Saturday, December 31, 2011

Q & A: "Does God change, and if not, why pray?"

OK, I'm starting with a "two-fer" one more theological, and the other a practical outworking of the answer.  The first part is relatively simple, in that God says of himself, "For I the Lord do not change..." (Mal. 3:6).  James says there is "no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).  His faithfulness, covenant-keeping  and steadfastness are elements of his unchanging nature (see Exodus 34:6-7).  Those references where God seems to change course or plan (often it says God "relented," such as in the case of postponing Nineveh's judgment due to their response to Jonah), represent the use of our finite human language to try to describe how God acts in relation to His creation in ways we can comprehend.  God can experience the full range of emotion--for example He was "sorry" that He made man (Genesis 6), but not in the "I wish I hadn't done this" mode, but the "this is a terribly painful--sorrow-ful--state of affairs."  Again, we have to use our language to describe an infinite, changeless being who nevertheless experience the sorrows we tend to link with regret.

So, if God does not change, why pray?  Let me try to answer this with a list:
1. We pray because God directs us to do so, and his directions are never pointless.  We may see no reason why the children of Israel had to march around Jericho once a day for six days, then seven times on the seventh, then blow a trumpet for the walls to fall down.  We look at that and say, "what was the point?"  Well, a better way to look at it is to say, "what an amazing, unique, and powerful way God chose to destroy Jericho. Only God could do it that way."  In our limited, cause and effect thinking, we try to figure out how things work. God says, "Pray, and  you will see things happen."  We say, "what difference does it make?"  God responds, Pray, and see how it makes a difference."  Jesus taught his disciples to pray on at least two occasions (Matt 6: 9-13, Lk. 11:1-4) and gave the parable of the persistent widow to teach that we should never give up praying (Lk. 18:1-8).  His instruction when it comes to receiving answers to prayer are clear:  keep on asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt 7:7-11), and pray as Jesus would have us pray (John 15:7, 16:23-24), and you will see results.  The God who ordains the ends also ordains the means by which those ends come to pass.  God has set up His universe in such a way that prayers are the means by which His ends are accomplished.
2. We pray to communicate our hearts desire to God.  Some might say, "But He already knows."  That is true, but communication and communion is a part of relationship.  I may know what my wife wants or thinks and she may know my mind, but we still talk about our thoughts and desires, and share with one another.  It is one thing to "know," another to "share."
3. We see our own hearts shaped by the activity of prayer.  As I pray, I am immediately made aware that I am speaking with One who can do what I can't, who is the only One I can count on in this or any situation, and One whose love for me and acceptance of me is perfectly established through Jesus.  As I voice my petition, I actually think about it, and that thinking may well refine, deepen, and change my request as I think about it and bring it to a loving, holy, and gracious "Abba" Father.  The Spirit intercedes for us as we pray (Rom. 8:26-27), and as we pray we can be sure that the Spirit is at work in us.  The more I pray about something, the more I see how important it is to me, and the more convinced I can become that God is keeping me praying about this for a reason.

These three just scratch the surface, but they suffice to show us the value of prayer as God's means to shape us and accomplish His will.  Any questions?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Answering Questions

This is just a heads up that you are going to start seeing something new here--I have decided to start answering questions here more frequently.  I'll begin with a set of questions that came to me from the students of my Spiritual Formation class this past semester--some great questions from some great students.  But if you have a question you would like to see answered here, just send it to me at  I can't promise how quickly they will get answered, but I want to do what I can to tackle as many as I can in a timely fashion!  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ken Boa's Gentle Reminder

In his monthly newsletter, Ken Boa talks about a proper response and perspective on suffering. Here was a quote that speaks of a reality many of us have needed to embrace during 2011.

It is simplistic and unbiblical to think that by coming to Christ, we will be protected from pain and adversity in this life. People are often prompted to come to Him for all the wrong reasons--to have a better marriage, a better career, financial prosperity, happiness, good health, etc. But Christianity is not a religion of solutions; it is a relationship with the Savior. It is not a conquering of our problems, but a commitment to a Person. The Lord calls us to pursue Him apart from any benefits He may provide. We must love the Giver for Himself, and not for His gifts, because all these pale in comparison to knowing Him, the personal Source of every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift (James 1:17).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ending Advent

Advent is drawing to a close, and tomorrow night we will have our village's Christmas Eve service here at Grace.  I know that some people (maybe even some of my relatives) aren't as excited about Christmas Eve services as I am.  But I can't help it.  It is bringing our anticipation of Christmas to a climax and and close at the same time.  And it is doing so with the people I am called to shepherd--to be constantly leading to Jesus.  What a great opportunity!

Here in Cedarville, it is also a chance to share this time with the other churches and congregations in town.  We have a village where the all the churches' pastors in our Ministerial Association are committed to historic, orthodox, evangelical Christianity.  We have our differences over secondary stuff, but we choose not to let them keep us from celebrating our fundamental unity in the saving message about Jesus.  That means our Christmas' Eve is a celebration of shared faith as well--a good message to send to a larger community that thinks having different kinds of churches means we are against each other rather than on the same side!

We also will have guests with us--some local, some from far away.  It is a pleasure for me to meet new people at any time, but doing so at Christmas means we've shared something special already.  And while people may come from churches that use different worship music, or don't go to church at all, they will know the songs tomorrow night.  And it is my privilege to share the story once again of what Advent has meant--waiting, longing for the fulfillment of a promise.  The initial promise was kept on the first Christmas; the completion of the promise is what we still wait for. 

Getting old isn't the same as getting holy

I've been listening to a sermon by Tullian Tchividjian (pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) entitled "Jesus+Nothing=Everything" (also the title of  his new book).  The sermon was preached at my brother's church, and it's been a good reminder of the nature of our sanctification--not what we do, but what Christ did.  I cannot focus on "how I'm doing," because the minute I do, I lose sight of what Christ has done and will do.

In the midst of the sermon was this quote from Gerhard Forde, reflecting on the fact that we sometimes think that becoming an old Christian means we are getting more holy.

.. Well, maybe it seems as though I sin less, but that may only be because
I'm getting tired! It's just too hard to keep indulging the lusts of youth. Is
that sanctification? I wouldn't think so! One should not, I expect, mistake
encroaching senility for sanctification! "But can it be, perhaps, that it is
precisely the unconditional gift of grace that helps me to see and admit all
that? I hope so. The grace of God should lead us to see the truth about
ourselves, and to gain a certain lucidity, a certain humor, a certain
I like that.  Encroaching senility or being too tired to sin does not equate to sanctifiation.  Neither does reading my Bible more, praying more, or witnessing if done to seek God's favor rather than out of the freedom of having to do nothing to be loved by Him.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Song For Monday

We heard this song a week ago in our worship time, and it's one of my newer favorites.
UPDATE:  The trailer at the end advertises a Christmas special that was 3 years ago, and on a network I would never encourage you to watch.  Just sayin'.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Israel Trip 2011

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Israel Trip 2011, a set on Flickr.

Here are my pictures from the Israel trip. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Desperation or Devastation, or Death

I was just reading an article in Revive magazine that included a quote from a Ugandan pastor who spoke of the powerful revival of the church there through the tragic days of Idi Amin and afterwards.  He said,
In Uganda we experienced a nationwide revival as a result of severe persecution.  The suffering of the people was beyond description, and no one came to our rescue.
But God used the opportunity to wake a nation from its spiritual coma.  What we learned is that revival will come either through devastation or desperation.  So my question is simply this: what are you doing in America to make sure revival comes through desperation and not devastation?
I think that the question is profound, but I also know that there is no promise to us in America that revival will come.  Just as churches that were vibrant throughout the middle east in the early centuries of Christian mission are now only a memory or a shadow of what they were, so it may be here.  Perhaps we will become desperate at our lack of spiritual life and in humility seek God.  Or perhaps we will not, and God will send devastation that will awaken us from our spiritual stupor.  But I fear he may allow us, even in times of devastation to wring our hands but not rend our hearts, and the church here may go the way of many others in history have gone--while in new places it arises and grows in the Spirit's power.  I pray not.  But then, our only strategy comes back to this: we must cultivate desperation within our hearts and our church; desperation for God's Spirit to come in power to convict and comfort, to enlist and empower, to heal and to help.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Three Sad Headlines

  • I was looking at The Christian Post today and at the end of the article I was reading saw these three current headlines (each is a link to an article).
  • Gay Marriage OK in Denmark Churches
  • Small Ky. Church Bars Interracial Couples From Membership
  • LGBT Groups Boycott Salvation Army's Red Kettles
  • They each speak to something about our current circumstances that I find profoundly sad for the people of the world and for the church as well.
  • The first article speaks of the inability of the Church to recognize its role as witness to the truth of God's Word, even in a society that rejects it.  Of course the "church" referred to in Denmark is a state, Lutheran body that has long ago moved away from viewing the Scripture as meaning what it says.  Nevertheless, a body claiming to bear witness to the Jesus of the Bible that shreds the truth of that same Bible by its decisions grieves the Lord Jesus even more than it does me, and obscures even further the knowledge of God.
  • The second headline reveals the evil that resides among those of us who claim to be Bible believing Christians.  If you read the article, you will discover that this church had 15 members in a business meeting vote 9-6 for this satanic idea.  Being a Baptist, congregationally-governed church (as our church is), there is no one to tell them they are in sin and must change and repent, at least until Judgment Day.  Their denomination says that all they can do is ask them to change, and then perhaps withdraw fellowship.  A note to those denominational leaders: it's always a good idea not to fellowship with "synagogues of Satan," according to Revelation 2:9.  What makes this especially sad is that nine people in one church have done something that has made headlines in a world that loves to mock Christians.  
  • Finally, the third headline shows that something that should not be news is news.  The idea that a group that advocates behaviors that the Bible prohibits would boycott the work of a church denomination that believes in the Bible's authority and thus opposes those behaviors should not be a shock.  It only is shocking to the person who doesn't understand that there are still those who believe what Christians universally believed until the middle of the last century, and still believe in large numbers.  What saddens me is that Bible believers have become so invisible in a land where we once were well understood, if not universally accepted.
  • I am especially burdened in this Advent season that we be CLEAR on who Jesus is, where we get our knowledge of Him and of God's will (the Bible), and our conviction that what we learn of Him and His will there is truth to be followed.