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Monday, February 29, 2016

ABBA, FATHER

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
Galatians 4:6

This is one of the most powerful statements of prayer in the entire Bible. It is a wonderful statement of intimacy. You may be aware that Abba is a Hebrew word. That is only partially true. It was, in fact, an Aramaic word. Hebrew was the language taught in the synagogue. It was the language of the Torah, the Old Testament law. But in the days of Jesus Aramaic was the language spoken in the home. Abba does mean father, but it might more accurately be translated, "Daddy." It could be translated, "Dada."
Before our first grandchild was born our family talked about grandparent names. Although I admit it is not as clever as some, I wanted to be called, "grandfather." My wife immediately said, "The poor little thing won't be able to say that." I answered, "I will answer to whatever she calls me." And sure enough, my grandchildren call me, "Gaga."
Abba would have been the first effort of a baby to say its father's name. The significance of Mama, Dada or Abba is intimacy. The baby saying that word is not asking for the car keys. She wants her parent's arms. She is clinging to your neck. The Holy Spirit inspires us to cry out for God's embrace.
Such a prayer is also passionate. You may note that the English Standard Version quoted above follows this statement with an exclamation point. That is because of the force of the word, "cry." The word Abba is only used once in the gospel accounts. In Mark 14 Jesus used this word to cry out to His Father as He sweated blood "with loud cries and tears" in the garden before the cross.

Abba is also used in Romans 8:15 which also says by the Spirit we cry, "Abba, Father." In the same context Romans 8:26 says the Spirit intercedes for us with groaning. We live in a groaning world. Romans 8:20 says creation itself was subjected to pain and frustration. The godly response to this world of suffering must include passionate prayer. And it is crucial to see that this verse is calling us to supernaturally inspired prayer. If the Holy Spirit is present in your life, He will inspire you to cry out, "Abba, Father," to our God. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

WITHOUT A DOUBT

Matthew 21:20-22
“When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’”

Frankly, powerful statements that Jesus made like this about faith unsettle me. Does this promise mean if I believe hard enough, God will enable me to rob our local bank and cause the bank guard to wither when he tries to stop me? Does it mean I can have a pink Cadillac, if I drum up enough faith, saying, “I believe! I believe! I believe!”?
Such declarations tend to make us uncomfortable because we do not understand what faith is or how to acquire it.
Biblical faith responds to God. It rests on what God’s word says and on what God speaks to our hearts. Romans 10:17 says,
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Paul, of course, is referring primarily to hearing the gospel.  But Jesus clearly told us no one could come to Him without the Father drawing. (John 6:44) This is not simply hearing the gospel from another person or reading it in the Bible. We must hear God speaking to us through the Bible or another person. As we respond to the gospel, we enter a relationship of faith by which we continue to hear God speak and trust in Him.
In Romans 12:3 Paul writes,
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Paul goes on to list different spiritual gifts that God calls us to trust him for. God may or may not call you to turn the Potomac River to blood or part the Mediterranean Sea for refugees to walk through on dry land. But if you grow in hearing God's voice, you will be amazed at what He will do through your faith in Him.
I need to say, I have trouble believing God for what He desires to do in and through my life. I want to cry out with the man in Mark 9, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I think that man, in his desperation, grasped the key to growing faith. He asked Jesus. Jesus develops our faith as we seek Him and spend more and more time listening to His voice.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

STRUGGLING IN PRAYER

All prayer is not a struggle, but some of the best prayer is like Jacob wrestling with the Lord.
There are several reasons we must struggle in prayer. They are diverse enough that they could not be covered thoroughly in a single blog entry. I will pray about writing a series of blogs on this important subject. But for now I want to overview the issue.
We need to struggle in prayer because of the condition of the fallen world where God has assigned us to minister. In Joel's powerful call to prayer we read,
"Gird yourselves and lament, you priests;
Wail, you who minister before the altar;
Come, lie all night in sackcloth,
You who minister to my God;
For the grain offering and the drink offering
Are withheld from the house of your God.

We need to struggle in prayer over the condition of our country, our city, sometimes our churches. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Have you wept in prayer over someone you love who is rejecting Christ. Have you fasted before God because of things were terribly out of His will?
We sometimes need to struggle to discern God’s will. Have you prayerfully poured yourself out over scripture and circumstances to clearly hear God’s voice?
I also have to struggle over my will. In a sense this is struggling over the will of God. Only saying it that way sounds like God is the enemy. But as a child of God, He is no longer the enemy. He is on my side against the selfishness and foolishness of my sinful nature.
It is almost blasphemous to compare my struggles with that of Jesus in the garden before the cross. But He showed us the right attitude of prayer. Even as Jesus was asking if there were any way "the cup" could pass from Him, He surrendered to His Father’s will. And after He had spent time in the presence of God, Jesus made peace with God's will even though it would cost Him everything. The struggles God leads you through are never so difficult or so crucial. But they are important. And they are a necessary part of spiritual growth.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

PRAYING YOUR ANGER


Most of us are familiar with Paul's admonition in Ephesians 4:26,
"Be angry and sin not."
This command requires some thought for most moderns. Both verbs in the original language are in the imperative mode. We are not only told not to sin, but we are commanded to be angry.
This is actually a quotation from Psalm 4:4. Most of us are not aware of this because our English translations of Psalm 4:4 generally read "Stand in awe and sin not." But the New Testament quotes from the Septuagint*, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which renders these words from the Hebrew, "Be angry." Modern English readers, with our many translations of Scripture, have an opportunity to understand something about translation that most readers down through the ages have not necessarily seen. Translating from one language to another can be complicated. The root of the Hebrew word in Psalm 4:4 means to tremble. It is used for trembling from great emotion, agitation, extreme awe, anger or fear. If your prayers are always calm, you are missing something.
This reminds me of Hebrews 5:7. "In the days of his flesh Jesus lifted up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears." Like God the Father, Jesus was angry from time to time. He demonstrated it when He drove the money changers from the temple. He trembled with anger as He stood at the tomb of Lazarus. He was angry at the stubborn scribes and Pharisees who perverted the law of God.
We are not sure how to respond to this. We may want to reprimand the Lord. "Now Jesus, we mustn't get angry." But there are times when not getting mad is sin. Of course, anger can also be dangerously sinful. So how do we find the balance of sinless anger?  And how do we keep the sun from setting on our wrath? We need to pray over our anger.
Psalm 4:4 completes the command, "Commune with your own heart on your bed, and be still." There are two applications of this. First, we need to commune with God. And we also need to talk to our own hearts in the presence of God.  
We need to wrestle in prayer over the reason we are angry. Am I angry because something is wrong or because it offends me? I may need to repent of my reasons for being angry. But if something is truly wrong, if it perverts or destroys something holy, then I need to join God in anger. I also need to put what angers me into the hands of God. Until I have communed with God over something, I will not know what I should do about what angers me. And by praying I recognize that even if I need to act on something, God is the only one who can make things right.




*I believe this is always true, but I have never read this anywhere or traced it out myself.

Monday, February 1, 2016

PRAYING WHAT WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND ABOUT GOD

"I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me."
Job 23:5
All of us come across things we do not understand about God. Some of them certainly bother us. I recently talked with a close friend who was struggling with one of those things. I told him I thought he might gain deeper insight than those of us who do not struggle with his particular question. But I don't believe that is always the case. I think it depends on how you pray about the issue that is bothering you.
Are you praying to understand? This is fundamental. I started to say there are things that can only be understood, if God explains them to us. But that statement is too narrow. We can never understand anything about God, if God does not reveal Himself to us. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says the things of God are "spiritually discerned."
The next principle of prayer that must apply here, is to come to Him in worshipful humility. Expressions of this need to be cut into several facets. Let me propose a parable for you to chew on. This is the kind of problem that puzzles us, and can frustrate or anger us. And while this is told as a parable, some of you know of something similar that has happened.
Suppose a group of young people are on a church bus on their way to an outing when an out-of-control truck hits them killing every young person on the bus. And suppose some of them had not yet understood the gospel, and would have that night. If God knew about this before it happened, before any of those young people were born, even before the foundation of the universe, why did He not prevent it?
My first application of humility here is the recognition that God is good. The problem is of course an example of the philosophical conundrum, "If God is all powerful and good, why do we still find evil in the world?"
But if good truly exists, there must be an ultimate good and an ultimate perspective of good. Just as life must have a living source, and intelligence must have an intelligent source, so goodness must come from an ultimate personal good. Abstract concepts come from persons. Persons do not spring from concepts. The ultimate source of good is God. If God were evil there would have to be someone higher than God to pronounce him evil. An evil being would not be God. If there is no ultimate good, there is no way we can say with any authority, "That is good." or "That is evil."
This does not solve the problem, but it gives us a starting place. Trusting His goodness, we can humbly come to God, asking Him to help us understand.
The next facet of humility is patience. There is no question that we live in a fallen world. The Bible explains that our world was cursed because of sin. I don't think I would need the Bible to tell me things are not right or fair. The good suffer and the wicked prosper. I am part of that evil. I love the story of The Times asking the question, "What is wrong with the world?" G.K. Chesterton reportedly wrote back.
"I am.
Sincerely,
G.K. Chesterton."
God's  promise is that in His infinite wisdom and power He will make all things right in the end. I am glad that He waited to condemn evil until I received the grace purchased by the blood of Jesus.
We also need to come with the humility to admit that we will not be able to understand many things about God and the universe. The book of Job in the Old Testament deals with a similar problem. And it is interesting to me that even after everything was restored to Job, the reasons for his calamity were never explained to him. He was never even given the explanation readers are given in the first chapter. And in fact philosophical answers are seldom what we need when we ourselves are hurting. To some extent all of us are the mother of a child on that bus. When you are hurting, you need God's embrace more than you need answers.
However, in the context of understanding such problems, there are some philosophical issues that must be addressed. The problem of this parable assumes some things that are not in evidence. First, it assumes that death is the worst possible thing that could happen to these young people. Death is terrible. The Bible clearly teaches that death is our enemy. (1 Cor.15:26) But the purpose of life is for people to come to know Christ as savior not length of life or other blessings in the here and now. If you were on a sinking ship, your greatest concern would not be how long you managed to stay on the ship before waves sweeping over the deck forced you into a life boat.
That is not to say we are not to hate death, evil and the unfairness of this world. Jesus was angry at the tomb of Lazarus. But even if I can't imagine how God can bring good out of some evil, He promises to do so. This is part of the reason Jesus had to die the way He did. If you were one of his disciples at the cross, you would surely have cried out against the unfairness of the whole event. And you would have felt there was no way God could bring any good out of that. Jesus laid down His divine privilege and unfairly bore our judgment.
And the parable assumes that God should have prevented these young people from this tragedy because they were good kids doing good things. But the Bible does not teach that good people, from our limited perspective, will always be sheltered from evil. And none of us are made right with God because we go to church or do good things. As Christians we do good things because we have been made right with God.
However young or old the people on that bus were, they were infected by the evil that our hearts choose. They would have been sinners deserving condemnation. And those young people would almost certainly have had more opportunities to repent than young people holding up a convenience store. Whose death is more unfair in the light of eternity?
Now I added something to this story. I said some of these kids might have understood and taken advantage of the gospel that night. I admit this is serious. Lack of opportunity to accept Christ is certainly the worst unfairness in our world. It is also the worst evil in me. I have been a hindrance to people coming to Christ. There are people who may well have been saved, if I had explained to them the gospel. There are people whose lives would have been radically different, had I faithfully and fervently prayed for them.

I am aware that I have not fully answered the question. And if I have soothed your anger about some evil, I may have done you a disservice. The unfairness all around us certainly angers God. We join Him in such anger. But rather than aiming our anger at God, we should cry out to God to intervene in the lives of those who suffer. I want God to do whatever is necessary to make me an instrument of His grace in redeeming society and bringing people to faith in Him. Still, I thank God that my own redemption includes His grace in the lives of those who would be lost, if I were their only hope.

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