. I. Packer, in his book Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, offers the following counsel:
Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put does the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but, in some way that at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other… (p. 21).
Paul obviously didn’t believe that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are incompatible. If he did, he wouldn’t have traveled from city to city to preach the gospel and he wouldn’t have asked for prayer that people would accept the gospel. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon was once asked if it’s possible to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He replied, “You don’t reconcile friends.”


Avoiding Extreme Views

When it comes to evangelism, we must avoid two extreme views. First, we must not think, “I have to do nothing.” This view puts all the emphasis on divine sovereignty and waters down human responsibility. Second, we must not think, “I have to do everything.” This view puts all the emphasis on human responsibility and waters down divine sovereignty.

From Paul’s preaching and prayer request, we can find two principles for evangelism.

1. We must evangelize, believing that any person can be saved (i.e., the gospel invitation is open to all). 

The invitation to salvation is genuine: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12). And evangelism is necessary: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching [i.e., sharing the gospel]” (Rom. 10:13).

2. We must pray for people to be saved, believing that God is sovereign. 

The person who prays for someone to be saved reveals that he or she believes in the sovereignty of God. Can prayer change the mind of God? No, but God can choose to use our prayers to accomplish his sovereign plan.


Is It Up to Us?

So is evangelism up to us? It is and it isn’t. We are commanded by God to share the gospel, but only God can save people.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Standing Firm in Unstable Times

Part 14 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17




So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (v. 15). 


Standing Firm 

When my family and I are in Fredericton, NB (my hometown), one of the places we sometimes go is Wilmot Park. At the park there's a balance beam--one that moves up and down depending on where you step. That balance beam—with its ups and downs—could be a good analogy for life—with its ups and downs. If you’re going to remain on the balance beam, you need to stand firm.

The Christians in Thessalonica also lived in unstable times. They were facing persecution, some of them had been deceived by false teaching (vv. 1-3). [1] So the apostle Paul exhorts them to “stand firm” (v. 15). There’s always the temptation to give up (“jump off”) during unstable times. How can we stand firm during unstable times?


Avoiding End Times Errors

When it comes to biblical prophecy, there are many errors we need to avoid. [2] As we’ve gone through First and Second Thessalonians, I’ve addressed a few of these errors: (1) avoiding the topic of biblical prophecy for fear of controversy; (2) making a particular view of biblical prophecy a test of orthodoxy; (3) not being Christ-centered. [3]

Here’s another end times error to avoid: disconnecting what the Bible says about the future with how we are to live in the present. Our focus needs to be less on identifying “signs of the end” and more on standing firm until the end. 


Thanks God!

One of the ways we can gain inner strength during unstable times is by remembering the blessings we have from God. Paul thanks God for two things that he had done for the Thessalonian believers (“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord [i.e., Jesus], because…,” v. 13). We also should thank God that he has done these two things for us: “God chose you” (v. 12), and “[God] called you” (v. 14).

First, God has chosen us to be saved. “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (v. 13; cf. 1 Thess. 1:4). [4] God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God loved us before the world began (“beloved by the Lord,” v. 13). [5]

Second, God has called us to share Christ’s glory. “[God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). Two weeks ago, I--as a New England Patriots fan--shared in the team's glorious Super Bowl victory. That victory was uncertain (especially when they were losing 28-3 in the second half). But if we believe that God is faithful to his word, then we also believe that in the end, Jesus will win. Every believer will experience that glorious victory.


Different Destinies

There’s a contrast between the destiny of those who believe the lies of “the lawless one” (vv. 9-12) and the destiny of those who believe the truth of the gospel. (Notice the word “But” in verse 13.) They will be “condemned” (v. 12), while we will be saved.

Why did God choose us to be saved and not them? Is that fair? We can’t fully understand how divine election works. What we do see in Scripture is that people are responsible for believing the truth. Those who will not be saved are those who “refused to love the truth” (v. 10). Those who will be saved are those believed in the truth (“belief in the truth,” v. 13).


Hold On!

Paul writes, “So then, brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (v. 15). What Paul taught them (i.e., the gospel) gives us “eternal comfort and good hope” (v. 16). Having comfort and hope helps us to live as we should (“establish them in every good work and word,” v. 17).

Thinking again about that balance beam, it would be easier to stand firm on it if you had something to hold onto. To stand firm, we must hold onto the truth. We must continually recall the gospel of God’s grace (“through grace,” v. 16).

____________________

[1] They had been deceived about “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). They had been “shaken in mind” and “alarmed” (v. 2).
[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/13-end-times-errors-to-avoid
[3] In the previous sermon (“In the End, Jesus Wins!”), I said that it’s said when we give more attention to a doomed Antichrist than to the victorious Christ.
[4] Some manuscripts have “chose you from the beginning.”
[5] The Father chooses, the Son (i.e., “the Lord”) loves, and the Spirit sanctifies.