Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Knowing Who Jesus Is

How do you read the Bible?  Some treat it as the "owner's manual for people".  The result of that view is, they look in the Bible for rules or principles in how to treat others and how to worship God.  And in one sense that's correct, because the principles given in the Bible do point out good ways of living.  But is that the Bible's main point?  There's far too much in its pages that doesn't fit that mold.

A better way to look at the Bible is that it shows us who we are and who God is.  Today, we'll look for an example at the story of Jesus in the Gospels.  If Jesus were just a great teacher, it would make sense that the Gospels were written to tell us what he taught, which of course is radical and challenging.  But seen more fully, they are written to tell us who Jesus is, and why that matters to us.  The many times they show him as the Son of God, someone who is more than just a man and more than just a teacher, is overwhelming.  Have you read them from that perspective? 

This letter from Joseph Tkach lists the four Gospels and tells how each was written.  To summarize his letter, the four Gospels were written to four different audiences to show who Jesus is from four different viewpoints. 

Finally, let's look at the way the four books emphasize Jesus' intentions toward his crucifixion.  Notice how much space in each book is taken up with the run-up to that final encounter and his triumph over death in the resurrection.  In Matthew 16:13, he asks "Who do you say I am?" and follows that with an explanation of his coming sacrifice in verse 21.  Luke's account records the same question in 9:19, moving into Jesus predicting his death, and saying the days were coming close to his being taken up.  Mark's Gospel shows him already being opposed by the Pharisees in chapter 7, and in 8:27 is the fateful question.  John's Gospel has the clues about his upcoming death starting in the first chapter.  Jesus' mission to come into our humanity as the Son of God and rescue us from within our broken humanity is the main idea throughout. 

As we approach the date of our annual remembrances of both his sacrifice and his resurrection, let's be sure we understand what he was really about -- and how he pursued his Father's mission with love and faithfulness (John 1:14-17). 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pray About...

We've looked at several kinds of prayer in my last few posts, and at why we should pray. What should we pray about?  Here are some topics, from the words of Jesus and others in the New Testament:
  • "Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  (Matt. 5:44)
  • "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you." (Mat. 7:7)
  • "So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields." (Mat. 9:38)
  • "Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!"  (Mat. 26:41)
  • "Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God" (Rom. 1:9)
  • "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words." (Rom. 8:26)
  • "Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying." (Rom. 12:2)
  • "I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 15:13)
  • "And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety." (2 Cor 1:11)  
  • "We pray that you will become mature." (2 Cor 13:9
  •  "I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called."  (Eph. 1:18)
  • "So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should." (Eph. 6:20)
  • "Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart." (Col. 4:2)
  • "So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call."  (2 Thess. 1:11)
  • "Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity." (1 Tim. 2:2)
  • "In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy." (1 Tim. 2:8)
  • "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16)
With this much to pray about, it shouldn't be a surprise that Paul would write "Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion" (Eph. 6:18) and "Pray about everything" (Phil. 4:6) and "Devote yourselves to prayer" (Col. 4:2) and "Never stop praying" (1 Thess. 5:17).  We can pray alone in our own homes, or in a group with others as the early church often did, or while we're stopped at a traffic light, or whenever a need for prayer comes to us (which is often by a prompting from the Holy Spirit). 

Whatever else you do...pray!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

So Are You Praying?

I've been writing about prayer lately, and I hope I've been helpful.  But are you praying?  Here's a parable written by Bill Bright that might help illustrate my point:

Bill Bright tells the story of a man who traveled to a certain city one cold morning. As he arrived at his hotel, he noticed that the clerks, the guests-everyone-were barefoot. In the coffee shop, he noticed a fellow at a nearby table and asked, 'Why aren't you wearing shoes? Don't you know about shoes?' 'Of course, I know about shoes,' the patron replied. 'Then why don't you wear them? The visitor asked. 'Ah, that is the question,' the patron returned. 'Why don't I wear shoes?'

"After breakfast, the visitor walked out of the hotel and into the snow. Again, every person he saw was barefoot. Curious, he asked a passerby, 'Why doesn't anyone here wear shoes? Don't you know that they protect the feet from cold?' The passerby said, 'We know about shoes. See that building? It's a shoe factory. We are so proud of the plant that we gather there every week to hear the man in charge tell us how wonderful shoes are.' 'Then why don't you wear shoes?' the visitor persisted. 'Ah, that is the question,' the passerby replied. 'Why don't we wear shoes?'

Bright says, "When it comes to prayer, many Christians are like the people in that city. They know about prayer, they believe in its power, they frequently hear sermons on the subject, but it is not a vital part of their lives.  [Worldwide Challenge]

So do you pray?  If not, why not?  Since the Creator of the universe loves you and gave you life so you could come to know him and love him, why not talk with him and let him talk with you?  Why not give him a larger place in your life, and more influence over you, by more conversation with him?  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Little More about Prayer

Last time I wrote about prayer, describing very briefly two different types of prayer.  We should recognize that some of our prayers are, as M. Robert Mulholland Jr. describes, "an attempt to manipulate the symptoms of our lives without really entering into a deep, vital, transforming relationship with God."  Prayer is a way of bringing -- sometimes dragging bodily -- our stubborn and flighty selves to rest before the Eternal God of all hope, comfort and love.  So today, let's look at two more types of prayer. 

Contemplative Prayer:  This type of prayer helps develop "an open, restful receptivity to the Trinity that enables me to always be with God just as I am" (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, page 211).  We might think of the sheep lying in the green meadow (Psalm 23) or the weaned child, no longer needing to nurse, but simply resting in his mother's arms (Psalm 131).  This is, as Calhoun describes it, "a way of waiting with a heart awake to God's presence and his the presence of the Holy Spirit deep in our own spirit."   To practice this type of prayer, you might try sitting quietly, without distractions (I have to leave my office and cellphone behind!) and simply declaring to God, "Here I am, just to spend time with you."  Then wait, and if you like, think about the goodness of God and his gifts, or how his love is expressed to us.  Be ready to express your love to God and receive his in return, not necessarily in audible words but in a peaceful assurance.  The result, if we practice it often, should be deeper awareness of "Christ in you" (Col. 1:27) and a greater trust in his presence.

Intercessory Prayer:  When we pray for others, we are joining Jesus, the mediator between God and humanity, (1 Tim. 2:5) and the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us and interprets our words to the Father (Rom. 8:27).  In Eph. 4:6 we are told "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done."  So then, intercessory prayer is not a frantic attempt to convince God to do something for us -- that is not necessary, and feeds our tendency to worry!  This is a way of joining with God's concern and love for the person we pray for, and releasing our concerns to God for his solutions.  Intercessory prayer can be done alone or with others, and should be done regularly, not just when we think of some need.  A weekly prayer list, with different topics for each day, could be a good tool in intercession, as it would move us through different needs and help reveal to us any unhealthy patterns such as a narrow focus on our own immediate priorities. 

I am asking God to help you, dear reader, to understand him better through the tool of prayer, and to be blessed in every part of your life with him.