Category Archives: Glory

Beyond Mere Words — Prayer

Prayer

By George Herbert
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
         God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

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This poem captures well the difficulties in explaining or defining prayer. Prayer is so much more than just giving God our wish list or telling Him what He already knows. Prayer goes beyond recognizing God as God, praising Him for His mighty deeds,  or calling Him to move in the struggles and trials of life. Prayer cannot be broken down to just a simple formula because Scripture is full of many different types of prayers. And each life situation seems to call for something different.

I particularly like the line, “The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,” because I think of prayer more as a journey than anything else. It helps us put to words what is going on inside of us, and more importantly start to imagine what is God’s response. Prayer positions us to explore our true self and identify the areas that most need the power of  the cross. Prayer is not as much about self discovery as it is surrender to Christ and recognition of His higher truth.

We never really “arrive at a final destination” when it comes to mastering prayer. We simply delve deeper and deeper into a treasure that is boundless and difficult to explain. The goal is not knowledge alone but relationship.

Sometimes we may feel that we are doing it wrong — a failure in prayer. But God is not grading our progress as much as He is calling us closer to His point of view. Honestly, we may doubt and feel that we are truly alone. We may wonder if God is really there and start to think that we are merely talking to the wind, but even in this honest admission, we discover God’s grace. The Lord allows the silence because His constant expression might be too much for us to bear. Or He simply may not desire to speak for some reason. He may just want to listen to what His children have to say.

Prayer is based on the reality that we are loved and have access to God. In faith, we must rest assured in the truth that even if He never says another word to us, God has loudly declared His love for us by His sacrifice on the cross and the revelation of His Holy Word. Amen!

Knowing Jesus Changes Everything

I just got joy bombed, or at least that is what I call it after listening to Joy Dawson speak on the subject of following Jesus and the glory of God. Dawson is an internationally known speaker and evangelist. But the real important thing is that she listens to the Holy Spirit and seeks to promote Jesus as the model for how we should live.

Dawson said, “We don’t know Jesus yet. We don’t understand what we are asking when we ask to see God’s glory.” This hit me like a ton of bricks. The apostle John spent years walking and living with Jesus during His earthly ministry. But when he received a revelation of the glory of Christ while exiled on the island of Patmos, he fell down as dead before the One he had known so well. This was Jesus in holiness and in fire. This was God in just part of His glory, and John was undone.

Have I ever experienced God like this? The answer is no. Few of us have. The apostle John received a great revelation that day. We still study it today in the book of Revelation – the unveiling of the glory of God. John received this great revelation while on a prison island – a dark place meant to isolate John could not keep him from what God wanted to reveal. This gives me hope.

Dawson said, “We can go through anything if we focus on Jesus, but it is a choice.” That is so true. The apostle John could have let his circumstances cloud out his heart for Christ. But that didn’t happen, because he chose to seek God even in the midst of darkness and isolation. Do you really want to have a deep, loving relationship with God? It is possible. But it does come at a great price. Jesus paid that price on the cross. And we have to pay a price to follow Him, but it is worth the cost.

Dawson said that Jesus came down to the earth for five basic reasons. These were to 1.) Show us what the Father is like, 2.) Die on a cross to atone for the sins of the world, 3.) Defeat satan and demonic powers, 4.) Show us how to live, and 5.) To be our life.
And Dawson asked what does the Lord require of His followers. She said, “Obedience is all that Jesus wants at any one time.”

The message of Jesus was simple. He put little children in front of the disciples as an example of the kind of faith they should have. Dawson added that Jesus called His followers to repent from sin, believe in Jesus and to obey Him, and to go do and tell what was commanded. It really is quite simple as long as you stay close to God and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This brought to mind a question that I have struggled with for most of my adult life. Can Jesus be your savior if He is not your Lord? Dawson suggested that obedience is a prerequisite to be a disciple of Christ. We spend too much time playing church and not enough of our lives being the Church. She said, “Satan doesn’t care how much that you sing to God in a church building if you do not get radical and go out and what Jesus did.”

Jesus preached the Gospel. Why don’t we? Jesus fed the poor? Why don’t we? Jesus comforted the broken hearted. Why don’t we? Jesus healed the sick. Why don’t we? Jesus challenged dead religion. Why don’t we? Jesus spoke in power and under the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Why don’t we?

Sure, some Christians do some of these things. But many of us don’t follow Christ’s example as much as we should in our daily lives.

As Dawson finished speaking this morning, the Holy Spirit prompted me to read I John 2:1-6. I particularly noticed a connection with what Dawson said and verses 3-6. The apostle John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

The apostle John clearly stated that those who know Christ should live as He did and obey His commands. Jesus gave a commission to His followers to spread His message and make disciples. Jesus has called us to preach to the lost and pray for the sick. Jesus declared that those who come after Him would do greater things than He did because He was leaving the work of the Church to us. While we will never be God nor ransom the world from sin and death, we do have the awesome privilege of caring the influence of Christ around the globe.

So do you really know Jesus? One true encounter with Him changes everything.

What is the Gospel?

I wonder if I have at times become “so familiar” with the Bible and especially the Christian Gospel that I lose sight of its epic, boundless quality. Can you have heard so many sermons that you begin to think there isn’t much new to be learned about God? Or does this reveal a faulty mindset that has lost its way? If God is beyond description, why do we look at His Word as something less than supernatural, epic, and majestic? The Bible (God’s book) is beyond whatever else we might read on a daily basis. I was thinking about this tonight after Pastor Tim Matthews spoke on the parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13. He challenged the youth group to dare to study the Scriptures, soak in it and live it. Beyond looking for good principles to apply, Pastor Tim encouraged us to seek to be transformed. He challenged us to be good ground that would produce fruit in God’s Kingdom.

The Bible is not a self-help book. I admit that on many occasions I have taken the “I already knew that” attitude toward something found in Scripture. But the strange thing is I may not have been living by the light of that knowledge. Many times I needed to hear something again that I already supposedly knew.

So I feel led to revisit the basic Christian message, commonly known as the Gospel. What is it really? Is the Gospel just ten basic beliefs about God and His relationship with mankind? Is the Gospel merely about statements of faith? Or is it something more — an ethic, a call to become like Christ? Is the Gospel something that ever changes? Or is it something that only changes us? Is the Gospel fully realized now or a forward looking hope for a better world? Is the Gospel even really about mankind? Or is its core preoccupation mainly God and His glory revealed to humanity?

These questions have led me to develop what I am calling the Gospel Challenge. I am encouraging anybody who has a relationship with God through Jesus to take 30 days to wrestle with what the Gospel is based on Scripture and your own reflection as you pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May you look to see how the Gospel is lived out in your world. Specifically, I am encouraging other Christians who know me to take up this challenge.

It starts with reading the Bible daily while looking to see what your reading reveals about the basic Christian message. You should ask questions like, “What does this story show us about God? or How does this passage depict God’s Kingdom?

Second, you develop a list of key beliefs explaining what the Gospel is and how it should function in our daily lives. What really is this Good News that we are called to share with the world? I am starting with a simple computer document that says, “The Christian Gospel is….”

Third, refine your list and share some insights with others to see what they think. I intend to ask other believers, “If you had to explain the Christian message in 3-5 minutes, what would you say?”

Fourth, wrestle some more with the concepts that arise as you study, pray about the Christian message and discuss the Gospel with others. The last part of the challenge is to come up with a basic Gospel statement or creed and attempt to live according to these beliefs on daily basis.

So who is with me? What does the Gospel really mean to you? I welcome others to post on my blog their thoughts on what the Christian Gospel is and how it functions in the world.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

There are some passages of Scripture that are hard to accept and easy to dismiss just because they seemingly contradict commonly held ideas about God. This is especially true when Scripture makes God appear too stern, demanding or downright unfair. We are more attracted to a concept of God that resembles Santa Claus than say a holy, just God.

One of the common ideas today is to envision God as all love and no bite. People talk about God as if He is their best friend, yet they show Him little respect. But this oversimplifies a very complex reality. True, God is love. But He is also just, all-powerful, holy and beyond anything we can imagine. God is vast like a canyon with no end. God is worthy of our praise, adoration and yes, outright fear.

I have heard Bible teachers talk about the fear of the Lord as if we are to respect but not really fear God. This line of thinking seems to believe that if people are afraid of God they won’t want to be in relationship with Him. And while this may make sense in some aspects, it is also true that we cannot really understand God and our need for Him unless we learn to do more than just “respect” Him.

Scripture states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Time and time again, people in the Bible had direct encounters with God and they were forever changed. Some of these experiences clearly indicate that the people who had them were visibly shaken by the presence of God. Think about the children of Israel who dared not go up to meet God but sent Moses as their representative. They maintained a safe distance because they were completely afraid of God. Or consider Isaiah who proclaimed his sin as a man of unclean lips at seeing a vision of God. He feared for his life until an angel proclaimed his atonement by touching his mouth with a piece of coal. And in the last book of the Bible, the apostle John fell down as dead at the revelation of Christ. But Jesus told him to get up.

Maybe one of the reasons why we don’t see more real life change in the lives of so-called Christians today is because we haven’t had meaningful, fear-filled encounters with God. If we had the kind of experiences recorded in Scripture, we would never forget them. We would be forever transformed by five seconds in God’s direct presence. Then, as we are overcome with fear and dread we would also know that this same God speaks peace to our hearts. By knowing God’s greatness we come to realize that He is trustworthy and able to do what we cannot. This causes us to hope, rejoice and live in freedom.

These thoughts were inspired by the recent Francis Chan short film entitled BASIC Fear God. I encourage you to check it out at http://store.flannel.org/fear-god.html

Bragging Rights

Is is okay for a Christian to brag or boast about God? Does that seem like bad form? Would Jesus or Paul makes strong claims about the superiority of the Gospel? Does this approach turn off non-believers? Does that matter? Can a Christian trash talk when it comes to the debate about my God being better than your “fake” god?

It is kind of interesting that Genesis does not start out arguing for the supremacy of God (elohim). There is no defense of the God of the Bible against other supposed gods in the creation account. Genesis merely starts out with the assumption of God’s existence and supreme authority.

There are a number of times were leaders in Scripture make some bold claims. Elijah, the prophet, even does some serious trash talking when challenging the prophets of Baal to a duel in 1 Kings 18.

Jesus made some bold claims about his relationship with God, the Father. He told one disciple that if you had seen Him, you had seen the Father. Those are pretty strong words. The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus as having supreme authority as the creator and sustainer of the entire world. So it seems that Christ had/has some serious bragging rights.

I started thinking about this after Pastor Tim Matthews challenged students in the Mix (the youth group where I volunteer) about being bold in declaring the glory of God. Tim essentially asked, “Why or why not do you brag on Jesus to others?”

Our answer shows what we really think about Jesus. This is especially true for a supposed Christian. If we brag about our girlfriend, our car, our new job, our basketball skills, or our credentials, why can’t we give God the appropriate props?

Many of the students didn’t like the world “brag.” I kind of agreed. But Tim explained that he chose the world on purpose. We should realize that God is so great that there is no way our petty explanations can suffice. Our bragging barely touches the surface of God’s majesty and glory. Tim challenged the group that the world gets all worked up about nothing. But for some reason Christians are supposed to be silent about Jesus – the best single reality to ever impact our world.

Bragging implies that we go overboard on talking up something. But can we ever really do this if Scripture is true about what it has to say about Jesus? I believe that our words will always fall short. But Christians should still try to proclaims God’s glory by our words, actions and very lives.

Calling all God braggers we should shout it from the rooftops. Jesus is….
Love
Life
Truth
Eternal Hope
The Only Way
Savior and Redeemer
Creator
Radiant Light
Prince of Peace
Conquering King
…And Victor over Death, Hell and the Grave!

The Gospel IS…

The gospel is…

The power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), God judging the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16), veiled to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3), light that shows the glory of Christ who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), not another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4), is not man’s gospel (Galatians 1:11), to be proclaimed among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:2), justification by faith (Galatians 3:8), the word of truth and a sealing of believers with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), standing firm in one spirit with one mind (Philippians 1:27), the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:5),  proclaimed in all creation under heaven (Colossians 1:23), come in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5), preached with boldness in the midst of much conflict (1 Thessalonians 2:2), sharing ourselves to others not just words (1 Thessalonians 2:8), the infliction of vengeance on those who do not know or obey God (2 Thessalonians 1:8), the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10), Jesus Christ risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8),  preached to those who are dead (1 Peter 4:6), is to be obeyed (1 Peter 4:17), proclaimed to every nation and tribe and language and people (Revelation 14:6).

Awestruck by God

Have you ever looked at the sky or a mountain scene and been blown away by the grandeur of what you saw? I know that I sure have. I will never forget standing at artist point between Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. The view is incredible. Here is a sample of what I mean…

Mount Baker Artist Point

Mount Baker Artist Point

Mountains are gigantic. They seem to transcend time and remind us of the power pent up under the surface. We feel so small compared to these behemoths.

But that is nothing compared to the majesty and might of God. Scripture tells us that God measures the universe within the span of His hand. That’s one big hand.

Pastor Tim from the Hanger spoke at The Mix last night. He delivered the essence of the Gospel in a very raw and in-your-face fashion. It was awesome. He said one of the big problems is that we don’t understand how incredible the cross really is. We think that a mountain scene shows us the power of God when the most incredible thing that God has ever done is send Jesus to die on the cross. While God speaking all things into existence is amazing, it is far less stunning than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

It is the cross that has restored a broken relationship and redeemed creation. It is the cross that reveals the depth of God’s love. When people asked for a sign, Jesus said that no sign will be given them except his death and resurrection. The cross is the pinnacle of human history. It is mas grande!

No mountain. No ocean. No prehistoric dinosaur bone should seem more significant. It is the empty tomb where we find everlasting life.

Are you awestruck by Jesus? I know that I sometimes let the Gospel lose its impact. I become deceived by material things and fail to keep the cross in its proper perspective. There is nothing bigger than a God who gave it all to save me and you.

Jesus' death on the cross is mas grande!
Jesus

 This is love…

Losing Focus

Do you believe the entire Bible is about Jesus? Are the stories of Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah a glimpse of the One to come in the person of Jesus? Either you see the Scriptures focus on God or man. How one answers that question impacts his/her view of every passage.

Dr. Tim Keller said last year in a teaching to the Gospel Coalition that the difference between Gospel-centered preaching and lifeless pulpit talk is a focus on Jesus. He said that his wife told him that his best sermons are those that focus on the transforming power and example of Christ. He basically hit on an issue that I have been concerned about for a while. In the effort to be relevant, it has become all too common for preachers to deliver good messages on moral teachings instead of Jesus-focused calls to divine transformation and human repentance.

Preaching positive thinking, self fulfillment and propserity sells media and fills seats. Letting people feel the weight of their sin so that they can understand the depth of God’s love is something that is way too uncomfortable for Western church goers. Even if the preacher accurately presents grace in the end, most people don’t have the ability to stomach the journey associated with realizing the depth of our depravity and the destruction caused by our sinful choices. That is a door we just don’t want to open. It is much easier to blame others and focus on doing positive things to combat the sinful condition of humanity.

The problem is that good works is never enough to satisfy the demands of a holy God. Good works and social justice is just humanism with a friendly face. If man had been able to save himself, there would have been no need for Jesus. The true Gospel brings each person to the point that they understand what Paul stated when he wrote, “In me, in my natural, fallen condition is no good thing.”

Paris Reidhead talked about the futility in humanism and its grip on the modern church in his famous sermon “10 Shekels and a Shirt.” Humanism distorts the focus of the church from Christ to something else. This focus normally appears as a good thing. That is the trap because we don’t understand how dangerous this substitution is until it is too late.

Christians must come to understand that the Gospel will cut and hurt us in order that we can be healed. There is no deep work without a cutting Word. At the same time, the Word is never meant to permanently wound without causing transformation, divine redemption and individual transformation. Too many people take sides in the battle between theology and action. Either they try to be relevant and involved in the culture or they isolate themselves and focus on correct theology and a deep understanding of the truths behind the Christian faith.

Dr. Keller said that the true Gospel will both offend people and attract them. If you find that everyone shouts your praises, you are probably not being true to Christ’s message. If no one can find anything good to say either, you are probably too harsh and not acting in a way that reflects the grace, mercy and love of Jesus’ core message. Just as Jesus has those who praised him and condemned Him, so should a faithful ministry of the Gospel.

The key focus must be Christ. But that is hard to find in churches today. Some leaders focus on the latest marketing techniques or trends. Others push social or political issues. Others take sides in cultural debates and join agendas that directly go against Scripture. Some push self help while others encourage self loathing. But neither of these worldviews is what Jesus called His followers to embrace. Apart from theology, some leaders simply try to give the people what they want or do whatever will pack the sanctuary. There are many who preach the right things, yet the actual life of the church looks nothing like the message presented on Sunday morning.

All of the above points to a loss of focus. When Jesus is the center, He will be glorified and those in community with Him will be transformed.

For more insights into this discussion, consider visiting the Gospel Coalition at  http://thegospelcoalition.org/

Seeing God in My Rearview Mirror

“Many times we don’t realize God’s active involvement in our lives until we look back in the rear view mirror.”– Glen Pullin, fellow MCC church member

If you study through the Hebrew Scriptures it is hard to miss the fact that God is the chief actor in the story. Nothing takes place without his foreknowledge. He is behind every scene working to produce the best finale. He is the director. Yet somehow he gives the actors free will to make decisions. There is a mystery in the tension between man’s (limited) free will and God’s sovereign power. I don’t really understand it. But I know that both are true.

From Abraham Job to to Moses to Joseph to Daniel, we see God’s involvement in everyday affairs and spectacular encounters. More than just permit evil to happen, God works through it.

Overcome by the power of the moment, it can be so easy to forget God’s track record. Whatever we are dealing with becomes all we see. It obscures our view of God. We don’t see Him working despite our pain, struggle or trial.

David Eells wrote in Sovereign God, “Evil is a tool of God’s sovereignty to bring us to purity and maturity…Sometimes we look at circumstances instead of the Word and think that the devil has been able to put a stop to God’s plan. God would have never made the devil if he had been someone who could stop His plan.”

As we see in the story of Joseph being sold into slavery or Jesus condemned on a cross, God uses sin to produce a holy, living result. It can be almost impossible to recognize God’s involvement in the heat of the moment. But nonetheless God’s divine reversal is taking place. Just as Glen said to me, we may only see God when we look back at what He has done and marvel at the fact that He was in our situation after all.

The Language of Worship

Music is the language of worship. God gave humanity the capacity and passion for songs as a way to express and encounter the divine in our world. Sometimes it can be easy to lose God in the midst of the music. But the real reason to sing is to encounter God. When we sing songs as a way to praise God, it does something in us that is powerful, tangible and live changing. Our faith is built up. We feel the solidarity of singing along in a massive choir that includes and people from all over the world.

Think about this fact – God’s throne room is a place of worship where angels and people continually sing praises to God. When we sing worship songs, we are joining a refrain that has been going on before the creation of the world. What makes these songs special is the revelation of God it brings and the freedom we experience as we live according to God’s design. The Lord created us to worship Him and to live for His glory. That is the most natural thing we can do, and we experience this in a deep way in singing songs to God.

I used to wonder if God was an egomanic because Christians are always singing songs to Him. But I have discovered that God is not like us. He has no ego to bruise nor need of anything from us. God is complete in Himself.  God gives us worship as a gift that we would taste of His presence, His goodness, His life.  While true worship focuses on God, it also changes us and benefits those who do it.

The really incredible thing is that God sings back to us with words of love. Do you ever hear God sing? Do you hear Him singing songs of deliverance over you? Maybe you don’t hear it because you have filled your ears with too many other things. Have you grieved the Holy Spirit by what you listen to or see? God is calling to you now to respond to Him and to let go of anything that has become noise – the sounds of life that obstruct true worship.