By In Worship

Prayer: Our Words In The Word

In the beginning the Speaker spoke the Word. The Word went out from the Speaker, carried along by the Breath, and the world was created, formed, and filled. Speaker, Word, and Breath working in loving, powerful union with one another to create from nothing everything that is.

The height of this creative activity was the creation of man himself, the image of God. He is a creaturely word; a revelation of God within the creation. This form fashioned from the dust of the ground was himself filled with the Spirit-Breath of God. This Spirit empowered him to take the creation given to him and, by word and deed, follow in the image of God to create, arrange, form, and fill this creation so that it will one day reflect God’s own heavenly throne room. This is his dominion task.

The dominion man is to take over the world is not some impersonal job handed down to him from a distant God. The man is a part of the divine family. God has called him into the family business of creating. He can’t do this apart from the rest of the family. He is not God himself after all. He, like the Triune God, must work in concert with the family. Man is dependent upon Father, Son, and Spirit–Speaker, Word, and Breath–to take the dominion over the creation.

Central to this mission, therefore, is to be in prayerful communion with the Triune God. Man is a co-laborer with God. God doesn’t do the work apart from man, and man doesn’t do the work apart from God. God has sovereignly chosen to act in this way.

The Divine Family is still working as they did in the original creation, and we who belong to the family now participate in this creation project. We have been united to God the Father–the Speaker–in the Son–the Word–by the Spirit–the Breath. Now being “in the Word” we are “words of God.” Being given the Spirit at Pentecost, we are words of the Speaker being carried along by the Breath of God to create, arrange, form, and fill the world so that it comes to look like the kingdom of God. Our words do this, not because they are mechanical, not because they are always theologically precise, but because we share the life of God himself, the Creator of all. The Spirit helps our weaknesses; when we don’t have just the right words or we haven’t done things just right. Because we share life with him, he is more than making up for our weaknesses.

Within this creation project we share with God, prayer is indispensable. In prayer we are caught up in the Trinity to participate in this power that God himself exercises over and in the world. There are other activities that are necessary to our taking of dominion, but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than prayer. Nothing can replace it. While we all have different gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the mission of the church, we all share the ability and responsibility to pray.

If the church is to accomplish her mission, then prayer will need to be central to her life together. Prayer cannot be subordinate to all of the other activities that go on in the church. We are not a “house of social gatherings,” or a “house of support groups.” We are first and foremost a house of prayer (Isa 56.7). If the church forgets this most fundamental activity in her life together, we have become only another civic organization. Yes, we may grow great crowds because people “feel connected” or there is so much for them to do. But if prayer is not central to the life of that group of people, the church is not being what she was called to be and her mission cannot be accomplished.

In love our God bids us to join him in his creative work through prayer. He desires that we share the fullness of his life. What could be a higher and more beautiful privilege? Why would we let ourselves be distracted from the disciplines of prayer by lesser things?

You, dear Christian, are imbued with power because of your membership in the divine family. Though many times imperceptible to you, when you pray, the world is changing. Give yourself to prayer. Pray individually. Pray with your family. Pray with the church. Pray.

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By In Worship

What To Pray?

What the world needs now is a crazed Muslim leader in the Middle East who has nuclear capabilities to launch a nuclear weapon at the USA. The world needs Christians to suffer and die at the hands of atheistic Communists and rabid Muslims. America needs abortion to continue to be legal for decades to come. Aunt Lucy needs to be diagnosed with stage four cancer. Uncle Joe needs to be in an accident so that he loses a leg. Henrietta needs to lose her child to leukemia. We and the rest of creation need these horrible things.

Who would ever think such things? Who would ever pray for such things? No one that I know.

However, in the infinite wisdom of God, situations like these may indeed be necessities. I know it is repulsive to you. It churns my stomach as well. But so does the cross, yet it was a necessity. Jesus told his disciples on a number of occasions that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s leaders (cf. e.g., Matthew 16.21). They couldn’t grasp it at the time because it was a category mistake. Messiah doesn’t suffer defeat. He wins. How could this be necessary? To kill the Messiah would be sin. How is sin necessary?

I’m not telling you that I understand why these are necessities. I’m only telling you that they are. God raises up Pharaohs, Assyrians, and Babylonians to oppress his people, and prophets such as Habbakuk have problems with it too. He turns the devil loose on his faithful servant Job to bring him to the point of death. He raises up scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Roman governors to kill his Son. These are all necessities.

But would you pray for such things? No. But then again, you don’t know what to pray for as you ought; you don’t know what the world needs. So says Paul in Romans 8.26. We see the creation groaning. We groan when we participate in the suffering and see others suffering. We pray for deliverance. And we should. We know that this is not the way things ultimately ought to be. The created order is in disarray, and we want it set right. That’s proper. Praying toward that end is the right thing to do. Jesus taught us to pray that way.

But how God is getting us there is just as mysterious to us as it was for the disciples when Jesus told them that it was necessary for him to suffer and die. We don’t know what the world needs exactly in this or that situation. We don’t know what we need. Our perspective is limited, not only because we’re sinners, but because we’re creatures. God has not afforded us the perspective that he has on the world. He is the wise one who knows how everything–even sin–fits together and is working toward the good of his people and the rest of creation. No matter how much wisdom we mature into in our lifetimes, our wisdom will never be God’s wisdom. There will never be a time when we know exactly what to pray; when we know precisely what is needed in every situation.

The Spirit helps us in this weakness (Rom 8.26). However, he doesn’t help us by giving us the exact words to pray so that we can get a grasp on the situation and fix it. The Spirit groans with us, never giving us the relief of putting it into words. He never gives us that leverage over the world. We are called to suffer in prayer with the world, and the Spirit comes and suffers with us, interceding for us.

And the Father understands the Spirit’s groanings. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he will give us and the creation what we need. We can be assured of that.

In light of this, praying in faith is not claiming this healing or really believing that God will remove this oppressor if you pray long enough. Praying in faith is following the prayer life of our Lord himself who prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Praying in faith is submitting all those things we think are necessities to the wisdom of the Father. Yes, we ask him for the things we think we need. But we trust the will of our loving heavenly Father to do what is best for us and the creation. We know that our Father will not give us a serpent when we ask for a fish. He will not give us a scorpion when we ask for an egg (Luke 11.11-12). He will give us good gifts, even when they come in packages of suffering.

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By In Politics

Praying In The Spirit

At this present time in whole of the created order, there is a hauntingly bright symphony being performed. The creation is groaning and travailing in the pains of childbirth like the deep, resonating, sad tones of a cello. The groans of the cello are joined in the same melodic progression by the violins of Christians’ groaning. As Christians we find ourselves in harmony with the creation, giving it further voice because we share in the same pain, waiting with the rest of creation for the redemption of our bodies. But there is a third voice; a voice deeper and more fundamental in this symphony that is controlling it and moving it toward its conclusion. It is the double bass of the Spirit, groaning out wordless music to the Father. We and the rest of creation with us have joined with him so that we are taking up his groans and he is taking up our groans in this symphony of prayer.

This is praying in the Spirit.

What the writers of Scripture exhort in shorthand in other places, Paul describes in Romans 8. From here we begin to learn what prayer is. Prayer is not some impersonal spanning of a great distance between us and God through the medium of words. Prayer is participation in the eternal divine conversation. Father, Son/Word, and Spirit have been in this communion of conversation forever. In grace our Triune God has made us members of his family and, therefore, the conversation. We are family members who share the relationship of the Son with the Father because of the Spirit uniting us to the body of Christ. As Paul says to another church, “For through [Christ Jesus] we both [i.e., Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2.18) Prayer is joining the loving conversation that the Holy Trinity is having. As Christians we are not outsiders who somehow hope to gain the ear of our distant God. We are not far off but rather have been brought near in Christ Jesus. We share the same relationship with the Father that Jesus himself shares. Being in the Son is the only reason we can call God, “Father.” But being in the Son means that we do, indeed, have that privilege with Jesus. And it is the Spirit of the Son that God the Father has given us who causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4.6)

By the Spirit we are fully incorporated into this family and the family conversation. The Spirit doesn’t merely create a bald status of being a child of God. Rather, he pours the love of God out in our hearts (Rom 5.5) so that we share the love of God. That is, we love what he loves, hate what he hates, want what he wants; we share his sorrows, his joys, his anger, his jealousy, his compassion, his mercy, and his grace. As we pray in the Spirit, these shared desires are given expression. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our wills are becoming one with his will. Our hearts are in harmony with the Father, Son, and Spirit. That’s what it means to pray in the Spirit.

When we look around us and see that things are not right, that God’s will is not done on earth as it is in heaven, that the creation is in pain, our hearts groan. But we discover that these groans are not just our own, but they are also the groans of God himself being expressed by the Spirit in us and on our behalf to the Father. When we groan in this way, we are finding ourselves caught up in this symphony that is ultimately being conducted and played by our Triune God. When we find ourselves there, we have found the place of prayer.

Because these groans are not our own but participation with the Holy Trinity, we have the assurance that our groans are not pointless pain. Rather, we groan in hope. The God who groans with us is the same God who is working all things together for good (Rom 8.28). Yes, the creation is subjected to frustration, but it is subjected in hope (Rom 8.20). God has secured this hope through the death and resurrection of his Son and by the giving of his Spirit who is making a new creation. Our groaning prayers will not go unanswered. The haunting music that fills our souls with the rest of creation at present will modulate into the joyful music of dancing in the end.

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By In Politics

The Conundrum of Hope

Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. From common illnesses to terminal illnesses, from putting to death the sinful deeds of the body to being put to death by those who hate the gospel, from fighting enemies within to fighting enemies without, the church suffers. It is our calling. The work of salvation that Jesus definitively began in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension will not be complete until his body, the church, is also bodily raised from the dead at the last day. Between this time and that we have been called to endure the suffering that comes in a creation that has not yet been completely liberated from the corruption of sin.

This suffering, however, is not without a purpose. It is not a fight that ends in a draw. It is a training camp for Christians to learn to rule the creation as it ought to be ruled. Just as Jesus did in his life, so we learn obedience through the things that we suffer. And like him, we are being matured through what we suffer (cf. Heb 5.8-9). Somehow and some way that is not presently clear to us, God is working all of our sufferings for our good and, consequently, the good of the rest of creation, which will be saved when we are revealed to be the sons of God through the redemption of our bodies (that is, in the resurrection; Rom 8.19-21, 28).

The question is, What gives us the strength to endure these present sufferings? Hope. More specifically, the hope of glory. (more…)

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By In Theology

The Spirit of Sonship and Warfare.

Once upon a time, there was this little boy who was growing up in a horrid home situation. His parents were abusive to one another and to him. They were cooking Meth, shooting up heroin, engaged in sexual perversions, and living in squalor. They neglected him and left him for days at a time to fend for himself. The outlook for his life was bleak at best. As he grew up, this was the only life he knew. He thought that this was the way that life was to be lived. Consequently, he adopted this way of life for himself, following the pattern of his parents who had, by the culture they developed in the home, developed this way of thinking and living in him. He knew nothing else.

One day a man and his wife learned of the situation and decided to try to help the boy. The biological parents objected strongly (as parents in these situations are sometimes prone to do even though they don’t care at all for the child). However, the child saw something in this man and his wife that was attractive. He wanted to be a part of their family.

Arrangements were made, and, at great expense, the young boy was adopted by the man and his wife. His new life was beautiful. He was treated with great love. Life wasn’t always easy because his parents required discipline from him, but it was incomparably better than it was before. His new parents provided for him richly, not only with food, clothing, and shelter but with the affection he had never known. Living as their son he would not only be provided for now but in the future. He was an heir to everything his new parents owned.

He had been rescued from a horrible situation. He was grateful. However, the ways he had learned in the years he spent in his original home were not forsaken easily. He constantly fought attitudes and desires that pulled him back to that old culture. He hated those ways of his biological parents, but they were also comfortable in a sick sort of way. Now, on the one hand, he felt this obligation, this debt, as it were, to his biological parents. On the other hand, he felt a debt to his adoptive parents because of the kindness and love showed to him in rescuing him. This new life was beautiful and held great promise for the future. But was this what he really wanted?

If he goes back to his old way of living, he is forsaking his inheritance and it is certain misery and death. If he stays where he is, his future is secure and beautiful. What will he do?

I don’t know. You tell me. You are that child, Christian.

Because of our heritage in Adam, we still have a pull toward the thinking and ways of the flesh; thinking and living that questions the goodness of God’s purposes and commandments and wants to go in the opposite direction. There are times we might even think that we just can’t help ourselves because we are in these bodies of death (or mortal bodies; cf. Rom 6.12). However, we are not debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh (Rom 8.12). That old flesh was crucified with Christ in baptism (Rom 6.1-11). All the debts have been paid. There is no reason to be under the sway of sin. If we adopt the old fleshly ways of living, no matter the profession of our lips, we will die (Rom 8.13). That is the fruit of allegiance to the flesh.

We are no longer debtors to the flesh, but we are debtors: debtors to God the Father, his Christ, and his Spirit. The Triune God has bound us to himself in a covenant that requires that we pay the debt of loving him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This love expresses itself in willingness to engage in warfare against the flesh, putting to death the deeds of the body through the power of the Spirit. This is the way of life (Rom 8.13).

Those who engage in this battle with the sinful deeds of the body manifest that the Spirit of God is truly working in them. God’s Spirit bears witness with their spirits in this way. They are desiring the same thing. They are walking in the same direction. They love the Father and the Son as the Spirit loves the Father and the Son and want nothing more than to please them with the way that they are living. They want to hear, “Well done!” Those who live this way, those who are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

Being led by the Spirit doesn’t mean that the battle with the deeds of the body will be easy or without pain. In fact, it means just the opposite. The children of Israel were led by the Spirit of God into the inheritance of the Promised Land, but that leading meant doing battle with giants in the land. Jesus was led (actually driven!) by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The Spirit leads us into and through battle, not around it. The Spirit has always led God’s sons into battle. The Spirit of adoption or sonship is the Spirit of warfare.

Furthermore, there is no silver bullet that will end the battle. God has called us into a fight that ends either in the death of the deeds of the body or our own eternal death. He gives us everything that we need through the power of his Spirit, but you will have to fight day in and day out.

One day the fight will end. It may not be this day, but that day is coming. Those who have suffered with Christ in these battles will inherit glory with Christ (Rom 8.17). Our promised rest is coming. Our future is beautiful and secure in Christ Jesus. Don’t turn back to the ways of the flesh. Keep fighting!

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By In Politics

The Jealousy Test

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul gives instructions, sobering exhortations, and explanations concerning the Lord’s Supper as it is practiced in the church in Corinth. Some of the Corinthians were acting like selfish pigs and not waiting on their brothers and sisters to eat. In their refusal to wait and eat with the rest of the family of Christ, they were dividing the body of Christ. They were not discerning the Lord’s body properly (1Cor 11.29); that is, they were, in their actions, judging others as being outside of the body of Christ who were, indeed, in the body of Christ. This is why Paul concludes his instructions with the exhortation, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another…” (1 Cor 11.33).

The judgment that had fallen on the Corinthians was severe. Their exclusion of certain family members brought divine displeasure upon some. Their lack of discerning the body was the cause of many being weak and ill and some of them “sleeping” (i.e., dying; 1Cor 11.30).

How does Paul know that this is the cause of this divine displeasure? Isn’t it dangerous to interpret events like this and attribute God’s action to them? Generally, we should use extreme caution. Some might say, “Paul was an inspired apostle and could make that judgment.” That’s possible. But there is another possibility as well.

In Numbers 5 God provided a way for a jealous husband to test the fidelity of his wife. If the husband suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he would take her to the Tabernacle and the priest to be vindicated or condemned. The jealousy test was administered when there were no witnesses to the alleged infidelity. Only God would know, so God would have to be the one to expose it.

The man would bring his wife to the priest with a memorial portion of grain. A memorial in Scripture is that which causes God to remember his covenant and act accordingly (cf. e.g., Gen 9.13-15). This grain offering would be a memorial to bring iniquity to God’s remembrance (Num 5.15).

With the grain in their hands, God also provided a holy drink. The process involved taking dirt from the Tabernacle floor (which is holy ground) and putting it into holy water in an earthen vessel (Num 5.17). Eventually, that water would be joined by words of curse that had been written down and then washed off into the water (Num 5.23).

The woman would then drink the water. If nothing happened, she was declared innocent. If she was guilty, her belly would swell and her thigh would rot (Num 5.22). We don’t know exactly what this means, but it seems that she would have a false pregnancy, giving birth to nothing. Her womb would be dead and no children would pass between her thighs. Death was the consequence of infidelity.

We don’t know if this law was ever carried out against any woman in Israel. It might have been intended for the whole of Israel herself. There is a foreshadowing of this law happening at Mt Sinai when the new bride of YHWH commits adultery with a golden calf. The calf is ground to powder, put in water, and the people are made to drink. The guilty ones are then evident, and the Levites inflict the death penalty on them (Exod 32).

This jealousy test, it seems to me, provides at least some of the context for Paul’s interpretation of the events in Corinth. Grain–bread–and holy wine are brought. They are the body and blood of Christ, the Word of God made flesh. To eat and drink this holy food vindicates us or exposes our infidelity. This jealousy test happens every Lord’s Day as we gather around the Table of our husband. Unlike the bride in Numbers 5, we don’t eat and drink the shadows but the substance. Consequently, our vindication is greater but so is our punishment.

The jealousy test aspect of the Lord’s Supper is one of God’s mercies to us. We need any and all infidelities exposed. It is better that they be exposed now than in the final judgment. As they are exposed in the present, we can deal with them through confession and repentance. At the final judgment, there is no repentance.

This is one reason why you shouldn’t avoid the Lord’s Supper as a member of Christ’s church. Not only have you compounded your sin by disobeying a direct command of Jesus who told us to “eat” and “drink,” but you have also cut yourself off from this grace of sin being exposed so that it can be dealt with.

The Lord has many ways to expose sin, not all involving you falling ill or dead on the spot. It may be that your secret sins come to light to the pastor and elders of the church so that the sin can be put to death. You were sneaking around being unfaithful in some way, thinking that you were getting away with living a duplicitous life. You come to the Table, devour the Word of God, and God exposes you in his grace. The Supper is not the problem. Sin is the problem, and it is the grace of God to expose it so that you have the opportunity to kill it through confession and repentance.

Knowing that you will be tested this next Lord’s Day now encourages you to be much more aware of your private fidelity throughout the week. It matters not if no one sees your web activity because you are wily enough to hide it from everyone. That paramour that you meet on business trips out of the city will never be found. But God knows, and for your good, he will make it known. If he doesn’t, you’re in bad shape for the final judgment.

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By In Politics

In The Flesh Or In The Spirit?

The old flesh gets blamed for quite a bit in Christians’ lives. If someone blows up on you in anger, you might hear, “That’s just the old flesh coming out in me.” The reasoning behind this is something like this: I’ve got a good part of me that is controlled by the Spirit, and I have a bad part of me that is controlled by the flesh. The flesh, in this way of thinking, is the old man to which a new man was somehow added. You might even hear illustrations about how we carry around this dead man, a rotting corpse, on our backs like some old Roman punishment. As Christians we have multiple personalities. This makes it all too convenient when we sin to shift responsibility to the “flesh-side” and act as if we really don’t have any control. That’s just kind of the way we are and the way we’re going to be until we die and leave this flesh behind in a grave somewhere enjoying disembodied bliss in heaven.

That picture is not exactly accurate. Yes, there is a sense in which the flesh is still a reality in our lives as Christians. Our “mortal bodies” (our “death bodies”) are still associated with the flesh; that corruptible and corrupted existence that we inherited from Adam. These death-bodies still have those desires of the flesh (Rom 6.12) that plague us and want to bring us under dominion. We still have the desires in our bodies to sin, and we do sin.

However, as those who have received the Spirit of Christ, there is another sense in which we are not in the flesh. Paul says this emphatically in Romans 8.9: “Y’all are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” How can Paul say this? Is he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?

Being “in the flesh” is more than just having a body. Being in the flesh is living as if Jesus had never died, risen again, and given us his Spirit. Being in the flesh is living under the dominion of sin and death. It is to be in bondage to the desires of the flesh and, thus, opposed to Christ’s kingdom program (see Rom 8.5-8). As Christians, we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Being in the Spirit means that we have adopted Jesus’ kingdom program for ourselves, swearing our allegiance to him as Lord, and fighting against the flesh.

When the Spirit dwells in us, the body is “dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom 8.10). The Spirit now inhabits this death-body. What the Spirit does with dead bodies is raise them from the dead. He gives life to this mortal flesh both now and when he raises our bodies from the grave.

As you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal 5.16). The Spirit is working in us and with us to put to death the deeds of these death bodies (Rom 8.13). The Spirit is doing with us (generally) over a long period of time what he did with Jesus in a short period of time: transform our dead bodies through resurrection.

He works in this way as we hear the Word read and taught, as we gather with other saints to pray around the Lord’s Table, and as we encourage one another daily. The Spirit is ministering through the other members of the body of Christ transform us from glory to glory (2Cor 3.18).

One thing that Paul is doing here, as he says in Romans 8.12, is telling us that we are not debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh. We have no obligations to obey the flesh. In other words, we can’t say (as a riff on an old Flip Wilson line), “The flesh made me do it.” You don’t live under the kingship of the flesh but of the Spirit. You don’t have to obey. You are not a helpless victim. God has provided means through which his Spirit will minister to you; whether through counselors, pastors, friends, the ordinary life of the church, or similar things.

Faith accepts this reality, understanding that this is who God has made me in Christ Jesus, and then walks in lock-step with that reality. When you obey the desires of the body and sin, you own the full responsibility for your sin, you confess and repent of it, and keep moving forward.

You are not a subject in the kingdom of the flesh. Don’t let anyone, even yourself, convince you that you are. God has given you his Spirit and with him all the power you need to put to death the deeds of the body.

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