Put A Lighter To Your Prayers – God’s Word

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Prayer is difficult but we often assume it ought not to be.  It is speech to God (and listening in silence too) and we may think that if we have a relationship with Him it should just flow.  Perhaps we’ve even been taught that prayer for a Christian is as natural as breathing.

Then we get on our knees, or sit in our chair, or walk through our neighbourhood, and we find that we have run out of things to say.  Or our mind can’t settle down long enough to connect with God in prayer.  We find that it is not as easy or free-flowing as we thought it’d be.

Fortunately, we have not been left without help.  God has inspired many prayers within Scripture.  The Psalter (Book of Psalms) is a book of 150 prayers.  As well, through the Old Testament (Exodus 15, 1 Kings 8:22-61) and the New Testament (Matthew 5:9-13, Philippians 2:1-11) there have been prayers deposited within the pages.  But any passage of Scripture can be used for meditation and inspiration for prayer.

The Reformer Martin Luther said that our hearts need “warming up” in prayer and that a chapter of Scripture may be used as a Feuerzeug, a lighter.  This is the same term used in modern German for a cigarette lighter.*

And that is what Scripture can do for our prayers – ignite them.  As I look within my heart, I don’t find always an instant supply of praise, request, or thanksgiving to God.  It may all be in there, I just need help finding it.  Reading, meditating, and then praying (putting in my own mouth the words of Scripture’s prayers) ignites my heart in prayer.  The extemporaneous prayers that may follow, or flow free from me next time, are fueled by the Word.

 

 

 

  • recounted by Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy, page 256.

Will everything broken be fixed?

We can observe that the world (and ourselves) is a broken, messed-up, rebellious, destructive, and self-destructive place.  It is also God’s good creation – beautiful and filled with glory.  Such is the state we live, the times between the Fall and the Resurrection.  That Resurrection – Kingdom Come, New Creation, New Heavens and New Earth, the New Jerusalem, City of God… insert abundant list of Biblical metaphors here – is the ultimate Christian hope.  How do we imagine it to be?

Do we imagine that it will be as though there never was a Fall?  Will it be Eden as it always should have been?  Will everything broken be fixed?  Of course that is true but in what way?  Will it be as though there never was anything wrong?  Or will anything of the fallenness be left when the world is made new?

Tower of Babel - Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563

Tower of Babel – Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563

Things will not be as they ‘always should have been’ but not exactly.  Some things will not be undone but redeemed and renewed.  The building of Babel’s Tower was a presumptuous act of fallen pride.  God’s response of “confusing the languages” and all the division and strife that comes from it is direct judgment on early sinful humanity.  Many tongues and the diversity of peoples are results of our broken world. It the world were not broken, it would be a much more homogenous place.

And yet, in the presence of King Jesus there is a mass of diversity!  A multitude of beyond numbering, from every nation (not nation-states but ethnic groups), every tribe and people and language are there praising Him.  Did you see that?  Every language!  A result of the Fall will be present before the Lord and is actually depicted as a glorious thing.

New Jerusalem - Sister Gerturde Morgan, 1972

New Jerusalem – Sister Gerturde Morgan, 1972

In the City of God, the New Jerusalem of the end resurrection where the world and all human society will be redeemed and remade, the nations will bring their diversity in.  Yet there will be nothing unclean about it.  It will no longer be the source of strife but a sign of glory. The world will not be as it was before everything went wrong.  A symptom of it’s “wrongness” be remain – fixed but not undone.  Something that was originally a result of fallen, broken, sinful rebelliousness will be remade and redeemed into something that is a Gospel bragging point.

This is important as we face our own broken lives, and results of our living in a sinful, fallen world.  In the perfection of all things, they won’t necessarily be taken away.  Renewed, remade, redeemed but not as though all sin’s effects had never happened. They can be transformed into evidence of God’s grace.

And even Jesus kept his scars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Jerusalem - Sister Gerturde Morgan, 1972

New Jerusalem – Sister Gerturde Morgan, 1972

New Jerusalem will have diversity of languages.  Revelation…

Think of you own life – hardships turned glorious?

 

 

Even Jesus kept his scars.

“These are God’s words…”

 

old hands bibleTraditions for the sake of traditionalism are not what we’re going for in worship.  There are, though, some traditions that bear contemplating upon. Recently, I’ve been using an old call-and-response to the reading of the Bible before I preach.  I read and say: “These are God’s words.”  The congregation is invited to respond: “Thanks be to God.”

The reading of God’s word, while beneficial when done privately, has long been a part of  Christian worship.  When Paul wrote to Timothy, encouraging him to the reading of Scripture, he wasn’t talking about private devotional reading.  And when Scripture is being read, who is it we are listening to?  Is it the preacher?  It may be their voice but the words are from God.  “These are God’s words…”

It is vital to know this because it’s not mere human opinion we’re listening to and being called to respond to.  It is God’s revelation to us.  And the challenge is then placed upon the preacher – their words may follow or be explaining the passage – but they’re not free to give their mere opinions.  They held to explaining, applying, encouraging with, warning by…  what God has first said.

And how do we respond when God’s word has been in our midst?  “Thanks be to God…”   Because that is the correct response to having heard God’s revealing speech.  We have such access to the Bible we can easily forget by such familiarity that we have just heard the Word of the Speaking God!  Where a command has been read – we have been commanded.  Where an encouragement is offered – we have been encouraged.  Where a promise is declared – we have been promised.  Sometimes God’s word cuts us, sometimes it heals us, sometimes there’s comfort, sometimes challenge.  Whatever we may receive, it is from God though and so there is only one response appropriate to such reading.  Thank you.  Thank you because we have just heard from God.

The tradition of the preacher declaring this fact and then the congregation thanking afterwards does not automatically work some kind of magic.  God’s revelation is his revelation whether we appreciate it or not. And traditions gone to mere rote can lose their life.  But we are reinforced by how God’s word is read publicly in the midst of our worship gathering, and by how we respond.  For they are God’s words, not ours, and we are thankful.

 

How did I know they were a church?

This wasn't the crowd I saw. But it was pretty much the scene, minus guitars.

This wasn’t the crowd I saw. But it was pretty much the scene, minus guitars.

What is it that makes a crowd, a church?  What is it that makes a gathering, church?  What are the signs amongst the people that they are indeed a congregation and not another crowd like a family reunion, neighbourhood get-together, or political rally?  I had opportunity to reflect on this on my last day of vacation.

I’ll set the scene.  My wife, daughters, and I were just finished a week out at the beach.  The rented cabin had been cleared out, the car was packed for the trip home, and we wanted one last trip down to the water before heading back to the city.

Next to our favourite spot there was a larger group of people gathered, 25-30 or so folks.  As we passed them I couldn’t shake a suspicion.  Those people are a church congregation.  Not a family gathering, not a community event, not a political rally, definitely a church.  Many know that a church isn;t the building, and these people were gathering outside at the beach.  Despite 99% certainty I was scratching my head for awhile as to how I knew.  I just knew.  After it was confirmed that they were indeed a church, I was still trying to figure it out my near certain suspicion.

Let me describe them.  There quite a few Filipino people (largest visible minority group in my part of Canada), a few others of Asian descent (Chinese heritage? Korean?), a fair number of black people (some spoke with African accents, some did  not), and white people as well.  There were old people, teenagers, young families with kids.  For a smallish gathering it was remarkably diverse.

That was it, the diversity, that’s how I knew.  Unlikely they were natural family, they must be supernatural family.  The Apostle Paul indicates this diversity as a sign of the Christian people:  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11).  

Now not every congregation will be so diverse, community demographics play a part.  And neither should we demand or require a certain level of ethnic differences for a church to “be a church”.  Nevertheless, the diversity is a sign – a sign of the future reality when those from every tongue, tribe, and nation will be gathered to worship Jesus.  It was also my clue as to that gathering on the beach.

That’s how I suspected but how was my suspicion confirmed?  So simple, and also indicated by Paul’s Colossian description of church.  They started singing.  They sang some hymn I had’t ever heard and they praised God together.  Then one fellow stood up and read the Bible and encouraged the people from it.  Song and word:  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16).

 

 

The greatest destroyer of peace today…

mother theresaI feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child – a direct killing of the innocent child – murder by the mother herself.  And if we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?

By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta, 1995 National Prayer Breakfast

The loss of humanness in our age

Schaeffer01In the flood of the loss of humanness in our age – including the flow from abortion-on-demand to infanticide and on to euthanasia – the only thing that can stem this tide is the certainty of the absolute uniqueness and value of people.  And the only thing which gives us that is the knowledge that people are made in the image of God.  We have no other final protection.  And the only way we know that people are made in the image of God is through the Bible and in the incarnation of Christ, which we know from the Bible. 

If people are not made in the image of God, the pessimistic, realistic humanist is right: the human race is an abnormal wart on the smooth face of a silent and meaningless universe. In this setting, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia (including the killing of mentally deranged criminals, the severely handicapped, or the elderly who are an economic burden) are completely logical…  Without the Bible and without the revelation in Christ (which is only told to us in the Bible) there is nothing to stand between us and our children and the eventual acceptance of the monstrous inhumanities of the age.

Francis Schaeffer (with C Everett Koop), “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?”

 

 

What’s with the sign?

sign

Look, the sun’s shining down on it and everything.

What’s with the sign? Not the regular King’s Fellowship sign but the one below it in support of the Shoal Lake 1st Nation.  A little of the background on the needs of this community can be found here, here, and here.  (this is a local campaign/issue so if you’re not from Winnipeg it may not be of interest).  Why did we, a local church seeking to worship God in our city, put up this sign?

We were asked.  Steve Bell started the campaign and he asked so nicely for churches to get involved by putting up supportive signage.  The campaign seems sufficiently non-partisan in tone for us to feel like we ought to jump onboard.  Our congregation is certainly diverse in many ways but this local issue seems clearcut to most people.  We get our water from this community.  They can’t drink their own water.  It’s time for that to change.

Christians should care about the public good.  Evangelical Christianity focuses on personal relationship to God and that’s a great and necessary thing.  Following Christ has often been portrayed as and reduced to being a good person or a set of social causes.  We must resist that tendency.  Nevertheless, we also must resist the opposite mistake and forget that our salvation in Christ, while personal, should also turn our eyes and hearts outward to seek the good of our neighbours.  The prophet Jeremiah serves as an example.  We must care about the surrounding culture, society, community, and pray for them and their good.  Also, someone once said we should love our neighbours.  Let’s assume he meant it.  An implication will be that we care for the public good.  Having neighbours without drinking water should bother us.  Especially when our water supply is the cause of their problems.

We can be political without being partisan.  Many Christians are wary of voicing concern about specific issues lest we be considered political.  We are, in fact, called to be political – political in the sense of concern for the polis, the city in which we live.  This is different than being partisan – in bed with political parties or with one spot on the political spectrum.  If we go along with everything the people we vote for do or say, that’s probably not a good thing.  Christians are called to many public concerns.  We may be concerned for issues that are increasingly counter-cultural and unpopular with our neighbours (protection of the unborn, critique of contemporary views of gender/marriage/sex, concern over euthanasia/physician-assisted-death, and religious liberty).  But there’s so much we should care about that our neighbours do as well.  We gain credibility when we are also concerned with common causes; the less controversial issues where we may find common ground.  The lack of accessibility and clean water for a vulnerable community for example.  Peter even teaches how Christians are to be doing good even though we’re looked down on for other reasons.  This is the balance to strike. It is important that we seek, as per Jeremiah and Jesus, the good of all even as we are called to go against the flow.

And a sign isn’t much but that’s why it’s up.