Tuesday, November 24, 2015

disgusting prayer

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.
Proverbs 28:9

God is disgusted with those who come to Him in prayer while ignoring Him in His Word. He finds such prayer to be an abomination. The word "abomination" simply means repellent or disgusting. The surest way to unanswered prayer then is to disregard scripture (God's law) and then go to God expecting an answer to prayer.

This is often why prayers are hindered. I know of at least one clear warning in the New Testament that echoes the sentiment of this proverb. It is written to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7 and I consider personally to be the scariest motivator in the Bible. It warns men to love and understand our wives, honoring them lest our prayers be hindered. So to disobey God's Word by manipulating my marriage to get what I want is to render my spiritual walk disgusting to God as well. 

God's truth matters.

It seems that effective prayer is linked to obedience to scripture as God's Word leads to change within my heart through repentance, belief, and obedience. Disgusting prayer sees God as nothing more than the wish-granter and little else. It makes me the authority and God the servant, rather than the other way around. Effective prayer is part of my understanding of the Lordship of Christ ordering all things for the glory of God. Jesus as Lord leads both my prayers and my obedience.

Monday, November 23, 2015

real Thanksgiving

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:28-29

This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is often a celebration of excess, more than it is an expression of thankfulness, but it doesn't have to be. Christians should be motivated to turn the holiday into a season of joy-filled praise. Rather than making it about a list of material things that kicks off a season of listing even more things we want for Christmas, if Thanksgiving focuses on God, it becomes a deep personal act of worship. At least that's what I see being applied here in this Psalm.

Psalm 118 focues personally on God: "You are my God, and I will give thanks to You." The center is on  the blessing of God's personal presence and relationship with Him. And it is written around animal sacrifice in God's house (see Psalm 118:26) which is not the kind of grateful picture I'd normally associate with thankfulness! Imagine the squirming lamb bound to the altar, bleating before it's throat is cut and blood pours down the altar. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Yet if Old Testament saints could rejoice and thank God for His faithful love in the Law's most demanding elements, how much more can we New Testament believers thank God through the finality and gift of the life of Jesus? We should  rejoice in the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

I thank You that through Jesus I am forgiven. Broken sinner that I am, I can come to You with a grateful heart. There was nothing I could bring of merit. Jesus did it all. I thank You for Your faithful, steadfast love in Christ, for that is what I desperately need the most. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

two aspects to renewal

And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.
2 Chronicles 14:2-4

Asa led a renewal in Judah in two ways. The return of the people to the worship of the Lord required both positive and negative change. The hardest work was leading the negative change. Altars to idols and places of foreign idolatry had to be torn up. Phallic pillars to fertility gods and goddesses were broken down and destroyed. It was demolition meant to rebuild hearts.

The postive renewal could only come once these idols were smashed. Then he could command Judah to seek God and keep the Law. It made no sense to do so amid a plethora of false gods. The best way to have no god before the Lord is to destroy idols. And then Asa led Judah to return to loving God with whole hearts.

And so it is with any idol that captures my heart. I cannot worship God and something else. The idol must die so that my heart can live in the love of God.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

a gift as worship

And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting, as a memorial for the people of Israel before the Lord.
Numbers 31:54

The significance of this gift is that it came from the army of Israel after God ordered Israel to attack Midian. 12,000 Israelite men were sent off to war. The kings of Midian were captured and killed. Balaam, the false prophet who had enticed Israel against God with sexual sin and idolatry was also killed. They captured Midianite spoils and territory.

After the battles, the officers of the army counted their troops and found that not one Israelite had died in the war against Midian. And it was the overwhelmed grateful hearts of these officers who brought the gift of the spoils of war into the tabernacle.

God commanded the people to eradicate Midian for their evil. He led them in battle and protected them from death. And God was worshiped by the soldiers who fought for Him as they realized God had kept them alive. They saw this offering as a way to recognize the atonement God graciously gave them by sparing all lives in the battle (Numbers 31:50). It was a truly worshipful gift, motivated by the awareness of their unworthiness as sinners and God's great grace in saving their lives. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

the mark of Jesus

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13

What made Peter and John the powerful witnesses that they were? It wasn't social standing or extraordinary natural ability. The people around them knew them as just common fishermen. They were Galilean country folk, now changing the city of Jerusalem. What got the attention of the Jewish rulers before whom they now stood? Peter and John had been with Jesus.

Discipleship had worked. What was remarkable about Peter and John... the thing that made them the bold preachers and Spirit-led healers was that they had been with Jesus. Everything else about them was common, but they were extraordinarily and undeniably like Jesus. And the rulers who executed Jesus now recognize Jesus in His men.

The effect of being men who had been with Jesus was powerful. The Jewish authorities were astonished to see these two average guys boldly preaching the gospel and doing the kinds of miraculous things that Jesus did. It was undeniable... they had been with Jesus and now acted like their Master. Disciples are known by their likeness to Jesus. And that is the measurement of successful discipleship we should all seek.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

nowhere to run... nowhere to hide

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:13

Nobody lives a truly private life. There may be things we can hide from the knowledge of other people, but nothing is ever hidden from God. Our lives are exposed as an open book before Him. He knows us intimately... good intentions, sinful twistedness, pains, and secrets... God knows each of them at all times.

I think God knows me better than I know myself. Really. I may not always remember every motivation. I may actually so justify my actions that I talk myself into actually believing that there was no wrong in a certain action. But God sees the raw, unwarped reality that is my heart. And He knows.

The scary part is that I will give account to Him for every idle word and every wicked thought. But I have a Savior and an Advocate in Jesus. That's the comforting part. I have the good news of the gospel to give me deliverance and hope. Through repentance and faith I can turn from what I don't want to be exposed as wrong, and find the righteousness of Christ applied to me. It starts with admitting my helplessness in sin. My Great High Priest lives now to intercede for me since I am totaly unable to atone this sin that I hide from humans, but is always before the eyes of God. I cannot hide from my guilt of sin, so I throw it all (guilt, confession of sin, inability to by holy) into the hands of my Redeemer.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't make light of sin's desolations...

Do not enter the gate of my people
in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
in the day of his calamity.
Obadiah 13

Obadiah is the shortest of the "minor" prophets with a message of God's impending judgment on Edom. Esau's descendents would suffer and be wiped out over time. One of the chief reasons for their coming due justice was their actions and attitudes toward Judah and Israel when they were led captive. Edom rejoiced at Judah's fall.

Edom gloated over the fall of Jerusalem like they were the conquerors. They were not humbled by the loss to a neighbor, but rejoiced over the destruction, death, and sorrow. They hated their enemies with glee. And this was one reason God would also humble Edom.

We should never rejoice in calamity. Human suffering is always a reminder of our fallenness and the consequences of sin, whether it be due to an act of man or a natural disaster. People who seek God's heart should never rejoice at the fall of an enemy. It's serious business when God's justice is at work. And that is the point of just why Obadiah was led to remind Edom not to make light of another's disaster.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Correct me if I'm wrong...

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:5-6

When I'm wrong I need to be told, and real friends will always do so. I have been blessed throughout my life to have access to those kind of close friendships, and they bless me. They aren't always easy conversations to have, but friends who love me AND love God will talk to me about the problems they see in me. And I can do so with them.

The older that I get the deeper I value those kinds of friendships. And I also find in life transitions that sometimes access to those friendships can get limited and makes them even more precious. Over the last two years I have begun to see a couple of my most intimate friends transition to more "limited access" relationships. What that means is that there is a heck of a lot less small talk with them. We get right to the faithful, loving, sometimes careful admonition in our times together.

I also value the development of new friendships in this vein. And God continues to bless me at the same time of "diminishing" old relationships with the chance to add new faithful friends whom God will use to correct my path. I love that God, through His will and in His church, does this. I need faithful friends whose love will wound my pride, hate my sin with me, build my soul, and rebuke my wrongs for the glory of my Savior!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

why I pray

I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
Psalm 116:1-2

God hears and answers prayer. I know this because scripture reveals it time and time again, and over my own lifetime I find it confirmed. However, knowing, believing, and feeling that prayer is effective and important are all very different things.

I KNOW God answers prayer because scripture both teaches it as fact and illustrates it through historical narratives of real life stories of God interacting with actual people. I also know it from seeing answered prayer in my own life, and in the lives of the community of the church in which I live and serve.

I BELIEVE God answers prayer as a matter of faith and good theology. I trust the scriptures, and my past  (like this psalm encourages me to do) to inform my faith. And I do have to believe to pray well because God is unseen and His sovereign choice means that He answers prayer in His time, and as He desires, and not always as we want, even as prayers are always answered as He wills.

What I FEEL about prayer is the least important part of my theology, yet is the most common of my experiences and my deepest struggle. It is humbling to pray, and sinful feelings of pride may keep me from it. Feeling angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed at a situation that is out of my control can lead me to sin in unbelief, in selfish or demanding prayer that is not really prayer, and in praylessness. So feelings don't matter as much. I must prayer and not faint. That requires discipline and is one reason why the Holy Spirit must also intercede for my less than faithful prayers. I must not be unbelieving, but must pray.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Confession & Forgiving Grace

then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you.
2 Chronicles 6:39

Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple is also a great picture of grace. Like David his father, Solomon had a deep grasp of God's grace. Most of the prayer is a call for God to be gracious to Israel in their sins. It asks God to hear prayer and forgive, implying that prayers in the temple would be fixed on confession and repentance (2 Chron. 6:21). This is presented through seven "cases" where grace must come as people pray to God.

These include: 1) sinning against a neighbor (2 Chron. 6:22-23), 2) suffering at the defeat by an enemy because of sin (2 Chron. 6:24-25), 3) drought as judgment against sin (2 Chron. 6:26-27), 4) famine as judgment against sin (2 Chron. 6:28-31), 5) foreign God-fearers who call on God for grace... gentiles whom God was willing to treat as part of His people because of their worship (2 Chron. 6:32-33), 6) defensive battles where armies needed protection and skill for victory (2 Chron. 6:34-35), and 7) sinful conditions that led to captivity by an enemy in the curses of the covenant (2 Chron. 6:36-39). Grace and forgiveness was the primary need. 

If the pattern for prayerful confession, repentance, and pleading for forgiving grace compelled Solomon at the dedication of the temple, what does it say for me today? Solomon saw the need with the countless sacrifices at the temple starting at the day Israel dedicated it to the worship of Yahweh. I know it in the full and complete sacrifice and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

changing of the guard

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.
Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight."
Numbers 27:18-19

This is how leadership first transitioned in ancient Israel. Israel at the time was a people in the wilderness, but soon they would cross over into Canaan to take possession of the land God promised to them. And Moses will not be their leader when the new generations took the Promised Land. Now Joshua shall lead.

God made it clear that the people need to see and experience the smooth changeover. Moses would commission Joshua as his successor. The priest would bless Joshua as God's appointed leader. The congregation would witness and affirm the new leader.

Moses was a leader to the end. His last recorded prayer was for God to appoint a new shepherd for Israel (see Numbers 27:15-17). His last official act before hiking up the mountain to view the land and die was to appoint Joshua as Israel's leader. This changing of the guard was necessary, good, and brought glory to God. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Who killed Jesus?

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Acts 2:23-24

Jesus gave His life for us. His sacrifice was no accident. It wasn't just cruel injustice that crucified Him. It wasn't just a religious conspiracy to silence Him. It wasn't just poltical expediency that reluctantly allowed His execution. All of these factors certainly were at work in the events that led to Calvary's cross, but Jesus died in fulfillment of the Father's will and it was a direct working out of the definite plan of God.

Jesus willfully laid down His life, predicted His own death and resurrection, and obeyed His Father perfectly in all things in the unfolding of those events. And death could not hold Him. God raised Him up on the third day just as Jesus Himself told His disciples. And in that way our salvation was secured. Jesus didn't just die. He died for our sins and was raised for our hope!

In a very real sense nobody killed Jesus. No one is held responsible for His murder. Jesus laid down His life according to God's plan and foreknowledge. If anything, my sins, your sins, the sins of all people of all time were the "cause" of His death. But He is not dead! He is alive right now because death was defeated by Him for us. And in the darkest events in human history, a new eternal hope has arisen by the work of a now empty cross and empty tomb! Praise Him!

Friday, November 6, 2015

refreshing hearts

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Philemon 7

Paul had to intercede for a young son in the faith with this short letter to Philemon. Thankfully, he was writing to a mature believer who was intimately connected in the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Philemon loved the church, ministered within the church, and had a reputation for refreshing the hearts of fellow Christians.

Paul appeals to this love that Philemon had for Christ and His church to help him do the same for Onesimus.Onesimus was Philemon's runaway slave. Somehow this slave made an escape, probably stealing from his master as he did so, and then fled to Rome. There, God in His sovereign mercy, put Onesimus in contact with Paul, and the gospel set him free! Now Paul urges Onesimus to return to his master, and for Philemon to forgive and receive Onesimus back into his household as a forgiven brother in Christ. It is a test of Philemon's commitment to the Body of Christ. It is a beautiful picture of just what the church is to be.

Because of the love Philemon had for all the saints, we see the culture of forgiveness already in his household. The gospel-shaped worldview of Philemon could love even a criminal who wronged him. It could extend grace to sinners, even trusted sinners who hurt him. It led him to forgive just as Christ forgives us. And this is how the gospel is truly refreshing!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Call

But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Amos 7:15

Simple men but faithful at their task
were the type of men God would ask
to take His word to His nation
and speak for Him with determination

A shepherd and keeper of fig trees
Amos was called to speak what God would please
confronting kings, warning of sword
the prophet delivered the word of the Lord

Even today simple men reach
the world with the gospel call to preach
good news to mankind's sinful situation
proclaiming God's Word is their occupation

A call from God is sounding clear
to those He equips to know and to bear
gospel teaching to every land
empowered by God's almighty hand

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

protection from invasion

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Proverbs 25:28

The analogy of this proverb could be no more clear. It is dramatic. Self-control protects a person from being invaded, overrun, and destroyed. Ancient cities had walls to protect against enemy invasion. A city without them was an easy target. It would be invaded. Walls kept the city safe, its citizens protected, and its culture intact.

Personal self-control is just like that for the soul. It protects a man from invasion. And Satan and the sinful systems of this world love nothing more than to find a man without walls. His soul is easy pickings. He's as good as already broken into. Without self-control, the battle is already lost.

Self-control is vital. Discipline of the heart, hands, and emotions is not easy. But we are not alone. We have an ally Who does most of the hard work for us: The Holy Spirit. You see, we already have a strategy to keep enemies away from the city of the heart. It is the Word of God. And we have the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us away from temptation. We also have the grace of Jesus Christ that forgives, redeems, and patches broken spots (I have so many) in the walls of our self-discipline so that we need not fear (2 Timothy 1:7). The Spirit of self-discipline will keep us from invasion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

praise all day

Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!
Psalm 113:2-3

Every morning I can look to the east and have one more reason to praise the Lord. God has given me another day. With it I can praise His name and bring glory to His Son, for Jesus has saved me and given me this day that He has made. And every evening I can look to the west at the end of another day's labor for the Lord, and thank Him for what He has blessed me with now and forever.

This day You are giving me is another day to worship You. Life certainly has its challenges, but they are trivial in the light of Who You are in this new day. Lord Jesus, may I delight in saving faith and the incredibly blessed life that You have given me to share with others. Holy Spirit, may You warmly lead me through this day. Father, this day is meant for Your praise just as much as eternity is meant for it. Thank You, Lord, that Your Word has called me to praise as the sun moves to illumine my day with its first warm rays. May the light of the gospel shine in what I say and do today, now and forevermore, for Your great name's sake.

Monday, November 2, 2015

a question about celebration

And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.
2 Chronicles 5:6

At the consecration of the brand new temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, Solomon threw a party like Israel had never seen. And it was all an act of worship. He was celebrating the worship of God as His presence now dwelt in Jerusalem. The ark was brought to the temple, and the joy of the people at the presence of God was the most visible act of worship you can imagine.

I've sometimes heard of Sunday services referred to as "worship celebrations", but this scene at the dedication of the temple has to be hard to beat. So many animals were offered in sacrifice that they lost count. They didn't even bother to try. Imagine that... what if Christians gave so much in an offering that the ushers had to get wheelbarrows and couldn't count it all? That's the kind of joy that went on in Jerusalem on that day.

It makes me want to check my heart when I enter church on Sunday. Am I there to joyfully celebrate my salvation? Am I there out of gratitude to God for what Jesus did for me, or is it just duty? The soul that delights in God will have a party in mind when it worships. And it is a joy that does not fade. We'll be celebrating at the supper of the Lamb, so shouldn't we celebrate at His Table with the congregation on the Lord's Day?