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Friday, June 22, 2018

A Prayer of Worship Based on Isaiah 53

Jesus, please grant that we may worship you. Open our eyes that we may treasure the glory of your salvation. For “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” (Heb. 2:3) Father, through worship & meditation on this familiar text, grant us fresh delight in you. Isaiah cried out, “who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isa 53:1) O God, reveal to us, help us to see, your arm, which means your strength, your great acts on our behalf. Help us to see and to worship. “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.” (v.2) Jesus grant us wonder. We live in dark and confused times. Just as you came in a dark time, may we see you as the root out of dry ground, the tender and new hope for us in the midst of despair. May we see you and your gospel as just this. You are the source of our hope in the darkness. You are the root to which we can cling and find hope in our dryness and hopelessness. Jesus “you had no form or majesty that we should look at you. You had no beauty that we should desire you.” (v. 2) You came incognito. Your beauty and your glory did not spring from a stunning physical appearance. No. Instead you were despised, “despised and rejected by men.” (v. 3) By us! We have done the same. We have coddled the idea of you but have rejected who you really are and what you came to do. “You were a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (v. 3) O how you agonized in the garden. You entered our pain. “You who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of Christ.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Hallelujah! But instead, “you are as one from whom men hide their faces. You were despised and we esteemed you not.” (v. 3)  Jesus we confess that even though we have begun with you, even though we have tasted your goodness, we have acted as if we have seen all there is to see in who you are and especially failed to gaze in wonder at you. Have mercy on us. May we learn to linger and delight here. May we learn to know you though worship as our very bread from heaven that feeds our souls.

There’s much more in Isaiah 53 to provoke further worship.

A Worship Reflection on Revelation 15:3-4

Revelation 15:3-4
[3] And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
[4] Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (ESV) 
Lord of heaven and earth, great and amazing are your deeds. Grant us the ability to see and to know you and to thrill at your mighty acts. Please grant that we may rehearse them, remember them, and be amazed. Lord God Almighty, nothing is too difficult for you. May we be so stunned at your greatness that all fear will be eradicated. Just and true are your ways, O king of the  nations. We are tempted to judge you and question you, but may God be true and every man a liar. You are the king of all nations, of all people. I remember feeling fear on that street in Barcelona, deep in those Muslim neighborhoods. I confess that I was not living with the deep awareness that one day all nations will come and worship you. Who will not fear you O Lord, and glorify your name? One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. May we run to you and glorify you now, now! For you alone are holy. You are set apart, distinct, and transcendent above all your creation. All nations will come, will come, and worship you, for your righteous acts will be revealed. May we live with this confidence, that one day all will do this. O God increase our faith. Grant that as we walk and drive and encounter people, may we live with the vision that one day, they will all come and worship you. Through our worship may we grow in confidence and humility for missions and evangelism.

Monday, April 9, 2018

More Hope for a Fool

This verse from Proverbs jumped off the page at me because of an article I recently read that I found very convicting:
Proverbs 26:12 (ESV)
12  Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Here is the article: 
How to be a Better Boaster by David Murray
This read was far more uncomfortable than I would have guessed. I strongly recommend reading it.
The only cure for this subtle boasting I know is worship. Worship trains our souls to be more impressed with God, than we are with ourselves. We know that’s the right answer of course. We need the consistent experience of private worship where we respond to the word of God in prayer and adoration daily. And we need the weekly experience of corporate worship where our hearts and minds and even bodies are consistently formed by the real experience of turning attention away from me toward God with my church.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Listen to Him

A Prayer Reflection on the Transfiguration

Jesus you were transfigured before them. Your face shone like the sun, and your clothes became white as light. I don't easily understand the purpose of this event until I meditate on the passage and see it’s effect on me. Jesus, please grant that we may enter into thinking deeply about your word, allowing you to shape us even when we are not having strong feelings in the moment. This discipline of looking at you is important. Please enable us to see you transfigured, to see you in all your glory. 

To be in your direct presence where your glory is displayed is to be transformed. There is no way to see you and to remain ambivalent. There is no way to be in your presence and to remain aloof. It seems that Peter stumbles around here like I might saying something embarrassing in the presence of famous person because I don’t know what else to say.

No one can really see you and remain the same. Peter saw you in you glory and was addled; he was overwhelmed, he could not remain cool and dignified. He was in awe. There is an aspect of composure we want to maintain and honestly must maintain for people to trust us. Many of us have a tendency to gush in the face of celebrity or greatness if given the opportunity to meet them. We are in awe of well known people. But may we be most impressed with you so we will be less impressed with others or tempted to act in improper ways. May we be so impressed with your glory and presence that we will not be so addicted to people pleasing.

“Listen to him.” Perhaps this was the point all along. We listen to people with whom we are impressed. We listen to those with credibility, who have what we want. So someone good at leadership, basketball, making money, relationships, makeup, hair, if we desire what they are good at, then we listen to what they have to say about that subject. Peter and John and James were already impressed with Jesus. But there was a need for this incident to happen still. They were reminded to not get too casual, to not get too cool, to not become overfamiliar, to be moved to gushing, to be moved to not being dignified in what is said, but rather to be impressed, to be overwhelmed with you that they and we might listen even more intently. Here is the word from God. Listen to him. Listen to him. Listen to him. 

So when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified, O God, there is not enough of this in us. We lose our sense of wonder. We lose our sense of holy fear. We are the poorer for having little  experience of terror in your presence. The teenage desire to be cool and impressive never completely goes away. May we confess our sin of needing to be cool, of wanting people to be impressed with us, of wanting people to like us. May we be stunned at your glory and goodness and care less about what others think.

You are receiving this because you are signed up to receive my twice per week reflections on my Bible Reading plan for 2018. I am following he McChayne Bible Reading plan this year. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

If You Will

I recently encountered in my reading a familiar story in the life of Jesus that really helped me pray. When I find a scriptural lever that provokes a new experience in prayer I’m filled with gratitude and I want to share it. Matthew 8 immediately follows the sermon on the mount. Perhaps it’s easy to miss what comes next after the glorious sermon. But today, by God’s grace, I began here and started writing out the verses one at a time by hand. I got interrupted and launched into fresh prayer by verse two. If the goal was to finish chapter 8 and check that off, epic fail. If the goal was to encounter God through scripture and prayer, it was a wonderful morning. 

Jesus had just come down from the mountain where he delivered the sermon. Great crowds followed him. Matthew adds this without comment, but what Jesus said in the sermon would certainly leave people stunned and not wanting to miss the next time he started speaking with such authority. Matthew says they were astonished at his teaching (Matt. 7:28-29.)

Somehow, pressing through the great crowd, a leper got to Jesus. How he did this isn’t described. Leper’s were shunned. Perhaps he was able to get through to Jesus because people backed away from him and gave him space. But the leper came to Jesus, knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” This is a picture of healthy faith and a useful model of prayer in just a few words. The leper’s faith along with his desperate need drove him out of hiding to press into this crowd to get to Jesus. I’ve certainly given up praying about some matters when facing less daunting obstacles, but this leper kept going in spite of social barriers. 

I’m equating him talking to Jesus as prayer and as a model worth imitating. It’s very simple. Look at it again. He took initiative. He knelt. This shows both humility and passion. Then he said. “Lord.” Likely he didn’t understand the full implications of this word. Perhaps if you could have asked him, “Who is Jesus,” he wouldn’t have been able to give a full answer. He had only sensed just enough about who Jesus was to provoke this action. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” This is powerfully insightful and a great challenge. “If you will” allows God to be God. The leper is fully confident in Jesus' ability to heal, however, he leaves space for Jesus' will and not his own.

My theology, and yours is far more sophisticated than this man’s. You know way more than he did. He knew nothing of the rest of Jesus’ life and teaching, let alone the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet his prayer is so powerful in its simplicity. 

I took his prayer and I prayed through several things that are on my heart this morning. Using precisely this model I said, “Father, if you will you can . . .” I prayed through family issues, ministry needs, people who don’t know Jesus, and personal goals. This prayer expresses both faith in God’s power and trust in God’s wisdom. That is a wonderful prescription for casting all our anxieties on him. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Facing Hard Days With Hope

My reading contained a phrase that caught my eye. 

1 Timothy 6:12 says (ESV) Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The phrase is: “take hold of the eternal life”

My experience is that there are phrases like this in the Bible that we have not given practical thought as to how to do what the phrase says to do. That would be like me reading about how to build a house. I have some understanding of the skills, materials, and the tools involved to build a house. But I have no experience in doing it and I have not thought much about how to do it. I'm grateful for those who did learn how to frame, hang sheetrock and run wiring in the house I’m sitting in. I’m grateful that they did not leave such tasks in the hypothetical category but they learned a trade which resulted in a comfortable warm house on a cold morning. 

In a similar way, I don't want to leave the phrase “take hold of the eternal life” hypothetical. What does it mean to do that? It can’t mean to strive for it as if it's a goal for which if you work hard you will achieve. That is perhaps the most common view about what following Jesus is about, for those outside of the faith, even if they don't accept that's a real thing we're pursuing. But it's also a misunderstanding of many who are in the faith. I've heard many over the years, in strong Bible believing churches, with clear teaching on this matter, still express that they “hope” they will get into heaven as if they're trying to be good enough for that to be so. That can't be what this means. 

Rather, take hold of the eternal life means to grasp onto a reality that is already yours as a person who is in Christ. Recognize that you possess eternal life in the present and take hold of that reality as you continuously struggle to fight the good fight of the faith and as you pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. (see v. 11) We don't pursue these things for the sake of achieving or earning eternal life. As has been said before, “Faith is not opposed to effort, it's opposed to earning.” We make vigorous effort as a believer. That vigorous effort is not in the service of trying to earn or to obtain something that we don’t have. Rather, it's in the service of being who you already are. Take hold of the eternal life then means to live today with an eternal perspective that you already possess God’s good gift of eternal life. This perspective is the only one that can enable us to consistently face both good days and bad with hope. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Resisting Lies

Yesterday, I wrote about the need to be strong in the Lord, so that we might stand against the devil’s schemes from the first part of Ephesians 6:10-20. You can read that here  What follows are a few thoughts on v. 14-17 on what is known as the defensive part of the armor of God.
Ephesians 6:14–17 (ESV) 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
One of the primary schemes Satan uses against us is accusation. For instance, early this morning I listened to a podcast from a pastor and leader I respect on handling criticism. From a text of scripture, he explained that criticism often comes when we're already down, when we don't deserve it, and from those who are unqualified to give it. But what I found myself zeroing in on was that second one; that criticism is often undeserved. As I thought back over my life and the times that I've received criticism, it seemed to me that many of those times the criticism was justified. It came because of my own immaturity or lack of courage. Was that true? Partially. Sometimes I've received criticism and I've deserved it, at least to some extent. It's important to listen to criticism and learn from it when we can. But it would not have been right for me to then conclude that I am worthless, that I have nothing to offer, and that I should just give up and hide. And I could sense those thoughts coming on as well. Satan can work his schemes even while listening to a sermon. The text says, to put on the belt of truth. What is true about me is that through no benefit of my own, and in spite of my sin, I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I have put on the breastplate of righteousness. This knowledge does not make me want to them disobey, but moves me to want to follow. 

The next part of the armor is, “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” The truth that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ encourages us not to want to disobey, but creates in us a “readiness” to do God’s will. Internalizing the good news of the gospel gives new grace to move back into the world. Shoes for your feet implies being ready to walk back out into the world and to take risks in spite of potential criticism and past mistakes. 

“In all circumstances we are to take up the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” To  know the truth that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ makes us ready to obey, but we will need to repeatedly counter Satan’s lies by remembering these truths. We use the shield of faith by trusting what God says rather than believing Satan accusations. We should expect to need this shield often, “in all circumstances.”

Finally, there is the helmet of salvation. That is that we are secure in the knowledge as we enter this battle, that our security comes not from our ability to hold onto God, but on his ability to hold onto us. This also does not encourage a life of running from God’s will. Rather, it grants the confidence to move into the world, knowing that we cannot ultimately be harmed. He will never leave us or forsake us.

In the next couple of days, I hope to share a couple of thoughts about the part of the armor used for offense rather than defense, that is the word of God itself and prayer.