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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.

Friday, December 8, 2017

This is Not Hypothetical

Today’s reading contains a familiar passage often taught. I’ll risk putting my toe in the water to share reflections on the text both today and tomorrow.

Ephesians 6:10 begins the passage:  “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” There would be no reason for Paul to say this if this were not going to be a serious challenge. Strength is a necessity. Discouragements, challenges, difficult decisions and temptations are not hypothetical. But he doesn't just leave the need to “be strong” as a theoretical idea. He doesn't just say, “be strong in the Lord,” and leave us to figure out how. He lays out how. There follows a series of clear instructions. 

So he says, “Put on the whole armor of God.” That means this is armor that comes from God. We do not generate the armor in our own strength. God is all powerful. Nothing is too difficult for him. He does not sleep. He does not need to study. He does not need to spend time reflecting on the best course of action. God possesses all wisdom and all strength. By contrast we are limited and temporary. We need God’s armor so that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. I don’t sense that we think enough about the reality that these schemes are real. We don't always expect them in a way that would be healthy. This is not looking for a demon under every bush; the instruction is right here in black and white. Here is how he describes it, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” We do wrestle. There will be struggle. There will be criticism and discouragement and temptations, and they will be hard. And that wrestling is not against flesh and blood. We are not just struggling with critics or temptations that come from people or circumstances or commercials. Ultimately, we wrestle against spiritual forces. Specifically against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. I don't remember this enough. I don't keep the truth of this passage specifically in mind to the extent that I need to remember it.

Tomorrow I plan to walk through the specific armor he lists here and give some practical instruction as to how to apply it. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Anything That is Profitable

A few days ago I read an article about theologian Vern Poythress written by his son. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time. His son grew up observing his dad’s quiet pursuit of memorizing God’s word. Later he managed to extract from his father how much of the Bible he had actually memorized. The answer was staggering. It was all of the New Testament and the Psalms, all of the minor prophets, the song of Solomon, the second half of Isaiah and scattered narratives. Perhaps Poythress has a once in a generation mind, but with no guilt, the story stirred up my spirit, not for the first time, to add memorization to my daily reading and prayer. So for the last couple of days I have sought to memorize a few verses in the daily reading. Today, I spent some time with the beginning of Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders recorded in Acts 20. Now I’m further stirred after reading about Poythress, regarding the way that Paul characterized his own ministry. 

The description begins in verse 19, he served “ with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to him through the plots of the Jews." 

It’s hard to directly pursue humility. No one can sensibly say, “I’m going to go out and act humbly” Contrived tears are the worst. And no one should seek out trials. There is a sense in which these things happened to him as a byproduct of his walk with God.

But verse 20 describes activities he could choose. This too though would flow from his walk with God. His ministry was characterized by teaching. He did not shrink from declaring to them anything that would have been profitable to them. For him to say that meant it was a temptation for him to do just that. How he speaks of teaching shows he did not see such opportunities as a burden for which he had to prepare. Rather, because of his walk with the Lord and his immersion in the knowledge of God through his word, he taught them in public and from house to house. His teaching was not relegated to formal teaching times. Rather, it seems that he couldn't turn it off.

This then is another motivation behind why we pursue God in his word regularly. Some of us have a responsibility to overtly teach publicly. But it appears from Colossians 3:16 and other passages that each of us are called to teach and admonish one another. We can’t manipulate humility or tears and we shouldn’t invite trials, nor can we snap our fingers and cause the word of God to naturally flow from us. But we can plead with God to give us an increasing hunger to know him and to encounter him in his word, allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly, so that the teaching that each of us is called to do is not seen as a burden but that we would be willing to declare anything profitable to those within our sphere of influence.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Prayer Reflection on Romans 5:9

I spent my prayer time this morning reflecting on one verse contained in my reading for today, Romans 5:9. If my writing is ever polished, this is less so. But I wanted it to share it with you. I did reduce it and edit it some for clarity. 

Since therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall will be saved by him from the wrath of God. My Lord and my God, I plead with you that the shape of your word will transform the shape of my mind. I plead with you to press upon my heart and my soul so that I might think these things, so that I may faithfully memorize them and recall them, but even more than memorizing that these would be the thoughts that would forcefully shape my mind. What I need is more than memorizing. Memorizing could well be a step to this, but Father, I want my mind to be transformed so that this is the pattern of the way that I think, that this be the controlling narrative of my life. Since, therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Father, please press this into my soul. You are our Father O God. You are just in all your ways. Your justice has been met, has been satisfied within or through the blood of Jesus. Since therefore we your children, those who are able to call on you as our Father, we have now been justified by his blood. So then much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 

The wrath of God is a real danger. This morning I had a twinge of worry after glancing at an article titled Business Is Booming for America’s Survival Food King  It speaks of a doomsday scenario of the need for disaster food; that is pouches of food that could be eaten by simply adding water. Such pouches have a shelf life of years. We may or may not ever have a need for such things. But it of course is possible. Such packets of barely edible food in good times, could taste like a steak dinner in the moment. 

Even if something like that did happen, how would you ever know that you had enough of the survival food to make it. How much would it take to make you feel secure? 

(Don’t stop halfway through the next paragraph) 

But here is a disaster that is certain. We will all encounter the wrath of God for our sin. Period. There are no exceptions. This wrath is far worse than any doomsday scenario that we can possibly imagine or far worse than your worst nightmare. And it is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Unless! Unless we have been justified by the blood of Jesus, and thus much more would be saved by Jesus from the wrath of God. I need to not just be able to recall the facts of this in case someone asks me. I need to know far more than where this text is in the Bible, I even need more than to have this text memorized, I need for the reality of this text to so control my heart and my mind that it is the way that I think, that it controls what goes on in my heart and in my mind. 

Father, I worship you because we have been justified by the blood of Jesus and so because of this we will be much more saved by you from the wrath of God. Jesus, I worship you because we have now been justified by your blood that you painfully shed on the cross. Hallelujah! 

Father, in accomplishing this your glory, your holiness, your justice was in no way diminished. You were wholly true to who you are, because you can do no other, and our salvation is secure. The accomplishment of Jesus death is far more powerful than we can possibly imagine. 

Referring back to the article, we think it would really be something to do be the guy on the other end of the phone for whom the government is asking for 2 million orders. That would make you feel set for life. That is something on the order of Roger Goodell asking for a lifetime salary of $50 million, use of a private plane, and lifetime health insurance for his family. That’s a man trying to buttress his way of life against what ever hazard may come. But it wouldn’t be enough to make him feel secure. What Romans 6:9 refers to is exponentially greater than the deal Goodell asked for or the owner the company that makes disaster food received. 

O God, may the reality of justification be the controlling narrative in our minds. May your kingdom come in the way we think. May your word control the way that we see the world.