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On Prayer: The Chief Exercise of Faith

Quotes

Over the years I’ve found much of what I’ve read about prayer to be unhelpful. Here’s why: Prayer is usually considered under the heaving of ‘spiritual disciplines’ which makes it the spiritual equivalent of running on a treadmill or flossing your teeth, neither of which are attractive to me. Viewing prayer purely as a discipline drags the whole business back into the world of law, and law can never impart life.

I awakened to this when I discovered a description of prayer that warmed my heart with a fresh desire to pray. Calvin describes prayer as

“the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits.”

Then he offers this compelling picture:

“We dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon.”

Imagine walking over a field where vast treasure lies buried. To make these riches your own, you need two things: a map and a spade. Scripture is your map, and prayer is your spade.

I find this picture helpful because it delivers prayers from the austere world of law and discipline and brings it into the realm of the gospel and promise, where it belongs. Prayer is more than a duty to be fulfilled; it is a gift to be enjoyed. There is a world of difference between ‘having your quiet time’ as a spiritual discipline and drawing near to God to possess what He promises to you in Christ.

Since prayer is “the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits,” it follows that the primary gifts you will receive go far beyond ‘answers’ to items or needs on your prayer list. Prayer is the means by which you lay hold of all that God has promised in your own life and in the lives of others for whom you pray.

Question for Reflection

  1. What do you think about prayer?

Resources

Colin Smith, Jonah: Navigating a God-centered Life, 62-63.

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The Gospel and the Christian Life – Part 5

The Gospel and the Christian Life

Over the next several weeks we are going to follow the story line of Scripture from Creation to Jesus’ return in an effort to deepen our understanding of the Gospel and how Christians are to live after they have professed Christ as Lord and Savior. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Jesus as our Penal Substitute and Propitiation

(1) Jesus as a Penal Substitute

The word substitute tells us Jesus took our place and died instead of us having to die. The word Penal tells us Jesus took our punishment paying the penalty for our sins. If we put these together, we learn Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin as He died in our place.

Several scriptures speak to Jesus’ penal substitution.

  • Galatians 3:13 tells us Jesus became a curse for us as He died on the cross. He accepted the curse of the Law, which is death. A curse we deserve because of our sin.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us Jesus, who was sinless, was made to be sin for us. On the cross, He took our sin on Himself. He died our death, so we could experience salvation.
  • Isaiah 53:4-6 tells us Jesus bore our grief and carried our sorrow. He was stricken, afflicted and wounded, not by man, but by God for our sins (transgressions). He suffered in our place so we might be healed.

What an amazing thing Jesus has done for us. All so we might experience eternal life.

(2) Jesus as our Propitiation

The word propitiation, while it is a big word, tells us a big truth. It means Jesus, through His death on the cross, satisfied the wrath of God against us. Not against Him, but against us.

As sinners, we deserve God’s wrath. We deserve His anger to be directed at us in punishment. Jesus, however, satisfied God the Father’s wrath. Since Jesus satisfied the Father’s wrath, when He looks at His Son’s (Jesus’) death, He sees a full and complete payment for sin.

Several scriptures speak to Jesus as our propitiation.

Hebrews 2:17 says,

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:17)

1 John 2:2 says,

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2)

As well as 1 John 4:10 says,

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10)

So we learn Jesus is our propitiation, the One who satisfies the wrath of God.

The amazing fact in all this is that God Himself sent Jesus to be our propitiation. Isn’t it amazing that God makes a way for us to be saved? And that His way is by sending His own Son to die in our place, taking our punishment, and satisfying His wrath against us all so that we can enjoy everlasting life. God really loves us!

Declared Right By God Through Our Belief

In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Co 5:21)

And in Romans 4:5 Paul also writes,

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Ro 4:5)

These verses teach us we are declared right by our belief in Jesus. In other words, we are declared to be righteous, right in our standing before God.

How can that be? Especially since Romans 3:23 tells us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are told that as sinners we cannot be righteous. Here, however, we are told we are. So how?

As sinners we have broken God’s commands, rebelled against Him, chosen our own path to walk, so we aren’t made righteous by our own efforts. It’s not according to our own work or good deeds.

Instead of our righteousness being based on our work, it is based on Jesus’ work. He is the One who lived a perfect life. Imagine that. Imagine that Jesus perfectly kept the Law. He didn’t sin once, nor did He ever rebel against God. Since He never sinned, Jesus is considered righteous.

When we believe in Him as our Lord and Savior, His righteousness is put on us. It is, and here is a big fancy word, imputed to us. That’s how we can say we have been given Christ’s righteousness. We have been declared righteous. Again, that doesn’t occur through our work, but through our faith in Jesus’ work.

So when sinners (that’s you and me) place their faith and trust in Jesus, they are declared righteous.

Reflect

  1. What does the word propitiation mean?
  2. What is the biggest problem we have? What has God done to correct our problem?
  3. What does imputation mean?
  4. Why is it true that when God looks at Christians — those who have placed their hope and trust in Jesus — He sees His Son, Jesus, instead of unrighteous sinners?

Resources

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Some posts’ structure influenced by Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware

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How Should We Handle Distressing Situations?

How Should We Handle Distressing Situations?

What should we do when we are troubled? When we are distressed? When our emotions are running out of control? I believe we should do what Jesus did. We should pray, ask others to pray for us, and rest in God’s will.

Jesus’ Enlists Others to Pray for Him

In the Garden of Gethsemane, feeling the weight of what He is about the face, Jesus goes off to pray, but not before asking His disciples to watch with Him.

What I think He means by “watch with Him” is that they are to be on alert. They are to be aware that something is about to happen. As well as I believe that while they are awake watching, they should be praying for Him. He just told them He was sorrowful and distressed, so I believe they should also be praying for Him during this time.

Jesus Prays to the Father

After Jesus asks His disciples to watch with Him, Jesus goes further into the garden and He prays to the Father. In Matthew 26:39 Jesus prays saying,

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39)

Notice: Jesus Doesn’t Try to Handle It On His Own

What I believe is important for us to notice is that Jesus doesn’t try to handle this on His own. He doesn’t try to pull Himself up by His own bootstraps. Nor does Jesus keep His distress bottled up inside. Instead He enlists others and He prays to the Father Himself. He prays to the only One who can do anything about it.

Jesus’ Prayer is Honest

When He prays, He is honest with His Father. He reveals how He feels then and how He feels about the suffering He is about to face. Distressed by the situation, He asks the Father to take the cup away, if possible.

The cup that Jesus refers to is God’s wrath. You see, apart of Jesus and the Father’s plan was for Jesus to take on the wrath of God. God’s wrath would be poured out on Him instead of us. He would pay the penalty for our sins. In an extreme act of love, Jesus has planned to die in our place. He has planned to take the punishment we deserve on Himself. Which tells us, Jesus’ death didn’t just happen. It was apart of a plan. A plan known by Jesus ahead of time. A plan three times He asks the Father to change if possible.

Jesus Rests in God’s Will

Through His prayers, however, He realizes the Father is not going to change the plan. Realizing nothing is going to change, Jesus ultimately rests in God’s will because He knows there is no better place to be.

That’s true for us as well. There is no better place for us than in God’s will, so we should rest in it. While doing so won’t change the circumstances — Jesus still went to the cross, He still suffered and died — it will help us through our circumstances because we know they are apart of God’s plan.

What We Should Do

So when we find ourselves in a distressing situation what we must do is pray, ask others to pray for us, and rest in God’s will.

Question for Reflection

  1. What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Why?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Jesus Stayed, Even Though He Knew

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Tell Others How You Feel

Tell Other's How You Feel

Before Jesus was arrested and put on trial, He retired to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with His disciples. When He enters the garden, He takes three disciples with Him further into the garden to watch and pray.

Jesus Shares His Feelings

As they are leaving the others, Jesus’ soul becomes sorrowful and troubled. Jesus knows what is about to happen and He is deeply distressed over it. The distress Jesus feels wasn’t a I left my homework at home, or I can’t pay a bill, or I lost my job kinda distress. The distress Jesus is feeling is a distress that is like death itself.

I don’t know about you, but I have never been so sorrowful, so distressed that I could die. But Jesus was. He was because He knew what was about to happen to Him. The reality and the weight of the cross was bearing down on Him. In that moment, He relates His feelings to the three disciples with Him.

In verse 38 He tells them:

[His] soul is very sorrowful, even to death;[and He asks them to] remain here, and watch with [Him].”” (Mt 26:38)

You see, while Jesus was God, He was also man. It is a mystery how someone could be 100% God and 100% man, and I am not trying to solve that mystery for us now. I only want to point out that Jesus was human like you and I. As a human, He experienced feelings and emotions just like we do. He felt the weight of heavy situations, just like we do. He felt sorrow and distress, just like we do. Jesus felt these things because He is human just like we are.

A Comfort to Us

Knowing Jesus, the perfect God man, is human and feels emotions like we do should be comforting. It’s comforting because it tells us He can sympathize with what we are going through. So we need not be ashamed to bring our feelings to Jesus.

Human Emotions are OK

Not only does Jesus comfort us by displaying His emotions, but He also teaches us human emotion is ok. It is ok to feel, and to share your feelings with others.

True But Hard

While that is true, I believe sharing our feelings is something we aren’t comfortable with. And, at times, I would include myself in that group – the group that thinks they have to keep their feelings bottled up inside because they believe doing so makes you more of man or more independent.

That, however, is not true. Jesus shared His feelings with His disciples and you better believe He is more of a man than we could ever hope to be.

So we see then that it is ok to feel and it is ok to share those feelings. It’s ok to tell your kids you love them. It is ok to tell your spouse and your friends how you are feeling. These things are ok to do. Jesus did them and so should we.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you struggle with sharing your feelings with others? Why?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Jesus Stayed, Even Though He Knew

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The Gospel and the Christian Life – Part 4

The Gospel and the Christian Life

Over the next several weeks we are going to follow the story line of Scripture from Creation to Jesus’ return in an effort to deepen our understanding of the Gospel and how Christians are to live after they have professed Christ as Lord and Savior. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Redemption and Reconciliation

The Continued Affect of Sin

After Adam and Eve left the garden, sin continued to affect them and their family. One of Adam and Eve’s sons — Cain — killed another son — Abel (Gen. 4). The corruption of sin didn’t stop with them, it only continued to grow until God decided to destroy the world with a flood and start over with Noah’s family (Gen. 6-9).

Even after God destroyed the world and started over with Noah, the corrupting power of sin still affected the people’s of the earth. They turned from God to themselves so much so that they attempted to make a name for themselves instead of making much of God (Gen. 11).

God’s Promise

Clearly, Adam and Eve’s sin had affected the entire world. God, however, had made them a promise. He was going to deal with sin and Satan. He would do that through the Christ, the Messiah. We know Him as Jesus.

Waiting on Jesus

Jesus, however, didn’t show up for several thousand years. As we wait on Jesus, a number of important characters carry the narrative forward.

God establishes the nation of Israel through Abraham (Abram). In Genesis 12, God came to Abraham and asked him to leave his home and go to another country. A country he knew nothing about, but one God would direct him towards. Abraham trusted God. He packed everything up and started walking in the way the Lord directed him.

God then established a covenant with Abraham promising him that from his offspring would come the Savior — Jesus (Gen. 12:7, Gal. 3:16).

After Abraham and his family, comes Moses. Moses led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt in an event known as the Exodus (Exodus 12). After which, God established Moses as the leader of Israel. While Moses was leading the nation, God gave Israel the Law (The Ten Commandments and everything else in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). It made a way for them to have a relationship with God, but wasn’t sufficient to keep the people from sin.

Another important character is David. He was the example King of the nation of Israel. The one to whom all other kings were compared. Under his reign and rule the nation thrived and worshipped God.

Israel, however, didn’t continue to thrive and worship God after David died. Through a series of evil kings, the nation fell deeper and deeper into sin until God decided to punish them. Both the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) were captured and exiled from the Promised Land.

Finally, after years in exile, they were able to return and rebuild Jerusalem. After rebuilding Jerusalem, they waited for the Messiah (the Savior sent by God). Clearly, He was needed. No matter how many leaders came, Israel couldn’t be curbed from sin. Something else needed to be done in order to cause them to worship God in the way He directed and to repair their relationship with God.

Jesus Finally Comes Bringing Salvation

So several thousand years after God’s promise to Adam and Eve, Jesus came, lived a perfect life, and died on a cross. When He died on the cross, He took our punishment for us, acting as our substitute. God’s wrath was poured out on Him instead of being poured out on us.

Jesus’ death was necessary because our sin is what hinders our relationship with God. God is holy and we are not. He cannot have a relationship with someone who is not holy, who is a sinner. Just like Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was ruined by sin, so is our relationship with God. The only way He can have a relationship with us is if someone takes our sin from us and makes us holy. Jesus is that person. He is the one who takes our sin from us, places it on Himself. While at the same time, He places His righteousness on us. When that occurs, our relationship with God is restored. Instead of seeing a sinner, God sees a holy and righteous person.

All those who believe Jesus is their Savior and Lord, confess that they are sinners and turn to follow Jesus will be saved. Their relationship with God is repaired by Jesus.

Reflect

  1. Did you realize Jesus was promised in the Old Testament?
  2. How does the Old Testament help you see the reason Jesus had to come?
  3. What is a substitute? Why is it important Jesus became our substitute?
  4. How can you become a believer?

Resources

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Some posts’ structure influenced by Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware

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You Don’t Work For That Which You Aren’t Apart

Work

Most likely you aren’t going to walk in Wal-Mart next week and see me stocking the shelves for them. As much as I think it would be helpful since they are often out of the things I want, I am not going to do it. I am not going to do it because I am not an employee of Wal-Mart. They aren’t the ones who pay me every week, so I am not going to help their stockers stock the shelves. Most likely you won’t be stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart either.

You don’t work for that which you aren’t apart.

Apply it to the Kingdom

The same principle applies to the kingdom. Those who are apart of the kingdom work to further the kingdom. Those who are not apart of the kingdom, don’t spend the time working to further it.

Not A Works Based Salvation

When I say you don’t work for that which you aren’t apart, I am not advocating a works based salvation. I am just stating the obvious. The ones who work for the kingdom are the ones who are apart of the kingdom.

Are You Really Apart of the Kingdom?

So then if you say that you are a Christian, if you say you are apart of the kingdom, yet you don’t employ your God-given gifts to further the kingdom, then are you really apart of the kingdom? If you never use your gifts to further the kingdom, has your status really changed? Can you really call yourself a child of God?

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you work for the kingdom?

Resources

Posted adapted from my sermon Disciple, Get in the Game!

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On Total Surrender

Quotes

You don’t follow Jesus like you follow someone on Twitter, where you are free to take or leave their thoughts at your leisure. Following Jesus is not letting Him come into your life to be an influence, even if it’s a significant influence. Following Jesus means submitting to Him in all areas at all times regardless of whether you agree with what he says or not.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you agree with Greear?
  2. Have you fully surrendered your life to Jesus?

Resources

J.D. Greear, Stop asking Jesus into your heart, 81.

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