Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a reconciliation with God.
Prayer is the mother and daughter of tears. It is an expiation of sin, a bridge across temptation, a bulwark against affliction. It wipes out conflict, is the work of angels, and is the nourishment of all bodiless beings. Prayer is future gladness, action without end, wellspring of virtues, source of grace, hidden progress, food of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, an axe against despair, hope demonstrated, sorrow done away with. It is wealth for monks, treasure of hermits, anger diminished. It is a mirror of progress, a demonstration of success, evidence of one’s condition, the future revealed, a sign of glory. For the man who really prays it is the court, the judgment hall, the tribunal of the Lord — and this prior to the judgment that is to come.
— St. John Climacus (ca. 579-649) Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28: On Prayer.
In the early part of his 2012 book How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, N. T. Wright remarks on how the Church has not always allowed itself to hear the full witness of the Gospels to Christ. I won’t attempt to reproduce the argument here: read the book. (Or, maybe: read this review.)
Wright begins by discussing some ways that the Church’s teachings unintentionally got off track. And, as he is discussing how these various theologians of the past attempted to defend orthodoxy in a way that misconstrued some of the Bible’s teachings, he says on page 37 that “the eighteenth century saw great movements of revival, particularly through the Methodist movement led by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.” and, he goes on to say: (more…)
It seems especially appropriate in the season of Lent to quote from John Wesley’s Sermon (# 48) on Self Denial:
The denying ourselves and the taking up our cross, in the full extent of the expression, is not a thing of small concern: It is not expedient only, as are some of the circumstantials of religion; but it is absolutely, indispensably necessary, either to our becoming or continuing his disciples. It is absolutely necessary, in the very nature of the thing, to our coming after Him and following Him; insomuch that, as far as we do not practice it, we are not his disciples. If we do not continually deny ourselves, we do not learn of Him, but of other masters. If we do not take up our cross daily, we do not come after Him, but after the world, or the prince of the world, or our own fleshly mind. If we are not walking in the way of the cross, we are not following Him; we are not treading in his steps; but going back from, or at least wide of, Him.
— Sermon #48 “Self Denial.”
It seems to me that Lent can be a training ground for the practice of self-denial throughout the year. (more…)
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ”
— Revelation 1:4-7 (NRSV)
These scripture passages remind me of the words of an old favorite Gospel chorus:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
And, it is interesting to note that this is the message of the book of Revelation, also. Here, continually, Jesus Christ is held before us as Savior, Lord of history and the center of our hope. A study of the book of Revelation ought to bring to us a clearer vision of Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t, we have missed the point of it all. It is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1), and he appears in it continually. He is the Son of Pan, the Lamb, the White rider. He is always the central character. If we were to spend a lifetime studying this book (and you easily could) and miss the vision of Jesus Christ that lies at its heart, we would have wasted our time. John wrote this book to encourage people encountering persecution to “turn their eyes upon Jesus.” (more…)
Let me draw your attention to two particularly excellent — and very personal — posts by William Birch over at his new blog, the further. William Birch has been blogging for a long time about classical Arminian theology. But, at his new blog he is addressing issues related to Christian sexual ethics. And, he has reason to: he is himself a same-gender attracted person. He writes:
Often, Christian sexual ethics is at variance with the given surrounding culture. My goal is to challenge the Church to treat the LGBTQ community with dignity, honor, and respect; yet to do so and not compromise their varied, respective, biblical beliefs.
It is especially difficult to write about these issues in the church. So much of the church is caught up in the American Culture War, that it is often hard to hear what some people are actually saying. (more…)
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. This begins the important Church season of Lent. Robin & I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to participate in the 6:30 a.m. Ash Wednesday Service at the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville.They offer Ash Wednesday Services at 6:30 a.m. and at noon. I was asked to assist with the Imposition of the Ashes at the early service. I appreciate being asked.
You see, Ash Wednesday services are important to me — when I can attend. Some years, since my retirement, I’ve had to kind of search around for a nearby church that was holding such a service — this is not generally advertised on the church signs or on the church web sites.
I feel like something is missing if Ash Wednesday isn’t part of my Lent.
But, I haven’t always felt that way about it. (more…)
“Even now,’ declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts and not Your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
— Joel 2:12, 13
The season of Lent begins this week on Wednesday. It is Ash Wednesday that begins the season of the Church Year called Lent. Historically, the season of Lent is one of the most important seasons of the church year. The season of Lent moves toward Holy Week: the time when we remember the crucifixion. Lent looks toward the Cross — and then beyond it to the miracle of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus.
Ash Wednesday arrives this week: Wednesday March 5.
The history of the season of Lent is interesting for us today. Though we do not celebrate it as people did in the past, a look at the history of Lent can give meaning to this season of the Church year. (more…)
I am posting another of the excellent videos in Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seven Minute Seminary series.
In this video Dr. Craig Keener addresses the issue of Divorce and remarriage — particularly as it relates to the teaching of Jesus.
I appreciate the way he addresses this issue. But, I also wanted to post this for another reason. In this video, Dr. Keener raises the issue of whether Jesus used hyperbole (deliberate over-statement) in his teachings. Dr. Keener points out that he clearly did.
This is an important point to remember — especially for those of us who are tempted to ransack through Jesus’ teachings for rules and regulations — he just didn’t teach that way. He used overstatement to get our attention.
Dear Father in heaven, we come to you.
With thanks we come to you.
Again and again you have helped us.
Again and again you have let your light shine on us
so that we could be glad and know that our lives are in your hands.
Protect us on this earth, where it is so necessary.
We need your guiding light.
that the light of true life may shine more and more brightly
and we may praise your name with our whole heart.
Be with us this day, O God,
and touch our hearts with your Spirit. Amen.
— Based on a prayer found here.
There was a time when I thought it was selfish and improper to pray for a blessing on myself. I should pray for others. I should put others first. God would bless as it was deemed appropriate.
I can thank Bruce Wilkerson’s book The Prayer of Jabez for changing my mind about that. Not that I’ve read the (little) book. I never did. I didn’t need to. It was once quite popular — a Christian fad. I used to hear about the book continually. People would quote from it, and summarize it, and refer to it. Other people denounced the book and it’s sudden popularity.
I got curious. So, I looked up the actual prayer of Jabez in the Bible. It’s in 1 Chronicles.
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9, 10 NIV.)
All right. This may not be the most exemplary prayer in the Bible, but it’s not bad. And, it really is an example of something that was missing in my prayers: both the prayer for God’s blessing and the expectation of God’s blessing. I decided that the whole Prayer of Jabez phenomenon of the time was (on balance) a good thing — and that I needed to make the prayer for and the expectation of God’s blessing a part of my own prayer life. (more…)
In spite of the fact that it comes out of a deep sense of the failure of the nation, Psalm 106 opens (literally!) with a “Hallelujah!”:
הַלְלוּיָהּ הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalms 106:1 NASB).
I don’t think this simply commands an emotion. This is not the same as: “Don’t worry, be happy.” I think I am being told to turn my mind toward the God who alone is worthy of praise.
Emotion cannot be commanded. But, emotion arises when I turn my mind toward something that awakens that feeling. To feel an emotion, I must find the object that arouses it.
Sin, guilt and failure cannot be allowed to be the last word. It leaves me in despair. (more…)
To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, — the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights: — “Lord, is it not thy word, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou ‘givest liberally, and upbraidest not.’ Thou hast said; ‘If any be willing to do thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know, thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.
— From the “Preface” to the Standard Sermons
I’ve said something about my usual habits in reading the Psalms here: Praying the Psalms. Briefly stated, my usual procedure in reading, meditating and praying with the Psalms is to read consecutively and slowly. For this purpose I use an Interlinear (Hebrew with English below) edition of the Psalms. And, usually this approach works very well.
But, with Psalm 106 this didn’t work. With Psalm 106 it was necessary for me to see the opening verses of praise (vv. 1-5) in the light of their larger context.
When I began to read and meditate on the Psalm, I was struck by the language of praise and worship in the opening verses (though they were similar to verses found elsewhere in the Psalms), but then I got “stuck” (from verse 6 onward) in a long section that recounts the sins of the nation of Israel (verses 6-46) and God’s unfailing commitment to them in spite of all that.
This forced me to go back to the beginning and read it over again. The opening verses of praise to God (הַלְלוּיָהּ “Hallelujah”!) are delivered in the conscious memory of the people’s repeated unfaithfulness.
This is praise in the context of guilt. (more…)
And just as limpid and transparent bodies, when the sun’s ray falls upon them, themselves become radiant and shine with another ray from themselves, so the Spirit-bearing souls illumined by the Spirit themselves become spiritual and send forth the grace to others. From this comes foreknowledge of future events, understanding of mysteries, comprehension of hidden things, distribution of gifts, heavenly citizenship, dancing with angels, joy without end, abiding in God, likeness to God, and the summit of desires, becoming god.
— St. Basil the Great, On the Human Condition
You grant us sleep for rest from our infirmities, and repose from the burdens of our much toiling flesh. We thank you, for you have not destroyed us with our sins, but have continued to love us; and though we were sunk in despair, you have raised us up to glorify your power.
Therefore, we implore your incomparable goodness:
Enlighten the eyes of our understanding and raise up our minds from the heavy sleep of indolence.
Open our mouth and fill it with your praise, that we may be able without distraction to sing and confess that you are God,
glorified in all and by all, the eternal Father, with your only begotten Son, and your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
— Prayer of Saint Basil.