Monday, July 29, 2013

GLORY - or Guilt?

“The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3 NIV

The all-sufficiency of Christ is the single and ultimate motivating factor in the life of the true worshiper.  Although much of my writing style is intended to encourage us to reason together and as a result I delve into a bit of ambiguity for this purpose - there is nothing ambiguous in this opening statement.  A shadow may be subject to various forms of interpretation such as a Rorschach test.  The immutability of the substance, however, is vulnerable to no such vicissitudes: “but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:17b NAS

With this assertion then in mind let me ask us a question - including myself in this conundrum - is it possible for the preacher to motivate a congregation toward love and good deeds without resorting to guilt manipulation? The appeal can go something like this, “If you are not where you ought to be with God then you need to come down to the altar and get right.”  “Oughts and shoulds” can produce an impressive result (i.e., the altars were full) - but will they produce endurance, fruit that will remain? If not, then what means are left?

For the grace of God has appeared...

We are never complete in ourselves - there is always room for improvement.  That is a given. Yet guilt manipulation is impotent in this regard - only grace motivation is capable of producing lasting results.  The community definitely has a role in this process - “And let us consider how we may spur (motivate, provoke) one another...” Hebrews 10:24 NIV.  Yet we must consider our means: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,...” Titus 2:11-12 NAS

Guilt manipulation can only produce a facade that is extremely difficult to maintain for it is only a shifting shadow with no adequate foundation.  With the transparency that has come through the explosion of social media in our day those of younger generations quickly see through these attempts to keep up a form of godliness.  I am reading right now from a book written by one of the millennial generation - younger than our own children!  He is a Jesus lover with the words “Child of God” tattooed in Greek on his side.  He is providing what for him and his generation is an objective critique of much of our current church culture - and I am finding myself agreeing with him.  As one who is in his Medicare year, if I cannot be a millennial then I must be a pre-millennial or maybe it is a-millennial? (Let the reader - especially my Reformed brethren - understand that I am not addressing issues of eschatology, but ecclesiology - and that with a wink.)   

Long before the coming of the Christ the Lord spoke concerning the landed promise to Israel: "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 9:5 NAS He is sufficiently capable in and of Himself to complete that which He has spoken.

How often have we heard a well-meaning petition - probably from our own lips - that goes something like this, “Oh God, you know how faithful (how kind, how generous, etc) they have been will you please meet their need?”  This is an appeal based on personal merit, not on the merit of Christ Himself. We are instructed to pray in His Name - not in the name of the supplicant.  This form of plea can be but a short step unto the thin ice of presumptuous sin–making demands on the graciousness of God. 

Now, Father, glorify Me...

The faithfulness of our Father in answering prayer is based solely on His desire to glorify His Son, not to endorse our good behavior.  "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5 NAS Personal merit will pass away - consumed as wood, hay and straw - while the Glory of the Lord will endure forever.

A motivation based on the temporal will not suffice - only that which is eternal is capable of causing the saints to endure until the day of the consummation: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV This statement is the basis of Paul’s prayer for the Church at Philippi - his motivation. 

And as the writer to the Hebrews says there is now something greater among us - not just a promise, but a Person: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him,...” Hebrew 7:25 NAS  Matthew says it this way: "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.” 12:6

How will they believe in Him... 

One of the greatest evangelical exhortations is: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14 NAS Almost all other translations say something like this: “and how shall they believe in him of (about) whom they have not heard?” The New American Standard is one of the few versions that is faithful to the incarnational nature of the Gospel. Is our message Christ and Christ alone, or is it of or about Him - if the latter, adulteration is unavoidable. 

“No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny.”
In Christ Alone - Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

In Paul’s words to Timothy he encapsulates both the exhortation toward obedience along with the essential motivation - the all-sufficiency and supremacy of Christ: 1 Timothy 6:14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

The fruit of obedience is not produced out of our efforts to be pleasing to Him, it is produced as a result of the Father being pleased with us in His Son.  Only this motivation - and this motivation alone - is capable of producing perseverance in the life of the believer.  Thus we are constrained in agreement with the hymn writer: “Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering  to thee.”

by whom are all things,...

Our definitive statement then and the death knell to the conundrum expressed at the beginning of this treatise is found in these words of Paul to the Colossian Church: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Travailing Prayer

Travailing Prayer - To the Glory of God Alone!

“At least 12 people healed last night! Some as soon as they came forward! Prayed with a man that could not walk yesterday in his home, just got a phone call from his wife, today he is walking!”  This is a Face Book message that we recently received from a good friend who was conducting a series of meetings with a local congregation in Canada.

Before he left for the meetings he told us of receiving this invitation to come - and the pastor of the congregation did not even know him.  Yet, the congregation had been praying for revival - and God sent a man of prayer.  Now most of us would be quick to commend that congregation for their persistence in prayer as if they initiated and sustained the process.  I have to believe our Faithful Father had set them to praying and then He supplied the answer to their prayer.

My essential point here is that it is impossible to travail in prayer without the seed of the Divine initiative of God alone.  It has been said, “Tell God what He has told you to tell Him and kingdoms will fall.”

Pray with prayer

Elijah is used as an example of travailing or fervent prayer in the New Testament.  “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”  James 5:17-18 ESV The word fervently used here or earnestly in other translations has its root in a Greek word that literally means to “pray with prayer” or to continue in prayer.  Our English word “importunate” has similar connotations - to be persistent. 

Some previous Jewish writers had held that Elijah was more than just a human being - that he was an angel.  James is quick to counter this foolish notion stressing the reality that the prophet was flesh and blood just like our own - or with a like nature.  

As we look back to this account in I Kings we see that Elijah took an interesting physical position as he entered into this period of fervent or travailing prayer for relief from the drought that also was of God. “So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” I Kings 18:42 ESV I have Pastor Tony Evans to thank for the following insight - a mother in Israel would have understood immediately what this was about for Elijah had assumed the position of a woman about to give birth.  (With her face down between her knees in expectancy she would be sure to see the new life issue forth.) 


A woman gives birth to a child as a result of being impregnated by the seed of her husband. The congregation in Canada awaiting expectantly had been impregnated by the seed of faith.  Elijah had been impregnated by the Word of the Lord.  At the beginning of the drought it is recorded: “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah:” I Kings 17:2 NIV and as the time of refreshing was about to come the prophet heard the word of the Lord again yet in a different manner: “And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.’” I Kings 18:41 ESV

The natural mind was completely unable to comprehend what was happening for Ahab the king had heard nothing - “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” But Elijah the prophet had heard the sound of the Lord - he was impregnated. 

A woman can strain and groan all she wants - but if she has not received the seed of the father there will be no birth.  This futility is what Elijah encountered with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. I Kings 18:29b NAS) and which Christ instructed his disciples not to pray in that way - “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7 NIV


The time of travail is preceded by the harbinger of expectancy for although there is a process of birthing the child will be born - push!  Is the mother able to choose otherwise - decidedly not! Paul spoke of this same concept in this way: “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”  Colossians 1:29 NAS

I was engaged in a conversation recently and one to the persons said that God had told him, “If you will do this or that - then the results will be...”  He then went on to say, “I was compelled.”  God’s “ifs” become our compellings. “For Christ's love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 CSV

"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.”  Isaiah 66:8 NAS  (For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. ESV)

The Lord Himself has declared through the prophet: "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”  Isaiah 48:11NAS  In one of his messages from the revival in Canada our friend closed, “Oh how I love the Lord of Glory!”  

Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")