Archive for September, 2010

September 30, 2010

Listening to God

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 33, Psalm 81-82

Praying

Praying is a popular pastime. According to a 2008 Brandeis University study, 90% of Americans have a spiritual moment with God every day – even Obama recently admitted that he prays daily  [1]. Yet, how do we pray? Some say blessings before eating or falling asleep. Others pray as needs arise. Some use the acronym ACTS [2] [3].

Listening

In our prayers, however, do we ever stop talking to God and start listening to Him? As Asaph noted, Israel’s problem was not their lack of prayer – in fact, they complained to God about everything – but rather their lack of listening:

Hear me, my people, and I will warn you – if you would only listen to me, Israel! [4] … But my people would not listen to me [5] … If my people would only listen to me … [6]

How do we listen to God? Do we sit in silence and wait for a voice? Do we look in the sky for writing across the heavens? For the Israelites, listening to God meant listening to His appointed representative, Moses, and the message that He called him to deliver, the Law. Today, however, God has spoken by His Son:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being … [7].

Thus, the best way to listen to God is to read the Bible, which reveals the promise of His Son through the Law and the Prophets (in the Old Testament) and the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus Christ our Lord (in the New Testament). We come to interpret the Bible through community and prayer [8] and, to the extent that we do what the Bible commands, then we can be confident that we are, in fact, listening to God. As Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” [9)

Prayer

Lord, You have spoken through Your Son and revealed Him to us through Your Word. Yet, I confess that I often am more concerned with talking – rather than listening – to You. Open my ears and silence my tongue so that I may hear what You have to say and help me to obey that which You have spoken. Amen.

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[1] LA Times, Obama increasingly talking publicly about his Christian faith (28 Sept 2010)  |  [2] “A” stands for adoration (e.g., “God, you are holy.”), “C” stands for confession (e.g., “I confess that I am sinful.”), “T” stands for thanksgiving (e.g., “Thank you for making a way for me – a sinner – to be in your holy presence.”), and “S” stands for supplication (e.g., “Help me to live in your righteousness.”). For additional help, see here.   |  [3] I actually use each of these methods of prayer. With my niece and nephew, I pray a blessing over our meal (“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands, we all are fed. Thank you for our daily bread. Amen.”). I say an evening blessing every night before I go to sleep (“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”). I use ACTS to pray almost every prayer that I offer.  |  [4] Psalm 81:8 TNIV  |  [5] Psalm 81:11 TNIV  |  [6] Psalm 81:13 TNIV  |  [7] Hebrews 1:1-3 TNIV  |  [8] The importance of reading the Bible in community cannot be overstated. It guards against apostasy, heresy and arrogance. Thus, it is important to attend church services with knowledgeable pastors or priests, to join a small group, to spend time speaking with friends or family about the Bible, etc.  |  [9] John 8:31-32 TNIV. See also James 1:22 (“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Those who listen to the word but do not do what is says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like. But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.”).

September 29, 2010

Prayer for Another Great Awakening

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 32, Psalm 80

Books

Although I have many books, I treasure two more than the rest – The Gift of Pain by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey and Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden.

The Gift of Pain offers deep thinking about suffering.  As the first physician to discover that leprosy causes the loss of pain – not merely the rotting away of tissue – Brand argues that pain is one of God’s greatest gifts because it indicates that something is wrong.

Not only is Jonathan Edwards: A Life beautifully written, it also offers hope for revival in New England. As William Cooper of Boston noted, “more parishioners sought counseling about the state of their souls in one week than in the previous twenty-four years.” [1]

Sinners

Edwards did not seem like the type to bring about a spiritual awakening. Suffering from acute asthma, he was physically weak and coughed while preaching. Having terrible eyesight, he wore thick glasses and read sermons an inch from his nose.  People strained to hear his frail voice and he lacked any dramatic gestures.

Yet, his delivery was “easy, natural and very solemn.” As Marsden wrote, “The combination of controlled but transparent emotion, heartfelt sincerity both in admonition and compassion, inexorable logic, and biblical themes could draw people into sensing the reality of ideas long familiar.”

Thus, in 1741, after having preached Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and arguing that it was solely due to God’s unfathomable mercy on sinners that He had not already condemned them to hell, “there was a great moaning and crying out” – even before the sermon was done. Edwards had “to stop and ask for silence so that he could be heard.” Although the wailing continued and Edwards never finished the sermon, those who were convicted had “cheerfulness and pleasantness” in their countenances.

Prayer

Lord, Hear us from your throne and grant us another spiritual awakening! Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we might be saved. Do not let your anger rise against our prayers or feed us with the bread of tears or make us an object of scorn. Restore us, God Almighty. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Amen. [2]

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[1] All quotations and information regarding the life of Jonathan Edwards is taken from Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden.  |  [2]  The entire prayer is taken from Psalm 80 (TNIV).

September 28, 2010

A Song for Losers

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 31, Psalm 79

The Deacon Blues

From 1972 – 1975, while the Wake Forest “Demon Deacons” football team won only seven games, the University of Alabama “Crimson Tide” was a powerhouse, winning the 1973 national championship and losing just one game in each of the next two seasons.  In 1977, Steely Dan released Deacon Blues.  Its lyrics read:

They got a name for the winners in the world
And I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me the Deacon Blues.

The Jerusalem Blues

As Asaph looked upon the ruins of Jerusalem and the Temple, the people of God seemed like losers.  The pagan powerhouses of Assyria and Babylon had destroyed God’s chosen kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  The destruction of the once-mighty Jerusalem, therefore, seemed to call into question God’s power, sovereignty and rule:

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.  They have left the dead bodies of your servants … and there is no one to bury the dead [1].

Yet, as we have seen [2], God warned of the discipline that He was bringing to Jerusalem for their stubborn and rebellious hearts and He mercifully offered them refuge in Babylonian exile.  For the remnant that refused, however, Asaph confessed and pled for compassion:

How long, LORD?  Will you be angry forever? … Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need [3].

He appealed to the Lord for victory based on the glory of His name:

Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake [4].

In the end, although Asaph stood before a destroyed Jerusalem, he still determined to give thanks to God and praise Him to the next generation:

Then we your people … will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise [5].

Prayer

Lord,  No matter how things may seem today, there is victory in you.  Yet, I confess that I focus on the destruction around me and question your goodness when I see Your people in despair.  Show me Your ways, O Lord, that I may sing to You in my deepest distress – even as I determine to praise Your great name.  Amen.

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[1] See Psalm 79:1-4 TNIV  |  [2]  See here.  [3]  See Psalm 79:5-8 TNIV  |  [4] See Psalm 79:9-10 TNIV  |  [5]  Psalm 79:13 TNIV

September 27, 2010

The Danger of Amnesia

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 30, Psalm 78

Forgetful Me

As a child, if my parents refused to buy me something, I insisted that I was adopted.  To me, “real” parents gave their children anything they wanted.  Shockingly, my argument had a fundamental flaw – I looked just like my parents.

After having to admit defeat, therefore, I switched tactics and insisted that they didn’t love me.  To me, love meant giving me what I wanted.  Today, however, I can imagine what they thought:  “Are you kidding?  You think we don’t love you because we won’t buy you that thing you decided five seconds ago you had to have?  Your mother gave birth to you.  We give you food at every meal.  We tuck you in and kiss you every night.  We sacrifice to take you on vacation.”

Yet, I remember times when my parents would relent and buy me what I wanted.  They didn’t yield, however, because my arguments were good, but rather because they didn’t want me to doubt their love.

Forgetful Israel

Unfortunately, Israel was no better than I was.  Almost immediately after God miraculously rescued them from slavery, “[t]hey forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them” [1].  Even when they did remember, however, they questioned whether he could do it again: “True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread?  Can he supply meat for his people?” [2].

God was “furious” [3] because “they did not believe in [him] or trust in his deliverance” [4].  Even when they repented, it was false: “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him … But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him …” [5].

Yet, like my parents, “he was merciful” [6].  Although they tested Him “again and again” [7], He lovingly chose a shepherd – who pointed to Christ – to guide them “with integrity of heart” [8].

Prayer

Lord, You have done miraculous works for your people.  Yet, because I fail to recall all that you have done, I complain as I focus on what you have not done.  Forgive me for my spiritual amnesia.  Help me to speak of your praiseworthy deeds, your power and your wonders to the next generation so that they would know you and put their trust in you and keep your commands. Amen.

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[1] 78:11 TNIV  |  [2] 78:19-20 TNIV  |  [3]  78:21 TNIV  |  [4] 78:22 TNIV  | [5] 78:34-37 TNIV  |  [6] 78:38 TNIV  |  [7] 78:41 TNIV  |  [8] 78:72 TNIV

September 24, 2010

The Christian’s Fear

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 27, Psalm 75-76

Fear

When you fear one person, you usually hope that another will save you.  Yet, we are told to fear God who saves us.  Asaph feared God because he knew that God would judge all people in accordance with the same evidentiary standard.

It is you alone who are to be feared.  Who can stand before you when you are angry?  From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet – when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land [1].

Why

Since only faith in Christ will acquit us, we should fear having a faith that is not in Christ: “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” [2].  When our lives show that our hope is not in Christ – but in money, sex or power – then we should fear.

Moreover, since Jesus’ blood purchased our faith, we should also fear living in such a way that shows we do not count Jesus’ blood as precious: “ … conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” [3].

Yet, since none of us yet has perfect love that drives out fear [4], our lives often show that our faith is not in Christ or that we do not count Jesus’ blood as precious.  In those moments, fear drives us back into His love.  Thus, fear itself is grace that causes us to fall into and trust in His mercy [5].

Prayer

Lord, You are a great and mighty judge.  Yet, I often think of you too casually and live with a lack of fear of you.  Cause me to fear you and, in so doing, gain wisdom to live in a way that shows my faith is in you alone and that evidences that I regard Jesus’ blood as precious.  When I fail to live in these ways, however, cause me to fall back into the arms of your mercy and trust in the foundation of my salvation – namely, the work that you have done in sacrificing your Son and in pursuing me.  Amen.

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[1]  Psalm 75:7 TNIV  |  [2] 1 Peter 1:17 NASB  |  [3] 1 Peter 1:17-19 NASB  |  [4] 1 John 4:18 TNIV  |  [5]  As Jonathan Edwards wrote in Religious Affections: “So hath God contrived and constituted things in his dispensations toward his own people that when their love decays and the exercises of it fail or become weak, fear should arise; for then they need it to restrain them from sin and to excite them to care for the good of their souls and so to save them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion: but God hath so ordered that when love rises and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish and be driven away for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise to restrain them from sin and stir them up from their duty.  There are no other principles which human nature is under the influence of that will ever make men conscientious but one of these two, fear or love: and therefore if one of these should not prevail as the other decayed, God’s people when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep would be lamentably exposed indeed.  And therefore God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises, the other sinks …”

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