Prayer that starts with God

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in Featured, Prayer

Prayer that starts with God

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

The Lord’s prayer is a prayer He offers for His disciples to pray. One of the things that really strikes me about Jesus’ model prayer is just how God-centered this prayer is. The Lord’s Prayer contains six humble requests, the first three are God-directed and the last three involve human needs. This is very similar to the structure of the Ten Commandments, which first begin with our vertical relationship to God and then end with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. It’s similar to the way Paul constructed his letters to the churches: he often began with who we are in Christ before fleshing out how that affects the way we live.

A.W. Tozer said this (and I paraphrase), “The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” I hear a lot of Christian says things like, “I don’t worry about theology.” Well, yes you do. Everybody has a theology, whether flawed or otherwise. Sadly, most of our theology begins with me. We start our prayers with what we think we need and then, if we have time, throw in a few God cliques. Theology begins where the Bible begins with God. You will notice that the first words of the very first book of the Bible begin like this, “In the beginning, God.”

It’s easy to subtly devalue God by our prayers and our life. We say things like, “I don’t imagine God is like this.” Or “The God I worship doesn’t do this.” But if God is truly God–that is to say if God is sovereign, powerful, holy, compassionate, just–then it behooves us to not define God on our terms, but to bow before the God who is already there.

How does this affect our prayer life? Why did Jesus say to start our supplications with God? Because the way we view God affects the way we live. How much we reverence God informs the respect we have for our fellow man. And beginning with God in our prayers filters out the frivolous. It considers prayer as an act of worship, an acknowledgment that we are, indeed, not God. That God is God.

It means our prayers are in God’s will. It keeps us from destructive theology. It prevents us from saying foolish things like, “God told me to (fill in the blank)” when really it was our own fleshly desires that spoke. I once had a person tell me, with a straight and somber face, that God was telling her to divorce her husband of 15 years and go marry a convicted felon. Um, God won’t tell you to do something against His sovereign will.

Praying God-centered prayers takes some discipline and practice. I’ll admit that this is a struggle for me. I often want to begin what I think are my own needs rather than letting my Father in Heaven shape them. But there is something refreshing about beginning with God. It reminds us of the awesome miracle of access to the throne room of Heaven, purchased at great price by Christ on the cross. It reminds me that God takes great delight in hearing my prayers and meeting my needs, needs He knows well before I know them. It comforts me to realize that I do, indeed, have a Father in Heaven with a hallowed name.

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God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in Book Reviews, Featured, Theology

God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments

God's Indwelling Presence It seems that far too often, the Holy Spirit is viewed as something of a New Testament phenomenon, a part of the Godhead that sort of sat on the sidelines for the first 39 books of the Bible while God and at times a pre-incarnate Jesus took care of things. Of course nothing could be further from the truth given the Holy Spirit has been active from eternity past and will be active until eternity future. James Hamilton, in his helpful book God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments, outlines the work of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture, paying particular attention to the question of whether the Holy Spirit dwelt within the elect far before the events of Pentecost.

Hamilton begins his discussion with an overview of the various theological opinions that have been presented on this topic. He notes six overarching positions, namely that of a complete continuity in the Holy Spirit’s activity; the idea that there was more continuity than there was discontinuity; a half and half approach of some continuity and some discontinuity; a belief in more discontinuity than continuity; the complete discontinuity approach; and finally a vague discontinuity. Each of these positions has received varying levels of support with five out of the six receiving some large level of adherence by some well respected theologians. Hamilton avers that some “have said too much” while others “have said too little.” To those stated positions, he seeks in this book “to demonstrate that the Old Testament has within itself a God-ordained, God-inspired means for the regeneration and sanctification of its saints – a means that allows for the operation of the Spirit on old covenant believers while also allowing for the full force of John 7:39, 14:16-17, and 16:7 to stand.”

This operating thesis is first supported by the Hamilton’s belief that “the Old Testament does not indicate that each individual member of the old covenant remnant was indwelt by the Holy Spirit.” What we find instead is the concept of God dwelling in a corporate sense, whether that was through the wilderness tabernacle, a pillar of cloud/fire, or in the temple. Hamilton does spend time examining those who were filled with the Spirit and empowered to do mighty works by God for specific times and for specific reasons. He compares the Old Testament dwelling with the New Testament indwelling noting “The Old Testament presents God as dwelling in particular locations, not in individual believers. This contrasts with the New Testament teaching that God no longer dwells at particular places and instead dwells in human beings.” We find in Jeremiah 31:31-34 the promise of that future indwelling, a time when the Holy Spirit would indwell the believer and in turn write God’s law on their very hearts.

Hamilton next transitions to an in-depth discussion of the Holy Spirit as outlined in the New Testament, rooting much of his analysis within the Gospel of John, specifically John 1-12. He begins his discussion with an overview of Johannine teaching on the Holy Spirit in order to provide the reader with a basis for understanding the future comments made on the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit. Hamilton does a great job of explaining the important term parakletos, in particular the variety of meanings that term has within the New Testament and how each use of that term should be understood and applied.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of Hamilton’s book for me was the final chapter aptly titled “Results and Relevance for Today.” In any good book, especially one that deals with important topics such as the person and work of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, addressing the “so what” of the matter is always an important final aspect to conclude a book with. Hamilton does not disappoint in that regard. He aptly notes “The conclusions reached in this biblical theology of the Spirit’s role in salvation have important implications for our understanding of what it means to be the people of God at this point in salvation history.” This understanding reveals itself in issues such as church discipline, an issue one might not immediately relate to this particular subject matter. Since God indwells His people through the Holy Spirit, we should thus strive to be holy through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God had specific requirements in the Old Testament for what holiness looked like in daily practice and within the temple. Such requirements also find themselves revealed in the New Testament as well. After all, as Hamilton so rightly notes, “Our prayer should be that God will enable us to live as those in whom He is pleased to dwell.” This means at the end of the day, understanding the reality of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer must result in a pursuit of holiness by that believer.

Those desiring a clearer understanding of how the Holy Spirit operated in the Old Testament compared to how He operates today should give Hamilton’s book a read. Replete with solid biblical scholarship, this book will provide the reader with much to think about concerning this subject matter, while helping them realize the all important issue of holiness, an issue too often neglected in our day. We have the Holy Spirit of God living within us which should result in a life focused on bringing God glory in all we do through the power of the Spirit who is writing God’s Word on our hearts. Hamilton’s book brings all these valuable and important theological and practical issues of life to light.

Buy the book from God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments (New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology), or from B&H Academic by clicking here.

I received this book for free from B&H Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Collected Writings on Scripture

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 in Apologetics, Book Reviews, Featured

Collected Writings on Scripture

Collected Writings on Scripture Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, the Word of God has been under attack. These attacks not only come from outside the walls of the church, they also seem to creep into and rear their ugly head from inside the Church as well. Thus, it is vital for believers to make a concerted effort to stand on the doctrine of the authority and inspiration of Scripture as being the Word of God provided to His people. Noted author and theologian, D. A. Carson, in his excellent book Collected Writings on Scripture, provides a solid array of essays and book reviews that will help the reader grasp the importance of asserting the authority of Scripture as well as understanding how to identify when attacks are being levied at this important foundation of the faith.

This book is divided into two sections with part one containing five essays by Carson on matters related to Scripture, specifically what the Bible is and how to interpret it, developments in the doctrine of Scripture, issues related to doing systematic theology, understanding redaction criticism, and finally an interaction with the doctrine of Claritas Scripturae. Part two of this book contains a series of critical book reviews geared towards providing the reader with insight into the good, the bad, and quite frankly the ugly of past and recent works on the doctrine of Scripture.

I personally believe Dr. Carson to be one of the foremost theological minds of our day and his perspicuity regarding matters related to the doctrine of Scripture shines through on every page of this book. While it is difficult in a book as excellent as this one to select favorite selections, I will submit I was drawn specifically to two elements of Carson’s work, namely his discussion on what the Bible is and how to interpret it. It seems these two aspects of the Doctrine of Scripture trip far too many up and thus I was pleased to see Carson tackle these two issues right from the beginning, using these as the foundational springboard from which he engages more difficult topics.

Carson rightly notes regarding the discipline of biblical theology that it “forms an organic whole. This means not only that one can approach any part of the subject by beginning at any other point of the subject (though some vantage points are certainly more helpful than others), but that to treat some element of biblical theology as if it existed in splendid isolation seriously distorts the whole picture.” Such a statement drives home the reality that Scripture tells a consistent and cogent message, one that must be grasped in the whole rather than separating its content into tiny, unrelated points of doctrine.

Most importantly, Scripture reveals to the reader God, who He is, how He operates, and how we can come to know Him. I appreciated how Carson noted that when God speaks, things happen, something clearly noted in the creation account of Genesis 1. Additionally, given Scripture is the Word of God, it speaks to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. It is not a collection of words on a page. In the canon of Scripture, we see real people engaging in real events with God revealing Himself to humanity. Carson aptly notes there are difficult passages in Scripture that require fervent study. With that said, He comments that God “has ensured that his own self-disclosure should be abundantly clear to those who by grace have eyes to see and ears to hear.”

Carson also provides the reader with a helpful primer on hermeneutics. Since we are charged by God to be a people who rightly handle the Word of truth, it is vital to understand how to properly interpret Scripture. Carson walks the reader through some foundational concepts regarding hermeneutics to include the importance of engaging the original languages with a needed discussion on the need for and the pitfalls that came come from doing word studies. He also notes the importance of being a good reader, specifically taking the time to notice nuances of the text such as chiasms or other linguistic structures that impact how the text should be understood. I also found helpful Carson’s discussion on the value of understanding historical and cultural context. The Bible was not written in a 21st century world so it is vital to pay attention to matters of geography, cultural understandings, and historical figures as they relate to Scripture. Furthermore, determining overarching patterns, principles, and themes helps the reader of Scripture grasp the overall Biblical message and Carson rightly notes “it is important to observe the Bible’s use of such themes, to determine their specific functions, and to resolve to follow such biblical patterns in our own theological reflection.”

I would also encourage all those who regularly read and review books to pay attention to the manner in which Carson engages a work. I know I learned much about each book he interacted with and additionally, I noticed ways in which I can improve my own approach to reviewing books, especially providing a more critical review of a text for which I may find a greater amount of disagreement. Carson is a skilled writer and presenter of information and thus much can be learned from his abilities in this area.

This is a book I highly recommend to all believers. In a day when so many desire to challenge the authority, sufficiency, and inspiration of Scripture, it is important to be well versed in how to respond to such challenges. Furthermore, it is also necessary to understand in a deeper and deeper manner how to properly study Scripture so that we may grow every closer to God in our studies of His Word so that we may properly wield the Sword of Truth as we interact with those who so desperately need to hear its message of salvation and redemption.

Buy the book from Collected Writings on Scripture, WTS Books, or from Crossway Books by clicking here.

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Spurgeon on Intercessory Prayer

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 in Featured, Prayer

Spurgeon on Intercessory Prayer

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

Charles Spurgeon:

Then, again, permit me to say, how are you to prove your love to Christ or to his church if you refuse to pray for men? “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” If we do not love the brethren, we are still dead. I will aver no man loves the brethren who does not pray for them. What! It is the very least thing you can do, and if you do not perform the least, you certainly will fail in the greater. You do not love the brethren unless you pray for them, and then it follows you are dead in trespasses and sins. Let me ask you again how is it that you hope to get your own prayers answered if you never plead for others? Will not the Lord say, “Selfish wretch, thou art always knocking at my door, but it is always to cry for thine own welfare and never for another’s; inasmuch as thou hast never asked for a blessing for one of the least of these my brethren, neither will I give a blessing to thee. Thou lovest not the saints, thou lovest not thy fellow men, how canst thou love me whom thou hast not seen, and how shall I love thee and give thee the blessing which thou askest at my hands?” Brethren, again I say I would earnestly exhort you to intercede for others, for how can you be Christians if you do not? Christians are priests, but how priests if they offer no sacrifice? Christians are lights, but how lights unless they shine for others? Christians are sent into the world, even as Christ was sent into the world, but how sent unless they are sent to pray? Christians are meant not only to be blessed themselves, but in them shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, but how if you refuse to pray? Give up your profession, cast down, I pray you, the ephod of a priest if you will not burn the incense, renounce your Christianity if you will not carry it out, make not a mock and sport of solemn things. And you must do so if you still refuse selfishly to give to your friends a part and a lot in your supplications before the throne. O brethren, let us unite with one heart and with one soul to plead with God for this neighbourhood!

(from a sermon delivered on August 8, 1861, by Charles H. Spurgeon)

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#10: Three Keys to Being A Healthy Disciple of Christ[Sermon]

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel of John

#10: Three Keys to Being A Healthy Disciple of Christ[Sermon]

gospel_of_john_logo1Join Dave as he continues the study on the Gospel of John by looking at John 1:35-42 with the men at his local church. In this study Dave looks at what it means to follow, learn from, and abiding in Christ.

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Fighting for our joy in Christ in the midst of suffering

Posted by on Jan 28, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Fighting for our joy in Christ in the midst of suffering

Old_Bibles-1.jpgRejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

I’ve always thought the hard part of this verse is what comes after the comma. In fact most of my focus on this passage has centered around obeying the second half of this verse. We’ve all had experiences of insensitive people who refused to weep with us when we were weeping. Nobody wants to be that guy who laughs at a funeral.

Picture the scene.

A group of guys are hanging out enjoying a ball game. They’re surrounded by hot wings, big screen televisions, and other faithful fans. They are having a great time…at least until Melancholy Mark shows up. He’s the male version of Debbie Downer. Though everyone else is having a grand time Mark informs everyone that he just got laid off from work and he isn’t sure how he is going to pay his light bill.

The party comes screeching to a halt.

How Do We Apply Romans 12:15?

Now, don’t get me wrong these dudes are required by Romans 12:15 to mourn with Mark because he is mourning. To go on partying and downing chicken wings while their buddy Mark can’t pay his light bill would be insensitive.

But I’m not sure that stopping the party means that we are done applying this verse. What about Mark? Does Romans 12:15 have any bearing on him, to rejoice with those who rejoice?

I understand that rejoicing over chicken wings and a ball game is much less significant than losing a job. The two don’t weigh the same on a scale of importance. But I believe my larger point stands. Suffering isn’t always the trump card and when we find ourselves mourning it isn’t ours to play to bring others down to our level of gloom.

At various times you will find yourself on either side of this verse. When Paul tells someone to mourn with those who mourn he is speaking to someone that would not at present be mourning if it weren’t for the pain of his brother. Likewise, when he tells someone to rejoice with those who rejoice he is speaking to someone that would not at present be rejoicing if it weren’t for the joy of his brother.

This helps us see that we apply this verse based upon which side of the equation we are on. When I am mourning, my responsibility in this verse is to rejoice with those rejoicing. Likewise when I’m rejoicing, my responsibility is to mourn with those who are mourning.

What This Means For The Church

I’m convinced that this verse is exceedingly counter-cultural. There was once a time when the church and culture erred on the side of a faux joviality in the face of real suffering. I’m convinced that we live in a day and age when doubt has become a sexy virtue. And with it suffering is worn as a badge of honor and played as a trump card in relationships.

If I’m suffering then I play the Romans 12:15 trump card to get you to come down to my gloom. If you don’t do it then I can write you off as an insensitive jerk that barely models the weeping Christ.

But what I really should do is apply Romans 12:15 to my own heart and realize that even in the midst of my gloom I have a responsibility to celebrate a wedding, to be delighted in a baptism, to be overjoyed in discipleship.

We cannot follow our culture in this regard. To do so is to sacrifice the joy that Christ purchased on our behalf. It is to concede defeat and to live as if Christ didn’t come to destroy the works of the enemy. Yes, we still mourn. But our mourning is not as those without hope. Every ounce of mourning is tinged with rejoicing. Just as every bit of rejoicing this side of eternity is tempered with mourning.

When we find ourselves suffering let us not pretend that darkness trumps the morning. Instead let us be a people who fight for an already purchased joy in Christ.

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