Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who God Is & Prayer

(Luke 11:2) So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.
I believe that if we miss this verse, we miss the heart of prayer. Without this central point of integration, our prayer life will be weak at best. At the worst, our prayer will be what Jesus characterized as "vain repetitions."

This verse says that prayer is based on Who God Is!
  • He is our Father
  • He is the Inhabitant of Heaven
  • He is the Holy One
  • He is the King of Kings
  • He is the Sovereign Lord

It is tempting in prayer to briefly acknowledge God as Father, then launch into our laundry list of requests and concerns. I think that Jesus teaches us to focus on the details of Who God Is, then deal more generally with our particular concerns.

1) God is our Father. He has produced us. He is over us. He cares about us. We must honor Him and defer to Him and trust Him.

2) God is the Inhabitant of Heaven. He is glorious in majesty. He is exalted. He is the source of all and the focus of all. He is the Almighty, Infinite, Awesome, Exalted and Only God. He alone should loom large in our lives, because everything else - people, nations, nature, the universe - is minuscule by comparison.

3) God is Holy. Our primary prayer should always be that God's name would "be hallowed" - that is "exalted as holy." No matter what happens to us. No matter what blessings or disasters come into our lives. No matter what we face, our first prayer priority is that God's name will be exalted as holy.

God's holiness has almost disappeared from modern thought. The biblical idea of His holiness is His absolute and infinite Goodness. God is the measure of all things. His character defines what is good, right, just, pure, lovely or of good report. To sin against God is an infinite crime against His infinite goodness. Eternity in hell is justice for such a crime. Only the Divine Son of God could provide the infinite atonement we need.

Before we pray about particular problems, needs, wants or people, we must always take time to consider God's holiness and the importance of every circumstance being turned to exalt His name as holy.

4) God is King of Kings. In the USA we like the idea of government "of the people, by the people and for the people." We collectively spend way too much time obsessing about our government and other governments in the world. We pray for our government, we get involved in the political process, we vote, we write letters, we watch the news. But the only truly good government is the one in which God reigns directly and immediately over the people. Above all, we should be praying for that day to arrive. (Even so, come quickly, Lord!)

5) God is the Sovereign Lord. That is Who He is, but in our sinful pride we don't trust Him. Many times we are praying to tell God how to run things - especially things in our lives. We think that everything is about us and that God needs our advice. In our sinfulness we actually want to be God and run the universe to suit ourselves. Many books that are supposedly about prayer are actually about "gaming the system" to get what you want from God - as if God could be manipulated and brought under our control.

But genuine prayer begins with the recognition that God and God Alone is The Sovereign Lord - omniscient and omnipotent - almighty. He ALONE has the infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite goodness that will make His will perfect. We should long for HIS will - rather than our own.

This is where prayer must start, with a focus on Who God Is! When we get our hearts focused on God, then we can begin to pray.
(Deuteronomy 6:5) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Judgment Day

Today my son and I will drive over four hours one way to appear in the court of a part time town justice about a year old speeding ticket. This matter should have been resolved by now - but evidently the town justice in question has organizational issues. The materials that we sent in a year ago were evidently lost - and never acted on. The calls, e-mails and registered letter we sent over the past two weeks have been unanswered. So, we have no option but to appear in person.

I am surprised how anxious I am about the whole process.

I am not happy about having to spend nine hours on the road today, but whether David is found guilty or not, the crime and the punishment are relatively minor. If we have to pay the fine, we will pay the fine. We would have been happy (sort of) to pay the fine a year ago and have the matter resolved without the drive.

Still I am anxious. Who is this town justice? How "just" is he? Is he vindictive? What power and authority does he have? Might he make this worse than we expect? How bad could it be?

As I think of this, I wonder about all the people who will soon appear before the judgment of God. Most of them have no anxiety about it at all - but they should have.

A human judge is fallible - but God is infallible. A human judge might be inconsistent - but God is perfectly consistent. A human judge cannot claim perfect justice - but God's judgment will be perfect.
(Romans 1:18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

The wages of sin is death and the judge of all the earth will be perfectly just. Human beings know they are guilty. Even their own conscience condemns them for their lies, their impurity, their unfaithfulness and their injustices. How do they suppose that they will escape from the perfect omniscient justice of God?
(Hebrews 2:2–3) For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,

In a human court you might or might not have to appear. In a human court you might or might not get justice. But everyone will certainly appear before God and will receive perfect justice. Those who have responded to God's offer of grace have their justice in the righteousness of Christ and His atonement for their sin. Those who have not accepted God's grace will face the eternal punishment that is the just punishment for the infinite crime of rebellion against an infinitely good God.
(Revelation 20:11–15) ¶ Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I don't just procrastinate - I PRO-crastinate. I am a pro at procrastination.

Blogging could be a procrastination strategy. "I am not doing what I should be doing, but at least I am doing something."

My more complex rationalization is "The kind of creative work I do (i.e., preparing sermons and lessons) cannot be switched on and off light a light. Things like playing my flute or reading or even blogging help me to get into the right frame of mind for my more serious work."

I suppose it is dangerous when you believe your rationalizations while recognizing that they are RATIONALIZATIONS! Nevertheless - I've been meaning to write about procrastination - but I've been putting it off. (Ha, ha, ha!) So now is a good time to get this blog written - because I am not ready to do my other work and my thoughts on procrastination are pretty much gelled.

Deadlines are the best weapon against procrastination. Some people say, "I work best under pressure." What they mean is that they find it easier to turn out their work with a deadline looming over them. If you have a real deadline with real consequences it will keep you going on the work.

Ironically, it is things that you have all the time in the world for that you will procrastinate. People who block out exorbitant amounts of time for their work are often people who procrastinate. They have had project X on their "to do" list all week. But if they don't get project X done by 7:00 PM on Friday it is no problem because they plan to work ten hours on Saturday too. They figure they will just get it done on Saturday. They remove the urgency that a real deadline creates by injecting more time into their work week. (Sometimes LOTS more time.)

Planning is another tool for avoiding procrastination. If you have a big project - something that will take hours and hours and hours to complete - you will naturally want to procrastinate it. Who can face such a huge project? But if your first step is to plan out the work by breaking down the project into manageable bites - then you feel better about getting started. In fact, planning was the first step, so you are already started.

Don't be foolish and wait until the day of the deadline to get started. Start the day that you get the project. Do the planning. Do the first hour or two of work on the project. A ten hour project is much more doable in five two-hour chunks.

Finally, Good Character is a safeguard against bad procrastination. I say "bad procrastination" because there are things that you should procrastinate. There is good procrastination! You should procrastinate the things that have the least value. You should procrastinate the things that you should not do - like shop on the internet when you are being paid to work. There are things you want to do and will do - that should be put off until all of the important things are really truly done.

Good Character is a safeguard against bad procrastination because a person of good character is honest with himself about his choices and actions. A person of good character will choose to do the right things at the right times. (There is never a right time to do the wrong things, but some things are only wrong when they are done at the wrong time. For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with sleep - but sleeping when you are being paid to work is wrong.)

Good Character makes choices that honor God by their truthfulness and integrity. Good Character avoids choices that have a hint of guilt or shame about them and does the things that can be clearly praised from every vantage point - coworkers, spouses, bosses & friends.
(Ephesians 5:12–16) For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.
13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.
14 Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”
15 ¶ See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,
16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vacation Bible School

Today was our next to the last day of Vacation Bible School. I was sitting in the back of the Primary Class during their Bible memory work today - and noticed that some of the children looked as tired as the staff.

Early morning preparations, registration, refreshments, singing, games, lessons, handwork, crafts, memory work, record keeping, puppets and cleaning up - it wears everyone out by the end of the week. Besides that there is all the work of organizing and decorating and preparing and practicing beforehand. Then there is all the work of cleaning up and sorting out and packing up and moving furniture after VBS is over.

Lola and I have done VBS every year since I've been in ministry (1987.) Why do we do it? It is always the hottest week of the year. The kids always present some challenges. The materials are expensive. It takes a lot of work.

So why do we do it?

One of my earliest memories is a long line of kids standing in the bright sunshine and singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" as we marched into the People's Baptist Church in Albany, New York. I must have been three or four at the time. I am sure that VBS influenced my understanding of the gospel. It wasn't long after that I came to understand that I was a sinner and I needed the salvation that Jesus Christ alone could offer.

The second most significant point in my life came at a VBS at Bible Baptist Church in Mt. Vision, New York when I was 15. The missionary speaker for that week was Chic Watkins - a missionary aviator from Liberia. I don't remember too much of the week (beyond the baby chimp and the pigmy hippo.) But the final night Chic Watkins gave an invitation/challenge to complete surrender of your life to God - and God gripped my heart. I responded to that invitation - and that's how I ultimately ended up in ministry.

Why do we do VBS?

Because it is a chance to reach out to kids with the Gospel of God's grace and urge them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. It is a chance to build bridges into families in the community. It is another way to give God glory and to teach His word to people who so desperately need to know Him on His terms.

It is hard work and hot. The results are not usually dramatic in the short run. But it is the right thing to do - and God is glorified! It is our privilege to be a part of the program.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vindicate God

According to my dictionary, to vindicate means 1) to clear (someone) of blame or suspicion, or 2) to show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified.

This is what Romans 3:4 means when it says, "Let God be true, but every man a liar."

God is the measure of all things. He is not only truthful, God is the TRUTH. God is infinite and eternal. He is holy. He is just and pure and merciful and loving and kind. God is infinitely good and absolutely RIGHT.

We human beings are limited. We are subject to time. Our logic is sometimes twisted. Our passions interfere with our understanding. We are easily deceived and often self-deceived. Above all of this, we are sinful rebels - natural enemies of the true God who would, if we could, place ourselves on God's throne and pass judgment on God - rather than submitting to God's judgment of us.

When we read the Bible - we are reading God's verbal revelation of Himself. We must apply ourselves to understanding it as God intended it. But we are not free to twist it around to fit the categories and prejudices that we bring to it in our limited and sinful condition. We show our sinful nature when we say, "It cannot mean what it seems to say because that doesn't fit my idea of what must be or what ought to be or what I want it to be."

So people all over the globe systematically reject God's sovereignty, God's judgment of sinners, God's requirements of faith and obedience. People reject the idea of man's depravity and inability and God's absolute grace in salvation.

But let us VINDICATE God. Let God be true, but every man a liar. Let us be set apart as those who love God and who believe what God has revealed of Himself in the Bible - without twisting it out of shape to fit our own puny ideas.
(2 Peter 3:15–16) and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you,
16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Monday, July 5, 2010

God's Truth

Romans 3:4 says, "Let God be true, but every man a liar."

This statement comes in the context of explaining the unbelief of people who have access to God's revelation of Himself, but who continue in their unbelief.

"Let God be true, but every man a liar," answers a charge against God - that somehow the unbelief of men is God's fault. Has God's word been ineffective? Have God's promises been unfulfilled? Is God not capable of accomplishing His will and His plan? Has God not done enough? Is God not capable of doing enough? Is God's word true and trustworthy - or not?

This is where many people live. They claim they would believe if God would only give them a sufficiently clear sign. Could not God speak to them from heaven, or appear to them in person, or bring about a miracle to satisfy their skeptical heart? If He can, but He doesn't - how can He be good? If He cannot - how can He be God? So people feel free to ignore God in their lives.

But God says, by His word here, that He has given people the truth. The truth is apparent. The truth is authoritative. The truth is enough.
(Romans 1:18–20) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

People don't want a sign from God - they just use that as an excuse for ignoring the truth in their unbelief. It is a sleight of hand - a misdirection - by which they divert attention away from the fact that they categorically and willfully reject what they do know about the God of the Bible. No matter what sign they were given, they would still reject God in willful unbelief.
(John 3:19) And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

God is not confused by sleight of hand. He is true - even if all humans everywhere joined together in unbelief. God is true and will judge according to His truth. At that judgment, God will be vindicated as Holy. Unbelievers will receive perfect justice and finally acknowledge God as true.
(John 16:8–11) And when He [The Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me;
10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;
11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
(John 14:6) ¶ Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
(Philippians 2:9–11) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.