Saturday, November 26, 2005

Christ our Sanctifier

He tried and he tried hard, but despite his determination and effort, despite his good intentions, he just could not do it. He was not trying to break a world record, nor demonstrate some marvelous feat of ingenuity or intelligence. He was just trying to be, well, morally perfect. Benjamin Franklin, the great American inventor, philosopher and statesman had been reading from a sundry of works that directed his thinking concerning virtue. Franklin collected from these works a list of virtues that, he felt, could help him become morally perfect, provided he mastered them: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity and humility. His plan involved a 24-hour, 7 day system with his “intentions being to acquire the habitude [sic] of all these virtues”.

There are many presuppositions concerning the meaning of a Christian life and the presuppositions reflect this same kind of attitude. Some feel that being Christian depends on following the 10 Commandments and imitating Christ. Franklin submitted that he must emulate Jesus and Socrates. With this attitude, the Christian life becomes whatever follows by association, as “we will all go to heaven anyway”. Others have a more “deistic” approach: God is close enough to change the sinner into a new creation upon repentance, but the Christian life is up to the individual to live as if God is suddenly inaccessible—again, ”we will all go to heaven anyway”.

Misunderstandings as these reduce the Christian life to mean the acquisition of moral perfection. The scientific mind of Franklin conditioned him to leave a record of his efforts. In his essay on “Moral Perfection”, he follows the scientific method: he proposed what he wanted to accomplish, created a plan, experimented, then evaluated the outcome. He wrote:

“I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I know, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. . . . on the whole, tho’ [sic] I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

What is one to do when Jesus says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and, “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pe. 1:16)? What kind of plan should be implemented by the Christian when he is told to “walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16)?

To see the words and affirm their truth is one thing, but how is this made practical? Benjamin Franklin was right in wanting to be different, to separate himself from the world and be a better person; however, he was wrong in that he wanted to deal with his personal imperfections by submitting to . . . himself.

First, one must be clear about what God desires of the Christian: be sanctified, which is much more than ”be morally perfect”. Second, one must be comforted to know that he is not going to find sanctification alone. Consider Paul’s words, “But by His doing [emphasis mine] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

The distinguishing mark of the deeper Christian life is sanctification by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. To best understand what all this means, one must first examine what the Bible teaches about sanctification, then establish the best definition. Second, one must carefully consider what Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension mean in regards to the Christian as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to sanctification. Following this, the crises and progression of sanctification will be defined then I will conclude with my personal experience with Christ as my Sanctifier.

Sanctification is not so mundane that it is the “common business” of the religious. In the 1600’s Brother Lawrence wrote how “it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards."

Thomas A'Kempis puts man in his place reflecting a similar thought saying (as if Jesus were speaking), "You have need of Me. I do not need you. You do not come to sanctify Me but I come to sanctify you and make you better. You come to be sanctified and united with Me, to receive new grace and to be aroused anew to amend. Do not neglect this grace, but prepare your heart with all care, and bring into it your Beloved."

The term “sanctify” originates in the Hebrew word kedesh, meaning “separation, apartness, sacredness”. This is the same root from which we derive the word “holy” and is used of God’s majesty (Exodus 15:11); His name (Leviticus 20:3); even His Spirit (Isaiah 63:10). It is also used in reference to places, such as His habitation (Psalm 68:5); earth (Exodus 3:5); the tabernacle and its courts (Exodus 40:9); the temple and grounds (2 Chronicles 29:7). The Greek root word, agios (agios), includes in its range of meaning: “dedicated to God”, “holy”, “sacred”; “perfect”; “of pure substance.”

The New Testament includes references to things dedicated to God, such as Jerusalem (Matthew 4:5), conduct (2 Peter 3:5); things used as a pure substance (Matthew 7:6). The word is also used to refer to God (1 John 2:20), Christ (Revelation 3:7) and “holy ones”, specifically angels (1 Thessalonians 3:13) and people consecrated to God, the “saints” (Acts 9:13).
With this basic understanding of how the concept is used in scripture, one definition of sanctification may be offered as, “the act of God setting apart someone or something to holy use. It may be positional, referring to the Christian’s position in Christ; experiential, resulting from the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian; or ultimate, speaking of the complete perfection of the believer in heaven.”

Henry Theissen defines sanctification as “a separation to God, an imputation of Christ as our holiness, purification from moral evil, and conformation to the image of Christ.” Dr. Donald Williams, in his book The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, provides a consensus of definitions by explaining how: “Most people think of sanctification as moral purity or victory over sin and the flesh. Such definitions are really the connotation of the word, but they are legitimately derived from its denotation which is simply “separation.” To be “separate” from the world in this sense is not simply to be aloof from it, must [sic] less isolated from it: it rather involves being set apart from the world unto God for His service in the world . . . a moving away from all that is evil and out of harmony with the character and will of God who has redeemed us.”

E.Y. Mullins teaches that Christ “gradually produces in us the moral traits of God” but also emphasizes that “sanctification is the gradual unfolding of the life imparted in regeneration into its own inherent possibilities of moral and spiritual beauty.” That is to say that sanctification does not follow regeneration, but is synonymous with regeneration. A.B. Simpson disagrees with the Baptist Mullins at the beginning of his teaching on “Christ our Sanctifier”:

“Sanctification is not regeneration. It is not conversion . . . . To be saved eternally is cause for eternal joy; but the soul must also enter into sanctification. They are not the same. Regeneration is the beginning. It is the germ of the seed, but it is not the summer fullness of the plant. The heart has not yet gained entire victory over the old elements of sin. It is sometimes overcome by them. Regeneration is like building a house and having the work done well. Sanctification is having the owner come and dwell in the house and fill it with gladness and life and beauty. Many Christians are converted and stop there. They do not go on to the fullness of their life in Christ, and so are in danger of losing what they already possess.”

This is simply stated by a preacher who was heard to say, “It is easy to start the Christian life. The hardest part is ending well.” Simpson would also disagree with Mullins as he indicates that sanctification is not morality or self-perfection (hence our point made above). In a summary of the points, Simpson teaches that sanctification is “separation from sin,” “dedication to God,” “conformity to the likeness of God,” “conformity to the will . . . of God,” and “supreme love to God and all mankind.”

The best and most concise understanding of sanctification is that it “is not merely a doctrine, philosophy or life-style. It is the manifestation of the righteousness of God as found in the spotless, sinless life of Jesus Christ . . . sanctification means to be set apart from sin and set apart to God.” This is the very heart of sanctification, what it is, what it means, how and what it is to accomplish. Sanctification is more than being set apart to serving God alone as one cannot determine exactly what the creator needs from His creation in terms of service. Sanctification is being set apart from sin to God that the life of Jesus is lived through those sanctified. It is the will of God that the experience of sanctification be an essential part of the Christian life (1 Thess. 5:23). This is so that God’s predestined purpose be fulfilled in our lives, namely, that we become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Limiting the present discussion to the book of Romans, the discussion concerning identification of the believer with the death of Christ may be started. First, we learn that it was because of sin Christ died and man could do nothing about his condition (3:25; 4:25; 5:8). Second, His death accomplished reconciliation with God as the believer is united with Christ in His death ( 5:10; 6:3,5). This done, slavery to to sin is obliterated and we are set free having died to sin as we believed (6:6-10). Finally, the believer must now live in a tension of the “already/not yet” as he must consider himself dead to sin though alive and must not allow sin to reign (6:11-14; 7:4). The resurrection of Christ brings justification to the believer (4:25) who was saved by His life (5:10) and is now able to walk in newness of life being united with Him in resurrection (6:4,5). Because of the resurrection of Christ we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:9-11). We are joined “to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4) living under the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (8:2). The work of Christ in the life of the believer does not end with His death or resurrection. His work continues due to His ascension and consummates what His death and resurrection have accomplished.

This is understood from other passages in the New Testament: Jesus is revealed to be the Lord of Glory to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10-11); He is the head of the church, His body, the fullness of Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Jesus Himself taught that He must go that the Holy Spirit may come (John 14).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is modeled for us in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke shows us that Jesus, as a man, was fully dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He is our perfect example of a life submitted to the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s walk with God is not a way of life in and of itself and the sanctified life is another. They are closely intertwined, the one leading to the other. Jesus shows us this as He was fully dependent on the Holy Spirit, walking with God and submitting His words and works to the will of God through the Holy Spirit.

A distinct contrast is made here in that if one is determined to emulate Christ, one should do so through submission to the Holy Spirit, not the words, attitudes, ideals or works of Jesus alone. Jesus made it clear that greater works will be done, but the Spirit of God is the source of the effective life and ministry. To reiterate, one must understand that to imitate Jesus and be sanctified by Him is not for the purpose of power, status or recognition, but is to be done out of obedience to God.

It is evident that Jesus Christ is our Sanctifier (1 Cor. 1:30). His work is accomplished through the finished work of the cross in His death, through His resurrection and by His ascension. The holiness God asks us to attain (1 Pe. 1:16) is not of our own origin nor is our growth (Heb. 6:1). These things are the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, who is to be under the complete control of the Holy Spirit. We are not obliged to live in the sinful nature from which we have been delivered (Ro. 8:12), as those who live in life, not in death (Ro. 6:13).

The crises aspect of sanctification resides in the fact that we are saved from sin and death and are made new creations in Christ; however, we yet continue to live in this flesh, in this world. The Christian who submits to the Holy Spirit lives in tension, between flesh and the Spirit. Since it is the Spirit’s task to convict of sin, the Christian is reminded that the life he now lives in Christ is not complete and is to be made sanctified. One is set apart to God at salvation, but must continue to be sanctified through the course of his life. The struggle is explained by Paul, where he describes the persistent problem of inability to do what is right before God (Ro. 7:14-21). The sin nature cannot be defeated be personal effort, resolution or determination. When the Christian consciously decided to allow the Spirit to fill and control his life, then the Spirit takes over. As the Spirit bears fruit, it becomes evident that His work is being accomplished.

The progression of sanctification depends on the daily submission of the believer. One is not completely delivered from the influences of the sinful nature until he has died or is face to face with Christ at His coming. Submission to the Holy Spirit is constant throughout the course of life. Paul teaches that we should “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph, 5:18); that is, keep on constantly being filled with the Spirit of God. With the continuing presence of the Spirit, His Holy nature always exposes sin that remains and the steps necessary to deal with it. While we are encouraged to become like Christ, we become godly, not god-like or a god. This is not spiritual evolution where the Christian becomes equal to God our Father. We are His children and are to grow as children (1 Pe. 2:2). Spiritual growth is evident by the manifestation of spiritual fruit, which is in distinct contrast to the fruit of the flesh. Growth can be measured on a spiritual growth chart, as given in 2 Peter 1:5-8. As we become more like Him, we glorify Him in our lives, allowing Him to live in us and through us, fulfilling His will. He is glorified in His work by death, resurrection and ascension and His abiding presence.

(Copyright James K. Wilson, Jr. March, 2000. Footnotes have been removed to protect copyright.)

I am weakness, full of weakness
At Thy sacred feet I bow:
Blest, divine, eternal Spirit,
Fill with power, and fill me now!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christ our Savior

Luther Burbank, an American horticultural scientist who developed the sturdy Burbank potato, is quoted in the January 22, 1926 publication of the San Francisco Bulletin, as saying, “The God within us is the only available God we know and the clear light of science teaches us that we must be our own saviours.” This statement reflects the concept of what modern man conceives to be true of himself and his relationship to God: man needs salvation of some kind, but is the only one able to save himself.

How can the one who needs help provide the very help he needs? Despite his attempt to declare autonomy, Burbank finds himself wrestling other truths as well: there is something or someone known as “God”; man needs to be saved; and, there is a savior.

In the present time there are many concepts of “savior”. In literary circles, Isaac Asimov won’t refer to God, Jesus or use the name “Lord” or any other related term and has reduced religion down to a business venture.[i] To Asimov, the universe is eternal and man is just part of the perpetual evolutionary process who will evolve himself out of his problems into a higher consciousness. Asimov, balancing between true technology and fiction, proposes that man can save himself, it is just a matter of time.

Or consider Frank Herbert’s sci-fi savior, the Kwisatz Haderach, a genetically engineered messiah who becomes a god-emperor of the known universe--a human who depends on drug addiction to provide “prescience” he needs to rule the universe through treachery, debauchery, coercion, economics, ecology and technology.

To Herbert, the savior is corrupt and can’t get the job done either. Man is lost!

This word of “savior” is not a simple noun, title nor some arbitrary linguistic label. For one to call Jesus the Savior is not to invoke a religious label or lavish some meaningless title of exaltation. He is Christ the Savior, simply believe it or not. The centrality of our discussion here is that the nature and end of man necessitates Jesus Christ to be Savior; there is an objective plan and purpose at work in the atoning work of Jesus Christ the Savior; of the many results of His salvific activity, the means and results of justification should be explored; and finally, Jesus our Savior is still at work--He is Jesus Christ OUR Savior, my Savior!

Across the ages and across various circles of thought it is agreed that man is in trouble and must be saved from his trouble. The Bible calls man’s trouble sin and nothing else. Man was originally created perfect, without sin and in fellowship with God, but through his willful disobedience man sinned against God and was separated from God, out of fellowship with God. The Bible records the Lord God stating, “Behold, the man has become like one [who is left alone, stranded], from it [the tree of knowledge of good and evil] knowing good and evil . . .” (Genesis 3:22). Man was cast into lifelessness without God, being “dead in our transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5). Man’s nature is sinful because “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). What man deserves is eternal death (Romans 6:23a).

How is man able to deliver himself from this awful state? He cannot. In order to be saved from sin, he must be delivered TO some other state and this he cannot generate in, of or from his own self. God’s plan was incited from the very beginning. Through the unfolding of time (no reference to Herbert, mind you) scripture records that God’s intention was to save man.

Though space does not permit an exhaustive treatment of the progress of redemption, there are some significant passages that reflect the biblical theology of God as Savior: Israel forgot that God was their Savior (Psalm 106:21); God will save and champion the oppressed (Isaiah 19:20); there is no Savior except for the Lord (Isaiah 43:11; 45:21); all flesh will know the Lord is Savior (Isaiah 49:26). The prophecies of the Messiah identify God when He would come to save man from sin: He would be the seed of woman to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); born of a virgin and be “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; John 1:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4f); would suffer and die (Psalm 22:14-18); and be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). It is because of His free gift in Christ Jesus our Lord that man is able to escape death and have eternal life (Romans 3:23b). If man does not believe in Jesus, he is condemned already (John 3:18) and is separated from God for eternity. He is to be resurrected to eternal death in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8). Eternal fire was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41) and the one who does not believe deserves the punishment of their father, the devil (John 8:44). 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 clearly teaches that there is a new life in Christ, the old is gone and new is come, man is able to be reconciled to God and he able to have eternal life.

Throughout history, there have been many attempts to explain how the death of Christ covers sin. The first to fifth centuries heard arguments that said atonement was a ransom paid to the devil for fallen souls. While Anselm later proported that atonement satisfied the offenses made to God’s majesty, as if God were a feudal lord, Abelard (and the later 16th century Socinians) said that atonement was simply a moral example showing us how to love God and sacrifice demonstrating one’s dedication. The Reformers stressed that Christ became our legal substitute before God. With this foundational concept, others expanded on the atonement to say that Christ’s death was a public example of the extreme measures God undertakes to uphold the moral order of the universe and the depths of sin. In more modern times, one definition simply reduces atonement to victory over the devil.

The plan of God to save man from sin, death and eternal separation from God involves atonement. This is an ancient truth built into the very God-given laws that established Israel as a nation at its inception. Atonement is not a new concept to New Testament times as it has always been a part of God’s plan. Some reduce the term to simply “at-one-ment”, as with “at one with God”, but the definition (as such) fails as it focuses on the result of atonement and does not address how this is result actually accomplished.

In Hebrew, caphar literally means “cover, hide, obliterate”. The range of meaning includes the concept of “a price of a life, ransom”, “cover over, pacify, make propitiation”. The most concise explanation of the atonement begins in the Old Testament sacrificial system where one finds not a reformation system, a way to “turn over a new leaf” with God as some of the above theories imply, but a demonstration of the necessity to account for sin, the need to take care of it, and that man cannot take care his sin problem himself. In the Old Testament system sin and guilt were only symbolically transferred onto a perfect sacrifice. God was the only one who could declare sin obliterated. The sacrificial system was for man’s benefit to know he was, literally, covered.

Jesus has been clearly identified to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It was necessary that He should suffer and die (Exodus 12; Isaiah 53; Luke 22:37; Mark 8:31). Jesus Himself is our substitute (John 15:13, Romans 5:8), our offering and sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2) giving His blood for our redemption and purchase (Ephesians 1:7), our propitiation (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2). The most well known question surrounding the atonement is “did the death of Christ atone for the sins of every man, or only certain men, the “elect”?” The argument has been churning on within evangelical circles for hundreds of years and will not be solved on this side of eternity, especially within this paper; however, we will acknowledge the two main views involved the particular argument (Christ died for the elect) and the general argument (Christ died for all men). The particular argument, as purported by most Calvinists, says that Christ’s death is for His people (Matthew 1:21), His sheep (John 10:11), His friends (John 15:13), that His blood was given for the church (Acts 20:28), as He loved and gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25), and that His intercession is for His own (John 17:9). The opposing viewpoint originates from a more Arminian understanding, that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16,17; 1 John 2:1,2), that Christ is the savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10) as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6) because He tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).

The extent of Christ’s death and atonement is clearly applied on an individual level (Leviticus 6:2-7) as well as a national level (Leviticus 4:13-20). The principle is that sin is covered over, not seen and this atonement is for the whole world as referred to in the above generalistic argument. In his book Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Theissen writes, “the atonement is unlimited in the sense that it is available for all; it is limited in that is effective only for those who believe. It is available for all, but efficient only for the elect.”

To say there exists a close correlation between the atonement and justification would be to understate the fact. Justification follows the atonement. E.Y. Mullins explains in “The Saving Work of Christ” that the atonement and justification are two sides of the same coin. He asks first “whether the necessity of the atonement was in God or man . . . . The necessity was on both God and man.” He continues by explaining that the atonement provided in the death of Christ was a necessity in God for man, as a provision. The atonement then, produces repentance as it reveals the nature of sin in man and “destroys the legal consciousness of the sinner by becoming the ground of his justification.” In effect, Mullins plainly states the biblical teaching that one is not justified without the atonement: “We conclude, then, that the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith based on the atoning work of Christ promotes moral and spiritual interests in two ways: First, it joins the soul to Christ in a living union which is potential of all moral attainment; and secondly, it provides for the needs of the sin-and-guilt consciousness of men and enables them thus to rise to the filial consciousness of true sons of God.”

Though there would be a tendency in modern evangelicalism to avoid terminology as “consciousness” due to New Age influences, Mullins undoubtedly emphasizes the truth that justification allows one to live a deeper Christian life as Christ is our life (Colossians 3:3-4) and the realization of the position of the believer being a child of God (1 John 3:1). Justification is clearly the result of the obliteration of sin. The word dikaiow (dikaio) includes in its range of meaning the concepts of “to show justice”, “vindicate”, “to be acquitted, pronounced and treated as righteous”, “make free or pure.” Since by the blood of Christ sin is atoned for the believer, his position before God is no longer that of an enemy under God’s wrath (Romans 5:9,10), as the believer has been declared justified, vindicated by God Himself (Romans 8:33). Guilt and sin are removed by the atonement, the blood of Christ cleanses from sin and the sinner is declared legally right before God!

(copyright James Kent Wilson, Jr. February 14, 2000. Source and footnotes have been removed for copyright protection.)

We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!
Shout salvation full and free
To each shore that ocean laves--
This our song of victory:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!


[i] Following in Huxley’s footsteps, the entire timeline has been reduced to B.F. and A.F., where Henry Ford (and all subsequent man-made technological advances) is the mark of time; hence, “Before Ford” and “After Ford”. If memory serves me correctly I believe that Arthur C. Clarke also reflected this in his 2000 series.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Permission Slip

Recently reviewing some materials from a local church, I came across a permission slip for a youth activity. At the end of all acquittals, disclaimers and discharges was this statement: "I understand that ________ Church is a Christian organization and that my child may be exposed to Christian principles and Biblical activities."

I am stupefied. Well, at least I was yesterday when I read this . . . no, wait . . . yep--I am still stupefied.

Did you know that the Church was a Christian organization? Ok, granted the term “church” has been politicized enough so it means just about anything to any organization who wants to use it—like the “church of satan” or whatever.

But really—do people need to be told that even certain groups of people who want to use the term “church” are “Christian?” Something is very wrong here. Someone is assuming that the reader of the document knows what “Christian” means and because the “church” is redefined, both “church” and “Christian” are equated for the reader by the writer of the document.

What is more: by attending the functions of this Christian organization, your “child may be exposed to Christian principles and Biblical activities.”

Parents, the possibilities could be high enough that by attending our functions, your children just might could possibly be exposed to holiness, goodness, righteousness, freedom from sin, and other social ills. I mean, really—it can happen!

And those Biblical activities! Singing, reading the Bible, prayer, encouragement—maybe even healing—the possibilities are just not fully known!

Your child might come home “different”—hope that’s ok with you. Your child might bring a friend home, too—oh, you won’t see Him, so He won’t be in your way; but, you may find your child “talking” to Him (this is what we call in the Christian Church, “perfectly normal”) and wanting to spend time with Him—stuff like that.

So just sign on the bottom line. Oh, and, though we are not responsible for your child’s behavior and anything that can (and believe us, it can!) get broken—we are also not responsible if anything “spiritual” happens either. After all, we are a "Church."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

4b. Dishonoring self

Oswald Chambers: " “Prayer honors God; it dishonors self” (Purpose in Prayer [Chicago: Moody, n.d.], 43).

A friend (who makes a point to visit me each week) made a comment that I can't seem to shake. We were talking about the things that keep us busy and off-balance, distracted in life. He said to the effect that in some ways our busy-ness is in fact our "fighting God." So, the next someone asks how you are doing, or what you are doing, say, "I'm fighting God." This can be one way to look at prayer.

The Christian life is dangerous! God will not let us stay the way we are--we are in a constant state of change, being delivered from this body of death and being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. When we pray, we pray less about ourself and more about Him! We used to sing a long time ago:

"From glory to glory He's changing me, changing me, changing me,
His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world.
For He's changing, changing me, from earthly things to the heavenly.
His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world

This is what John MacArthur means when he says, "Prayer begins and ends not with the needs of man but with the glory of God."

My attention was directed to three passages on this subject, the first being Jonah 2. "Now," one may ask, "what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Here is a guy in a fish--are you going to tell me that Jonah's prayer is about the glory of God and not about his desperate situation?" Yes. I believe it is. I had to think about it and read it for a while, then I saw it.

See, the prayer does not begin with verse 1, "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish". Nor does the prayer begin with verse 2, "and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice."

The first fact we need to grasp is there is a cultural gap to cross: we need to understand a thought process. The Hebrews did not think the same we we do [our friend on the cyberdeck will appreciate this]--Jonah tells us about the prayer before he tells us what be prayed.

First, Jonah is tells us what he is going to tell us: "Jonah prayed."

Second, Jonah tells us the result of the prayer: I called, He answered; I cried, He heard.

In case you were wondering, the prayer occurred in a place and situation through which God was going to change Jonah: "For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me." In other words he was "walking the plankton inner sanctum"--underwater.

The actual prayer is this: "I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple."

One of the reasons I think Jonah's prayer was so short is because, well, based on a couple of uncomfortable experiences I've had with certain ocean creatures (sharks and barracudas), I am certain that being swallowed by a fish does not cause one to wax poetic and compose an eloquent prayer. Another reason I say this is (beside the textual clues--and the rest of the passage, which is Jonah's re-telling of everything he just told us), is because Jonah knew exactly where he was and why he was there. Refer to the first chapter and note his discussion with the sailors.

It all came down to God and His glory--and Jonah's (momentary) failure to do what God required of him, which was preach to the praise of His glory in Nineveh. "God, You did this and You will do whatever it takes to bring glory to yourself--and I am satisfied with that."

The second prayer is a little longer: Daniel 9. Daniel saw the passage of a few kings in his day; and, interestingly, Daniel's prayer life seems to be a central feature through all this history as it is being made--a glimpse "behind the curtain" to see who is really ruling the world. The timing of this prayer is worthy of note--Daniel tell us the time is the end of the seventy years of exile.

Without taking too much space to reproduce what you can be looking up (!), here are some observations: first, Daniel has been reading Jeremiah's writing (9:2)--the Bible. He's been studying God's scroll and had to respond to what he saw God was doing and was going to do.

Second, Daniel's response was'nt just, "cool! I gotta blog that!" but something more desperate. (He blogged about it later.) Daniel gave God his undivided attention, put on his "work" clothes and stopped eating. Daniel pushed himself out of the way and made it all about God and His glory. Everything he said and did was based on what God had done and what He was going to do--lots of history! Lots of promises fulfilled! He looked at God and said, "I am not You. We are not You. Please forgive us for thinking and acting like it."

He concludes by praying for God to bring back “Your city” (vv. 16,18), “Your sanctuary (v. 17), and “Your people”(v. 19). God’s answer embraced all three (v. 24)--to the praise of His glory at the abasement of the faithful.

The third and final passage that comes to our attention is the great Jeremiah 32. Historically, the events of the passage fall before Daniel, but general chronology is not our immediate concern. Immediate chronology is what draws our attention to the glory of God, the place of man and the role of prayer.

Jeremiah was in prison for prophesying (correctly, to emphasize the point) the Babylonian victory over Jerusalem. While in prison, Jeremiah gets this word from the LORD, "‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the bright of redemption to buy it.” ’

Get the setting: the guy is in prison following an invasion and God tells him to buy some land. [Jeremiah was known for eccentricities, so we won't criticize him too harshly--after all, "thus saith the LORD" outweighs opinion, right?]

So Jeremiah (the prisonite) buys his relative's field in Anathoth, in enemy territory. Why? Because God told him to! After all, Judah is about to go into 70 years of captivity. Jeremiah was told to preach words of hope to the people that after the 70 years the people would return to the land--so sure, that he would buy land (enemy territory--while in prison!) so he could claim it on his return. Like retirement property or something.

Verse 16 is the verse of note. After everything Jeremiah has experienced, he prays. He prays from the edge of his existence. Jeremiah has lost both home and country and is the poster-boy for all things absurd. It is not until he hands oven the paper-work that he prays. Should have prayed about all this first, right? ''God, Are you sure you want me to do this?" Both me and you would probably responded in a similar manner. But Jeremiah was not going to be found questioning God. He acted first, prayed later.

I think part of the reason he could do this is because he had a word from the LORD about what he was to do. Think about it: Jeremiah had the unmistakable word of God (later, Daniel would read what Jeremiah wrote). Can you imagine Jeremiah having quiet time in his cell and he hears God speaking unmistakably? Then Jeremiah says, "Gee, God, You who made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and stretched out arm. Nothing is too great for You; but, I dunno . . . Sounds kinda weird: me in prison, hearing voices and buying land I won't see for 70 years. That's not the norm!"

That kind of response is crazier than the whole scenario! But isn't this how we treat God? "God, you're great and all, but me and my situation -- way too much more than you can handle."

"God, you've got this real great history of work and have shown great power--you gave us this land and all; and You were like, 'Buy the field for money, and take witnesses; for the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.' and I'm all like, 'I gotta pray about this first!"

When God plainly meets us at the borders of our existence and through His word speaks in unmistakable terms, who we gonna pray to, and what (pray, tell) are we gonna pray about? Like we're gonna tell on God!

I love God's response to Jeremiah. It's essentially the same response to Jonah's prayer. It's the same response to Daniel's: "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" (32:27) God uses Jeremiah's own words to confirm what Jeremiah found about God at the end of himself. These are, in effect, the same words Abraham heard when God responded to Sarah's laughter upon learning she was going to bear a child in her old age. The same words Mary said to the angel upon learning her virgin body will bring forth a the Son of God. God delights in glorifying Himself at the places we cannot bear to exist!

God makes it known to Jeremiah that not only will He take care of the enemies, but He will also take care of His people--and the land will remain in good keeping until they return as well.

"And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their good and for the good of their sons after them.
And I will cut an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good. But I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will truly plant them in this land with all My heart and all My whole soul. For so says the LORD, As I have brought all this great evil on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them

This is why prayer dishonors self.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Strong in the weak places

It's all catching up to me again:

  • Sunday School, we are taking a break from Mark and spending a couple of weeks on Philippians 4:1-9.
  • Ethics--spending the next couple of weeks on Genetic Engineering, which to me is a "non-issue" when you remember how a theological basis redefines everything (short version: man is not God). We find ourselves awash with all these ethical delimmas that should not be happening! I will be introducing the topic tonight with Huxley in one hand and Chesterton in the other (Brave New World vs. Eugenics and Other Evils). Writing these lectures are killing me--getting a theological response to these issues is necessary, but not easy!
  • Family: this whole teenager thing is really rocking the boat. I learn something about kids: you feed them, they grow. I am learning every day how much parenting is more about discipleship than anything else.

A friend of mine (a Kenyan pastor) smiles when I complain. "Look at how strong God is making you in all of those weak places!" And he feels my arms as if assessing strength . . . smiling.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

4a. The ______ Prayer

Ever heard the saying, “If you rub the cat the wrong way you can always turn the cat around?” Absurd, yet true. Of course, one may stop rubbing the cat . . . but these conjectures lead us away from our subject . . .

How about this one: “Let us say the Lord’s Prayer . . .” Anyone ever said it?

I’m the guy who sits somewhere near the front, scratching his head wondering how “Our Father who art in heaven . . .” got to be named “the Lord’s Prayer.” I know. I could crack open one of my books to find the answer—but I am more interested to know why others aren’t asking the same question.

Think about it: The Lord’s Prayer.

1) THE Lord’s Prayer? I can’t seem to find in my Bible any place that says, “No other prayer but this one, folks.” Since I find more warnings about empty and repetitious prayers I am not convinced there is any one particular prayer that Jesus says MUST be prayed. Matthew 6:9ff is a model for praying, not a prayer in itself: “pray in this way” as opposed to “pray these words”

2) The LORD’s Prayer? Which one? Jesus prayed a lot—and most are not even recorded!

3) The Lord’s PRAYER? I suppose if any prayer could be stand out as that prayer that was from the Lord would be the one offered in the Garden of Gethsemane, starting in John 17.

The “Our Father” prayer should better be thought of as “the Disciple’s Prayer.” I say this for three reasons:

1) Frequency: Jesus brought it up twice to His disciples: once as recorded in Matthew 6 (verses 9-13) and again as recorded in Luke 11 (verses1-4).

2) Occasion: Jesus was teaching:

Matthew 6: Jesus has just called the twelve. In preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses those who inherit the Kingdom, pronounces woes to those who do not (5:1-12); confirms the responsibilities of those who wait for the kingdom (5:13-16), discussing the relationship of law, righteousness and the kingdom (5:17-20) and gives six contrasts in interpreting the law (5:21-48). Next, Jesus teaching on three hypocritical practices to be avoided, one which concerns prayer and here we find this teaching (6:1-18).

Luke 11: Jesus commissions the seventy (10:1-16) and hears their report upon return (10:17-24). Jesus deals with neighborly issues in the story of the Samaritan, then He visits with Mary and Martha with the disciples (10:25-37). Luke then tells us, “And it happened as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught His disciples.” (11:1). So Jesus reviews what they have already heard.

3) Place:

Matthew 6 is early in Jesus’ ministry. The end of John the Baptist’s ministry roughly coincided with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Judea. Jesus was still in the region of Galilee when He brought up the prayer issue.

Luke 11 falls in the later Judean ministry of Jesus, following the Feast of Tabernacles.

Why bring all this up? Well, some churches have a tradition to recite “Our Father” as part of the worship service. Is this wrong? It is only wrong if reciting any other scripture passage is wrong—we share Bible memorization when we recite together! The practice of reading and reciting scripture is . . . scriptural!

I bring this up because we echo tradition calling this “the Lord’s Prayer.” It has become a vain repetition that means no more than the Pledge of Allegiance.

I pledge allegiance (pause)
To the flag (pause)
Of the United States of America (pause)
And to the republic (pause)
For which it stands (pause)
One nation (pause)
Under God (pause)
Indivisible (pause)
With liberty (pause)
And Justice for all. (pause)

We all say it the same way—exactly! I’ll bet that some of us have “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” playing in the background of our minds at the end of the pledge.

Our Father (pause)
Which art in Heaven (pause)
Hallow-ed be Thy Name. (pause)
Thy Kingdom Come (pause)
Thy Will be done (pause)
On earth (pause)
As it is in heaven (pause)
Give us this day (pause)
Our daily bread (pause)
And forgive us our trespasses (pause)
As we forgive our those who trespass against us (pause)
And lead us not into temptation (pause)
But deliver us from evil (pause)
For thine is the kingdom (pause)
And the power (pause)
And the glory (pause)
Forever. (pause)
Amen. (pause)

If Sandy Patti had not been singing already in the backgrounds of some of our minds by the time we reach “lead us not into temptation” then most of us will be hearing “The Doxology” (“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”) in our heads.

If this is “the Lord’s Prayer”, then what is God expected to do? What changes can we expect to see? Where do we look to find the answers to “the prayer?” How am I supposed to "be" having prayed this prayer?

The problem is two-fold: First, these passages of scripture are no only misunderstood but badly mislabeled. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan—who ever said the Samaritan was “Good?”
Second, we expect too little of God.

Know what I see?
1) This may be one of the only passages of scripture just about anyone knows.
2) As overused as it is, this passage never loses it’s shine.
3) This teaching on prayer is only the box—inside are tools to be used to help us talk to God about who He is, who we are in relation to Him and what we understand He is telling us to do—which is to bring His through Christ Jesus to the world.

So one has a choice: He can continue rubbing the wrong way, he can turn the cat around or stop rubbing altogether; that is, one may continue go against the biblical grain following tradition; or he can turn tradition around (!) and get it right . . . or one can stop praying altogether.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

3. Motivation to prayer

"Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer." --John Bunyan.

Writing this entry I realize how coldly academic this can become. I have already commented in numerous entries on prayer and would like to submit more as I study and grow; however, the danger is that I would have more to say about prayer than actually getting it done. Worse still, that I would echo what others have said and fail to carry through on what I learn. The more I study and think about prayer, the more I realize I should seeing prayer accomplished; nevertheless, as my prayer life grows, so will observations. God has been at work and my prayer life has been growing.

We have had many things to seek the LORD concerning, and He has wonderfully demonstrated Himself in changing us or in making changes around us regarding prayer: providing us a home (and letting us keep it thus far); providing us a vehicle (and letting us keep it thus far); providing us children (and . . . well, you get the picture). The list goes on. As I think prayer, I cannot help but entertain the question: “WHY PRAY?”

Dr. J Dwight Pentecost confirmed in a recent interview: "You would be hard put, I would judge, to find a church today that has a mid-week prayer meeting. How many churches have Sunday night services? I was brought up on Sunday morning worship and Sunday School, Sunday evening youth group and church service, Wednesday evening church and Bible study. You'd find that in any church. Now congregations gather together only once on Sunday morning. Our whole concept of the function of the church--what people are expecting the church to give them--has radically changed. They think that if they've had a drink of water Sunday morning, that's enough for the entire week."[i]

Do we need to work on streamlining prayer when prayer is hardly practiced anymore? I am a firm believer that one can spot the core of any church by attending a prayer meeting. There may be hundreds, maybe thousands that attend in today's mega-church settings--but just go to a prayer meeting. That room full of people is the ones who pray. Prayer is the mark of solidarity (I've been struggling to understand this). Example: our Wednesday prayer meeting takes place following a fellowship dinner at church. Our dining room can be viewed by any passerby. I've wondered not so much about what people think when they see us eating, fellowshipping and praying together--I've wondered more about what they think when they see so few of us.

What should a people who are ruled by God look like? The Jews understood that identity comes from adherence. This is why community conversation with God was valued over individual conversation—one prayed because everyone prayed. Prayer was for the community, for the people who were to obey God and be a priest to the nations. Looking at the prayers of the Old Testament saints, there are more conversations with God about others than about self. This is why Mr. Murphree challenged us so long ago to pray without saying, “I, me, my, etc” and say more “You, they, and an occasional ‘us’”

Speaking generally, prayer should be a distinctive of who we are a Christians. Instead, attempts are made to draw distinctive out of attendance, membership or worship style. Why meet together? The early Church seems to have observed three meetings, one of which was for prayer and edification! Tradition took over and people forget why and what they are doing.

Another answer to “Why Pray?” can be found in 1 Samuel 12:23: “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you". It would be sin not to. Benedictines would say "laborare est orare." [To labor is to pray]. I wouldn’t take it as far the Benedictines did, but I think the idea is that prayer is one's life-work.

Why Pray? “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thess 5:18). God wills that we be thankful.

Why pray? Jesus said, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Mt. 6:5-8) Hitting the prayer closet face down and sliding is unlike the hypocrit.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) wrote in "The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary" that prayer is, "to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy." This reminds me of the delimma we don't think on too often: a farmer asked God to send rain for his crops, while a traveler passing through the area asked God to hold off the rain that he may travel safely. Is prayer the battle of petitioners? The Nihilist would say this is exactly what prayer is for: "Whatever a man prayes for, he prays for a miracle . . .'Great God, let not two times two make four'"[ii]

Is prayer to produce feelings of spirituality, a tool to used to pursue an experience? Old Screwtape instructed Wormwood: " . . . turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they are meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired at the moment."[iii]

Perhaps Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1837) got it right: "He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all." (The Ancient Mariner, Pt VII, St. 22)

Prayer based on a love-motive.

The Puritans would say something like: “Merciful Father, Do not let pride swell my heart. My body is made from the mire beneath my feet, the dust to which I shall return. In body I am no better than the vilest reptile. Whatever difference of form and intellect is mine, is a free grant of Your goodness. Base as I am as a creature, I am lower as a sinner. S in's deformity . . . is stamped upon me, darkens my brow, touches me with corruption. How can I flaunt myself proudly? Lowest abasement is my due place, for I am less than nothing before You. Help me to see myself in Your sight, then pride must wither, decay, die, perish! Humble my heart before You, and replenish it with Your choicest gifts. Keep me humble, meek, lowly.”

[i] Feit, Sandy. "A Conversation with Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost." In Touch. Vol. 28., No. 10, October, 2005
[ii] Ivan Turgenev "Fathers and Sons" (1818-1883)
[iii] Lewis, C.S. Screwtape Letters. New York: MacMillian, 1982.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Is the Bible a collection of interpretive difficulties to be solved;
Is the Bible Divine speech to be recieved?

In other words, how much does "It's your/my opinion" weigh against "It is written" and "It is finished?"

"Imagine, for a moment, that you woke up one morning to find the front door of your house wide open, the brisk morning air blowing into the room. Your first thought, of course, is for your family. You race upstairs and throw open the door of your son's room. He is lying peacefully asleep. Breathing a prayer of thanks you cross the hall, opening the door to your daughter's room. Her blankets are in a heap beside the bed, her nightlight on, but she is nowhere to be seen. Frantically you search the house, calling for her, begging her to answer you. But she is gone."

Read more on "Confidence in the Bible" here.

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