Thursday, March 30, 2006
Saturday, April 1st from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Hamilton District Christian High School.
Speakers: Dr. Glendon Thompson and Pastor Kirk Wellum
Register Online at pbfchurch.ca.
All are welcome. See you Saturday!
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
We need to continue to pray for Christians everywhere who are persecuted for their faith and their loyalty to Jesus. And where we are able to speak up and be heard in the government we need to strongly urge people who are concerned about freedom to protest religious persecution of all kinds. No one should be arrested or sentenced to die for converting to anything. This is not to say that all truth is relative or that there is no essential rightness or wrongness to any religious claims. But it is to realize that freedom of speech and religion should be protected by freedom loving people and this religious-political stance is consistent with the Christian claim that God has entrusted all judgment into the hands of the Son who will make the right and final decision at the proper time!
In a world where Christians are being persecuted and where this kind of thing may increase in the days ahead we need to remember what the apostle Paul said to the Philippians many years ago. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (1:29).
Generally speaking, Christians understand that faith is a gift of God. It is something that we exercise, God does not do it for us, but we only do so by his grace and mercy. If left to ourselves we would never believe, not because we are missing some kind of faith gene but because we are morally and spiritual averse to God unless he touches our minds and hearts.
But how many Christians have thought seriously about the fact that suffering is also a gift of his grace! Today in some circles grace equals blessing upon blessing, pressed down, shaken together... you know the rest! Some even say that if Abraham and the children of Israel were blessed materially in Old Testament times how much more should us kids of the King be blessed now that we share in a new and better covenant.
But all of this is to grossly misunderstand the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments. Material blessings may be gifts of God but they may also be God's way of testing us or preparing those who are disobedience for a fall from which they will not recover.
New covenant Christians in particular are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to walk a path which may well mean suffering and difficulty if for no other reason than the fact that we are Christians. The vast majority of the world's Christians are not blessed in terms of materialistic standards of the 21st century western world. But many of these same people are blessed in other ways that are far more valuable if we are looking at life from God's perspective. The truth is that those who know little suffering often live spiritually impoverished lives and rarely, if ever, see and know the mighty ministry of the Holy Spirit and the comfort of the Savior who promised never to leave us or forsake us. While we should never seek persecution, if it comes, we should not fear it because we just might be on the verge of something wonderful!
Monday, March 27, 2006
As is usually the case in such circumstances speculation abounds as to why John shapes his material in this way. In this particular case, I think the best answer is probably the simplest. The verses are repetitious because of the importance and certainty of their content. They appear suddenly and stand apart from their surroundings because John wants us to pay close attention to what he is saying. And he uses family categories because he wants to speak about different stages of the Christian life; dear children refering to new Christians, fathers to mature Christians, and young people to those who are in between. But what is more significant than any of these things is what John has to say to each group. To each he brings wonderful words of encouragement.
John begins with the "dear children." He is writing to them because their sins have been forgiven on account of the name of Jesus and because they have come to know God as their Father. These are wonderful blessings indeed, the first leading to the second; the forgiveness of sins making it possible for us to have a personal relationship with God. When a person becomes a Christian this is something that we are keenly aware of. By grace through faith we awaken to the fact that our sins have been forgiven. Jesus Christ the Righteous One, our Advocate, has provided atonement for our sins and we are now able to draw near to God and call him Father as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Next, John addresses the "fathers." He is writing to them because they know him who is from the beginning. In fact, he repeats the exact phrase twice. I think this is John's way of saying that they have proven the faithfulness and love of the Lord down through the years of their lives. Like Moses in Psalm 90:1-2 they can say "Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." The "fathers" know from personal experience that God will see them through to the end of their journey. He is their rock and strong tower. He will not abandon them to their foes. Day after day he shows them his covenant mercies.
Finally, John has something to say to the "young people." He is writing to them because they have overcome the evil one. They are not among those who do not believe in the evil one. They have experienced his opposition in many ways but they have found strength in the Lord and the armor he provides. When John addresses them the second time he adds two important qualifying phrases. He says that they are strong and the word of God lives in them. This explains how they can stand against a foe that is naturally stronger than themselves. They are able to do it because they know the resurrection power of the Lord and the wisdom that is found in the gospel.
It is important to note the positive nature of John's assertions. There is nothing hypothetical here. Although Christians are not perfect in this life, they are new creatures in Christ Jesus. They have a new standing in him and experience the wonders of forgiveness, the knowledge of God, the faithfulness of God, the power and wisdom of God. Everyday we need to preach these truths to ourselves if we are Christians. We need to remember who we are as we make our way in the world. The world is not a friend to grace and is the source of much trouble, but we must never forget that we serve one who has overcome the world and we will overcome it too because of our relationship with him.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
In my exposition of Matthew in our evening services we have come to Judas and his plan to turn Jesus over to the chief priests. What a sad tale. Judas who had been hand picked by Jesus to be one of his disciples. Judas who had personally spent time with Jesus; mentored over a period of three years. Judas who had been taught about the kingdom of heaven and the way of salvation by the greatest teacher of all; the Word made flesh. Judas who had worked alongside the other disciples without raising any suspicious about his dark, unbelieving heart. He reminds us that trouble can come from people close to us, people we would never suspect. When this happens it is so easy to be discouraged. Betrayal is a fact of life, but when we are betrayed by a friend or a brother, the impact is multiplied and the sorrow is almost more than we can bear.
Over the years people have speculated about why he did it? Ultimately, only God knows. No doubt Judas had his reasons. Maybe he was disillusioned by Jesus, disappointed that he was not more aggressive when it came to the Roman overlords. Or maybe he was trying to get Jesus to act. Perhaps he thought that if Jesus were backed into a corner he might come out fighting and prove himself to be a real messiah that people would rally to support. Whatever his reasons, he reminds us that not all reasons and rationalizations are valid. I have met people who think that as long as they can explain their decisions and lifestyles that their explanation justifies what they are doing. It may, but then again, it may not! Many talk themselves into believing that everything is fine between themselves and God when the Bible tells us that it is not. Our feelings are never enough to ground our actions. We need to look to the Scriptures and ask God to search our hearts.
We also see in Judas the corrosive effects of greed. The Bible indicates that Judas was a greedy man. He was a man of this world, some would even say a practical, pragmatic man. When he saw an opportunity to turn Jesus in and to profit from it at the same time, the temptation was irresistible. But the trouble with greedy people is that they often value things that are of little eternal value while completely overlooking that which is priceless. This is what happened in the case of Judas. He sold Jesus for the paltry sum of 30 silver pieces. The same amount of money that a man had to pay to the owner of a slave who was accidentally gored by a bull (Exodus 21:23). By so doing Judas demonstrated his own warped system of values. He betrayed the spotless Lamb of God, the glory of God the Father, for a few relatively worthless coins. But let us never forget how many times we have acted just like him as we madly pursue the world instead of the pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45-46).
Then finally we should note that one of the most awful effects of sin is a thick head and heart! Matthew tells us that after Judas cut his deal with the religious leaders that "he watched for an opportunity to hand him over." He is a man with ice in his veins. He is brazen, ungrateful wretch. What was he thinking? How could he betray Jesus after all he had seen and heard? God wants us to love him and be responsive to him. Sin turns people into hypocrites and steels their hearts against God. We need to pray as David did: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). Ironically, the word of God which can soften hearts can also harden them if that word is rejected over and over. It is like the sun which can melt ice but harden clay! On the eve of yet another Lord's Day, let's pray that God would keep us in his grace and lead us in the way everlasting.
Friday, March 24, 2006
When he tells us not to 'love the world or anything in the world,' he is not telling us that we must turn our backs upon the planet on which we live, or that we must separate ourselves from other human beings. The 'world' that John is referring to is the world of fallen humanity which is organized in rebellion against God. It is the sinful way of thinking that characterizes fallen humanity that will not bow to the Lord Jesus. It can be seen in art and politics, in movies and music, in business and politics, and in human ambitions and priorities. The 'world' in this sense tends to justify and excuse human sinfulness. It is constantly looking for ways to try and assert its autonomy and independence from the Creator and Ruler of the universe. It also tries to bring unity and purpose to human experience, and that elusive sense belonging that slips through our fingers like sand as long as we are on the run from our maker.
In particular, John warns about three manifestations of worldliness. The cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do. This is a sad but insightful summary. This is what the fallen human society is like. Everywhere people are striving to fulfill their illicit cravings while they are bombarded by all kinds of visual stimuli which make them want more and more. And, as if that were not enough, they are then encouraged to brag about what they have attained and accomplished. You do not have to look very far to find examples of what John is taking about. We see and hear it everywhere. The television and radio talkshows (just to give one example) are full of such people. They are paraded as wise and famous; the super successful or beautiful that everyone should want to emulate. But usually one only has to listen to them for a short while to discover how empty and full of themselves they really are. Professing themselves to be wise they are more often than not only fools when it come to those things that really matter.
One last observation. The Bible has a way of helping us gain the right perspective by putting the present in light of eternity. That is what John does in verse 17. "The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever." We must confess that it does not always seem this way here and now. But like the people of God who have gone before us we are called to walk by faith and not by sight! Abraham, Moses, Paul and a host of others testify to the truthfulness of John's assertion. But more than that, we know these words are true because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, a resurrection that has eternal practical implications for all his people. Because he lives, our labors are not in vain! If we do the will of God we will live forever. Long after this old world has ceased to exist we will enjoy the presence of God forever and ever. Then our fellowship with God and one another will be all that we hoped for and our joy will finally be complete.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
The conference is free but we would like you to register so we know how many to expect for lunch. You can now register online at pbfchurch.ca by just filling out a simple registration form. We are looking forward to a great time together and would love to see you there.
Date: Saturday, April 1st, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Location: The Hamilton District Christian High School (92 Glancaster Road in Ancaster).
Speakers: Dr. Glendon Thompson, Pastor of Jarvis Street Baptist Church, President of Toronto Baptist Seminary and Kirk Wellum, Pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship.
9:30-10:30 Dr. Thompson - The Da Vinci Code: Critical Assessment of Its Religious-Historical Claims
10:30-11:00 Coffee Break
11:00 - 12:00 Pastor Kirk Wellum - How Did We Get Our Bibles
1:00-2:00 Dr. Thompson - The Da Vinci Code: Exposing the Viscera - Broader Thematic Considerations
2:00-2:30 Question and Answer Session
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Their latest study focused on the 77 million baby-boomers in the United States, 76 million of which avoid going to church if at all possible. He tells us that 34% have not attended church in the past year other than events like weddings and funerals. Of those who attended church in the past the majority (6 of 10) reported that they are Christians, 4% said they are Jewish, 4% said they are involved with an eastern religion and 24% are now atheists. The two largest denominational groups represented among no-shows are Catholics (29%) and Baptists (18%).
But what I found most interesting were the indicators of what these people actually believed about themselves and their spirituality, as well as what they believed about God and Christian truth in general. For some reason I was not surprised to find out that they did not see their lack of attendance as indicative of a lack of commitment to God or the Christian faith. More than three-quarters said that they were either absolutely or moderately committed to the Christian faith and they reported participating in activities like prayer and Bible reading and a very small percentage were even involved in small group Bible studies.
However in my mind it is their beliefs that really tell the story and help us understand what is going on. While 50% agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches, 64% believe that Satan is not a living being but just a symbol for evil, 62% believe that a good person can earn eternal salvation and 51% believed that Jesus sinned when he was here on earth. At the same time 61% say that their single most important purpose in life is to love God completely, 55% say that they are dedicated to a deeper relationship with God and will do whatever it takes to attain it and 66% say they want to make the world a better place. What is striking is that there seems to be a disconnect between what has always been considered orthodox Christianity and a genuine relationship with God. It never seems to occur to the people polled that the Bible cannot be totally accurate if Satan is just a symbol and good people can earn eternal salvation and Jesus sinned when he was here on earth! In fact, biblical Christianity is turned upside down and inside out! The deity of Christ is in question, the cross of Christ becomes a moral monstrosity, and the way of salvation is reinterpreted in a manner that the biblical writers would not recognize.
All this raises important questions in my mind about the use of the word popular buzzword “unchurched.” While I know what Barna and others mean by the word I am concerned that it obscures the real issue. The big problem is not that these people are unchurched, it is that they are unsaved, lost, and without God in this world. Lack of attendance at church and commitment to a local church are not their most serious problems. And if this assessment is accurate then the answer to the problem is not found in making the services more attractive to those who are spiritually blind, deaf and dead; it is found in getting on our knees before God and crying out to him to come to us in spiritual power and bring people to a saving knowledge of his Son and his truth. What so many experts and analysts don’t seem to realize is that if tweaking the way we “do church” (another buzzword) is all that is necessary to build the church in this day then the biblical presentation of God and man and sin and salvation and the church is a lie. If we take the Bible seriously we should not be surprised that people are not interested in church and do not believe what the Bible clearly says about some of the most basic matters of the faith. Nor should we be surprised that for all this they still remain interested in spiritual things and tend to be blind to the true state of their spirituality and relationship with God. This is the way it has always been, and this is the way it is, unless and until God comes down in power and gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and life to the dead!
From my vantage point the headline should read: “Spirituality May Be Hot in America, But 76 Million Adults Still Need To Experience A Life-Transforming Encounter with God!” And maybe, just maybe, if we got the headline right we would begin to know what to do to change it.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Without a doubt much of this is just plain old rebellion resulting in vandalism, a battle of wills between the establishment and those who don't want to play by their rules. There may also be an element of self-expression, someone crying out to be noticed by someone, somewhere; wanting to belong so badly that even negative attention is better than no attention at all! I sometimes wonder if the same thing is not going on in the minds of those who have covered their bodies with another kind of graffiti, tattoos, and in the process have defaced the glory of the image of God which extends even to our bodies. As the Preacher of Israel rightly observed in Ecclesiastes 7:29: "God created humankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes."
Wouldn't it be great is instead of wasting precious time and energy and creativity in this way, this "artists" came to know the Lord and employed their talents in his service! Graffiti is on the rise because we are drifting further and further away from Christian values and we are beginning to experience the chaos that will inevitably result. It is a day when there is no recognition of the King of kings and therefore everyone does what is right in their own eyes. As human beings we were not put here to deface the earth or ourselves but to look after and develop it to the glory of God as God's vicegerents. Christians, in particular, should be concerned to see the gifts that God has given to human beings used in a way that honors him. Only a mighty visitation of God will bring this about. Which is another reason why we need to give ourselves to prayer!
Saturday, March 18, 2006
First, this petition recognizes that God is sovereign over our lives and that he controls everything that comes our way. Elsewhere his word assures us that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that when we are tempted he will also provide a way out so that we can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). This would be a meaningless promise if God was not able to care for us and protect us from harm. But thankfully he is able to do all this and more as Jesus himself tells us when he says: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).
Second, this petition reminds us that we will face temptation every day of our lives until we see Jesus face to face. As we are to ask for daily bread, so we are to ask for daily strength to obey the Lord. More precisely, we are to humbly acknowledge just how weak we are and how liable to fall and therefore how much we need the Lord to lead us in a way that is good for our souls. The Christian life is never easy. And sometimes the Lord takes us up mountains and through valleys. Yet the main thing is that he walks beside us each step of the way. If he is leading us we will be okay. Then it does not matter how rugged the terrain, how dark the night or how hot the day, if he is by our side, no harm will befall us.
Third, this petition acknowledges the existence and malice of a personal embodiment of evil known elsewhere in the Bible as the devil or Satan. Although many today regard such a person as nothing more than pre-scientific superstition, Jesus does not. Nor is he accommodating himself to the errors of his day for such accommodation would call into question his integrity as the incarnate truth of God himself. Jesus knows better than anybody about Satan as a result of his confrontation with him in the wilderness and throughout his earthly ministry. And he knows more than we will ever know about our need to be delivered from his hellish grasp. A desire for deliverance which is turned into a petition for the same will take seriously what the Bible says elsewhere in passages like Ephesians 6:10-20 where Paul tell us about the armor that we must put on if we are to fight against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. In this regard, it is interesting that he mentions praying in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. This is yet another reminder that prayer is essential if we are going to take our stand against the devil's schemes and having done all to stand!
And so we come to the end of the Lord's prayer and what a prayer it is. How thankful we should be that Jesus has given us this model prayer to show how to come into the presence of our heavenly Father. Beginning with the glory of his name, we are to pray for the coming of his kingdom, and that his will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then we are to bring our lives before him with our daily need for food, forgiveness and deliverance. With masterful precision and yet economy of language Jesus tells us how to approach him who dwells in light unapproachable and yet bids us come to him because of the reconciling work of his Son which God himself planned before the creation of the world. Let us take these words with us when we pray. Amen.
Friday, March 17, 2006
However, some people have become so taken by Jesus' work on the cross that they believe it is an act of unbelief for Christians to confess their sins on a daily basis. "Hasn't Jesus died to save us from our sins past, present and future?" they say. The answer is yes, of course he has. But that in no way rules out of place the daily confession on our part. We need to remember that in this fifth petition Jesus is speaking in the context of personal relationships. He is telling us that if we are to walk with our heavenly Father it is important that we keep short accounts with him. Where we sin and fall short of our high calling as Christians we need to acknowledge it openly and frankly before God. And we need to ask him to cleanse us afresh in the blood of his dear Son. The beloved apostle, John, teaches us the same thing in his first letter. In 1 Jn.1:8-9 he writes: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." John writes fully aware of the sacrifice of the Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 Jn.2:1-2). And yet that does not stop him from encouraging us to confess our sins to the Lord. As Jesus taught his disciples in the upper-room, our feet get dirty as we walk through this world and need to be cleansed even though we are clean already because of his cleansing which he was about to accomplish on the cross (John 13:1-11 in context).
But the fifth petition is about more than just confessing our sins in order that we might experience God's forgiveness in our daily walk. It is also about forgiving others. In fact, we are to ask God to forgive our debts as we have forgiven our debtors! Some have suggested that this is salvation by works and reveals how different the theology of Jesus is from the free grace of Paul. But this is to miss the point entirely. Jesus puts the petition this way because he knows that those who have been forgiven by God will themselves extend forgiveness to others. He speaks about this principle at length in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus understands that it is impossible for those of us who have been forgiven by the heavenly Master to go out and demand that others pay them what they owe. Not only is it hypocritical but proof that they have never been forgiven.
The matter of forgiveness is vital. How many professing Christians are stingy in this area. Instead of hearts that long to forgive at all times they insist that people who have wronged them grovel and feel the sting of their hurt and disapproval. Even where forgiveness is not requested Christians should still have a heart to forgive like Jesus who said from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). And where forgiveness is sought, how ready we should be to give it! Our problem in this regard is that we forget, or have never come to understand, the greatness of our own debt before God. We tend to minimize our own sinfulness while exaggerating the sinfulness of others. Jesus will have none of it and so he teaches us to pray: "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors." Powerful words indeed!
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Date: April 1st
Location: Hamilton District Christian High School
Guest Speaker: Dr. Glendon Thompson
9:00 AM - Arrival
9:30-10:30 - Dr. Thompson: The Da Vinci Code: A Critical Assessment of Its Religious-Historical Claims
10:30-11:00 - Coffee Break
11:00-12:00 - Kirk Wellum: How Did We Get Our Bibles
12:00-1:00 - Lunch (Provided)
1:00-2:00 - Dr.Thompson: Exposing the Viscera: The Broader Thematic Considerations of the Da Vinci Code
2:00-2:30 - Question and Answer Session
The conference is free but we would like you to register in advance so we can make proper preparations for lunch. To register please call 905-304-0133 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
However, when we come to the fourth petition there is a change. "Give us today our daily bread," specifically addresses our need for certain physical necessities if we are to live on earth. And mention of them here in the Lord's Prayer teaches us that Jesus is very mindful of all our needs. He knows that we need food and water, clothes and shelter, and many other things that fall into this category and he wants us to make these things a matter of prayer. Behind the petition is the larger theological context of the entire Bible which presents God as the Creator and Sustainer of our lives. Although we have responsibilities to fulfill when it comes to providing, or attempting to provide, for our needs, ultimately every good and perfect gift comes down from heaven. It is God who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and unjust. He feeds both animals and human beings. We are not used to thinking in these terms, but this is the worldview of Jesus and it is the operating assumption of this prayer.
Personally, I think it is liberating to know that God cares about my "daily bread". As great and awesome as he is, he cares and he wants me to talk to him about these mundane matters that occupy so much of my time and energy. This is one reason why Jesus can go on in the same sermon (the Sermon on the Mount) to say: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important that food, and the body more important than clothes? Lord at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you be worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt.6).
Notice the reference to God as our 'heavenly Father' in conjunction with providing for our needs. He knows what we need and he wants us to trust him and to pray with confidence that he will provide for us. Many times he gives us far more than we need, but whether he meets our needs or exceeds them, he wants us to commit ourselves to him. That way, we are not distracted by lesser things and we are able to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. And this way we also come to know the very important grace of contentment. A great but all too rare blessing indeed! So each day let us learn to ask our Father in heaven for all that we need. He really does care for us. Afterall, he loves us with an everlasting love and the one whom he sent to teach us to pray also went to the cross to secure for us release from our sins.
Lord, help us not to be people of little faith.
Monday, March 13, 2006
The "will" which is the subject of the third petition is what theologians sometimes call "the revealed will of God." It refers to that will of God which is generally made known in the creation and more specifically and gloriously in the God's word. The Christian God is a talking God who discloses his will to us by means of words that we can understand. This is a marvel and a great blessing. We are not left to feel our way in the darkness or to wonder what he wants us to do. As the writer of Hebrews says: "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe" (Hebrews 1:1-2).
When we pray that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven we are praying that we and all of God's people might obey all of his commands from the heart. That we might be quick to respond to his word and the moving of his Holy Spirit in our lives. That we would not be rebellious or stubborn but open to all that God has to say and willing to do whatever he asks. This is not something that we are naturally disposed to do. By nature we are more concerned about our own agendas and satisfaction. God's will is deemed a burden, something that gets in the way of our happiness. But when God comes to us in grace we see things differently. We understand that obedience to his will is the way to blessing; the greatest blessing imaginable. His work in our hearts makes us want to do his will even though we are never able to do it perfectly until we see him in glory.
In many ways, the substance of this petition is the key to communion in the Christian life. We need to pray and live out this petition, moment by moment, every day of our lives. Like Jesus at the turning point of redemptive history we must learn to pray: "Not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Some have tried to distinguish between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God but it is best to view these as synonymous terms that reflect the audiences being addressed. For instance, the kingdom of heaven occurs in Matthew's Gospel out of respect of Jewish sensitivities regarding vocalization of the name of God, whereas the kingdom of God is found elsewhere where this concern was not an issue.
The kingdom of heaven/God is found about 100x in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), there are 2 references in John's Gospel where Jesus speaks about "my kingdom." It is mentioned 6x in Acts and 8x in Paul's letters. And there are three texts in the New Testament that indicate that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ are the same (Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 11:15; 12:10).
So what are we praying for when we pray: "Your kingdom come?" In the first place it is important to realize that we are not praying that God would begin to exercise his sovereign rule over the earth or the universe. God reigns now and has always been reigning even though he has allowed human beings to go their own foolish way. In fact, the Bible indicates that God is so sovereign that even sin and human rebellion will serve his glorious purposes in the end even though that does not diminish in the least human responsibility and accountability before God.
Rather this petition has to do with an aspect of God's sovereign rule that has seen him break into human history to bring salvation to those who are lost. In Matthew 6:10a, Jesus is talking about the reign of God that is dedicated to the reversal of the fall and sin and rebellion. He has in mind that which was predicted in the Old Testament and now has come to light in the New Testament with his coming into the world. To pray for his kingdom to come is to pray for the success of the Gospel. It is to pray that God will save his people from their sins. That he will bless Christian missionaries as the go out into the world, that he will bless the translation and preaching and teaching of his word, and that he will draw his elect in his own sweetly irresistible way.
In one very important sense the kingdom has already come in the Lord Jesus and his life, death and resurrection and his outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But there is another sense in which it is still yet to come in its fullness. Biblical theologians talk about the kingdom begin inaugurated and then at the end consummated. Presently, we are between these two redemptive events or ages. If we are Christians we have come under the power of the kingdom or reign of God, the power of the age to come has already broken into our lives in advance of the consummation. But even now, we look for something more. We look for the full inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. So presently we labor and pray for the coming of the kingdom based on the cross-work of Jesus which has established it beyond all doubt. We seek the salvation of others and the glory of God while we long for our complete deliverance from every vestige of sin and corruption. What a day that will be when Jesus is owned as Lord. The kingdom should be before us all the time. It should exert a powerful influence on us until we see Jesus.
Maranatha... Come Lord Jesus!
Friday, March 10, 2006
But having said that, we are still told to pray that God's name, that is, God himself as he has revealed himself, might be regarded as holy. We are to pray that we may remember what an awesome God he is. That we may love him and serve him all of our days. That he might be the most important person in our lives. And that it might be our ambition to spread the glory and honor of his name far and wide that others will come to worship him too.
This is an urgent petition in our day. God's name is dishonored in many ways. We dishonor his name when we fail to live up to our high position in Jesus Christ. When we distort his character by our own lack of love towards our brothers and sisters, and towards the lost for whom he gave his Son. God's name is dishonored by false religions and cults that tell lies about him and by prophets who claim he has sent them when he has not. God is dishonored when his word is ignored, abused or misinterpreted. He is dishonored when his Gospel is not believed or when we justify our own sinful folly by appealing to his Spirit or some inner leading that has nothing whatsoever to do with his real work in our lives.
Finally, this is a petition we can pray with confidence because God has promised to honor and glorify his name! Although sinful human beings may try to discredit it, in the end he will be glorified in the person of Jesus who will bring all things back under his power and then turn the kingdom over to the Father that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). Here is one last promise to spur us on: "Because they love me," says the Lord, "I will rescue them; I will protect them, for they acknowledge my name. They will call on me, and I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will deliver them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them and show them my salvation." (Psalm 91:14-16)
Thursday, March 09, 2006
The word 'our' reminds us that he is not just 'my' Father in heaven, but the heavenly Father of a host of people as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. As important as a personal relationship with God is, if we are Christian believers we are part of the church, the new Israel, the body of Christ. We need to be reminded of this in a society where individualism often reigns. As in the days of the biblical judges when there is no king in Israel everyone does as they see fit (Judges 21:25). People are not a law unto themselves. But this is not the way it should be. We have responsibilities to God and others. When we are saved we are not only joined to Christ but we are incorporated into his body; the church, where we have a job to do and others to serve. In the very act of prayer Jesus wants us to remember our family connections and the fact that we are not alone.
'Father' speaks volumes. It speaks of love and intimacy. It speaks of tender care and discipline. It tells us that God is personal and not some impersonal, distant force or thing with whom we can have no real communion. It reminds of our origins. He is the Creator God who made us from nothing for himself. This is true in a physical sense; God gives us life. But more important in this context is spiritual life. It is the experience of the new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes us the children of God. He is not the Father of everyone in this sense. While he created and sustains everyone, only those who have come to him by faith, through the very one who is teaching us to pray, are we truly the children of God.
'In heaven' balances our understanding of father. It's sad but true that the word 'father' does not always give rise to positive feelings. Some fathers are cruel and selfish. Some are too demanding and others don't seem to care at all for those who are their children. Some strut around like little dictators in their own homes, while others are absent more than they are present. But this is not how it is with God. The Father we are praying too is completely separate from sin. There is no evil in him. He is in heaven. And from that lofty vantage point he rules over the heavens and the earth with justice and equity. He is sovereign in all he does. He is in complete control but always in a way that is consistent with all of his other glorious attributes.
So when we pray it is to God the Father; our Father in heaven. The one who is in control of all things. We do not pray to Mary or dead saints, nor do we pray as an exercise in psychological relaxati0n or because we are trying to connect with what is thought to be mystical, nor do we pray to our mother in heaven. We pray to 'our Father who is in heaven,' the true and living God who hears and answers prayer. The transcendent and yet immanent God. The absolute and yet personal God for whom we were made. The combination of these realities ought to engender awe and love, joy and humility, reverence and peace. Before we speak it is good for us to remember who we are speaking to. So many of our struggles in prayer relate to our failure to properly consider the glory and majesty of his name. What a God he is... our Father in heaven!
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
In my mind, the place to start when it comes to this vital topic is with what we call the "Lord's Prayer." It is his prayer not because he prayed it himself but because he gave it to his disciples as a model prayer to teach them how they should approach God. This does not mean that we have to use the words of the prayer and never deviate from them, nor does it mean that we cannot pray the prayer as it is without developing its profound and widely applicable content. A "model prayer" is just that, a "model" or "example" or "guide" to help us in our conversations with God.
This week, as I am able, I want to reflect on the Lord's Prayer as it is found in Matthew 6:9-13. How does Jesus want us to pray? What should we be thinking about as we approach God's throne of grace? Is it ever right to ask for God for things? If God is sovereign, why do we need to pray at all? How can the Lord's Prayer transform our prayer lives and restructure our priorities? Personally, I think we need to take Jesus own words of introduction very seriously: "This, then, is how you should pray" (verse 9a).
Before getting to the prayer itself, we should note the context of the prayer in Matthew 6:5-8. First, notice that Jesus says, "And when you pray." Prayer is something that he expects all his people to be doing. It is not an optional extra. If we are Christians we must pray. Second, any praying we do in public should be the overflow of our times of private communion with God. Of course, it is good and right to pray in public, before meals, in church and on other occasions. But if that is the only praying we do, or if it constitutes the majority of our praying, then something is seriously wrong. Only when we pray in secret does the omniscient God who sees and knows all things reward us openly. Third, there is nothing intrinsically spiritual about long, repetitious prayers. In fact, Jesus is so bold as to say that excessive length and repetition characterize pagan intercession. Prayer is not telling God what he already knows. It is not trying to wear him out with our many words, or impress him with our eloquent words so that he eventually gives in to our demands. Prayer is speaking with God as those who are mindful of his awesome greatness and love.
Lord, teach us to pray!
Monday, March 06, 2006
This year we have asked Dr. Thompson to speak on the Da Vinci Code, the controversial bestseller by Dan Brown that is going to be released as a major motion picture in May. Both Christians and non-Christians need to be aware of the implications of this book for Christianity as well as the study of history in general.
The conference will take place at the Hamilton District Christian High School in Ancaster at 9:00 AM and will end by 3:00 PM. There will be a lunch provided.
The conference is open to everyone. However, we would really appreciate it if you would register in advance by calling 905-304-0133 or you can register by writing me at email@example.com so we know how many to expect for lunch.
Agenda for Saturday, April 1st.
9:00 AM - Arrival
9:30-10:30 - Session One - Dr. Thompson (Da Vinci Code Part 1)
10:30-11:00 - Break
11:00 - 12:00 - Session Two - Pastor Kirk Wellum (How We Got Our Bibles)
12:00 - 1:30 - Lunch
1:30 - 2:30 - Session Three - Dr. Thompson (Da Vinci Code Part 2)
2:30 - 3:00 - Questions and Answers
Saturday, March 04, 2006
One thing that I have always enjoyed about the Gideon ministry are the stories and personal testimonies they love to share about what God has done through the Scriptures they are committed to distributing everywhere. This morning I heard one such testimony that moved me to tears. It was the story of Asif Hassan, a Muslim who immigrated from British Guyana to Canada at 10 years of age. It was a tragic story of a boy and then young man who suffered all manner of abuse before turning to the violence of gang life. Eventually he found himself in trouble with the law and he was sent to jail. When all seemed lost and he was all alone, an uncle from the United States, who was a pastor, came to see him in jail and gave him a Gideon Bible. At first, Asif was angered when he read about God's involvement in people's lives, wondering where God had been when he needed him so much. Asif was so angry that he threw his new Bible against the prison wall. But the next night he took it up again and began to read. And the same the next night until that Lord broke into his life and graciously brought him to himself.
As I listened to Asif I was reminded of the awesome power of God to save sinners. Sometimes amid all the silly fussing that goes on in churches about the most ridiculous things we can forget that this is what it's all about! Someone once said that the whole gospel can be summed up in three short words: God saves sinners. How true it is and how we need to remember the great debt of love we owe and the greatness of the treasures that are stored up for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is great and his word will not return to him empty. How we should rejoice in that and ask him to use us in whatever way he sees fit to build his kingdom. We should never underestimate the power of his word in the hands of the Holy Spirit to make human beings new creations in Christ Jesus.
The Gideons are always looking for Christians who want to serve the Lord by their personal witness and involvement in Scripture distribution. If you are looking for a challenge why not get in touch with them. The web address is www.gideons.ca. Again thanks to Gideons Laurie Chalk, Peter and his wife Kelly, and to Asif and his wife for sharing with us this morning. Also thanks to Bert Kooyman and Jerry Bargeman for organizing the breakfast. And as Asif reminded us this morning, we should view every Bible as a potential miracle!
Friday, March 03, 2006
If you are familiar with these verses you know that there are many issues discussed in terms of their interpretation. I will briefly comment on three.
First, there is that matter of how false claim #2: 'if we claim to be without sin' (v.8), is really any different from false claim #3: 'if we claim we have not sinned' (v.10). Clearly there is not a lot of difference. Some have suggested that the second claim is a denial that we have sinful natures or an attempt to redefine sin so that it is no long relevant in our lives; while the third is a denial of actual sinful deeds. This has analysis has some merit especially if we think in terms of people claiming a kind of 'theoretical sinfulness.' We can imagine such people saying, 'Oh yes, I am a sinner, but don't you dare accuse me of sin.'
Another suggestion is that the difference lies not in the claims themselves but in their implications. So in the case of the second claim the claimants deceive themselves and the truth is not in them, whereas in the case of the third claim they make God out to be a liar and his word is not in them. I am not convinced that we have to choose between these suggestions. In my mind both are present.
Second, there is word Greek word hilasmos translated in the NIV and TNIV "atoning sacrifice." Does the original word mean 'expiation' or 'propitiation?' Expiation being the removal or elimination of sin as a barrier that stood between God and man by the sacrifice of Christ; while propitiation is the removal of God's just wrath against sin and sinners as a result of the work of Jesus on the cross. The Old and New Testaments indicate that both elements are involved. Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, deals with our sins and the wrath of God against sin. Contrary to some theological formulations, wrath is not incompatible with the Christian God when we remember that he is holy and that in love he provided the one who would remove his wrath and establish peace.
My point in raising all this is to say that the translation "atoning sacrifice" is a very good one, better than many people realize. It tries to capture with two words what is contained in hilasmos namely that Jesus in his death provided atonement for our sins and he gave himself in sacrifice to God. In other words, his death had reference to sin and God. It removed the obstacles and satisfied all the demands of divine justice and holiness. Neither expiation or propitiation communicate any of that today without explanation. Atoning sacrifice gives us a chance to talk about the issues at stake using words that people are more likely to understand.
Third, we have John's statement that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is not only the atoning sacrifice for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. This verse has proven to be a battleground over the years when it comes to the extent of the atonement. But is this what it's really about? Can the 'whole world' be reduced to 'the elect'? Or is this a statement about the universality of God's salvation so that in the end all will be saved?
The salvation of everyone is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Neither can the whole world be reduced to God's elect (even though the Bible clearly teaches election and that only the elect will be saved). Rather it seems to me that this statement is about the sufficiency of the atoning sacrifice of Christ to save all those who come to him. There is no other way! Either we come to God through Jesus or we do not come at all. No one will be able to say that an adequate provision was not made for them. Jesus Christ is able to save completely all who come to God through him. This is not something to fight over but to rejoice in! All we need is found in him! He is the Advocate who comes alongside us. He does not plead our innocence or ask for leniency based on extenuating circumstances. He pleads the merits of his own perfect sacrifice on our behalf. And his plea is always heard. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
There are 4 alls in the verse if you count always. Taken together they tell us a lot about the kind of praying we should be doing today. This verse with its "alls" can provide us with a good checklist if we want to evaluate our praying against the kind of praying that Paul wanted to see among Christians in his day.
But before we get to the "alls" we need to note the fact that we are to "pray in the Spirit." Our lives as Christian believers are to be marked by the Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit and strive to keep in step with the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit means praying as we are prompted by the Spirit and praying as we are guided by the Spirit to lay hold of the Word of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word are brought into the closest possible proximity to one another in Ephesians 6:17 and 18. This is the way it is in the kingdom of God. There is no disjunction between the Spirit and the Word. This is how we know that we are not wandering into forbidden paths: we listen to the Spirit as he speaks to us in and through the Word of God.
Paul tells us that we are to pray "in the Spirit on all occasions." All of the events of life are matters for prayer. When things are going well and when they are not, we should pray. God is interested in everything. What the old hymnwriter said is still true, "Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer."
We are to pray with "all kinds of prayers and requests." Sometimes our prayers are short, other times they are long. Sometimes they are more formal, other times they are informal. We ask God for things, we thank him for all that he has done, is doing and will yet do. Sometimes it is appropriate to ask for nothing in particular but just praise him for who he is and what he means to us.
Then we are told to " be alert and always keep on praying." This is where we have serious problems. We start well but we give up before the work is done. We need to ask for grace to always keep on praying. Whether we feel like it or not. When it seems that the heavens are brass, or when the mercy drops are falling around us, or when showers of blessing are being poured out from on high. We must keep on praying.
Finally we are instructed to pray "for all the Lord's people." Sure, we can pray for ourselves and our concerns. But we are not praying as we should if we do not see beyond our own circumstances and intercede for the needs of others in the family of God. When we pray we need to remember that we are part of the new humanity. We have brothers and sisters around the world and we need to speak to our heavenly Father on their behalf.
May God help us to pray and not just talk about it!