Apostolic Horizon International

Teach Us To Prayer

In Luke Chapter 11 the Lord’s Prayer is recorded as coming from a request by the disciple: “Lord, teach us to pray…” During a time of personal prayer and meditation I realised that the children in our church being home-schooled had not been taught to pray nor was memorising Scripture being actively pursued – both essential practices for growing in the knowledge of the Lord. As this was implemented one of the mums queried my explanation of the Lord’s Prayer asking if it was an outline that governs all prayer. The following outline on The Lord’s Prayer came from that question.

Perhaps the first point to make – based on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6:7 – is that this prayer should not be seen purely as a liturgical prayer to be used at various meetings or events – although that is the intent of the prayer in Luke 11. Rather, it should be understood as a ‘prayer pattern’ or outline to direct the course of daily general prayer. In Matt 6:6 the emphasis is on daily personal prayer, though the plural or inclusive language of the prayer indicates it is also useful for corporate prayer gatherings (cf Act 2:42; 4:24-30). What I think is important is to understand the principles expressed in each section as a means of directing our prayers and establishing our right relationship in prayer. For example: before we reach the petitioning phase, “give us this day our daily bread”, we have already dealt with our idolatrous heart (being evident in self-centredness) by yielding our will to His sovereign will, “your will be done…”. This positions us to petition in line with God’s good, pleasing and acceptable will (cf Rom 12:1-2; Ps 37:4).

Introduction to Prayer

Prayer is as broad as it is deep. And shouldn’t be reduced to only one form. In the simplest terms prayer is ‘to speak’, literally, to talk to God. The need or purpose of prayer defines what ‘type’ of prayers. For example:

Supplications = plea , ask with urgency

Intercession = for others

Thanksgiving and praise

Confession, repentance and forgiveness

 As indicated in the following Scriptures:

1 Timothy 2:1 (ESV) 
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

Philippians 4:6 (ESV)
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Ephesians 6:18 (ESV)
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

1 John 1:9 (ESV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

A life of prayer is a life in fellowship with the Father and Son through the Spirit.

Romans 8:26–27 (ESV)
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Prayer is essential for life

Matthew 26:41 (ESV)
41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The Lord’s Prayer is the foundational prayer given by Jesus for daily life.

Matthew 6:8–9 (ESV)
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

 

Our Father in heaven,

Let your holy name be honoured.

Our Praise, Honour and Worship to God as His children; joint heirs with Christ

Our Father in heaven, we praise you for your greatness and majesty; we thank you for your grace in bringing us into your family; we honour your holy name and exalt you; Jesus our Lord and Saviour, we declare you to be holy and worthy of all honour and praise.

Ezekiel 36:23 (ESV)
23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Our declaration of allegiance

God you reign supreme over all the earth. Let your Kingdom come as Jesus establishes His rule over all things; Let all creation bow to your will; Holy Spirit empower us to lay hold of The Kingdom and to yield fully to Jesus’ Lordship. Let God’s will alone be evident in our lives.

Give us today our daily bread,

Our Petition for Provision

Lord give us what we require this day, not based on our greed but upon your will in alignment with Your Kingdom as it advances. As our will is to see your Kingdom come let us not lack any good thing to participate in the accomplishment of your advancing kingdom in our time.

And forgive us our debts,

As we also have forgiven our debtors.

Our time of self-examination and commitment to Christ-likeness

Oh Lord, create in me a clean heart. Let your forgiveness fill my being and empower me to bring forgiveness wherever I go. Forgive me for (specific sins) as I have forgiven others (forgiveness of others is not in prayer but in deed)

Psalm 103:10–13 (ESV)

10          He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11          For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12          as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13          As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from the evil one.

Our prayer for the Spirit to keep our heart’s desire Christ crucified

Lord let your desire be my desires that I may not be led into temptation by my own lustful desires. Holy Spirit keep me alert to Satan’s deceptive schemes that target my fleshly desires that I may be able to resist the devil. I want to participate in your divine nature escaping from the corruption that is in my human heart through lust.

Eschatalogical

Revelation 3:10 (ESV)
10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

Immediate

James 1:2–3 (ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

And we conclude with praise:

For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever amen. (Not in early manuscripts)

John 14:13 (ESV)
13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

 

A New Generation

There are often calls for particular ‘generations’ to arise in the contemporary western church. For example the ‘Joshua generation’ has been a favourite in previous years, calling for second-generation leaders to ‘possess the promised land’.

As I was meditating on the jealousy of God (Ex 34:14) I realised that if ever we needed a generational uprising, or a ‘spirit’ of some Old Testament character, then it would be difficult to go past Phinehas (Ex 25). God says of Phinehas in verse 11 “he was jealous with MY jealousy”. Indeed Apostle Paul – the New Testament Phinehas perhaps – expresses the same sentiment to the Corinthian church.

 2 Corinthians 11:2 (ESV) For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

The Phinehas generation would be a people who are touched by the absolute and exclusive love of God. The Divine Jealousy is one that is expressed by the exclusivity of election. A people called from the nations of the world to be His own property (1Pt 2:9,10). Such an election of love has absolute claim on the love and loyalty of the objects of His love.

Hosea 6:6 (ESV) For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

The first claim on the church is not evangelism, or giving to the poor, not dynamic church services, or regular attendance at meetings – though these should not be left undone – it is exclusivity. An absolute unwavering loyalty expressed as commitment to His eternal purpose as the Bride of Christ.

This Phinehas crew would be more interested in identifying with God rather than identifying with society. They are more concerned about God’s approval than cultural acceptance; seeking relevance with God before relevance with the community around them. Such a people know that to affect society requires a witness to exclusivity of love rather than to offer a passionless inclusivity.

I don’t know if there is a ‘Phinehas generation’ rising up, but I do know that the jealous love of God cannot remain still in the face of a church whose mission has become the pleasure of society – much like a prostitute serving the pleasure of others – and failing to notice the jealous love of God beginning to burn as a scorned lover. (See Hosea for context)

Deuteronomy 4:24 (ESV) For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Hebrews 12:29 (ESV) for our God is a consuming fire.

The jealous love of God has two faces:

  1. Jealous anger against sin (that which destroys the exclusivity of love)
  2. Jealous care toward His people (passionate love)

These require our meditation and a conscious response.

The Economics of Time

Have you ever heard the saying “time is money”? Well let me clarify from the start that time is far more valuable than money. You can lose money and get it back, but you cannot recover time. Perhaps a truer saying would be, ‘life is time is life’.

Economics deals with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Though life is far more important and valuable than money and production, distribution and consumption is not the ‘chief end of man’, our lives are measured by time. And time – for want of a better word – is ceaselessly being consumed. We do not produce time – it is God’s gift – but we do distribute and consume time.

The Apostle Paul spoke of his life as being ‘spent’ and of himself ‘spending’ his life for the Corinthian church[1].  I commented to someone recently that life is not a practice run. You do not get a second chance. He responded by saying that it was a bit hard or perhaps that I was harsh. Hard or not, it is fact, an undeniable truth. EVERY THING YOU DO YOU PAY FOR WITH YOUR LIFE!

The economics of time is this – whether you are studying, praying, sleeping, eating, working, playing; whether it is a truthful, noble, pure and admirable pursuit or a dishonest, ignoble, and unrighteous pursuit, you pay for it with your life. Every passing moment is irretrievable. As I mentioned already, you can spend money, you can lose money and you can always get it back, BUT you cannot spend or lose time and expect to get it back. Time is the price you pay for everything – either spending or being spent. What is past cannot be retrieved, what is ahead is the credit of time that you have to ‘spend’.

Ephesians 5:16 (ESV)  making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

The context of this passage is that of ‘walking’ or ‘living’ wisely as God’s people, filled with His Spirit, for now the days are evil and time is short. It is, after all, ‘the last days’. How we use or ‘spend’ our time must be considered within the context of eternity.

 Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV84)  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

 Jim Winter comments on this passage: “The Hebrew gives the picture of a set or appointed time. The beauty comes in recognizing and acknowledging the place and purpose of every person, thing, or event in God’s overall plan.[2]” God apportions each life and it is set within the context of His eternal plan and purpose. In fact it is this that ‘redeems’ us from the “futility of temporality” and gives purpose or reason to life.

The ‘economics of time’ is the realisation that life is measured in time and that the ‘value’ of time is life. Time, therefore should never be squandered or wasted on triviality. As Romans 12:1 states, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices”. When we recognise and understand the place and purpose of life in God’s overall plan we would be circumspect in how we ‘spend’ our time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:” The pursuit and development of spirituality, the creation mandate of work and family, engagement in community and reenergization through rest and leisure all fit into ‘a time and season for every activity’. When a person is ‘in Christ’ there are no sacred or secular divisions between work, family, rest, play or prayer, all are worth time in life but each must be apportioned value within the context of God’s eternal plan for each person in Christ Jesus through His Spirit.

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV)  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

 In the words of C.T. Studd: “Only one life, twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last”

Only One Life

By C.T. Studd

 

Two little lines I heard one day,

Traveling along life’s busy way;

Bringing conviction to my heart,

And from my mind would not depart;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, yes only one,

Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,

And stand before His Judgement seat;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, the still small voice,

Gently pleads for a better choice

Bidding me selfish aims to leave,

And to God’s holy will to cleave;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, a few brief years,

Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;

Each with its clays I must fulfill,

living for self or in His will;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

When this bright world would tempt me sore,

When Satan would a victory score;

When self would seek to have its way,

Then help me Lord with joy to say;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Give me Father, a purpose deep,

In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;

Faithful and true what e’er the strife,

Pleasing Thee in my daily life;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Oh let my love with fervor burn,

And from the world now let me turn;

Living for Thee, and Thee alone,

Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, yes only one,

Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;

And when at last I’ll hear the call,

I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.


[1] 2 Corinthians 12:15 (ESV) I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

[2] Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes. Opening Up Commentary (55). Leominster: Day One Publications.

achievement is the culmination of the accumulation of that which seems to be inconsequential

Philippians 3:12–14 (ESV) 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Let me begin by saying, success is not unchristian, achievement is not unnecessary, rather it is essential to our witness of Jesus Christ, and successful deeds or ‘works’ are mandatory.

Jesus links His acceptance of us, or more specifically, entrance into his eternal Kingdom, to the works that we do in relation to others (Matt 25:31-46). We are ‘saved by grace through faith’ and this is not the result of works of law but God’s free gift, according to Ephesians 2:8 & 9. However, we are not saved to become slothful but to ‘do good works.’ We often hear Eph 2:8,9 quoted but seldom the following verse 10:

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

We are HIS workmanship, created FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand. This is what I’ve covered below in ‘the image of God and greatness‘: we have been created in the image of God to do great things.

A Witness is called to influence

According to Jesus’ words in Act 1:8, disciples are empowered by the Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. So what exactly does it mean to bear witness?

The ‘act of witnessing’ – someone who sees an occurrence; countersigns a document; or speaks publicly about Christian belief. But the Christian witness is not one of only seeing but of telling. This is what evangelism is all about – telling others of Jesus Christ.

In a law court a witness is called to testify, with the intent of influencing one way or the other, those who are to make a judgement. Isn’t evangelism’s intent to influence others to make a judgement?

So, to be witnesses of Jesus we need to be influencers. And influence is better facilitated by achieving remarkable things.

Jesus told his disciples that their love for one another – demonstrated in a way that displays God’s selfless love rather than men’s selfish lust: in other words a ‘great love’ – would prove discipleship. The achievement of signs and wonders by the apostles (the result of dedicated prayer and commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom) enabled them the opportunity to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and thereby to influence people.

Achievers are influencers

I think that if we limit the ‘good works’ – for which we are created in Christ to do – to charitable deeds alone, then we not only ignore the Genesis mandate to have dominion or rule over the earth:

Genesis 1:28 (ESV)

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

We also do an injustice to (dare I say, denigrate?) the image of God in man. Humanities innate desire to achieve great things is highlighted in the following story.

The British Geographic Society made the decision to see Mt Everest conquered. They send a number of teams to the mountain and many ended in failure and death. After one such expedition ended in the death of the entire team a well known explorer was asked to give a eulogy. At the memorial service he looked at a photo of the great mountain and said, “we are getting bigger, but you remain the same and therefore are becoming smaller. You will be conquered one day.”

The achievement of great things should not be left to the realms of ungodly people for they would hardly glorify God. When men achieve great things they glorify themselves, when God’s people do great things they bear witness to and glorify the Father of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

So, what is the advantage of taking risks to achieve things? And make no mistake, achievement requires personal sacrifice and demands perseverance. As the saying goes:

“Great men attempt great things because they are great: fools because they think them easy. “

Why endeavour to achieve great things? Well, who is it that gets listened to if it is not those who have achieved notable success? Zig Ziglar, a world recognised high achieving salesman, is in high demand as a sales trainer and motivational speaker and commands great respect (and large fees). What is of importance here is that Zig Ziglar is a serious Christian who never fails to bear witness to Jesus in these seminars. He is a successful salesman whose success has opened doors for him to be able to influence thousands of sales professionals. History is lined with world-changers, Christian men and women successful in their various fields of endeavour, who became great influencers because their success opened doors.

Achievers are influencers and godly achievers influence others as they glorify God through their success.

Conclusion

Evidence of the image of God in man is seen in the determination to do exploits. You may not be the one who is heralded for greatness but every attempt to do great things is a reflection of God’s character in humanity and will become a stepping-stone for future generations (cf Heb 11 & 12). The final conquest of Mt Everest, though physically achieved by Hillary and Norgay, was the result of every expedition from 1921 to 1953, when the summit was finally reached.

I love the words in Daniel 11:32 (ESV) “the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” The KJV says they will do great exploits, but the meaning of the word is simply, they will act. The people who know their God will be strong, resolute and steadfast and will courageously act.

Every night I pray personally for each of my grandchildren (holding them in my arms) and include in the prayer, “Father, let your Spirit rest upon them so that they will not be fearful but courageous, ready and willing to attempt any and every great task put before them, for the sake of Your Glory”.

Many people dream of doing great things but seldom have the commitment or tenacity or willingness to pay the price for success. They justify lack of achievement or mediocrity by highlighting their ‘unique circumstances’ as the reason. Lack of achievement is not the result of poor upbringing or negative power-holders hindering us, it is the refusal to be strong and resolutely act to achieve outcomes that glorify God.

I want to challenge you; if you are called to give abundantly, then how can you do it if you do not have abundance? You need to achieve financial success and be a giver no matter your personal wealth. If you are called to serve others, how can you do it if you are unhealthy and extremely overweight? If you are destined to write poetry or play and instrument or be innovative, how can you do it well if you are unwilling to learn the necessary skills or do the mundane things required for success?

Every great achievement is the result of monotonous step-by-step detailed work. A meaningful life is not the result of 15 minutes of fame but the result of living each moment of the day meaningfully in pursuit of your destiny in Jesus Christ.

Greatness is the accumulative outcome of persistent, tenacious acts that often seem inconsequential.

 

The Image of God and Greatness

The Image of God in all People

The creation event reveals that God chose to display something of His ‘image’ in people. Through sin that image has been corrupted, yet in every great achievement and noble task the image of God in man has be seen throughout history. Every great achievement is a reflection of the image of God in man, and every evil act is a reminder of the reality of the fall.

And every self-promoting, self-congratulatory deed – no matter how great or noble – reflects the sin nature corrupting the image of the divine. By the redeeming work of Jesus Christ we are able to participate in the divine nature of God (2Pt 1:3-4) and are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29).

And so, as per 2Pt 1:3 we who are in Christ have been given everything we need for life and godliness.

The image of God is ‘everything we need for life’ and from it flows the ability to have ‘dominion’ over the earth to achieve great and amazing things – to be creative, attempt and participate in great deeds, and add value to life and lives. The divine nature is ‘everything we need for godliness’ for it judges the motives of our heart and enables every work to be ‘good’ before God. Only that which comes from a pure heart is glorifying to God (1Tim 1:5).

Since those in Christ have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline (2Tim 1:7), be brave and attempt great things.

“Great men attempt great things because they are great: fools attempt them because they think them easy”

 

Living for Greatness

1 John 2:16 (ESV)

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Idolatry (the pride of life) and lust (desires of the flesh and eyes) are foundational motives for peoples’ actions. Pride and lust can be summed up as living and dying for self.

The foundational motive that comes from The Heavenly Father is love. And love can be summed up as living and dying for a purpose greater than self. (cf Jn 3:16)

Living and working to pay off a mortgage, to hangout with friends and family and pursue the maximum amount of self-gratification is a far cry from the ‘image of God’ placed in man and the divine mandate to dominate the earth.

Genesis 1:28 (ESV)

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The Kingdom of Heaven – literally the rule of Jesus on earth – has come; it is advancing forcefully; is growing dynamically; and determined people from generation to generation are laying hold of it (Lk 16:16; Mat 11:12) and endeavouring to possess it even as they are possessed by it (Phil 3:12-14)

In keeping with the image of God in us, we have an obligation (Rom 8:12; 15:1) to pursue God’s will on earth. To live in the motivating force of love which willingly lives and dies for a greater cause: To spend and to be spent (2Cor 12:15), not as paupers with nothing to offer, but as mighty men and women with talents, creativity and finances to be used for great endeavours.

Daniel 11:32 (nkjv) …the people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.

What I do defines Who I am!

 James 2:18 (ESV)

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Martin Luther struggled with James and the idea of faith and works; though his argument seems to miss the fact that ‘work’ in James is not works of law (as Rom 3:28) but works of faith (1Thess 1:3). Behind the message of service to the poor and needy – which is clearly supported by Jesus’ own words in Matt 25:31-46 – is a clear principle of the Kingdom that should be considered.

Why should this principle be considered? Because I finally get it! :) Who we are is defined by what we do! That is the principle of James’s statement “I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

Quite simply the Apostle and brother of Jesus is saying that our deeds in fact define who we are. If I declare myself to be a man of faith but live faithlessly, then I am not what I profess to be. If I declare I am a person of integrity but live inconsistently, then I am not who I say I am. Our deeds, our actions, our works define who we are.

Works of faith are the ‘fruit’ of who we are or have become, the evidence of what is declared.

Jesus Christ is/was an obedient son! Yet how do we know this? Not by His words alone but because of His obedient deeds. He cried out in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done” (Mk 22:42). But are the words enough to convince of Jesus’ obedience, or is it that He accomplished His Fathers will by accepting the cup? It is what Jesus did that defined who He was!

This is made clear in Jesus’ parable of the two sons:

Matthew 21:28–31 (ESV)

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”

The point here is that it was the act of obedience, not the words of obedience, that defined a son as obedient. It is not what a man says but what he does that defines who he is.

How do we know that God is love? By His words? Or are they supported by His deeds?

1 John 3:16 (ESV)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Are We Jesus’ disciples because we say so? Or is it evidenced by some deed or action?

John 13:35 (ESV)

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What we do define who we are!

The person who is a new creation in Christ (2Cor 5:17) is being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29) and is a partaker of the divine nature of God (2Pt 1:4). If this is who we are then what we do will evidence this. If I say I am a righteous man but do not live righteously – if my deeds oppose my words – then I am a liar.

1 John 3:10 (ESV)

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Conclusion

Through Jesus Christ and His transforming work on the cross we are able to declare who we are to be. “As a leader, as a husband, as a father, as a person I am like this”; “I am a person of integrity, of character, faithful and willing to pay the price to maintain my integrity.” However, the acts of a man are what dictate whether this is truth or a lie.

What I do defines who I am!

1 John 3:18 (ESV)

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

James 3:13 (ESV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

 

A New Resolve as we begin a New Year

Philippians 3:13–14 (NIV)

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation, which is the promise of God’s eternal reign being realised on the earth. It launches us into the New Year, a time when we think of the future, endeavouring to put aside past failures and build upon past success.

The New Year is either a time of re-energised activity aimed at producing clear outcomes and accomplishment or of wishful thinking that will produce the same old, same old.

I received a number of New Years posts recently that spoke of last years failed dreams and resolutions (an all to common outcome) and of the need to make new resolutions for this new year. Often the message is the same; secular media may remind us of how statistically we are just resolving to fail again so just live life and forget about it; motivational speakers encourage us to forget about past failures and ‘dream’ of bigger and better things.

I guess my problem with annual ‘motivations’ is that they don’t actually give the essential foundation needed for successful goal-setting which is why we are statistically likely to fail – again (thanks for the reminder secular media). Before resolving to achieve particular goals we need to have a clear and strong foundation to give these resolutions, goals and dreams true meaning. Similarly we need to be prepared for the cost if we are to achieve some of these never-before accomplished goals. We actually have to be prepared for the pain associated with seeing them come to pass.

Rather than another random list of dreams and aspirations whose foundation is nothing more than hedonistic wishful thinking perhaps it would be useful to discover and define our desired life objectives and purpose so that we can set goals to enhance or compliment what/who we are.

Life Objectives and Purpose

Wishful thinking is like playing lotto, dreaming of becoming someone else through chance. If only I could win money; if only I was ‘discovered’, or perhaps find out I am the long lost heir of a rich and influential person. This is the stuff of movies and novels. The only people who succeed are the ones who sell these dreams to dreamers. There is a thriving industry that targets peoples desires by offering stories through which they can live vicariously.

I heard a speaker say recently that we all exchange our life for what we do. How you live will cost you your life. Wishful thinking has a price… it will cost your life. Dreams and ambitions that demand action have the same cost… your life.

So, what are you spending your life on? Begin by asking, “What are my life objectives and purpose?”

Following is an example of my life objectives and purpose:

            As a Leader

As a young man I searched for and desired a ‘spiritual father’ (cf 1Cor 4:15; 2Cor 12:14), someone who would help me succeed as a leader, a husband and a father; to show me how to be a man of character and integrity without seeing me primarily as a means to somehow fulfil their personal need or ambition. I never found such a person and so I determined to be a ‘spiritual father’ to others; to my own children and to those who choose to relate to me as a mentor/leader.

My goal is to be a leader whose motivation is to produce men and women of character willing to spend their lives making a difference in their spheres of influence.

            As a Husband

From my youth I have seen men (many of them ‘Christian ministers’) devalue their wives and mock the covenant of marriage through unfaithful self-serving behaviour and excusing it. I determined to honour my wife and the marriage covenant.

My goal is to be a faithful and loving husband who honours the covenant of marriage – and by extension a faithful father because our children, even mature children, need the foundation from which they have come, to be a secure one.

            As a Father

Scripture reveals God as being generational. I therefore do not live for myself but for future generations.

My goal is to raise godly honourable children and grandchildren and to leave a legacy that will have an effect for generations to come.

            As a Person

I want to be remembered as a man of character and integrity. One, who leads by example, builds for the future and honours God by resembling Jesus Christ in attitude and action.

New Year’s Resolutions

The New Year is like the beginning of a new season. It is a time to plant crops that will produce fruit in the harvest. The New Year is a great time to reaffirm existing goals and values and to set in place desired outcomes that will compliment and aide in the fulfilment of your life objectives and purpose. It is the process of becoming who you are and doing that which reveals who you are. New Year’s resolutions – or more specifically your goals and plans for this next season – are essential to your being and doing; it is the choices that give value to the cost of your life.

So, any goals or New Year’s resolutions must conform to your life objectives and purpose. These will have a far better chance of success because they conform to your core values and ideals about who you are and who you choose to become.

Next your goals should be specific because you will need to include a plan to accomplish them. It is not enough to say you are going to be a better husband/wife or father/mother this year. In what way are you to be better? Will lose weight this year. Why lose weight? For your family’s sake? How much weight? I will drink less or watch less TV. Why? What will you replace it with?

How have your past actions and your currently life-style detracted from your life objectives and purpose? What do you need to do to change that?

Finally, what precisely will you do to make your dreams a reality? And what are you prepared to pay for it?

Every dream, every goal, every ambition costs something. Every non-dream, every procrastination, every lack of ambition and motivation costs something. The price of success is the same as the price of inactivity. It costs your life.

Conclusion

Before getting caught up with New Years resolutions, and conversely, before refusing to engage the New Year with fresh commitment to growth and change and achievement, it is important to establish, redefine or moderate your life objectives and purpose. Ask yourself, who you want to be and what you want to achieve realising that your life is defined by these two questions and your life is the price you will pay for the answers.

Next, set ambitious goals and have plans to enhance your life objectives and purpose this year.

Finally, be committed to the achievement of those goals by willingly accepting the price – time, self-sacrifice etc – to see them realised.

If Jesus Christ is the Lord who reigns then you have already received a great and noble future and have laid out for you objectives and purpose that flow from His divine nature and character (2Pt 1:4).

Philippians 3:16 (NIV)

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

This is Christmas

Isaiah 9:6–7 (ESV)

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

 

I love Christmas time. It is for me the most enjoyable celebration of all for a number of reasons; one being that it speaks of the hope we have in Christ, that one day we will enter into His eternal bliss. It speaks of a future time characterised by righteousness, peace and joy in His eternal presence. Another is that this is not a personal individualistic celebration but a wholly community celebration. As the hymn declares, “Joy to the world…” And of course it is the hope that gives us a reason to ‘rest’ in His divine will and purpose… “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

The King has come to establish His throne

Isaiah 9:6-7 is one of the Christmas season’s most exciting passages. It propels us toward the incarnation – The Word made flesh – and then on to the consummation of God’s eternal plan in Christ Jesus – now the dwelling of God is with men, He will be their God and they will be His people. The Christmas celebration does not indicate the means (the cross of Christ) by which men will be redeemed but that God and man are eternally united in Christ (The New Creation-fully God, fully man).

To us a child is born… a son is given… (cf  Ps 2:7; Heb 1:1-5; Lk 2:11) Not only is the Son of God/Son of Man given, but placed upon His shoulders is the full weight and authority of God’s reign. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1Ti 6:15; Rev 17:14; 19:16). And the rule and reign of God is characterised by justice, righteousness and peace.

The hope that we have in Christ is expressed every year through meaningful Christmas celebration; the King has come to redeem a people from the oppressive reign of darkness and bring them into the liberating reign of His light. The culmination of that redemptive work will be experienced when the final enemy has been destroyed – death – at the consummation of His Kingdom (Heb 2:8). For us it will mean the end of suffering, the end of bondage to sinful flesh,the end of mortality (experienced as disease, decay and death), the end of sorrow and tears; it will be eternally experienced as joy, righteous freedom, immortality and peace.

Revelation 21:1–8 (ESV)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Christmas is a prophetic celebration acknowledging the ultimate eternal bliss of a new heaven and a new earth under the rightful reign of God characterised by justice, righteousness, peace and joy.

How do I celebrate Christmas?

If Christmas, as a prophetic celebration, brings a focus of the eschatological fulfilment of the coming Kingdom of God then I choose to act-out to some extent that future promise in this current age.  It is a time to rest and set my focus so that I can engage life from the perspective of God’s eternal purpose.

Firstly, I enjoy the Christmas lunch in a similar manner to celebrating the Easter ‘Passover’ of roasted lamb, bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus’ death. Christmas lunch is the reminder that the marriage feast of the lamb is to come (Mat 25:10). Similarly the words of Psalm 23:5 ‘you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies’ reminds us that our days of darkness and suffering are only for a season and the eternal bliss of dwelling with God is our reward.

Secondly, I enjoy this celebration with the family of God, those who rejoice in the hope of Christ. I like to sit, talk, laugh and enjoy the fellowship of like-mindedness, acting as though we are now in His divine presence; reclining in the arms of Jesus and rejoicing in His love.

Thirdly, the days surrounding Christmas are a time of rest and relaxation. It is not a rest from the labour of the year but a rest in anticipation of the year to come. It is a time to energise and re-establish an eternal Kingdom focus so that the New Year can be engaged with the right thinking.

Life is not meant to be lived from the perspective of our own self-existence but from God’s eternal purpose revealed in Christ. The endeavour of all Christians is to live as eternal beings in the here and now; to live the age to come in this age. We could never live in the abandonment of self-denial (taking up our cross Mat 16:24) without the perspective of the joy of glory before us (cf Heb 12:2).  Christmas reminds us of and reintroduces us to that perspective.

Luke 2:10–11 (ESV)

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
 Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,


And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

 

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains


Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

 

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow


Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

 

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,


And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Isaac Watts

What is the Gospel

I want to revisit this foundational doctrine as I sense it has become obscured by the many attempts to be relevant to our communities. To ask, “what do people want to hear” is not the same as asking “what do people NEED to hear”? To say the word gospel means good news, does not clear up the issue but would ‘muddy the waters’ if we don’t ask “good news of or about what precisely?”

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (ESV) Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  

 Paul emphasizes that the gospel he preached (not just any good news), the gospel that his readers received and in which they stood, is the means by which they were being saved. If we do not know and continue to grow in The Gospel of the New Testament then our lives will be compromised. We must know what we must stand in. I don’t know about you but I do not want my hope, nor the hope of those I am called to be a watchman over, relying on a message (gospel) that impresses the ears and the thoughts of men but fails to deliver them from their sin.

What the Gospel is not.

The record of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matt  4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13) will help us see and understand what the gospel ‘is not’. Hebrews 4:15 reveals that Jesus was tempted as we are; yet he did not sin. We need to be clear that the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness represents the specific categories under which all temptation is found: lust of the flesh; lust of the eye; pride of life. It represents, physical pleasure, accumulation of possessions (affluenza), and self-promotion/protection.

Is the ‘good news’ a message that God wants and even promises to meet physical needs?

When Jesus had ended His 40 day fast Matthew records that He was hungry. In this state of physical need Satan tempted him “turn stones into bread”. Jesus responded, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Preaching a gospel that appeals to men’s physical needs is a message that is essentially lustful. When personal physical needs take priority the Word of God is lost.

Is it a promise of financial security? Is it really a gospel of prosperity? Satan offered Jesus “all the world and their glory” if He would bow to him. Jesus naturally refused. His message was always clear, ‘worship God alone; you cannot serve two masters – you cannot worship God and money (Lk 16:9-13). Worship of wealth and personal security is worship to Satan.

Is it a promise of healing and/or long life? Jesus seems to identify the passion for personal wellbeing as tempting God and rejected this position.

There is no doubt that our heavenly Father meets physical needs, prospers financially, heals and gives long life – BUT NOT ALWAYS. (cf Heb 11 the complete chapter not just the bits suit another gospel. Particularly vv32-38)

What the Gospel is not? (1 John 2:16) It is not a gospel of sensual gratification (this is lust of the flesh), nor wealth creation and accumulation (lust of the eye) nor personal promotion or protection (pride of life). Simply put, before we came to know Christ we were fallen, rebellious and idolatrous creatures: ambulatory centres of selfishness. What we want to hear is a message that satisfies our natural desires. What we need is a message that is very different.

So, what is THE Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Look up the word ‘Gospel’ in your concordance or do a search on your computer Bible programme and you will find it called “The Gospel [or good news] of The Kingdom”. (Matt 4:23,24; 24:14; Lk 16:16; Act 8:12)

The Gospel specifically is the good news of the Kingdom. The Kingdom speaks exclusively of the rule and dominion of God over all of creation. It reveals His right to rule, to be known and to be worshipped. In Genesis we are told God created all things[1].  Eden is symbolic of God’s presence and man’s rightful place as His creatures.

This Kingdom gospel consequently reveals our rebellious rejection of His ruler/authority[2], (see the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God) and His just and right rejection of humanity (see Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden, God’s presence and the angel with a flaming sword keeping them from returning).

The Gospel firstly reveals God, Justifies His reign as God, and condemns you and me as rebellious idolaters deserving of godforsakenness and death[3]. It does not begin with declaring God’s love but His righteousness (Rom1 16,17) and His wrath (Rom 1:18).

Only at the point of the revelation of our forsakenness –revealed by Jesus on our behalf crying out on the cross “My God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matt 27:46) – does The Gospel, which is the revelation of God in Christ, reveal the Father’s love through the sacrifice of His Son. And at this point the revelation demands, no commands, all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). This is not firstly an offer of personal blessing, or a ‘get out of hell free card’ if you would just ‘receive Him’ as your personal friend and saviour but principally a command to repent of rebellious idolatry.

Only then does this gospel of the Kingdom reveal a God of reconciliation and only then can we experience His eternal love.

The Gospel is the good news that God’s will is to not leave us in a state of godforsakenness, under His eternal wrath, separated from the knowledge of Himself. He has chosen in His divine love to reveal Himself to us in Christ Jesus. And as we seek Him we come to know who we are in relation to Him.

The Gospel of The Kingdom is to us the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. The good news that we discover in this revelation is that we can know God as He is and not as we imagine, and as a result we can know ourselves as God created us and not as we imagine in our idolatrous hearts.

Jesus reveals that eternal life or heaven is not a location but a relationship –  “And this is eternal life, that they know [Him] the only true God, and [the Son] whom [He] sent.” (John 17:3)

 

The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus is the means of salvation, and the pursuit of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus is the Gospel’s purpose.

 

Matthew 6:33 (ESV) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.



[1] Colossians 1:16 (ESV) For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

[2] Romans 1:18-32

[3] Romans 1:18ff; 3:10-18

 

Marriage, Sexuality, Gender

My desire through my posts on Facebook and this blog is to encourage ‘theological’ thinking. That is, to interpret all things – life, the universe and everything – according to God’s self-revelation. Which is; the Trinitarian God who reveals Himself in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. In the light of God’s self-disclosure we are confronted with the truth/reality of our own existence. Only when The Father draws us to His Son through The Spirit are we confronted with our status as “enemies of God”. And only then does the revelation of The God of reconciliation draw us into His divine being (which is love 1Jn 4:8) – a state that we call “salvation”. Salvation, or eternal life if you will, is not in an event or an experience, nor is it a future prize for religiousity. Jesus reveals it in His prayer in John 17:3 (ESV)And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. And so, all who are found in Christ must think differently (Rom 12:2), we must review and interpret all of life’s events etc theologically according to who God is.

What I appreciate most about the author of this following article – John Yates – is his passionate desire (and ability) to bring all things into the light of God’s self-revelation. Concerning the ‘marriage equality’ debate John has brought it into the sphere of Trinitarian theology, the only place from which Christians should view this and every matter.

Marriage, Sexuality and Gender – by John Yates 

It’s All Personal

Despite the godly outcome of the recent “marriage equality” debate in our federal parliament we are on a slippery slope into progressive relational deviancy without an unprecedented spiritual renewal. I am not confident however that most Australian Christians discern the depth of the issues at hand when it comes to sexuality, gender and marriage. This has constrained me to open up in an area where I am usually quite private. The challenge of this article is to hold together in their true dynamic tension the two great sources of relational inspiration in my life – my theological reflections and my spouse of 37 years. The “God” I am talking about here is the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the wife is Donna. I will try to interweave these two threads, and then apply what they teach us to the contemporary confusions about sexuality, gender and marriage.

Things I Have Learned About God from Marriage

1. Equality

The founding principle of our Trinitarian faith is that “in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another.” (Athanasian Creed).  For many years I considered myself intellectually and spiritually superior to   my dear wife. I was the professional Christian and trained theologian, and she was often seen as a tag-along in church the circles. Then one day, in the midst of some crisis or other, I reluctantly humbled myself and said from my whole heart, “I need you.” That initiated a spiritually breakthrough which I don’t fully understand, but I am still amazed at the radical sense of equality that somehow encompasses our marriage. I can now proclaim the equality of the Persons of the Trinity with much greater authority because I somehow have an insight into it through marital intimacy.

2. Diversity

“The Father is not the Son, The Son is not the Father, The Father is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Father, The Son is not the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit is not the Son.”[1] The Early Church Fathers insisted on the absolute distinctiveness of the Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit from each other. God’s own unified self-consciousness arises out of the diversity of the 3 Persons-in-relationship. The Father is who he is only as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3),  Jesus’ total awareness of his identity is that God is his (eternal) Father (John 17:5); the Spirit knows himself as the Spirit of Father and Son (Matt 10:20; Gal 4:6).

I said to my Donna recently in the context of prayer, “It’s incredible that someone so different from me can be a member of the same species.” To encounter someone so connected to me yet so absolutely distinct is to share an awareness of the divine life itself. This has periodically led me to tears. To be awe struck by an identity so complementary yet so different (cf. Gen 2:23) is to appreciate that the image of God is male-female in dynamic unity (Gen 1:26). The existence of men and woman as bipolar opposites is a living testimony that God is Trinity. Only by our mutual holiness, servanthood, submission and cooperation can the genders be the effective bearers of the revelation of the one true God to a world full of confusions about sexual identity.

3. Unity

“And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity” (Athanasian Creed).  Whilst distinctions exist in God there is absolutely no separation between the members of the Trinity. The “one flesh” vocation of marriage (Gen 2:24) was created as an icon or reflection of the unity of God; but this is an extraordinarily different reality to live out. When God condemned Adam and Eve for their collusion in rebellion he pronounced a devastating judgement; “Your desire will be to master your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)[2] . The only way I know to break the “battle between the sexes” for dominance and control is united prayer. It is only as I have prayed together with Donna that I have felt lifted above the satanic powers that engender conflict; at times I can deeply sense that our prayers are not limited to our own lives as husband and wife, but share in the relationship between Christ and the Church. This seems to be a sharing in a union transcending mere physicality, “he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV).

4. Presence

Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11). Theologians use the word perichoresis to describe how the 3 Persons indwell one another in their complete sharing of a common life. They are totally present in each other’s lives. The Spirit of God communicates a share of this reality to the members of the Body of Christ. Paul believed though geographically separated from the Corinthians he was personally present through Christ’s Spirit, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus…” (1 Cor 5:4 ESV).  This same dynamic encompasses all of us who are betrothed to Christ as his Bride betrothing the Church to Christ as his Bride (2 Cor 11:2). When I pray in the name of Jesus for Donna in her role as a school teacher, my spirit is with her when she stands in front of a hostile class. When husband and wife seek the Lord together we are sharing in and imaging to the spiritual world the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32).

Application

The current debate about marriage equality seeks to bypass the dynamics of gender that God has created to reveal himself. Most profoundly, it is a satanic assault on the identity of God as he has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit! The call to Christian marriage is a call to a form of discipleship that takes us beyond the culture of self-enjoyment that today dominates our nation and so much of the Church. The blanket of fleshly darkness that lies over the minds of most Australians (2 Cor 4:4) concerning sex and marriage can only be penetrated by a band of spiritual light (1 Pet 2:9) flowing from Spirit-filled marriages bathed in the inexhaustible riches of Christ (Eph 3:8).

I think that it was C. S. Lewis who said that the spirituality of marriage was a foretaste of heaven and hell, but I know that it was Donna Yates who said, “Marriage is never boring!” What do you think?

 



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shield_of_the_Trinity

[2] See the NLT and ESV footnote to support this translation; for theological details visit, http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-Genesis/Text/Articles-Books/Foh-WomansDesire-WTJ.pdf