Monday, October 31, 2011

A Pastoral Prayer for Reformation Day

The following is a prayer offered by Charles Spurgeon in November, 1877, in his pulpit at Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.  I share it, marveling at the depth of is petition, and wondering how well our church, or any church would enter in to this kind of praying.  As one of the great "grandsons" of the Reformation, Spurgeon is a fitting tribute to the celebration of Reformation Day.

O LORD GOD, the great I AM, we do confess and cheerfully acknowledge that all come of Thee. Thou hast made us and not we ourselves, and the breath in our nostrils is kept there by Thy continued power. We owe our sustenance, our happiness, our advancement, our ripening, our very existence entirely unto Thee. We would bless Thee for all the mercies with which Thou dost surround us, for all things which our eyes see that are pleasant, which our ears hear that are agreeable, and for everything that maketh existence to be life. Especially do we own this dependence when we come to deal with spiritual things. O God, we are less than nothing in the spiritual world. We do feel this growingly, and yet even to feel this is beyond our power. Thy grace must give us even to know our need of grace. We are not willing to confess our own sinfulness until Thou dost show it to us. Though it stares us in the face, our pride denies it, and our own inability is unperceived by us. We steal Thy power and call it our own till Thou dost compel us to say that we have no strength in ourselves. Now, Lord, would we acknowledge that all good must come of Thee, through Jesus Christ by Thy Spirit, if ever we are to receive it. And we come humbly, first of all acknowledging our many sins. How many they are we cannot calculate, how black they are, how deep their ill-desert; yet we do confess that we have sinned ourselves into hopeless misery, unless Thy free undeserved grace do rescue us from it. Lord, we thank Thee for any signs of penitence—give us more of it. Lay us low before Thee under a consciousness of our undeserving state. Let us feel and mourn the atrocity of our guilt. O God, we know a tender heart must come from Thyself. By nature our hearts are stony, and we are proud and self-righteous.
Help everyone here to make an acceptable confession of sin, with much mourning, with much deep regret, with much self-loathing, and with the absence of anything like a pretence to merit or to excuse. Here we stand, Lord, a company of publicans and sinners, with whom Jesus deigns to sit down. Heal us, Emanuel! Here we are, needing that healing. Good Physician, here is scope for Thee; come and manifest Thy healing power! There are many of us who have looked unto Jesus and are lightened, but we do confess that our faith was the gift of God. We had never looked with these blear eyes of ours to that dear cross, unless first the heavenly light had shone, and the heavenly finger had taken the thick scales away. We trace therefore our faith to that same God who gave us life, and we ask now that we may have more of it. Lord, maintain the faith Thou hast created; strengthen it, let it be more and more simple. Deliver us from any sort of reliance upon ourselves, whatever shape that reliance might take, and let our faith in Thee become more childlike every day that we live; for, O dear Saviour, there is room for the greatest faith to be exercised upon Thy blessed person and work. O God, the Most High and All-sufficient, there is room for the greatest confidence in Thee. O Divine Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, there is now sufficient room for the fullest faith in Thine operations. Grant us this faith. Oh, work it in us now, while, at the same time, we do confess that if we have it not, it is our shame and sin. We make no excuse for unbelief, but confess it with detestation of it, that we should ever have doubted the truthful, the mighty, the faithful God. Yet, Lord, we shall fall into the like sin again, unless the grace that makes us know it to be sin shall help us to avoid it.

And now, Lord, we ask thee to accept of us this morning whatever offerings we can bring. We bring our hearts to Thee, full of love to Thee for what Thou hast done; full of gratitude, full of faith, full of hope, full of joy. We feel glad in the Lord. But we do confess that if there be anything acceptable in these our offerings, they are all first given us of Thee. No praise comes from us till first it is wrought in us, for

         “Every virtue we possess,
         And every victory won;
         And every thought of holiness,
         Are Thine, great God, alone.”

Well may we lay those fruits at Thy feet that were grown in Thy garden, and that gold and silver and frankincense which Thou Thyself didst bestow: only first give us more! Oh, to love the Saviour with a passion that can never cool! Oh, to believe in God with a confidence that can never stagger! Oh, to hope in God with an expectation that can never be dim! Oh, to delight in God with a holy overflowing rejoicing that can never be stopped; so that we might live to glorify God at the highest bent of our powers, living with enthusiasm—burning, blazing, being consumed with the indwelling God who worketh all things in us according to His will! Thus, Lord, would we praise and pray at the same time; confess and acknowledge our responsibilities; but also bless the free, the sovereign grace that makes us what we are. O God of the eternal choice, O God of the ransom purchased on the tree, O God of the effectual call, Father, Son and Spirit, our adoration rises to heaven like the smoke from the altar of incense. Glory and honour and majesty and power and dominion and might be unto the one only God, for ever and ever, and all the redeemed by blood will say, Amen.

Look, at this time, we beseech Thee, upon us as a church, and give us greater prosperity. Add to us daily. Knit and unite us together in love. Pardon church sins. Have mercy upon us that we do not more for thee. Accept what we are enabled to do. Qualify each one of us to be vessels fit for the Master’s use; then use each one of us according to the measure of our capacity. Wilt Thou be pleased to bless the various works carried on by the church; may they all prosper. Let our Sabbath School especially be visited with the dew of heaven, and the Schools that belong to us and are situated a little distance, may they also have an abundant shower from the Lord; and may all the Sabbath Schools throughout the world be richly refreshed, and bring forth a great harvest for God.

Bless our College, O God; let every brother sent out be clothed with power; and may the many sons of this church that have been brought up at her side, preach with power to-day. It is sweet to us to think of hundreds of voices of our sons this day declaring the name of Christ. Blessed is the church that hath her quiver full of them, she shall speak with her adversaries in the gate; but the Lord bless us in this thing also; for except Thou build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Bless our dear boys at the Orphanage. We thank Thee for the conversion of many. May they all be the children of God, and as Thou hast taken yet another away to Thyself, prepare any whom Thou dost intend to take. We pray Thee, spare their lives, but if at any time any must depart, may they go out of the world unto the Father. May the Lord bless all the many works that are carried on by us, or rather which Thou dost carry on through our feeble instrumentality.

May our Colporteurs in going from house to house be graciously guided to speak a good word for Jesus. And Lord bless us. We live unto Thee; our one aim in life is to glorify Thee, Thou knowest. For Thee we hope we would gladly die; ay, for Thee we will cheerfully labour while strength is given; but, Oh, send prosperity, and not to us only, but to all workers for Jesus, to all missions in foreign lands, and missions in the heathendom at home. Bless all Thy churches far and near, especially the many churches speaking our own language across the Atlantic, as well as in this land. The Lord send plenteous prosperity to all the hosts of His Israel. May Thy kingdom come! And, Lord, gather in the unconverted: our prayers can never conclude without pleading for the dead in sin. Oh, quicken them, Saviour! and if any one here has a little daughter that lieth dead in sin, like Jairus may they plead with Jesus to come and lay His hand upon her that she may live. If we have any relatives unsaved, Lord, save them: save our servants, save our neighbours, save this great city; yea, let Thy kingdom come over the whole earth. Let the nations melt into one glorious empire beneath the sole sway of Jesus the Son of David and the Son of God. Come quickly, O Lord Jesus, even so, come quickly. Amen.

Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The Pastor in Prayer (7–12). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Reformation Sunday

Well, Grace celebrated Reformation Sunday with an introduction to Martin Luther and the use of 2 of his hymns.  It was a great time of reflection and worship, including powerful music and gathering around the communion table.  If you want to join in, you can go to the church website and listen/watch the message shortly, and find the outline there, too!

Yes, a Baptist church honored Luther, and the roof didn't fall in.  And no, we still don't agree with him on baptism, communion, or a number of other areas.  But the freedom of churches to disagree stems from his insistence that the Word of God is our final authority, not a church structure.

And one more thought for you on this day--a further advance in Christian thinking came thanks to Baptists in America, who took advantage of their situation to urge the separation of church and state.  Their political ally--none other than non-Baptist (really non-Christian) Thomas Jefferson!

Letter or spirit of the Law--Changes in Our Perceptions

This article discusses a situation in the NFL that prompts a question--when enforcement of a law's words violates the law's purpose, which should govern?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Scot McKnight's Rethinking of the Gospel

OK, I have got to get and read this book, but not because I think I'm going to like it. The book is The King Jesus Gospel, and it purports to offer a radical, new understanding of what the Gospel is, with the underlying premise that our long held, Reformational understanding is wrong (he calls it "the soterian" or "salvation" gospel and says it is too individualistic).  He favors something he develops as "the story gospel" which is narrative in style and culminates in a more communal/corporate idea of salvation without losing the individiual element.  That is the summary I get from his blog, but need to read the book to grasp it more fully.

Any time a 21st century thinker comes along and tells me that "everything must be rethought!" I get skeptical.  He goes so far as to say that the "old" way is not harmonizable with his approach and must be abandoned in favor of it.  And for good measure, N. T. Wright, whose writings on justification have the same call for a "new" way of thinking, writes the introduction(along with Dallas Willard).  Having heard and read McKnight in the past, I've had appreciation for much he has written, and had questions, too.  Looks like I may be in for more of the quesitons.

I read his article on this in Christianity Today around Christmas.  He writes a little about this at his blog, Jesus Creed, and you can find his thoughts in this post: On Tweaking the Soterian Gospel

Monday, October 10, 2011

S.A.F.E.--from a recent wedding

I was asked if I'd share part of the charge to the bride and groom from Nathan and Joanna Flack's wedding service this weekend.  The passage they had selected for reading was 1 John 4:7-19
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.
In this passage we learn a number of lessons about the love of God, loving God, and the power of that love in us.  I shared four.

First, we see salvation is marked by experiencing and possessing God's love.  "[E]veryone who loves is born of God and knows God."  The blessings of salvation are multiplied, but one is that we experience and possess and are able to share God's love. 

Second, we learn that possessing and sharing this love for God and others is a great assurance that we are in right relationship with God.  Assurance is often treated as if it is a stand alone concept, but it is actually the result of changed life and behavior, and love for each other is one of those great tools of godly assurance.

Fearlessness marks the person who possesses and thus shares the love of Christ.  In marriage, when I love my partner enough to be the husband or wife God has called me to be, it not only helps me be fearless in terms of eternal life, but also fearless in terms of my relationship in my marriage.  My spouse's pouring God's love into me makes our home one where I need not have any fear of my acceptance or standing.

Finally, I note that love is an enablement God has poured his love into my life, which enables me to love others, especially my spouse, rightly.  I certainly cannot be the husband or wife God desires on my own, but he provides the love I lack, and keeps it flowing into me, so that it can flow through me. 

Putting these four words together, they can form the acroymn, S.A.F.E., and God's love will make your marriage a safe relatationship and your home a safe place from which your faithful walk and service can be based. 

7 Differences Between Galilee and Judea in the Time of Jesus

This was a fascinating summary of the differences between the two regions of Israel during Jesus' ministry, and how they figure into the background of the gospel.  It is the summary of someone else's work, but still captures the essence.  Enjoy.

7 Differences Between Galilee and Judea in the Time of Jesus