Friday, April 17, 2015

Looking to Jesus with the Cowboys

Bible study down in Hachita this evening. They came in tired, dusty, spurs jingling, with horses still saddled in trailers outside, but they still came. And we looked at Jesus together: “‘Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth” (Revelation 5:5,6, N.L.T.).
  • He is King of kings, final Inheritor and Fulfillment to all of God’s promises to David in the Scriptures.
  • He is Victor, mighty Conqueror of all the enemies of God.
  • He is alone is worthy. Not me. Not you. He alone. Not self-esteem, but the infinitely more satisfying Christ-esteem.
  • He is the final and only-adequate sacrificial “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He still bears the physical reminders, the scars of this sacrifice as a forever-memorial (as in John 20:24-29, for He “looked as if” He “had been slaughtered,” even though He was alive and “standing”).
  • He is the center of heaven’s attention, adoration, and eternal reverence.
  • He has complete and utter power (“seven horns”). There is none more powerful.
  • He is the giver of the complete (“sevenfold,” an allusion to Isaiah 11:2) Spirit of God, given to “everyone believing” in Jesus (John 7:39), regardless of “tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

He is Jesus. See Him in the Word. Repent, believing in Him alone for your salvation, joy, love, peace, and eternal life.

NM-9

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Brought Bible?

Hachita Baptist Church, Hachita, New Mexico, U.S.A.
Brought Bible?

I’ve looked at this old-fashioned board for years now. The only time I really pay attention to it is when I’ve been gone (to get an idea of what went on the week before). A few weeks ago, though, the “BROUGHT BIBLE” caught my attention (though I'm not sure they update that particular number).

“Do they need it?” I asked myself. As I preach or lead them in a Bible study, do they actually need the Book? Do I direct them back to it often enough? Do I inspire them to read further? Do I lift up its vital importance for their daily lives in this world as disciples of Jesus Christ? I was burdened by this. Challenged. How can I encourage them in the Word more than I do? If, by my preaching/teaching, I can get them to look at the Book in their hands, point to the words and really look at it, actively engage the weight of the thing, then the corporate moment in the Bible will cease to be passive. I’ve only got a few brief moments. Got to drive them into the Word more and more.

Then I thought about “stewardship.” It used to just be called “giving,” but somewhere along the way it got replaced by a more spiritual-sounding idea (not that I have a problem with changing words every once in a while...makes us think, which is always good). Anyway, stewardship. If you give to the church, then attending the times of preaching/teaching of the paid preacher is stewardship. You are paying to support the man of God, and are present when he does what you pay him to do. Seems responsible.

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says [in Deuteronomy 25:4], ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and [in Luke 10:7] ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17,18). We learn at least two things in this passage. First, “honor” means financial support, and not just respect (verse 18). Second, the evaluation of the “rule” of “the elders” is on how well they are determined to have worked “hard at preaching and teaching.” How can this evaluation be made if the evaluators aren’t present at the preaching/teaching of the Word? I’m not sure it can. How can you be sure that your giving to the church is being wisely spent, if you are not present to participate in one of the main reasons the New Testament says we must give to the church (in addition to the support of the poor, help to widows, and assistance to other churches)?

On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter preaches one of the greatest sermons recorded in the Bible. In response, “those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41,42). “Continually.” Does one hour a week count as “continually”? A lot of preachers regard preaching twice a week (twice on Sunday, and three times if there’s a mid-week service) as a lot. Considering Acts 2:42 (“continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching”), I wonder if I’m doing enough. I mentioned last fall that I was considering adding a small-group Bible study to my schedule in response to a need that had been expressed to me. A church member admonished me that it might be too much. Is it too much? There’s only a little time: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16). We’ll give an account for how we spend this small handful of moments, and if we’ve got something to do that is higher on our priority list than gathering to read the Word together...


Our confession says that Scripture “is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, 1). My greatest prayer request is that God will make this more and more a reality in our lives, beloved Church. More and more into His Word. Together.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Glory in the Lament of the Believer

“But of the Son He says [in Psalm 102:25-27], ‘...You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish, but you remain; and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end’” (Hebrews 1:8,10-12).

Who is this “He” Who speaks of the Son as the unchanging Creator and Consummator of all material existence? He is “God” in Hebrews 1:1, a “God” Who “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the world” (1:2). God the Father speaks of His Son in this quote from Psalm 102.

Yesterday I was reading through the Psalms for the day (12,42,72,102,132 – one of our men called us to worship with Psalm 42) and noticed something interesting in Psalm 102. This Psalm is the one which is quoted in Hebrews 1 to prove the absolute and eternal uniqueness of the Son, relying on the Father’s witness from the Scriptures. How does the Father testify? Through God the Holy Spirit. Twice in the letter to the Hebrews the Holy Spirit is said to be speaking through ancient inspired Scripture (3:7-11//Psalm 95:7-11; 10:15-17//Jeremiah 31:33,34).

The Father speaks of His Son through the Spirit-breathed Scripture. Trinitarian scripture-based theology. Today. And it shines through in far more than pulpits or theology classes. Consider the Psalm from which we drew this precious truth.

The title: “A Prayer of the Afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD.” After the title, verses 1-11 live up to the title.

Verse 12 is the hinge of the Psalm. Like so many Psalms, the inspired singer is never reluctant to vent his heartbreak and complaint. Just lamenting is not enough, though. The Psalms almost always follow this by speaking truth (about God) to pain. The Psalm doesn't deny the pain, but it doesn't let it dictate worldview or reality. It speaks truth in the midst of the pain. Verse 12 begins with that great scriptural word “but” (in the Hebrew it’s a single prefixed letter, ו). After this verses 12-28 speak truth about the eternal God (102:12), the compassionate and gracious God (102:13), the building and revealing God (102:16), the hearing God (102:17), and the condescending God (102:19,20).

Then we come to our text from Hebrews 1:10-12. I want to quote it again, but not in its New Testament context (the Father testifying about the Son through the Holy Spirit). When the Holy Spirit originally inspired this text, it was in the midst of pain, loneliness, weakness, and mocking. Not of God, of course, but of the Psalmist. A human being having a very human day:
“I say, ‘O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days,
Your years are throughout all generations.
Of old You founded the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
Even they will perish, but You endure;
And all of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.
The children of Your servants will continue,
And their descendants will be established before You” (Psalm 102:24-28).

In the midst of a prayer of pain and sorrow, the Holy Spirit inspired words that testified to the Father’s exalting of the Son. This is the treasure of the Psalter, and why it needs to be the regular spiritual diet of the believer. We need the balm of its truth applied to our struggles, doubts, fears, and pains every day. The Holy Spirit speaks great transcendent truth that raises us up out of today (into God’s faithfulness into future generations and eternity) and out of ourselves (into the glorious eternal Son of God). The text of Hebrews 1:10-12 doesn’t arise out of a theology textbook. It arises out of Psalm 102:25-27 in the plea of a hurting believer.


Even in our grieving prayer, the Holy Spirit does the will of the Father by glorifying the Son (this is the beautiful truth of Romans 8:26-39). Pray the words of truth in the Psalter and be part of this glory, beloved.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The "Oughtness" of Prayer

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought [το δειν] to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

“...the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should [δει, or "ought"]...” (Romans 8:26).

What is the “oughtness” of prayer?

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.” For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.”’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8).

How should be pray?
  • “...at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying” (18:1).
  • “...she kept coming to him” (18:3).
  • “...continually coming” (18:5).
  • “...His elect...cry to Him day and night” (18:7).
Jesus’ teaching is that our prayers should continually contain pleas for His righteous coming in judgment to make all things right on behalf of His elect against their "opponent." Not only is this is the “oughtness” of prayer, but it is the “faith” the “Son of Man” will be seeking when He comes in judgment.

Do we find this idea in the other passage that discusses the “oughtness” of prayer?
“...we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:23-27).
Paul says that we should “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for...the redemption of our body” (8:23). The context of our continual prayers for righteous judgment is “the sufferings of this present time” (8:18), especially considering the persecution described in the end of the chapter (8:33-39). This is the substance of the “hope” of 8:24,25, and the “perseverance” with which “we wait eagerly.” Paul teaches on this longing in the midst of unrighteousness, then transitions to prayer with the phrase, “in the same way” (8:26). It is then we learn that we learn of our incapability to “pray as we should” (8:26) and the Spirit’s continual help to pray not according to our desires and will, but according to “the will of God” (8:27). What is the source of our incapability? It could be our love for the world (not wanting the sinfulness to be judged because we still crave it), our confidence that we can fix things on our own through our own means, or a combination of the two. It could be a failure to read the Scripture (especially the prayer-book, the Psalms, where this theme is predominant) and apply the Word to our prayers (preferring to pray according to our desires). Regardless, we are in ourselves incapable of praying (as we ought) for the coming of Christ to judge.

The will of God is righteous judgment, the vindication of His people, and the all-surpassing and eternal glorification of His Son. This is how we must pray, and how God the Holy Spirit assists us in prayer at all times. “...according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

This is what it means to pray in the Spirit.

Consider: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Gospel evangelism and missions is part of spiritual warfare (6:10-17), the conquering of the kingdom of darkness by the domain of the Righteous One of God, Jesus Christ.

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 20,21). The continual “praying in the Holy Spirit” is further explained as “waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” Holy Spirit praying is eschatological – a longing for the coming of Christ for righteous judgment and the avenging of the saints.

This concept is revealed in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, as well:
  • The sort of prayer we have been discussing is part of the curses and wrath found on the two-sided scroll the Lamb opens: “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:9,10).
  • Indeed, these very prayers are instrumental in the judgment of God: “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:3-5).

This is the “oughtness” of our prayer, and it is the prayer we know is empowered by the Holy Spirit at all times in believers. Father, through Your Holy Spirit restore this prayer in these days in Your Church to the glory of Your Son.
 
"Power of Prayer," by Toni Daniel (2007)
We wait and pray. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Self and the Jailed Apostle

I’ve had a slow leak in a tire on my truck for a few weeks, but I haven’t had time to do anything about it. A guest speaker this Sunday meant that after my men’s group this morning, there were actually a few hours unaccounted. So I went to the tire shop. While waiting, I read through the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Lord willing, we’ll finish the Old Testament book of Numbers in our evening service in a few weeks (we started in July of 2013), and I’ve been considering where to go next. I’ve preached or taught through all of Paul’s letters – except Philippians. So I read through it with Sunday nights in mind.

It’s a popular letter. I know people who’ve memorized it. I’ve had more than a few people tell me it’s their favorite of the New Testament books. In this letter Paul has some pretty challenging things to say. Challenging, that is, to a self-centered, self-exalting, self-esteem, self-self pop-Christianity (and its songs heavy on the words “I,” “me,” and “my”). There’s a church marquee in town that says, “God believes in you.” Paul (and the entirety of the Bible, for that matter) is deadly to that utterly non-scriptural humanistic bilge. Philippians is one of his so-called “prison epistles,” and the wisdom of a life so centered on Christ that it ends up in chains is worth listening to more than the inspirational “life coaches” of today.

Consider:
  • He doesn’t pray for release from his chains, but rejoices that the Gospel has spread because of his imprisonment: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14). The Gospel is more important than his freedom or comfort!
  • Losing everything in this life (including this life) is gain compared to being with Christ; continuing in this life is utterly selfless, to be spent on the spiritual growth of the saints: “...with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (1:20-24). He’ll speak more of true gain later in the letter, as well: “...whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (3:7,8).
  • “...to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (1:29,30). It’s been “granted.” Thanks! This reminds me of the leaders of the early Church, who, after having been flogged, went away “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Before they kept on preaching Christ. Or of Paul’s incredible statement that is an ironic echo and overturning of the prosperity gospel: “...all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you” (1 Corinthians 3:21,22). “All things”? Wow! Wait. “Death”? Umm...do I have to accept that part of “all things,” Lord?
  • “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). The attitude of Jesus is then described in the great hymn of 2:6-11 as a total emptying of personal rights and a total obedience to God’s will even to death, to gain not self-centered reward but the glory of the Father (yes, a long run-on sentence, but totally justified)! How can we read this and “church shop,” or form cliques in congregations, or argue over carpet color, or flock to teachers that make us feel good about ourselves and our life-choices? That’s not at all what we find in the Christ we’re called to imitate.
  • “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (2:14-16). Our attitudes and treatment of each other is part of our witness – all based solidly on the Word alone, not our preferences or opinions or comforts.
  • This next one has challenged me throughout my few 21 years of ministry. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself or burned out or tired, I hear the apostle say this: “...even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (2:17). “Poured out.” Not dripping or a thin trickle or a reasonable percentage. All of it. He’ll say it again in his last letter (2 Timothy 4:6). Lord, forgive me. Soon after, in describing Epaphroditus, we’re told this good minister “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in [the Philippians’] service to me” (2:30).
  • The man imprisoned says to the free Church, “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4). And, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). And, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (4:11,12).
  • Having read all of that, how can we so brazenly misuse the one sentence in the letter (what I like to call a “coffee-cup verse”)? “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13). Paul’s “all things” and my selfish ambitions are pretty far apart.

My fears, self-obsession, craving for approval and popularity and praise, and all the ugly things in me cower before such Spirit-inspired truth. We need this letter, Church. I need this letter. Having worked in a tire shop, I was becoming impatient with how long the fellow in the bay was taking with a simple leak. I wasn’t in a prison cell. Or even a little uncomfortable. Or late for anything else.

Paul’s prayer at the beginning of the letter is a worthy one: “...this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9,10). A Christ-centered, continually growing love based on biblical knowledge and discernment; it is the exact opposite of the self-actualizing humanistic false-christianity so popular today!


Yes, I think our Bible study for our Sunday night prayer meeting will be in Philippians for a while.