Friday, January 30, 2015

Song Notes: February 1st, 2015

Brothers and Sisters, here are the four songs we will be singing in worship on Sunday, along with a brief note about each one.

Entrance Hymn: Psalm 29, p. 52-53
God's word is powerful. When we hear this we think of God's written word, which is all we have access to. But this Psalm celebrates God's spoken word.  In the version we use stanzas, 2, 3, 4, and 5 all begin with "the voice of Jehovah" or the "voice of the Lord." In addition to this God's voice is mentioned in last line of the 2nd stanza and the 3rd line of the 4th stanza. Lining all these up gives quite an impression:

-The voice of Jehovah resounds on the waters
-The Lord's voice in splendor the Lord's voice in might
-The voice of Jehovah is breaking the cedars
-The voice of Jehovah divides flames of lightning
-The voice of the Lord makes the wilderness tremble
-The voice of the Lord makes the deer twist in labor

The overall impression is an OT precursor to Hebrews 1:3 where we are told that Jesus upholds all things by the word of power. The universe runs on the Word of God. He tells all things when to be born, what to do, where to go, and when to die. He tells the seas when to overflow their banks and when they have gone too far. He tells the animals to give birth. He tears down. He builds up. The Psalm emphasizes God's power over the world and all the natural forces in it. King David ends by reminding us that God sat on his throne even during the Flood. Psalm 29:10 is only use of this word outside of Genesis 6-11.

So what should be our response to God's voice governing all things, even something as mighty and terrible as the Flood? We are to give him glory. In verses 1-2 the "mighty ones" are called upon to give God glory. In verse 9, all who are in temple declare "glory." And so too must we. As we consider God's greatness and power we are to offer him praise and glory.

Hymn of Thanksgiving: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, p. 267
This is one of classic hymns from the pen of Isaac Watts. For over 300 years men have sung it. The truths it contains are just as glorious as they were in 1707.  There are two key themes in this hymn.

First, when we survey, that is look at, the cross we are humbled. The longer we stare at Christ, the deeper we look into his work on the cross, the more we consider how unworthy we are of his sacrifice, the more we ponder how little we have to offer, the more humble become. We stop boasting in ourselves and we start boasting in Christ. We "pour contempt" on all our pride.

Second, because of God's great love for us seen in the cross, we abandon all to follow Christ. Watts casts aside "all the vain things" to follow Christ. He ends the hymn by saying that Christ's great sacrifice "demands my soul, my life, my all."  When we look at Christ and His work we do not become lazy in our spiritual walk. The cross is the fire which keeps us pushing forward. If you find that your walk with Christ is lacking zeal maybe you need to go back to the basics. Read something or better yet sing something about Christ's amazing love.

Worship Song #1: Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word, p. 368
Unlike our previous song, most Christians have never heard of this hymn by Martin Luther. That is a shame. It is a rich prayer offered to Father, Son, and Spirit to defend and keep the Church.

Typical of Luther it is a battle hymn. In the first verse he says that forces of darkness want to destroy us by "craft and sword," "wrest the kingdom" from Christ, and "set at naught all he has done." Luther understood the forces that are arrayed against the Church. He knew there were spiritual forces working through physical forces to undermine, deceive, sidetrack, and ultimately destroy God's people. What was his answer to all this? Prayer and the word. He prays that God would help us stay tethered to God's Word.  He prays that Christ would make his power known. He prays that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would send peace and unity and give us strength as we prepare to die. We are no different from Luther. We are beset on every side by principalities and powers. There are men who want to tear the Church down stone by stone. When we take this prayer of Luther upon our lips we asking Christ to keep His Word, that the gates of Hell will not prevail against us.

Worship Song #2: Psalm 1-Bless Now the Man Who Does Not Walk, p. 2
Our final song is one that we know and love. Psalm 1 stands like a gatekeeper as we prepare to enter the sacred ground of the Psalter. It is a wisdom Psalm that explains the path of blessing and the path of destruction.

According to Psalm 1, there are two things the man who wants to be blessed will do. First, he will avoid entering into fellowship with wicked men. He does not listen their counsel. He does not walk in their ways. He does not spend hours in their company. Second, instead of drinking from the well of wicked men, he drinks from the well of God's law. God's law brings him joy and delight. He thinks about God's Word constantly. He considers how his life should change based on God's Word. He does not listen to the world and its counsel. But instead he patiently and thoughtfully allows God's Word to shape his thoughts, words, and deeds. A man who does this will be well-watered. His tree will be strong and mighty. He will bear fruit in God's time. He is blessed by the Lord in all that he does.

The question this Psalm puts before us is, "Who is influencing us more: the men of this world or Word of God?" Do we want God's blessing, but do not want to cut off love of the world? Do we try to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the Word?

Unequal Yokes in Calvin's Geneva

I am continuing to work through Kingdon and Witte's book on marriage in Geneva. At the bottom of this post you can find the other articles.

In chapter 10, the authors examine Geneva's approach to mixed religious marriages. Should a Christian marry a non-Christian? Should a Protestant marry a Catholic? Could a recent convert to the Protestant faith leave their Catholic spouse? Here is their summary of Calvin's teaching:
First, Protestants should not marry Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, or unbelievers. Those who sought to enter into such mixed marriages should be strongly dissuaded, though they could not ultimately be prevented from marriage.  Second, parties who were already in mixed marriages, or whose spouse lapsed from the faith after the wedding, should remain together. Those who sought to escape such mixed marriages should be strongly dissuaded, though they could not ultimately be prevented from separating from a spouses whose abuse imperiled the body and soul of the believer. Though none of this teaching on interreligious  marriage found its way into Genevan statutes, the Consistory applied this law consistently throughout Calvin's lifetime.
The authors note that Calvin was asked whether it was okay for a Protestant to marry a Catholic. Calvin said it was a sin, but such marriages were not absolutely forbidden. He preferred to deal with questions like this on a case by case basis. How strong was the Catholic? Were they drifting towards Protestantism? Would they castigate the Protestant spouse for refusing to take Mass? He did not lay down many hard and fast rules on this issue because there were so many variables.

Perhaps the greatest deterrent to mixed marriages was how hard it was to get out of them. Divorce was not acceptable. Using I Corinthians 7:12-16 as the key passage, Calvin taught that even if one of the spouses was not a believer, the home was still sanctified through the believing spouse. Therefore, there was no need to divorce. Unless a person's life was threatened or the spouse refused to live with them if they did not convert, there was no reason for divorce.

A couple of mixed religious convictions could get married. Their marriage was legitimate. There was no annulment based on religious preferences. Nor could religious differences be an impediment to marriage. However, if a couple married against the wishes of the Consistory they could be banned from the Lord's Supper. Their marriage was a real marriage, but it might not be a Christian marriage.

This teaching in Geneva was in stark contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching of the time, which stated that, since marriage was a sacrament, it was only valid between two baptized believers.

Of all the teaching at Geneva that I have read about this is the hardest to sort out. But I understand why. Marriage is not just for Christians. It is for all men. Two Muslims can marry. Two atheists can marry. A Christian and a Muslim can marry. But marriage to a non-Christian or even a Christian with very different views is difficult and hard.  Geneva tried to strike a balance between declaring mixed marriage not marriages at all and sanctioning mixed marriages.

Previous Posts
General Overview of the Book
An Overview of Marriage Prior to Calvin
Calvin's Attack on Marriage as a Sacrament
Consent to Marriage in Geneva
The Desire for Reconciliation Instead of Divorce
The Power of the Consistory in Geneva
Courtship in Geneva
Coercion to and Conditions of Marriage in Geneva
Parental Consent to Marriage in Geneva
Impediments to Marriage in Geneva

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Blinding Power of Legalism

J.I. Packer has this helpful list of four signs of legalism in his excellent book Concise Theology. 

1. They majored in the minors, neglecting what matter most.
2. Their casuistry [misleading subtle reasoning] negated the law's spirit and aim.
3. They treated traditions of practice as part of God's authoritative law, thus binding consciences where God had left them free.
4. They were hypocrites at heart, angling for man's approval all the time.

When someone makes minor issues into major ones, misses the purposes of God's law and binds people with extra-Biblical commands it blinds them to those things, which are most glorious. In this post, I want to use two stories from Scripture to explore how legalism blinds us. When I speak of legalism or the legalist, I am using Packer's outline above as my guide.

Two Stories

In Mark 3:1-6 Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees seek to kill Jesus because he does this.

In John 5:1-16 Jesus goes to a feast in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. There is man there who has been lame for thirty-eight years. Jesus heals this man and tells him to take up his pallet and walk. This man obeys. However, the Jews become angry with man because he is carrying his bed on the Sabbath. This story ends just like the one in Mark. The Jews want to kill Jesus because he heals on the Sabbath.

These stories teach us about our Savior and about the nature of faith. These stories also teach us about how blind legalism makes us. Because of their adherence to man made laws and their failure to grasp God's mercy the Pharisees were blind to the glory they were witnessing.

They were blind to the glory of a man set free. 

Here is a man who has been lame for 38 years. He has sat waiting to be healed. No healer came. Day after day, month after month, year after year his bondage continues. Then finally he is healed. And what do the Jews say, "You can't carry your bed. It is the Sabbath." In Mark a man is freed and they want to kill the One who cut his chains. Instead of rejoicing in what God has done, they murmur and complain about how their laws are not being followed. They murmur and complain because someone is here who is greater than them.

Christ came to make men free. He came to heal our souls. We are broken. He came to fix us. We are dead. He came to raise us. We are blind. He came to help us see. One day our bodies will be made whole. But legalism says this good news is not good news at all. For a legalist there is no joy in men being set free. There is only skepticism and furrowed brows. "I am so glad that person has come to Christ, but her dress doesn't reach beneath her knees."  A man returns to church after years of rejecting the faith, but he brings in his third wife. Legalism says, "You better watch that man. He may lead our families astray." A family is broken and comes to the church for help, but all legalism can see is everything dad and mom did wrong over the past fifteen years. Legalists are always interested in more bondage. They have their eyes peeled for all the "t"s that are not crossed and the "i"s that are not dotted.  They cannot rejoice in the salvation Christ has brought. Instead they must find a way to put on new chains. Yes we know you were lame for 38 years and now can walk. But remember carrying your bed is a sin.

They were blind to the glory of God's law. 
In the Gospels, there are many battles over the Sabbath. It is almost like Jesus purposely chose the Sabbath to do miracles just to make the Pharisees mad. Jesus had one view of the Sabbath. The Pharisees had another. For Jesus the Sabbath is about freedom, joy, and healing (Mark 3:4). For the Pharisees the Sabbath is about control, power, and making sure people toe the line. In these two groups we have a summary of how men view God's law in general. Some see it as a burden to be placed upon men so they will know what lines are not to be crossed. For others, God's law is the source of freedom. It is not a burden, but a joy. It is not a place where God's wrath is expressed, but his mercy. The law is used to free men, not bind them. The first view inevitably leads to more and more laws, more and more precision, more and more commandments. The second view inevitably leads to fewer laws (remember Matthew 22:34-40 and Romans 13:8-10), less precision, and less commandments. However, the second view does not lead to more sin. Love of God and love of neighbor, as defined by Scripture, is the ultimate deterrent against sin and the ultimate motive to obedience.

For legalists God's law is not about freedom, glory, and mercy. The Sabbath isn't about rest. It is about obeying the commandments. Worship isn't about joy and delight in God's presence. It is about the rules. I am not arguing against rules. But rules are not the point. The point is mercy, peace, joy, freedom, love in the Holy Spirit. They miss the spirit and the aim of God's law. Even when His law convicts the intention is mercy and joy. Even when it cuts like a knife the goal is healing. The legalists does not get this. For them the law is there to make people pay. It is God's great chain to keep men from straying too far from home.

Legalism misses the point of God's law. But beyond that legalism adds to God's law. It makes man-made rules and regulations equivalent to God's Word. It binds consciences to the commandments of men. Legalists use long, winding roads through Scripture to prove that their laws are really God's laws. Their opinions become the voice of God. They won't say this of course. But their actions say, "If you want to be holy, live like me."

They were blind to the glory of Christ. 
Both the previous points pale in comparison to this one. The Pharisees, as least in theory, had been waiting for the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. One day they enter the synagogue or go to a feast and there He is. The Son of David has put on flesh and walked into their worship service. He takes the withered hand and makes it whole. He takes the lame and makes him walk. Prophecy is being fulfilled right before their eyes. Rejoicing is in order. Right? Not for the Pharisees. For them, Christ is a threat to be extinguished instead a Savior to delight in. When Christ was born the scribes of Israel ignored him (Matthew 2:4-7).  They can ignore him no longer. Now they want to kill him.

Why? The presence of Christ threatens their world. They have created a system that allows them power and at the same time protects them from accountability. They view themselves as the righteous ones (Luke 18:9-14). They do not see themselves as sinners, like that prostitute. They are sons of Abraham (John 8:39). They are in the covenant. They do not need a Savior. They do not need to be rescued or redeemed. Those people out there, the sick, the lame, the adulterers, the tax collectors those are the ones who need Jesus not them. They have it together. They are the example to be followed.

Christ did not come to support our man made ideas about holiness. He did not come to make the righteous feel good about themselves and the sinners to be cast out or despised. He did not come so our laws could be fulfilled. He came to fulfill God's Word and save sinners, like me and you. The reason the Pharisees missed the glory of Christ is because they wanted the glory for themselves. A legalist is fixated on himself.  He wants the approval of others. He wants to be recognized in the street for his good deeds and holy life. A man like this is blind to many things, but most of all he is blind to the glory of Christ.

Do you delight when Christ sets men free? Or do you grumble when the lame walk and sinners repent?

Does God's law bring you freedom, joy, peace, and delight? Would people know from the way you live and talk that God's law is freeing? Or do you use God's law to control men? Do you try to make everything you do into a Biblical command? Do you bind consciences to your laws instead of God's?

Do you glory in Christ? Is his name the one you boast in? Is his glory what you seek? Or are you the center of your world? Are you constantly looking for people to approve of you, to think you are a good Christian? Do you view yourself as a sinner saved by grace or as a pretty good person whom Christ gave a boost to?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How We Got Here or Principles of Modern Thought: Authenticity

This is the fourth post in series on Stephen Clark's five principles of modern thought. The list is below along with links to the previous posts.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a "Full-Person"

Here is what Clark says about the principle of authenticity:
The Principle of Authenticity-"It states that each individual should express his or her true feelings and preferences at all times so that one's 'authentic' personality might develop and be seen. Closely related to the principle of authenticity is the notion that each person should express his or her unique personality and gifts as fully as possible. The ideals of authenticity and uniqueness lead to a dislike for the type of social structure taught in scripture. To accept a role which does not fit one's feelings or preferences would be inauthentic. 
While scriptural teaching allows for individual differences it does not idealize them, since sin finds authentic and unique expression in the lives of most people." 
Authenticity has been mocked more and more lately, which is a good thing. Yet the central idea holds on with vehemence in our culture. Dress, sexual identity, job choice, education, spouses, are all often chosen based on what makes a person feel authentic, whatever that means. The key, as with the other three principles is that of individualism. We have a right to express ourselves in "authentic" ways. No one can fence us in or put us in a box. There is a real "me" that must come out and you cannot stop it. I have a right to be me.

Biblical structure, order, submission, and obedience reject the absoluteness of this idea. You may have dreams, desires, personality traits, giftings, that cannot be developed without breaking God's commands. Or that are outside of God's providence for you. The idea of women preaching and having authority is, in part, rooted in this idea of authenticity. A woman has the gift of teaching. Why shouldn't she be allowed to express that gifting? Often authenticity is just an excuse for selfishness and a refusal to submit to God's Word. Authenticity does not equal righteousness. For a Christian the question is not, "Am I expressing the true me?"  Rather it is, "Am I conforming to Christ and His revealed Word?"

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ten Quotes: A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter

I have  enjoyed reading Pastor Toby Sumpter's blog for a long time. He is a good preacher and a good writer. Recently I read his commentary on Job. It is not very long and provides insight into the purpose of Job. What I really enjoyed was how he allowed the epilogue (Job 38-42) to dictate the rest of the book.  There are nuggets of truth scattered throughout the book. Here are a few of  my favorite quotes. All emphasis is his. Brackets are mine.
The Spirit drives like the wind, like a storm, and empowers men and women to carry out great deeds according to the will of the Father and the Son.
For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, Job is a powerful invitation to grow up into maturity, patience, and holiness through struggle, trial, argument, and prayer, looking for the resurrection in the power and love of the Holy Spirit.
Job is a perfect man, an Adam in an Adam like king who rules over creation...His prosperity and blessing are not accidental, they are the result of obeying his father.
The very good God loves to take good men, break them apart, and turn them into very good men. The perfect and glorious God loves to take perfect men, break them apart, and turn them into greater glory and greater perfection.
Job's goodness and integrity are not arguments against Job's suffering; they are the very reasons for it.
As the husband of a family that has been struck, as the king of a nation which will surely feel the repercussions of these calamities, and as the servant of the God who has allowed these hardships in the first place, Job had a responsibility to speak, a duty to cry out. At the bare minimum, as a man in pain, he must express that pain to his maker. To refuse to speak, to refuse to cry out to God in pain and agony, would be to compromise his integrity. 
The problem [with Job's three friends] is not that they are constantly saying untrue things, but rather that they are saying true things and applying them in irresponsible and evil ways.
Wisdom requires men and women to look deeper than surface appearances and words. It is not enough to have good intentions or quote Bible verses.
Job does not deny the possibility of having committed an error, but they [his friends] are not interested in helping Job, they are interested in disgracing him. 
Job was not unfaithful or unrighteous to cry out in his agony. Faithful sons cry out to God. They feel pain and hardship. They hope in their Father. Faithful sons hope and rest in the comfort of the storm. The Lord is a storm. He has poured out his storm presence on you in his Spirit, and that storm is at work in our lives, until the earth has been covered with his glory and knowledge, as the waters cover the sea...That process is not always fun. Job did not have a lot of fun, but his ending is glorious. It's very good. It's wonderful, and beauty beyond compare; the end of the story is resurrection.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Violence and Divorce

Here is short post from the archives.

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one's garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America's military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God's Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it Biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are simply interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Praying Scripture for One Another

In a previous blog post, I encouraged you to pray for one another using Scripture.  In this post, I want to give a few suggestions for doing this.

It is important as we pray to understand where we are at in redemptive history. For example, it would not be right for us to pray that God would allow to drive all of our enemies out of the land using the sword.  That was right for Joshua to pray, but wrong for us to pray. But we are at a different stage in redemptive history. Daniel's prayer in Daniel 9:3-19 has a very specific context. Israel is in exile. Daniel remembers Jeremiah's promise that God would only leave them there seventy years. Then God gives Daniel a specific answer to his prayer (Daniel 9:20-27). In other words, we cannot pray the exact the same thing as Daniel. Finally, using a New Testament passage, in Matthew 10:5-42 Jesus sends out the twelve on a mission trip to the nation of Israel. Many of the specifics in the passage do not apply to modern missionaries.  As we pray, we need to remember our context. We live in the New Covenant age.

There are many passages that can be prayed word for word. Many of the Psalms fit that category. There is nothing in Psalm 1 that should not be the prayer of every believer in every age. Proverbs contains great truths that apply to all of God's people. Paul's prayers, while written to a specific congregation, are generic enough to be applicable to all Christians. The Ten Commandments fit this as well.

But how do we take passages from different times in the history of God's people and use them as a guide for prayer today? The key is to find some principles in the passages that do apply to all of God's people at all times. There are always principles we can glean (Romans 15:4, I Corinthians 10:11). For example, while we should not pray that God will drive out our enemies using the sword, we can pray that God would use His Word to drive out our enemies or convert them. We can trust that as God promised Joshua he would have victory, the greater Joshua will give us victory (Matthew 28:18-20). We are not in exile like Daniel. Yet we should be confessing our sins, the sins of our people and looking to the promises in God's Word like Daniel did. We are not the twelve going to Israel.  Yet we should pray that our missionaries will not be afraid (Matthew 10:26), will preach the word faithfully (Matthew 10:27), and remember there is a reward (Matthew 10:40-42). Finally, we are not Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29), but we can still pray that we would not compromise with sexually immoral false teachers (Rev. 2:20) and that will keep the works of Christ to the end so that we might rule with Him (Rev. 2:26-28).  In any passage that does not directly apply to you find the principles that you can apply and then pray them. 

Another suggestion, especially when praying the Ten Commandments, is to use a catechism to help you get beneath surface sins. For example, here is the Heidelberg Catechism's explanation of the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder." 

Q: 105. What does God require in the sixth commandment?
A: That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, by myself or by another: but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: also, that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger. Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder.

Q: 106. But this commandment seems only to speak of murder?
A: In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder.

Q: 107. But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?

A: No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves;  to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him,  and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies;  and that we do good, even to our enemies. 

In other words, don't just pray that you, and your brothers and sisters in Christ would not murder. But pray that all envy and hatred would be driven out of our hearts. As you intercede for others get beneath outward action to inward desires, thoughts, and emotions. Also pray for that God would help the positive virtue grow in people. In this case, pray that we would do as much good to those around us as we can, including doing good to our enemies. 

Finally, when I suggested praying through Scripture I do not mean something like "Dear Lord please help Jim be filled with the knowledge of your will. Help Sally to be more patient. Help Jack to not be bitter. Amen." Fill in the gaps with your knowledge of the person. "Lord, help Jim to be filled with knowledge of your will so he can guide his family during this difficult time. Keep him from wandering from your path. Help him to hold fast your word." Do not make the Bible passage you are praying through into a mantra that you repeat. Put flesh and bones on the passage as you pray through it. Fit the passage to the person you are praying for. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

25 Passages to Guide Intercessory Prayer

Last Sunday I preached on  Colossians 1:3-12. I focused on praying for one another through out the year, in particular, praying Scripture for one another. Too often our prayer requests revolve around things like jobs, pregnancies, health, money, etc. These are not bad things to pray for. When Christ tells us to pray, "Give us our daily bread" he is telling us that all the "mundane" things in our life matter to our heavenly Father. Paul says the same thing in Philippians 4:6-8. Those do matter to the Lord.

But too often this is where our prayers begin and end. We spend all of our time praying for our daily bread or the daily  bread of our brothers and sisters. Paul is good corrective to this. He begins many of his letters with prayers. All of these prayers focus on the spiritual life of the congregation he is writing to. Here is his prayer from Colossians 1. I cut out middle section.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven...And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 
How many of our prayers sound like this? How many of our prayers focus on the character of our brothers in Christ, instead of their specific situation? One of the ways I have found to correct this focus on circumstances is to pray for my brothers in Christ using a Scripture passage. Here is what I do:

I get a list in front of me of all the people I want to pray for. We have a church directory. I also have a list of pastors, family, and other friends I pray for. I work through these lists over several days.

Print out a Scripture passage I want to use as a guide for prayer. I put this in the front of my Bible.

Pray for my fellow Christians with the Scripture passage in front of me, using the language of the passage. I use the same passage for about two weeks. This allows me to pray the passage for everyone on my list and helps me become familiar with the Scripture passage.

You do not need to follow my pattern exactly. But I would encourage you to find a way to pray more Scripture. Here are 25 passages you can use to lift your fellow believers up before the throne of grace. Of course, there are many more, but these are the ones that came to mind. Almost any of the Psalms will work for this exercise. I just mention a few in the list.

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 1
Psalm 15
Psalm 23
Psalm 66 (A great Psalm for those who are suffering.)
Psalm 90
Psalm 104
Psalm 105 (These are both long and could be broken up.)
Psalm 112
Any section of Psalm 119.
Psalm 146
Proverbs 3
Daniel 9, Ezra 9, and Nehemiah 9
Ezekiel 34 (For pastors and other leaders.)
Matthew 5:3-12 (And the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.)
Matthew 10 (For missionaries and evangelists, especially.)
Romans 6 and 12
Galatians 5:7-26
Ephesians 1
Philippians 1:3-11
Colossians 1:3-12
Hebrews 13
I Peter 1:22-2:25
I John 4:7-21
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2:1-3:22

Remember the focus here is on intercession for our brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly interceding for their spiritual growth. We should be giving thanks to God for our fellow Christians, as well as for God and his works. However, thanksgiving is not the focus in this post. Not all of these passage can be prayed exactly as they are. In another post I will address how we should pray these different passages.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What I Pray Before the Bread and Wine

We do weekly communion, which means that there are two prayers that I come up with each week: one before the bread and one before the wine. When I began preaching and leading worship I decided to structure these communion prayers a particular way. Here is how I do it. Before the bread I use a portion of the Old Testament to structure my prayer. Before the wine, I use a corresponding portion of the New Testament. From Advent through 1st Sunday of Trinity these prayers follow the church year. For example during Advent, I use Daniel, John the Baptist, Isaiah, and Revelation (2nd Advent). When the Trinity/Pentecost season begins I start with creation and work through Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, as well as some others. These prayers are the same every year, though I would like to eventually have a two year set. Here are my prayers for the 2nd Sunday of Trinity.
Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 
We praise you Father for the world you have made. For the sun, moon and stars which declare your glory. For the winged creatures that soar in the sky.  For the beasts that run upon the ground. For all the creeping things that crawl on the ground and for the fish that swarm the sea. For all these we give you thanks and praise. We know that you have placed these things under our feet that we might use them to your glory.  As we eat this bread strengthen us in Christ that we might go forth and take dominion.  In the name of Christ we pray. Amen!
Wine: O Lord you are worthy of all blessing and honor for you sent your only begotten Son into the world to deliver your people from sin and the Devil. We praise you Almighty God that you did not leave this world to be ravaged by Satan, but instead reconciled us to Yourself through Jesus Christ. Indeed we are new creations in Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. O Lord as we drink nourish us upon Christ. Help us to be separate from the unbelieving world that we might truly be your sons and daughters. For the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. Amen!
Here are my prayers for Ascension Sunday:
Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 
Everlasting Father, we praise you for King David for when the uncircumcised Philistine stood up and defied the armies of the Living God, he gather his courage and the stone sank in the giant’s head and David cut off his head with his own sword. We praise you that as you delivered David from the bear and the lion so you delivered him from the giant. For the battle belongs to You O Lord.. We praise you that the one who born of David is the true King. We praise you that his body was broken that Satan’s head might be crushed. We ask now that you would grant us strength as we eat  to fight as David fought. Go before us O Lord as you went before David and scatter your enemies before our faces and that all the kingdoms of the earth might belong to Christ. In His Name we ask all this Amen!
Wine: O Lord you are worthy of all blessing and honor for you sent your Son that he might be our great high priest. He ascended on high where he makes intercession for us.  He promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit and that we would be his messengers to the ends of the earth. We also praise you that one day he will return just as left. As we drink the wine this morning grant us grace through Christ’s shed blood that we may be faithful witnesses to Him and that we might look with joy to the day when our Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. We pray this for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom Amen! 
Here are the prayers for this coming Sunday, the 1st Sunday of Christmas
Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 
We praise You for the prophet Isaiah, he saw the glories of the coming Messiah. He knew the virgin would bear a Child and the government would be upon His shoulders and He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and of His Kingdom there would be no end. We are grateful he preached of the great comfort the Messiah would bring by bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. We pray now as we eat that You would feed us upon this glorious Christ that Isaiah saw and fill our mouths with praise for the work He has done. Amen!
Wine: Blessed are You Lord God for no one can restrain Your hand. Herod the King sought to slay Your Son. Yet you thwarted Him by sending dreams to the wise men and to Joseph. Your Son was then protected in the land where Israel was once in bondage, Egypt. Lord we, like Christ, are plagued on every side by rulers that hate and seek in every way to destroy Your Kingdom. We pray that you would nourish us as we drink and protect us from all our enemies that might live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence. Amen!
The prayers are not perfect. I revise them on a regular basis. Some of them sound too "high" and not like a normal prayer. Some are too long or the sentence structure is awkward. One of the most common revisions is shortening the prayer or shortening sentences within the prayer. There is still work to be done. Having prayed them for several years now, I rarely read them. I often use them as a guide to lead our people to the Lord's Supper. Sometimes I ignore these prayers all together and pray something else the Lord has laid on my heart. Using these prayers for many years has made me more confident in praying off script. 

I am not sure where I came up with idea, but it has worked well for me. We pray through the all the major portions of Scripture as we work through the year. It also forces me to connect the Old Testament with both the Lord's Supper and the New Testament. It also helps me pray through the church year. My private prayer life includes more Scripture due to writing out these prayers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Top Ten Books of 2014 & Preview of 2015

I love the top ten lists of books that men put up at the end of each year. I scour the internet looking for new books to purchase in the coming year. This year I decided to put my own list out there. These are books I read in 2014, not books published in 2014. The first three all had major impact on me. They are books that I keep coming back to and have changed my thinking. In the spirit of II Samuel 23:13, these are top three. After number 3 they are in no particular order.

1. Reformed Dogmatics: Volume I by Herman Bavinck-A tour de force of theology, history, research, exegesis, and piety. His section on God's Word is the best I have ever read. Occasionally, I go back and read that portion of the book. Volume II is on my Christmas list.

2. Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen B. Clark- The best work on male/female roles that I have ever read. Careful with the Scriptural text. Careful with extra-biblical data. He does not scream, but he does skillfully cut like a surgeon. He interacts with all the feminist dogma. It is long, but worth the read for those interested in the subject.

3. Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva: Vol I-Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage by John Witte Jr. and Robert Kingdon-If you want a close up look at how a leading reformer and his city ordered married life this is your book. Since this topic is perpetually relevant this book is as well. Kingdon is dead, but I just learned that Witte is continuing the project, which is very exciting for a history/Calvin nerd like me.

4. Parenting by God's Promises by Joel Beeke-A wonderful blend of paedo-baptist surety with Puritan piety.  Few parents will agree with everything, but every parent could use this book. His section on teenagers was excellent.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand-There is not much to say about this book that has not already been said. A great book about a great story about a great man.

6. What's Best Next by Matt Perlman-An excellent book on the why and how of Christian productivity. Almost any Christian in any setting can take these principles and use them to bring glory to Christ.

7. Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread by Carl Trueman-Trueman is a grumpy, old man. That is why I like him. He does not care what people think. I do not always agree with him, but the essays in this book were superb. "Pro-choice not Pro Options" and "The Freudom of the Christian" were two of my favorites.

8. Against the Church by Douglas Wilson-What I have always loved about Pastor Wilson is that he preaches to his people.  Those who follow him, learn from him, love him, and listen to him will often find themselves being rebuked and challenged by him. This book is a pastoral warning to those who follow him that faith is always necessary.

9. Fundamentalism and the Word of God by J.I. Packer- A wonderful knock down of liberal theology and her arguments against the Scriptures as God's inerrant and inspired word. Many arguments Packer refutes are still in circulation.

10. Abortion by R.C. Sproul-A careful look at the abortion issue that targets those who are on the fence. Sproul is a great reformed thinker and a man whose presence in the Christian world will be missed.

Bonus Pick: Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter-I have not finished this book yet, but I will by the end of this week. It is marvelous. Pastor Sumpter's writing is unique and lively. His commentary on Job brings numerous theological themes found in Scripture to bear upon the text of Job. From creation to Adam to Abraham to Solomon to Jesus, Toby weaves them all together to help us understand what is happening in a book that most of us do not get. It is a great book and one I highly recommend.

Preview of 2015, Lord Willing
Here is what I have on my reading list for 2015.
I am reading through Calvin's Institutes again.
I also plan on reading Francis Turretin's first volume of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology.
I have never read Luther's Three Treatises, which I would like to get to this year.

I am working through the doctrine of the atonement so my list includes Christ Crucified and The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod, as well as Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, etc.

I will finish Fred Sanders' The Deep Things of God, which I have greatly enjoyed.

I have a book stack on economic issues, including George Grant's Bringing in the Sheaves, Chilton's Productive Christians, Schiff's How an Economy Grows, and Stanley's The Millionaire Next Door.

On the history side I plan on reading Karen Spierling's Infant Baptism in Reformation Geneva, Bratt's Abraham Kuyper, Ann Douglas' The Feminization of American Culture, Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, and Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. If I can I would like to start William Manchester's trilogy on Churchill.

I want to read more fiction than I did in 2014. So far I plan on Master and Commander, Beowulf (again!), The Aeneid, The Return of the King, The Power and the Glory, East of Eden, and 1984.

And I will continue to study things like preaching, sacraments, sodomy, male/female roles, government, creation, vocation, and family.

Are there any books you would recommend I put on the list for 2015?
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8