Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Does God Want For You?

If God gave you a list of things you could ask of him, would you ask thinking you'd be declined? Or would you have confidence that he would give you those things because he has given you permission to request them?

I work in an office where many things are supplied by the business owner. When I took the job, the manager said, “Go see Holly to get your business cards. See Adrian at the front desk for envelopes and stationary. The copier is over there; use it any time—copies are free.” And so it went with many other aspects of the job. “Call Marcia for signs; she'll also help you set up your web site.” “We're having a meeting about lead generation on Monday. Come to that so you can get sales leads.” I did all these things without doubting my requests would be honored. And in every case I got what I asked for because I'd been authorized to make those requests.

Now Jesus, God in the flesh, has given us a list of things to ask for in The Lord's Prayer. He has introduced us to our Father in Heaven and assured us of his loving response to our needs. Go and ask him, Jesus says, for his Kingdom and his perfect will to come into your life! Ask him for your basic needs, both physical and spiritual. You need bread? Ask. You need forgiveness because you've screwed up again and again? Ask! You need help with temptation and freedom from enslavements to the evil one? Of course you do! So go and ask him! This is what God wants you to do.

You are authorized to make these requests and he has told you to ask because HE WANTS TO GIVE YOU ALL THESE THINGS!

So what is stopping you? I know what stops me: My own inner walls; my own self-defeating, faith-defeating thought patterns that lie to my soul and tell me God has no power or care for my life or my situation. They tell me I can't do it, or I'm not good enough, or they find every reason why something won't work instead of finding a way to make things work.

But Jesus is as serious about giving me permission to ask these things in The Lord's Prayer as the manager at my office was serious about me getting the things from his assistants that I needed to do my job. And both had the same reason: They want and expect me to be successful.

It would be useless for my manager to grant me all those things if I am not going to apply them for his purposes. And God sees it the same way. There is a divine purpose to our lives and God wants us to accomplish it more than we do!

This means he wants us to have the things outlined in The Lord's Prayer more than we could ever hunger for them ourselves! When you think about how hungry it is possible to get, how needy one can be for forgiveness, how desperately one can long for freedom from the evil one's addictions and enslavements—well, it's just amazing to have this God as our Father in Heaven, wanting us to have his best. But it is oh, so true!

So go! Pray! And ask in faith! Your Father loves you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Daily Bread?

“When hunger becomes anger,

people will fight.”

— Kenyan Church Leader Tokunboh Adeyemo,
Christianity Today, November 2008, p. 29
“Give us today our daily bread....” — Matthew 6:11

“Give us each day our daily bread....” — Luke 11:3

Some have suggested that Jesus meant spiritual bread and not real literal wheat flour. If anything, “bread” is a metonym for food in general, just as today we speak of being the bread winner, or bringing home the bacon, to refer to all that is basic for living. But there is no basis in this text to spiritualize the meaning of the word “bread.”

What more universal need could there be than daily sustenance? And so Jesus is showing us that God cares for our every need, and that we can turn to our Father for even the most basic elements of life. In fact, where else would one go? It is, as someone once said, a prayer “for our needs not for our greeds.”

Even the wealthiest among us should pray this petition. Our health, life, and livelihood all depend each day on God. Let's hope we don't need a stock-market crash to teach us that! Yet most of us in the middle class often take for granted that we will have food to eat. The economic circumstances the world is now facing, though, may have new lessons to teach us regarding our daily need to depend on God.

For much of the world this request for daily bread is to request a true miracle! We may yet have to learn that kind of dependence. Will our hunger become anger? Will our anger result in things like outrage and fighting? Or will we learn contentment and come to cherish the words “Give us this day our daily bread”?

Matthew Henry claimed that every word in this petition has a lesson in it:
  1. We ask for bread; not dainties..., that which is wholesome.
  2. We ask for our bread; that teaches us honesty and industry;
  3. We ask for our daily bread; which teaches us not to take thought for the morrow (v. 34) but constantly to depend upon divine providence.
  4. We pray, “Give it to us,” teaching that the greatest of us is dependent on God's mercy for our sustenance and the means by which we make our livings.
  5. We pray, “Give it to US” not to me only, but to others in common with me. This teaches charity and concern for the poor.
  6. We pray it for “this day,” which teaches us to renew our souls and our bodies regularly. “We could as well go a day without food, as without prayer.”

I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to have to pray this request while struggling to believe it might be answered. And yet that is the challenge most of the world faces each day!

If we continue to remember that each request in this prayer also enlists us in an aspect of the Messiah's mission for the Kingdom, then:
  1. What should WE be doing to live out our commitment to the fulfillment of this petition?
  2. How might we be part of the answer for others? And,
  3. Can we pray this without being willing to participate in its fulfillment for others? If not, then what form should our action take?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Any minute now....

Jesus …

“... is seated at the right hand of the Father and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in … the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
- The Apostles Creed
(1st or 2nd century A.D.)

“… will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end….We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen”
- The Nicene Creed
(A.D. 381)

“… shall come again to earth, personally and visibly, to consummate history and the eternal plan of God….
“….For all mankind, there will be a resurrection of the body into the spiritual world and a judgment that will determine the fate of each individual. Unbelievers will be separated from God into condemnation. God’s judgment will reveal His justice in consigning them to perpetuate in eternal retribution for their own rejection of God. Believers will be received into eternal communion with God and will be rewarded for works done in this life.”
- Willow Creek Community Church Statement of Faith
(20th century)

“… New Testament believers waited not for signs but for Jesus himself …. Their hope was directly focused on the sovereign appearing of Christ because they believed it was the next great event to occur in God’s timetable for the end of all things.”
—Gilbert Bilezikian, Christianity 101, p. 234

What Does the Bible Teach About the End?

The following outline is adapted from chapter eight of Christianity 101, by Gilbert Bilezikian, which is recommended for further reading:

I. The Parousia is an “Imminent” Event – The early church was told all the conditions required for Christ’s return had been met.

  • Acts 2:16-17 – The “last days” were inaugurated at Pentecost.
  • Romans 13:11-12 – They were to live expectantly of it.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:7-9; 10:11 – It was possible in their lifetime
  • Philippians 3:20-21; 4:5 – They were rightly actively waiting.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (cf. 1:9-10) – Some might live to see it.
  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5 – End times conditions existed.
  • Titus 2:11-13 – They needed to be holy in case Christ returned.
  • Hebrews 1:1-2; 9:26-28; 10:25) – They’re in history’s last phase.
  • James 5:7-9 – They’re to suffer in hope that Christ could return.
  • 1 Peter 4:5 (Also 1:5,13; 4:7,17; 2 Peter 3:12-17) – Everything was ready for the judgment of the living and dead to begin.
  • 1 John 2:18 – It was “the last hour.”
  • Revelation – 1:1,3; 3:11; 22:6-7,12,20) – The time was near and Christ himself promised to come soon.

II. The Parousia as an Absolute Event

  • The Teaching of Jesus
    Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50
    Matthew 24:29-31, 37-42
  • The Teaching of Paul
    1 Corinthians 15:23-26, 52-57
    1 Thessalonians 4:14-5:4
  • The Teaching of Peter
    2 Peter 3:1-15
  • The Teaching of John
    The Book of Revelation

III. The Parousia as a Universal Event

The Universal Renewal

  • The resurrection
  • The reunion

The Universal Removal

  • The resolution of the presence of evil
  • The retribution by judgment

IV. Current Views on the End Times

  • Anti-eschatological Attitudes
  • Indifferent Attitudes
  • Obsessive Attitudes

Friday, February 20, 2009

"On Earth As It Is In Heaven"

I have always assumed that "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," meant that we were asking for immediate and perfect compliance to God's will. But today I am struck by the juxtaposition of these two passages:

“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.”—Revelation 12:7

"And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.” —Matthew 11:12 (NLT)

War in heaven? The kingdom forcefully advancing under attack? It seems indeed that to voice this request is to enlist oneself in a revolution that struggles to succeed from the utter depths of creation to its very pinnacle.

Revelation 12 is more than prophetic, it is an apocalyptic summary of history. The war in heaven is fought in heaven and on earth, for the Evil One has been cast down and prowls about like a wounded lion seeking victims to deceive and devour.

God's will will be done, but not without effort. His people must engage in resistance against the Prince of this World and the world's system. Compliance with the spirit of our age is delusion. Denial of the raging battle is possible only for those sedated by the manipulation of the Enemy's occupying forces. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done" is therefore our battle cry.

What do we know of this Kingdom? Here are some key things Jesus had to say about it:
  • Seek it first, with its righteousness/justice. Those who make great sacrifices for it will be rewarded in this life and the next – Mt 6:33; Lk 18:29-30
  • Its time is fulfilled and it is at hand – Mk 1:15
  • It is meant for the needy, oppressed, and persecuted – Mt 5:3-10; Lk 6:20-23
  • Some of his contemporaries would live to see it come with power – Mk 9:1
  • It contains mysteries revealed in his parables – Mk 4:11
  • It begins with God’s Word being received like a seed in suitable soil and goes on to bear abundant fruit – Mk 4:3-34
  • It would be taken away from Israel’s chief priests and Pharisees and given to a people who will produce its fruit – Mt 21:44
  • To enter it is to enter “Life” and worthy of drastic measures in severing ourselves from sin – Mk 9:43-48
  • Sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes will enter ahead of Israel’s chief priests and elders – Mt 21:23, 31-32
  • Entry is impossible, especially for the rich, without God’s help – Mt 19:23-26
  • It belongs to children and those willing to receive it “like children” – Mk 10:14-15
  • The least in the Kingdom of God will be greater than John the Baptist – Lk 7:28 (cf Lk 9:48)
  • Fitness for it involves resolve, commitment, and endurance – Lk 9:62
  • The Patriarchs and prophets will dine there with people from all over the world. Yet many of the most religious people will be “thrown out” – Lk 13:28-30
  • It was already in their midst – Lk 17:20-21
  • Its breaking into history would be recognized by cataclysmic events – Lk 21:31
  • Seeing it and entering it requires spiritual rebirth – Jn 3:3,5
The Apostolic witness of the New Testament also has these points to add:
  • Expect to go through many tribulations and hardships when entering it – Ac 14:22
  • It is not about rules like what to eat or drink but is about serving Christ in matters of justice, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit – Ro 14:17-18
  • It does not consist in words but in power – 1Co 4:20
  • Can’t be inherited by those who practice unrighteousness – 1Co 6:9-10; Ga 5:21
  • Can’t be inherited by earthly flesh but requires “new bodies” – 1Co 15:50-51 ff
Are we really ready for this kind of gospel?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Praying "Thy Will Be Done...."

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
—Matthew 6:10

[No Lukan parallel]

Some suggest that this is really just the second half of the previous petition, “Thy kingdom come.” One major difference should be noted: The previous petition asks that God's will, in form of his rule, be done in our lives. This petition requests the manner or degree to which God's will be done—on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, perfectly. (D.A. Carson, Expositors Bible Commentary)

Here we again pledge ourselves to help bring about that which we request. As with hallowing God's name, we confess that we too want God's will in our lives. This request forms the basis for asking forgiveness later in the prayer.

We here commit ourselves not only to do God's will, but to discover what his will is—otherwise how can we know to do it?

In this sense, we are asking God to make us a people of the Bible who study, affirm, and practice its truths.

Jesus is the supreme example of the attitude he teaches here. He himself prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done” at his most crucial hour (Luke 22:42). He also told us, “I come not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).

Praying “if it be thy will” in our prayers has its basis, then, in this petition.

When Jesus taught us to pray in his name, he was not telling us to tack his name to the end of our requests as a way to get what we ask for. He was telling us to do precisely what this petition does, pray for and in God's will—that which is in accord with his name. In fact, tacking his name on the end of our prayers when those prayers are not in his will may in fact constitute taking his name in vain, which goes against what we learned about hallowing God's name.

Salvation itself depends on the reconciling of two wills: God's and our own. “Getting saved” happens when we surrender our wills to God's will by repenting and believing the gospel. Living the saved, sanctified life, also consists in this kind of harmony between our wills and his.

This petition gives us hope, for it implies that with God's help we may in fact be able to live without sinning. Why else would he tell us to pray it, if it were not possible?

Spirit Filled

A great question was raised in class this week as to whether or not believers under the Old Covenant were filled with the Holy Spirit, and whether even the prophets possessed this privilege.

We know for certain that the following people were filled with the Spirit of God prior to the New Covenant:
  • Bazalel - the craftsman who oversaw the construction of the tabernacle, and possibly other workers with him. (Exodus 31:1-6; 35-31-35)
  • Micah - the prophet. (Micah 3:8)
  • John the Baptist - in his mother's womb! (Luke 1:15)
  • Elizabeth - John's mother. (Luke 1:41)
  • Zacharias - John's father. (Luke 1:67)
Given this sampling, we can conclude:
  1. That there were people prior to the the New Covenant who were filled with the Spirit.
  2. That it was therefore possible that there were others who had this experience beyond the scope and record of Scripture's documentation.
  3. Since those documented were servants of God called to special service, as in building something for God or speaking prophetically for God, it is quite possible and quite likely that others called to such service may have also had this experience. This would include people like Moses, who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit, David whose writings are also “God-breathed” and who prayed, “take not your Spirit from me,” and then most certainly other prophets.
What makes this experience different in the New Covenant is it's wide-spread availability to all believers in Jesus the Messiah. In fact, the New Testament exhorts all Jesus-followers to choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). And the book of Acts records many accounts when the same believers were filled with the Spirit on different occasions.

I believe that this is a wonderful choice we should make daily and moment by moment. Let's take to heart Paul's appeal to experience this gift from God today. And notice what Paul says flows from this choice:

“... be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”—Ephesians 5:18b-21 (ESV)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Praying "Thy Kingdom Come"

I've been mulling over this quotation of Karl Barth:

"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."

It puts me in mind of Eugene Peterson's statement:

"Prayer is God's way of giving his people causality in the cosmos."

Any thoughts?

Will We Hallow or Hollow?

Today I had a vivid reminder of something we discussed in class this week.... We are supposed to hallow God's name. But our actions and inactions can have the opposite effect.

Because we bear the name of God as his people,
people will make inferences about God from our behavior. Instead of hallowing God's name, our deeds and misdeeds can “hollow” rather than “hallow” God's name in the eyes of the world.

Several years ago I did something that bothered an older man I knew. (Let's call him Klem.) To this day, Klem holds it against me and behaves with irrational bitterness toward me any time my name is even mentioned. Klem is an outspoken conservative and claims to be a Christian. But he cannot find it in his heart to treat me in a Christian way.

As I told a friend about this today, she replied, “Well Dave, don't you know? Christians are the most unchristian people in the world!" We both laughed at the ironic sound of this statement. But then we moaned as well.

I believe that if I desire God to accept me with all my flaws, I have to be willing to let God accept Klem with all his flaws—and that goes for others like us. We all have flaws. Apparently some of mine really impacted Klem in a way I wish I could make right. But Klem refuses even to speak to me or tell me what I did—that's how badly I affected him.

I think all of this could make our Christianity look bad. But I also think that God will not be mocked. He WILL glorify himself even in this situation. When? Well, that's up to God and his own timing. For now all I can do is let Klem be Klem, and God be God, while I accept responsibility for my part in all this.

Meanwhile, I am resolved to do my best to avoid hurting people again. I will try to live in such a way myself that my actions will have the effect of making my life this prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name!”

The Nearness of Heaven

"Our Father in heaven...."

How Far And Yet So Near

In a culture of silent males and emotionally-detached or distant fathers, we might find ourselves troubled by the second part of this address in the Lord's Prayer. Even if we've associate fatherhood with a loving, nurturing, parental presence in our lives, heaven seems kind of far away, doesn't it? What happens to all the warmth of God being our Father if he's going to be far off on some lofty throne, attended to and maybe even guarded by unearthly angelic beings? We read that even they must cover their faces and bow before this awesome Ruler.1 What are we to do with this?

If Jesus' depiction of God being in heaven makes God seem remote to you, consider that other passages of the Bible take this matter yet a step further! The Scriptures tell us in many places that God's glory, loving kindness, and exaltation are in fact above the heavens.2 The book of Hebrews tells Jesus himself is exalted above the heavens as our High Priest.3 The triune God reigns over the heavens. In fact, God made heaven and earth4 and therefore existed without them just fine. Solomon, that wisest of Old Testament kings exclaimed upon completing the first Jerusalem temple that “the heavens, even the highest heavens,” cannot contain Yahweh!5 The Psalms depict him as having to stoop down just to look upon the heavens!6 And so, God our Father only inhabits heaven by way of what theologians call “condescension.” That is, God lowers himself to inhabit heaven!

Think about that! Heaven is actually a stopping point for God on his way to us! Heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool.7 Yet, in his loving compassion and infinite desire for us, he chooses to dwell among his people in both heaven and earth!

Remarkably, Jesus tells us that when we speak to God, our words are heard in heaven. Heaven is that close. Though heaven seems to us to be beyond the stars, heaven is so near that the One who inhabits its throne hears our every whispered word in prayer and even the inaudible longings of our hearts.8

These precious opening words, “Our Father in heaven,” communicate to us that God is both near to us (as Father) and far above us (in heaven). Yet at the same time they tell us that heaven, the highest realm of all creation, is also as near as the words in our own mouths and the longings in our hearts. There is only one reason for this. It is precisely because of who it really is who reigns there and hears our every sigh: It is Our Father in Heaven.

And so, heaven is not just a “home beyond the stars,” although it certainly is that and more. It has rightly been called “the capital and powerhouse of the cosmos” from which all is created, governed and sustained.9 Yet although every human parent may abandon us, and every earthly relation might fail us, there is One on the throne who is on our side and who can be trusted more and the dearest earthly father, more than the tenderest of mothers.10 He is not a stranger or a tyrant up there on the seat of power, not an old man with a telescope holding a fist full of lightening harpoons, and not a remote aloof monarch who needs to be approached through saintly channels.

He is our Father and his nature is the true nature of fatherhood. He is holy, just, and pure, and from his capital of power he rules all things—for us! His fatherhood tells us he is willing to help us. His heavenliness tells us he is able. Yet because our Father inhabits heaven, we can rest assured that heaven is always near, that all things ultimately will work out for his glory and for the good of all he calls his children,11 and therefore ultimately the most powerful force in the universe is on our side. Our loving Father is on the throne of omnipotent sovereignty and his enemies are but kindling for his consuming fire. Yet his throne is for our sake called “the mercy seat” and “the throne of grace.”

Without Exaggeration

It has been said that Jesus was given to hyperbole, or overstatement, as when he tells us to cut off a hand that causes us to stumble. But when Jesus calls God “our Father in heaven,” this is nothing less than understatement. To say God is in heaven is actually to bring him down. He transcends all, yet he stoops down to us to raise us from the dust and seat us with princes,12 loving us and calling us his children.

What a wonderful thing it is, then, to be able to say, "Our Father, who art in heaven." It should fill us with wonder and joy, assurance and courage. When we pray this way, we address the most powerful Being in the universe who sits enthroned securely in the most powerful place in the universe, and we find that this powerful Being is not only mercifully inclined toward us; he is intimately attuned, intertwined, and involved with us and as our perfect Dad.

1See for example: Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 4:9-10
2See for example Psalms 8:1; 57:5,11; 108:5; 113:4
3Hebrews 7:26
4Genesis 1:1; 2 Kings 19:15
51 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18
6Psalms 113:4-6
7Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:49
8Romans 8:26-27
9Carroll Eugene Simcox, Prayer the Divine Dialogue (IVP, 1985)
10Psalm 27:10; Isaiah 49:15
11Romans 8:28
12Psalm 113:4-8