Monday, 13 August 2012

Prayer... without wrath and reasoning

Paul shares his heart longings with Timothy.
I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 1 Tim 2:8 NKJV.
He prefaces this statement by showing us what he has in mind when he calls for such prayer;
for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Tim 2:2–6 NKJV.
It is good to see just how comprehensive Paul's prayer-list really is. He asks for prayer for kings and all those who are in authority. When he says this he doesn't just mean the politician we voted for. In fact, his reference to 'the king' is a reference to Nero, one of the worst enemies that the Christians every had.

He says we are to pray for quiet and peaceable lives and the reasons he gives are important. God, he says, 'wants' tranquility and then he reveals what he really wants prayer for. God he says …desires 'all men' to come to the truth. And all man can be saved because the ransom that Christ paid was for 'all men';
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 1 Tim 2:5–6 NKJV.

He then instructs us how we are to pray and specifies that our prayer is to be without wrath or reasoning. We may have expected the first but what are we to make of the second. I am taking my text from the Darby Translation;
I will therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up pious hands, without wrath or reasoning. 1 Tim 2:8 DRBY.
Most versions translate it along the lines of 'without wrath or doubting/quarrelling. The Greek word is dialogue. The word means to 'talk something through'. It is not necessarily a conversation between two parties but points to the kind of thought processes so loved in modern education. We debate within ourselves, we question our positions, we keep asking the questions… although not in prayer, apparently.

Real prayer must be allowed to flow. Who knows where it will take us. I wonder sometimes whether someone prayed like this in the early days of the Acts. Perhaps in their flow of prayer they found themselves praying for their chief persecutor, that man Saul from Tarsus. It would have been easy to pray with 'wrath' after all as Ananias once complained;
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem." Acts 9:13 NKJV.
That would have been the problem that brought in the reasoning. Surely, it doesn't make sense to pray for Saul the Persecutor. You can almost hear the stream of 'buts'. Perhaps someone just prayed and in the flow of their prayer they found themselves praying for unimaginable things.

Sometimes we can have too much information when we pray. Our experience of life has taught us that often people do not get 'saved' or 'healed' so we need to be a little cautious in how we pray, or do we? Is our prayer the deliberate reasoned argument of the barrister or is it the instinctive cry of the child to its father?

Way back in a time of much trouble Habakkuk complained to God of the behaviour of the people of God. "I have it in hand" said God "I am bringing the Assyrians to punish them". "Surely not" protested Habakkuk "that solution is worse than the problem". There was, apparently, no reply from God to this protest. Habakkuk set himself to pray;
I will stand upon my watchtower, and station myself upon the fortress, and will watch to see what He will say in me, and what I answer to my complaint. Hab 2:1 Keil & Delitsch.
That subtle correction of Habakkuk 2:1 is important; (I) will watch to see what He will say in me. The next verse continues the story; And Jehovah answered me Hab 2:2 ASV.

Somehow we need to withdraw to the Watchtower and hold our tongue until God 'answers' by saying something 'in me'. Then we can flow in our prayer. We may even discover, as did Habakkuk, that such prayer is but a short step from prophecy.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Greatest Promise: 10th August, 2012. Devon UK

I have been painting with a broad brush. I have wanted to capture the great sweep of God's purpose in his modus operandi, his way of working. We have examined why God has chosen to insist on our co-operation in his thrilling plans. We have examined a little of the character of the God who has staked his name and reputation on his power to perform what he has promised. We have seen God's goal in using everything that touches the lives of his people to further his plan of revealing the likeness of Christ in them. This can all be summed up in The Promise.

Calvary's work was done; the great triumphal shout echoes still down the centuries; it is finished. John 19:30. And now Luke sets the scene for the triumphs of the ascended Christ to begin;
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; Acts 1:4 NKJV.
This is not a promise, this is The Promise. Even as the shadow of the cross hung over the Passover meal in the upper room he had looked beyond its sufferings to the glories that would follow;
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16–17 NKJV.
The coming of the Spirit would be the ultimate proof that the sacrifice of Calvary had been accepted and that Christ had ascended to his Father's throne. Listen to the way in which Peter explains the events of the Day of Pentecost;
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. Acts 2:33 NKJV.

It is the inauguration day, among men, of the New Covenant. The indwelling Christ would be the result of the indwelling Spirit. No longer only 'with us' but now 'in us'. Now those Old Testament promises would find all their fulfilment;
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jer 31:33–34 NKJV.

Emmanuel, 'God with us' had become 'Christ in us, the Hope of Glory'.
…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature,having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith... 2 Pet 1:3–5 NKJV.

The solid foundation is laid, now we can begin to add...

If you would like to follow up more of the implications of this 'greatest promise' check out my book; The Better Covenant

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Potter, the wheel and the clay: 9th August 2012. Devon UK

Perhaps one of the favourite promises for believers is that found in Paul's letter to the Romans.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Rom 8:28–30 NKJV.
This seems like a catch-all promise that guarantees the sweet smile of success on all our days, but is it? With all 'legal' documents we have to examine carefully just who the document has in mind and just what it is promising. Are these verses some kind of undertaking that the whole of life is scripted and that God's will is always done?

Let's unpack it in a way similar to the way we worked on Monday. Who is this addressed to? What is its goal? and What is the modus operandi, the way of working?

To see who Paul has in mind will narrow the field considerably. It is addressed to those who are 'God-lovers'. The tense implies someone whose characteristic mood or mind-set is that they love God. Youngs Literal Translation refers to 'to those loving God' Rom 8:28 YNG. So this is not a verse that we can quote in a random fashion. It applies to those, only, who are 'God-lovers'. And it adds a further detail. It describes these 'God-lovers' and those whom God has called with a purpose in mind; those who are the called according to His purpose. Rom 8:28 NKJV. It is plainly referring to God-lovers but what is God's purpose? It is often presumed from these verses that the purpose is 'salvation' but a more careful reading of the promise shows it has another thought in focus; the purpose God has 'in mind' is that these 'God-lovers' would be conformed to the image of his Son. It is not their eternal security that this verse has in mind but their 'likeness to Christ'.

And God's means of achieving this 'purpose'? The verse reads like this; to those loving God, he works all things together for good. This is not saying that all events will somehow turn out for the best. It is not saying that God scripts all events. It is saying that God takes events and co-works those events for the 'good' of those who are loving him. It does not say that God ordained the famine or the war or the sexual assault. It simply says that God takes those events and for those who love God he weaves them together into something 'good'. The word translated 'works-together' is the Greek word synergy; he works them together, they are all in his hands, both the spinning wheel of events and the clay for which he has a destiny. Nothing is wasted in the lives of these people; their joys, their sorrows, their triumphs, their disasters… He holds it all together and pursues his 'purpose'; he will move heaven and earth to conform us to the image of his son. That is his definition of 'good'.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The God of the Promises: 7th August, 1012. Devon UK.

So today is scheduled to be the second of our Bible Studies on the Promises of God. I wanted to give some thought to the nature of the God who has determined to work his purposes through the fulfilment of his promises. What kind of a person would take this route?

We could know nothing of God unless he had chosen to reveal himself and the record of the Bible is just that. God revealing himself in this record of history and revelation. Often God revealed himself by his name. This may be a little difficult for us to see clearly, but God's names are not arbitrary identification labels, as so often our are. Each name is a personal revelation of his character. The names of God Almighty or Jehovah are not used accidentally in the Bible but as recorded insights into the character of God. If the first question is 'is there a God', the second must be 'what is he like?'

God told the people of Israel that he was going to reveal himself to them under the name of Jehovah. It was probably pronounced Yahweh, but we won't get distracted with that. The name was so special that God said anyone who used it with disrespect would be cut off from God's people. The people were so anxious to ensure that they did not misuse it that they almost stopped using it altogether. You will not find it in most modern translations. In the old King James version you will find it used just four times; Ex 6:3; Psa 83:18; Is 12:2; 26:4. In the American Standard Version of 1902 you will find it used 6777 times! From Exodus to Malachi the story is of Jehovah and his people. The people of Israel were intended to be the authentic 'Jehovah's Witnesses';
Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. Is 43:10 ASV.
When God 'introduced himself' to the people of Israel he gave the name by which they were to know him and signed his name to an amazing plan. With the meticulous care of a legal document he signed his name at the beginning and at the end of an amazing manifesto;
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am Jehovah. Ex 6:6–8 ASV.
Seven times, the words ring out like the peal of a great bell; I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., I will.., God declared his will with absolute clarity… and put his name to it.
This is the 'kind' of God who stands behind his promises. A God who cannot lie and has staked his name and reputation on his power to deliver what he has promised.

And the New Covenant is better than this! Take each one of these seven declarations and transpose them into the language of reality of the better covenant. It is little wonder that the writer to the Hebrews writes…
But now

He (Christ) has obtained a more excellent ministry,

inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant,

which was established on better promises.

Heb 8:6–7 NKJV.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Promises of God: 6th August 2012, Devon UK

This week I am part of the New Life Conference at Rora House in Devon UK. This is a multi-purpose site which includes a local church and conference facilities. It is a beautiful spot and the rolling Devon hills provide a backdrop for a week's residential, mostly camping, conference where people will gather from many nations. We have looked forwards with anticipation to the prospect of a week's worship and fellowship; and now its here!

I am leading four morning Bible studies on the theme of 'The Promises of God'. What a topic! On average I would think there are a dozen on each page of the Book! So where do we begin and what shall we leave out?

For this morning's session I intend to look at the whole nature of God and his promises. Why does God use the pattern of 'promises'? If God is almighty and there is nothing he cannot do why go through the patterns of promises, why doesn't God just do it! If he wants something he is fully able to just do it; surely that would be more efficient? Well it might be more efficient but for God the journey is as important as the arriving and God has determined that his greatest purposes will be achieved, not in spite of, but through a living partnership with his people.

There is a famous verse that may help us.
For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 2 Cor 1:20 NKJV.
It's quite a complicated verse and needs a little unpacking. It is really saying that all that God has promised to do rests in the safe hands of his Son. He is the guarantor that God's purposes will be accomplished. That's the 'all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen' part of the package.

Then there's the part which says to the glory of God' so we know where this verse is heading. All things are to be accomplished for the 'glory of God'. An old writer once wrote that 'God's glory and man's good are so inter-twined that whatever prospers the one prospers the other'. Man's joyful fulfilment depends on God being given his right place in our thinking and in our universe.

But look at the last ingredient… 'through us' . Really, are we part of this amazing story? Yes. God will not impose his salvation on human beings, that would be to distort what it means to be 'a human being'. God has settled his 'modus operandi'; his way of doing things. The channel that he has chosen to use is 'human beings'. This unique part of his creation has been described as an amazing mixture of 'dust and destiny' and so we are. God's purposes are to be achieved by grace, through faith… and so God has set himself to fulfil his purpose of grace through the believing co-operation of his people. I may be a 'nobody' but in God's plan and purpose I am to be a significant nobody!

Friday, 3 August 2012

I am Abraham's Servant

Now isn't this cheating? Surely this isn't God speaking but rather Abraham's servant? (Gen 24:34) Well, yes it is but Genesis 24 is the culmination of 3 amazing chapters in the Book of Genesis. There is a theme and pattern which surely cannot be accidental. Let's take a look and see if we can justify adding this 'self-revelation' to the list.

Genesis 22. Moriah and The 'Sacrifice' of Isaac.

This chapter tells the amazing story of the lengths that Abraham was prepared to go to in order to please God, or does it? Here is the clue to its interpretation;
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Gen 22:1–2 NKJV.
Now if we remind ourselves that the name Abraham means 'Father of a multitude' and take notice of the phrase 'your son, your only son…' we shall discover that we are reading the account of 'a father who is resolved to offer his only son… as a sacrifice.' Does that sound like a familiar story line?

How old was Isaac? Jewish tradition says that Isaac was 21 years old but the next date we are given is in Genesis 22:1 where we read that Sarah was 127 years old. If we recall that Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was conceived we can calculate that Isaac was 36 years old when Sarah died. No one really knows how old Isaac was when 'father and son' made their journey to the place of sacrifice but I have a strong suspicion that he was 33 years old! You will guess my reasoning.

A few years ago a foolish evangelical leader dismissed the teaching of penal substitutionary atonement in which the Father poured his wrath upon his son, as cosmic child abuse. If he had read Genesis 22 more carefully he would not have made such a reckless statement. Twice the account gives us a little progress marker; Gen 22:6, 8. They went both of them together. In the scenes that open before us we see 'father and son' united in their mission. The father did not impose his will on a juvenile Isaac but father and grown son journied 'together' on their mission to the land of Moriah. Isaac means 'laughter' and he was the apple of his father's eye, his daily delight.

Now that you have the key follow the story yourself and let its truths soak into your soul.

Genesis 23. Machpelah and the Hiding Place.

Why would God give over a whole chapter to the purchase of a burial plot? Well it has significance in the first real-estate owned by the family of Abraham but I think there is another significance. Sarah had died and Abraham wanted a place where …I may bury my dead out of my sight. Gen 23:4 NKJV. The phrase is used twice; Gen 23:4, 8.

In sophisticated societies we have lost much of the horror of death. Many who read these words will have seldom seen a corpse and perhaps none will have seen the horrors of putrefaction that visit an unburied body. We need to see that 'death' and its consequences are repulsive to God. Death is not 'a friend' in Bible language, it is the 'last enemy'. (1 Cor 15:26.) Death and its accompaniments are the result of sin, and not even the memory can be allowed to remain in God's presence.

Abraham, the father, pays the price to purchase a safe repository where 'death and its consequences' can be 'hidden from my sight'. There is a parallel. The death of Christ has provided a means whereby God can 'hide dead things from his sight.'

Genesis 23. Nahor and the Bride.

Let's follow the tracks.
  1. Genesis 22. the Father's sacrifice of the Son.
  2. Genesis 23.The Purchase of a Hiding Place for Sin and Death.
  3. Genesis 24. A Bride for the Son who has passed through Death.
Can you see a pattern here?

Abraham's servant is a picture of the Spirit sent on a mission by the Father to seek out a bride for the Son who has passed through death. It is very possible that the 'servant of Abraham' is actually Eliezer from Gen 15:2 NKJV, but it should not surprise us that in Genesis 23 he acts anonimously. He is the self-effacing agent of the Father's will who has little to say of himself but whose mission is to declare the will of the Father and the attractions of the Son.

Listen to his cameo description of Isaac. He is the Father's Son to whom the Father has given all that he has. Gen 24:36 NKJV. See the commission with which the Servant is entrusted; And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.” Gen 24:8 NKJV. See how she receives this emissary and responds to his approach; Gen 24:17–19. See how gentle he is in his approach to the potential Bride and how the Servant gives her the tokens of the Father's good intentions. Gen 24:22. And see how in addition to all these sure indications of the will of God the Servant still awaits her full hearted consent; Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” Gen 24:58 NKJV.

And then see how he leads her safely to her Bridegroom and watches as she prepares to surrender herself to the Father's Son; Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself. Gen 24:64–65 NKJV.

The story is delightful but its revelations of the character of the Servant are even more so. How gentle and tender are the Spirit's ways with those he is bringing to the Son. He will tell you little of himself until you are safely in the embrace of the Son.