Soul Shift #5 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 2

SoulShiftI. INTRO

I used to play a game at home when my children were younger – much younger.  In this game they might have asked for money for their allowance, or we may have been playing a board game, with dice – and I would have what they wanted in my hands –and I would pretend to suddenly fall asleep. They would start giggling and laughing and crawl all over me while attempting to pry what they wanted from my clinched fists.  Those were some beautiful moments of giggles and joyful laughter and mutual longing – they were longing for the things I held in my hands; I was longing for our closeness, our innocence, and wanting those fleeting moments of sheer joy to last forever.

For me this is a picture of the activity of prayer – while we love God sometimes we are focused more on the gifts in God’s hands rather than hand of God Himself (someone described it as seeking the hand of God and not the face of God) – we pray fervently for the new job, or the return of health.  When we gain the prizes we are delighted and, often, our focus turns to the prize — and away form the momentary closeness of the good Giver Himself.

We are in a series on prayer that we are calling “Soul Shift,” where, as individuals, as couples, as families, and as a church we are asking God to move us from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer.  What does that mean?

It means that when we speak or teach about prayer in church it’s easy for all of us to instantly feel guilty.  A sermon on prayer can amount to a drive-by guilt-ing.

Is there anyone among us who is satisfied with their prayer life?

So, today, let’s not talk about – or, even think too much about what WE SHOULD DO, but let’s take a few minutes to consider WHAT JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE.

If we can lift the eyes of our hearts to see WHAT JESUS CHRIST has accomplished FOR US it will lift the “eyes of our hearts” (Eph 1:17) in worship, in adoration, in joy, in expectancy, and in delight.  It will draw prayer out of us…

Our goal, our objective is that we would leave here today more fully delighting in the Giver than in the gifts.  (Some people’s prayers go something like this: “God, if You get me out of this mess, I won’t bother You until the next one!”)

In our study of prayer we are looking primarily at what has been called The Lord’s Prayer in Mat 6.  (There is a more compact version of the same prayer in Luke 11.)  This prayer is not meant to be prayed ritualistically, but to be viewed as a pattern for prayer.

Here’s the bottom line: **We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel, by what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf.

We are called to work, love, to worship, and to pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.  That is the gospel in a nutshell – we work, serve, love, and worship FROM a growing understanding that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won the heart and ear of God on our behalf.

Hebs 4:16: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We come to God through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to earn the ear of God in prayer – Jesus has earned the ear of God for us, He has won God’s ear and God’s heart for us — so we come to God in prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is best used as a model for prayer –or, we could think of it as template – to launch us out into a place or a perspective of reflection, adoration, and gratitude.

For the next few weeks we will be looking at the individual phrases of this model prayer… learning to delight in the Giver of all good gifts.

What we will learn is 1) the initial focus is upward, with its first three requests having to do with God’s glory and 2) the remaining three requests are for our well-being. God first, humanity second – that is the ideal order of prayer.  His glory before our desires.[1]

II. BODY

Today I would like us to look at the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer:  “Our Father in heaven.”  Simply stated:

  • The word, “Our” — speaks of community. 
  • The word, “Father” speaks of family.
  • The phrase, “in heaven” speaks of majesty, transcendence (time, space, understanding, etc.), and authority. 

Let’s take some time and briefly consider each one…

1. What does the word “Our” tell us about community?

  • We have left the land of “me” and entered the land of “we.” [2]
  • The Lord’s Model Prayer begins with the acknowledgement that we have been invited out of isolation and into both the joy and the challenge of community.
  • Here’s a simple way to say it: Pro 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one [person] sharpens another.”
  • There are at least three primary and legitimate needs of every human being:
    1. The need to feel authentically human
    2. The need to belong
    3. The need to have a sense of destiny and purpose
  • It is in the heart of God to fully meet these needs in every person. 
  • The first and most important step is through conversion and regeneration, which is the restoration of our individual relationship’s with the living God
  • The next step is through significant relationships with each other
  • Some people find it helpful to think in terms of a cross (), with our relationship with God signifying the vertical and our relationships with each other signifying the horizontal – the cross, and subsequently, Christianity is all about engaging and pursuing both the horizontal and vertical aspects of faith.
  • Our culture, unfortunately, sidetracks us with counterfeit opportunities for community.  The neighborhood bar is possibly the best facsimile there is for the fellowship Christ desires to give His church.  The bar is an imitation — dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — yet it is tolerant, it is ac­cepting, it is inclusive, and it is virtually unshockable.  You can tell people secrets in a bar and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.  Bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but be­cause God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known (Cheers!), to love and be loved.  There are scores of people who seek to medicate their shame and pain for the price of a few beers, drinking their courage instead of turning humbly to Christ.
  • With the opening word of the model prayer Jesus is welcoming us into community.

2. What does the word “Father” tell us about family?

  • With the words, “Our Father,” Jesus is welcoming us into the family of God and identifying Himself as our older brother.
  • The Aramaic word for Father is ABBA.
  • Last week we spoke about the “Abba” Cry/Longing
    • Romans 8:15“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
    • Galatians 4:6“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

3. What do the words, “In heaven” tell us about authority?

  • It may be helpful to view heaven as a perspective and not a physical place, like a zip code.  God is omnipresent (always present everywhere).
  • God’s omnipresence reminds us of His transcendent nature.  Transcendence is a theological term referring to the relation of God to creation.
  • And so “our Father Who is in heaven” is “other” or beyond His creation.
  • God is independent and different from His creatures: Isa 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
  • Being beyond His creation and not limited by it or to it. This simple understanding of transcendence makes our privilege of approaching Him intimately like a son or daughter would their earthly father, all the more humbling and praiseworthy.
  • Our transcendent God is also the omnipresent God and is never farther than a prayer away!

III. CONCLUSION

  • Pastor and theologian Arthur Pink, in his book The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, says, that in these four words: “Our Father in Heaven,”there is a “blessed balance.”[3]
  • The first two words: “Our Father” teach us about the nearness and dearness of God’s relationship to us through Jesus Christ – and they inspire us to confidence and love for God.
  • The second two words: “in heaven,” Pink says, should fill us with humility and awe.
  • He says the first two words (“Our Father”) without the second tends toward an “unholy familiarity.”  And the second two words (“in heaven”) without the first two produces “coldness and dread.”
  • **When we combine these two lofty concepts for the purpose of adoration and prayer we see a marriage of God’s unfathomable love with His immeasurable holiness.
  • In the coming week will you consider giving the best five minutes of your day to God?  Before moving to quickly to petitionary prayer, will you take 3-5 minutes of worship and adoration?  Will you worship God and ask God to open your heart afresh to the wonder, to the reality of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
  • Begin by thinking of it this way:
    1. No one has ever been so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ.  He left the richness, the perfect love, and perfect communion within the Trinity of heaven.  He condescended to become a man and live a perfect, sinless life so that you and I could enjoy confidant access to a holy and righteous God.
    2. No one has ever been so poor and become so rich as those who’s hearts are awakened to the reality of what Jesus Christ has done – on our behalf.  Has your heat been awakened to that gift?
  • We said at the start that we want to focus more on what Jesus Christ HAS DONE than on what we SHOULD DO.  I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation…you and I don’t have to work to earn God’s favor.  The perfect, sinless life of Jesus has already accomplished that.  We own our own sin, we repent (surrender), and we believe that we have been made righteous and perfectly acceptable in the presence of a holy God…

[1] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books.

[2] Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals: 18.

[3] Baker Books 1982:80-81.

Soul Shift #4 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 1: Healing the Father Wound

SoulShift

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…” –Matthew 6:9a

This morning we want to take aim at the concept of the father wound…

As we lean into this season of prayer — and seek to (by God’s grace, mercy, and power) move from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer we must first acknowledge that we tend to view God through the lens of our earthly fathers.  And many people have had difficult relationships with their earthly fathers and, consequently, have great difficulty transitioning to viewing God as a good and loving Father.

If you did not feel safe, protected, affirmed, and secure in your father’s presence, you may spend your entire life looking for a place of comfort and rest.  And some people grow-up without a father in the home – for a variety of reasons.

The National Fatherhood Initiative informs us that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in biological father-absent homes.  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.

Children’s first impressions about men come from their early experiences with their father – or the lack thereof.

The Father/Daughter Relationship forms the daughter’s opinions of what men are — or should be, how they should act, especially towards her, and how she should be with them. The father’s behavior towards women shapes the way she learns to relate to men. If the father withdrew his affection at the time she entered puberty, the wound only goes deeper.

The father is to model how to give and receive affection and tenderness while demonstrating the proper use of strength and power.

Part of the father’s responsibility is to lovingly prepare his daughter for the major shifts that take place as she moves from child to adolescent to young woman and beyond. Unfortunately, many father’s, themselves, had trouble adjusting and many others just weren’t available to teach her to venture out from the protected realm of the home to deal with each new phase and its physical and social adjustments.

The Father/Son Relationship forms the son’s opinions of how he is supposed to act and how he should treat women. Too often, however, the father wasn’t around to present a healthy model for his son. (Remember the Cats In the Cradle lyrics?  It’s a very sad song…)

From Strength in Weakness by Andrew Comiskey — a book about sexual and relational healing…

“Though the [heavenly] Father intended for us to be roused and sharpened by our fathers, we find more often than not that our fathers were silent and distant, more shadow than substance in our lives. This kind of a ‘shadow’ presence is not what our heavenly Father intended for our relationships with our earthly fathers.

The first half of the 20th century really messed up fatherhood – and has impacted succeeding generations.

A Perception of the 20th Century

  • WW I gave way to the “Roaring Twenties” a season of subdued hedonism. (Subdued in comparison to our current hedonistic culture!)
  • The Great Depression followed the Roaring Twenties… 
  • And then WW II followed the Great Depression.
  • If your father or grandfather grew up in the Great Depression it means they never had a chance to have a childhood.
  • Tom Brokaw wrote in his 1998 book The Greatest Generation, “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”  He argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. When they came back they rebuilt America into a superpower.”  That’s the upside.  There also a downside — an emotional passivity.  The Depression and WW II had inflicted some severe emotional (and spiritual) woundedness.
  • And for those of us who were born after WW II there was an economic and baby boom — and consequently our fathers tended to give us ‘things’ but not themselves.  We must keep in mind our fathers and not been fathered well either.
  • And then there was the ‘60’s and 70’s.  We had legitimate longs and desires, but looked for them in the wrong places.
  • Those first 60-70 years of the 20th century has greatly affected several generations of men – and fatherhood.

I share these things to provide us with some perspective.  You may not have received what you needed from your father – but consider that he probably didn’t either.

So, here we are in the 21st century.  And the whole concept of what constitutes a family, let alone fatherhood has become very twisted and confused.

Men today face the confusing challenge of learning to balance power with sensitivity, strength with feeling, and mind with heart — sometimes all on our own.

Some of us encounter significant difficulty here because we get stuck viewing our heavenly Father through the lens of our earthly fathers.

For some the transition is easy and instantaneous for others it becomes a very difficult and arduous journey.

Regardless of parental devotion, no parent can fulfill all of the child’s wants, needs, or desires.

While these wounds can be inflicted with intent, many are unintentional yet still affect the child throughout life.

Consider Malachi 4 – The Final Chapter of the OT

4:1-6: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

As the Old Testament closes, God makes known that He is not by any means finished with His plan for the world. There is a great day of victory coming and there will be preparations for it so that the people of God will be ready.

That is what we would expect at the end of the Old Testament—a bridge between old and new—a look back at the faithful work of God in the past and a look forward to the final victory.

The Malachi text is the final passage in the Old Covenant.  It is quite significant in that its promise — and warning, frame the very doorway to the New Covenant, the threshold to the coming Messiah.

In verse 6 we see one of the effects of God’s mercy—and an unexpected one at that.

When Elijah preaches, and cries out for people to get ready to meet on the great and terrible day of the Lord, what happens?

Verse 6:

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

It implies that the brokenness in this world between children and fathers reflects the brokenness between humanity and God. That is, restoring relationship with the Father is, in fact, the very focus of God’s saving power in this world.

Thus, Jesus came to reconcile humanity to the Father (John 14:8-13). Nowhere in this world is the incentive for that reconciliation more keenly felt than in relationship with our earthly fathers.

The father-wound portrayed in the Malachi text is the difference between what your father has given you (or not given you) and what our heavenly Father God wants to give you. Thus, every person on the planet bears some form of a father wound.

No pain strikes more deeply into a person’s heart than being abandoned emotionally and/or physically by Dad. No pain, therefore, more directly beckons the saving power of God the Father.

A full 400 years after Malachi wrote those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant dawns with the announcement of the birth of the Messiah

In Luke 1:13-17:

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John…. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

There is evidence in other parts of the NT that John the Baptist is not the final, or only, “spirit and power of Elijah”…

John the Baptist may be a forerunner to an “Elijah Company,” and Elijah ‘task-force,’ if you will — of men being raised up to walk in and to impart the Father’s love to a generation that is longing for significance and purpose in life.

The pattern of distant unavailable father’s has been repeated throughout the 20th century.

It’s not about trying to BE their fathers or mothers, it’s about being able to introduce them to “our Father in heaven” (and heaven, by the way is more of a perspective than a zip-code – more about that next week).

Defining the Father’s Love

The four Greek words for ‘love’…

  • STORGE – family (instinctual) love
  • PHILEO – brotherly/sisterly (friendship) love (tender affection)
  • EROS – Romantic or erotic love
  • AGAPE – Unconditional or sacrificial love

“But God demonstrates his own love [AGAPE] for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 (NIV)

We generally focus on AGAPE when defining the Father’s love in a theological sense.

His unconditional love and on the cross concern for us is demonstrated in Christ’s death for us (Rom. 5:8).

This foundational truth is assumed to be common knowledge among most Christians but that is not the primary focus today…

Let’s now consider God’s PHILEO love:

John 5:20: “For the Father loves [PHILEO] the Son and shows Him all he does.”

In attempting to define the Father’s love in a more experiential sense we can focus on His PHILEO – His demonstrated tender affection for us.  The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described above in John 5:20.

The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of His Father’s PHILEO love.  Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense His Father’s presence and hear His Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing.

John 16:27: (Jesus) “…The Father himself loves [PHILEO] you because you have loved [PHILEO] me and believed that I came from God.” (NIV)

The PHILEO love of the Father for believers is described in John 16:27 (see above).  Our communication with God apparently is to flow out of our continual experience of our Father’s PHILEO for us.

Whereas AGAPE focuses on a truth about God, PHILEO seems to focus more on the touch from God.  This touch of love is missing from many Christian’s lives.

The “Abba” Cry/Longing

Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.'”

  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

The chief activity of the Holy Spirit is to:

  • Draw us into a vital relationship with the Father.  Our “Abba Father” is not only the source of everything in both creation and redemption, He is also the goal of everything.
  • Prompt in us the “Abba” cry/longing; which is first and foremost the basis of our worship.

Luke 15:11-31 – This parable of the prodigal sons confronts our false assumptions about what pleases God.

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

Healing the Father Wound 

1.  Surrender to the Father’s initiating love.

    • The father moves toward both sons… in order to express his love and bring them in.
    • It’s not repentance that causes the father’s love – but the reverse.  It’s surrendering to the father’s love that brings about repentance.

2.  Refuse to be emotionally passive.  (This was primarily the sin of the older brother, but the traveling prodigal was also willing to resign himself to this.)

    • Emotional Passivity is repressed, self-imposed oppression of emotions based on an unmet longing for acceptance – usually from our fathers.  This repression, or self-imposed oppression, generates anger that if allowed to turn inward will eventually express itself as either chronic depression, or passive-aggressive behavior.
    • Awakening the passive soul begins with confessing the sin of deadening our soul and making conscious choices to (go ahead and) feel the sadness, the grief, the sorrow — and ultimately the joy. (We have learned some of the principles of healthy grief and loss as we have sought to integrate emotional health into our discipleship process.)
      • Sadness opens the heart to what was meant to be and is not. 
      • Grief opens the heart to what was not meant to be and is. 
      • Sorrow breaks the heart as it exposes the damage we’ve done to others as a result of our unwillingness to wildly pursue God’s grace and truth.

3.  Refuse to mistrust.

    • Reengages the God-given desire to be concerned about the temporal and eternal destiny of those who have harmed us.  This transfers trust to God and releases us to care, to be kind, and to authentically comfort others.
    • It is not being gullible or stupid – “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat. 10:16).
    • To care is to use all that we are for the good of others while not walling off the deep parts of our soul.
    • The process towards deep caring begins with admitting there is sadness.
    • Grief admits there are scars that can be removed only in heaven.
    • Godly sorrow begins to develop when we begin to see that our demand for God to prove He cares is a mockery of the Cross (which sufficient proof of His trustworthiness).

4.  Refuse to deny holy passion.

    • Passion can be defined as the deep response of the soul to life:  the freedom to rejoice and the freedom to weep.
    • A refusal to deny, or despise, passion embraces both pain and pleasure.
    • A fear of passion makes it nearly impossible to be fully present with other people.
    • It’s refusing to flee back into the numbing – whatever that is
    • It is admitting that while I may be a mess, I AM ALIVE — and there is hope!

Soul Shift #2: Preparing Our Hearts For Prayer – A Survey of Mathew 6

SoulShiftI.  INTRO

Last week I made three points I would like to review…

  1. Prayer is not a method to get what we want from God, but the primary means of getting more of God Himself.  Through prayer, we want to find our delight, comfort, and joy primarily in God as He becomes the end goal of our lives.
  2. Often times when we endeavor to press into God, our circumstances will get harder before they get better.  This can be because God will begin to point-out and address areas in our lives that have become hindrances or barriers to our intimacy with God.
  3. Last Sunday I described those hindrances and barriers as (modern day) idols – or functional saviors.
    • They are all the earth-bound things we tend to turn to, to quiet the (legitimate) longings and/or pain that we have in our souls.
    • To unhook from some of those idols takes honesty, confession, repentance, surrender, and a heart that sincerely seeks to grow.

This morning you’ll need your Bibles open to Mathew 6; we will be looking at the whole chapter.  We are asking two questions today:

  1. How do we prepare our hearts for prayer?
  2. What is the fruit of a heart prepared for prayer?

II. BODY

In asking the question: How do we prepare our hearts for prayer? We must first take a careful look at Mat 6:1 – and particularly the words “your righteousness.”

  • NAS — “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men...”
  • NIV — “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others…”

In our study of prayer it is essential that we get started on the right foot.  The phrase our righteousness is foundational because EVERYTHING else is built on top of it.  If it’s really ‘your,’ or ‘our’ own righteousness – that we somehow earn our way into God’s presence, we will find ourselves turning away from the gospel and turning TO religion (or moralism).

If, however, it is God’s righteousness we will begin to generate a holy confidence and expectation to build a life of prayer.  See also 6:33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

**We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel.  We are called to work, love, and pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.

With this in mind let’s look at four spiritual disciplines (or ‘means of grace’) we can participate with God in detaching from our various accumulated idolatrous affections and prepare our hearts to encounter God — and move from ‘ordinary prayer’ to ‘extraordinary prayer.’  They are:

  1. Giving
  2. Prayer
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Fasting

We’ll look briefly at one at a time:

1.  Giving (or Generosity) – (vs. 2-4, 19-21)

These verses boils down to two overlapping ideas:

  • Motive matters
  • Generosity prepares our heart to pray

2 Cor 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (This is a concise and powerful theological statement that summarizes the gospel)

2 Cor 8:9 is the cornerstone, the basis, for any theology of stewardship or generosity – identifying Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived

As Christians we face countless enemies to the welfare of our souls, be it pride, lust, bitterness, or envy.  But few are as powerful and relentless as greed.  Greed has been deified in our American culture…

What is the most effective counter-attack to this insidious force of greed?  Generosity.

No one ever started so rich and became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.  And no one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Martin Luther spoke of a “great exchange,” or a transaction; our sin is charged to Jesus and Jesus’s righteousness is credited to us.

2.  Prayer – (vs. 6:5-8) We are to, first and foremost, pray privately and pray authentically.

Have you ever shaken your fist at God over His seeming lack of response to your prayers?

If so, you’ll be able to relate to the prophet Habakkuk, who lived about 650 years before Christ.

His book begins with this complaint: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” (Hab.1:2a).

God was not offended by Habakkuk’s prayer.

Passionate, honest, gritty, and even angry prayers have been recorded throughout the Bible.

And Habakkuk certainly wasn’t the only one to complain. Moses, Gideon, and David, and Elijah all questioned God.

Job even cursed the day God made him and said, “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands…?'” (Job 10:1-3).

When we get into the Lord’s Prayer we’ll see that it’s best to approach God with humility, deep respect, and honor.  Having said that, God can certainly take our intense emotions and questions.

2 Cor 4:17-18: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

3.  Forgiveness – I find it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer speaks to the issue of forgiveness, but Matthew comes back to it in 6:14-15.

Mark Twain said that, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it.”

When we truly experience the forgiveness of our sins there is an inward transformation that awakens in us a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God.

When we carry with us a deep appreciation for this grace-fueled transformation, we’ll have a heart that is more ready to forgive.  This doesn’t mean the process will be comfortable or easy, but it will mean that we can approach someone in need of forgiveness remembering that we are just as much in need of what you’re about to give to him or her.

4.  Fasting“I humbled my soul with fasting”  (Psalm 35:13b)

Isaiah 58:6-14

“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. 11 “And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. 13 “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the Lord, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons.  The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline. 

There are many different ways to fast. 

  • We can fast food and just drink water or juice
  • We can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17)
  • We can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates
  • We can fast one or two meals a day
  • We can fast from sun-up to sun-down.
  • Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
  • We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!

Before we fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.

What is the fruit of a heart prepared for prayer?

Preparing our hearts for prayer, learning how to pray, and leaning into prayer is the cure for anxiety.

Vs. 25-34 are not to be seen as admonitions to simply STOP BEING ANXIOUS!  They are telling us that as we make God the object and desire of our prayers; as we seek to find our comfort and joy IN HIM through:

  • Generosity
  • Prayer
  • Forgiveness
  • Fasting

These spiritual disciplines, or ‘means of grace’ lead us into the presence of God, which BECOMES the cure to our anxiety.  God is the goal of prayer, but the loss of anxiety – or peacefulness is the fruit.

CONCLUSION

Who are the two most important people who ever lived?

Certainly, Jesus.  The first One is easy, but who’s the second one?  Adam.

There are only two groups of people on the earth:

  • Those who are in Adam
  • Those who are in Christ.

If you are an active, intentional follower of Jesus Christ your past may help to EXPLAIN you but your past does not DEFINE you.[1]

To live our lives from a gospel-centered perspective is to live, and work, and love, and serve FROM our new identify ‘in Christ;’ not to live, and work, and serve FOR Christ’s – or anyone’s approval.

You idols do not define you – they may help to explain you, but they don’t define you.

Sometimes the most mature and appropriate thing to do is to take our focus off of our sins – even our besetting sins, and to focus on remembering what Christ has done.

When we encounter Christ through humbling our soul, we will find ourselves doing what Isaiah 30:22 says – “You will scatter your idols as an impure thing and say to them, ‘Be gone!’”

Take some time to reflect on what Christ has done… No one was ever so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ – and if you are in Him, no one was ever so poor and became so rich as you.


[1] Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? 2012.

Soul Shift — Lord, Teach Us To Pray #1

SoulShiftToday we begin a new series – “Soul Shift.”  I thought the title expressed well a desire for transformation.

We will be working our way through Matthew 6 – and other related passages (Luke 11 for instance).  By next Sunday we will have a curriculum available for use to follow along.  It will be able to be used in a Sunday School class, a bible study, or a community group.

If you were here the last two weeks, we listened to theologian, author, and lecturer J. Edwin Orr talk about revival, and specifically revival in America – and its relationship to prayer.

I think the most important thing J. Edwin Orr said was:

“There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united concerted, and sustained prayer.”

We are beginning – or returning, to some prayer initiatives here at SBF.

  • After the service.
  • On the first Sunday afternoon of each month we will gather for a concert – or concerted prayer.  This afternoon from 4-5:30pm.

I will be beginning to search out pastors prayer gatherings in and around Manchester to pray with them as well.

Last week J. Edwin Orr gave us some perspective on the history of revival – particularly as it relates to New England.  I think it’s important for us to be aware of our history here in New England.

And in the last couple of our SBF e-NEWS that goes out during the week I have spoken of a sense that there is a “quiet revival,” taking place in New England right now.  One New England pastor referred to it as a “gospel replanting” of churches.  Both formerly liberal as well as moralistically fundamental churches are undergoing a gospel-centered transformation, which is much like what has been happening here.

For most of us prayer is, without a doubt, the most difficult spiritual discipline to make good and consistent progress in.

It’s a little bit like humility – no one ever feels like they’ve “arrived.”

And, when we think about prayer it’s easy to feel very guilty very quickly.

The bottom-line definition of prayer is that it is communion with God.

I recently came across a way to think about and clarify the different aspects of prayer that I’d like to share with you – and we will come back to this over the coming weeks.

This matrix, or template, for prayer can be called 360 degree prayer, which helps us to see prayer in four ways, or dimensions:

Inward – Surrendering to God and aligning ourselves with God.  We’ll be talking about this aspect more today – and next week.  This is where we surrender ourselves into the sanctification process.  Most of the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to a humble surrender and reorientation through owning our own issues and mourning over the effects of sin.

Upward – Worshipful communion with God.  We lift our hearts and hands in grateful surrender, adoration, and worship.

Around – To pray with others.  The passage we’ll be studying, after all, begins with the words, “Our Father…”

Outward – To engage with the mission of God.  Asking God to send us out on mission with Him.  It’s been said that we serve a missionary God:

  • The Father sent the Son.
  • The Son sent the Holy Spirit
  • And the Holy Spirit sends us…

Some people go around the world as missionaries.  Most of us are missionaries sent to neighbors, co-workers, family, friends, acquaintances who are not yet active, intentional followers of Jesus Christ.

What we are aiming for in this series (and season of SBF’s ministry life) is for there to be a transforming shift in our soul (individually and collectively), so that prayer becomes more natural – and more normative.

I have come to see that there may be a common reason why we don’t pray more…

It’s happened to me in different seasons of my life…

Sometimes, when we have a burden to pray or a strong desire to draw closer to God, things right away, seem to get harder and more difficult – so we tend to back off of prayer.  We end-up thinking, or even saying:  “God, You just do Your thing and I’ll do mine…”  Then we don’t move into “extraordinary prayer,” we just stick to “ordinary” prayer.

I don’t want to discourage you, but I do think that often times our circumstances will get harder before they get better when we lean into God – and into prayer.

Realistically, we need to be prepared for this.

Why is it like that?  Because when we get all soft and tender before God, He begins to deal with stuff in our lives.  Someone said He “fixes a fix to fix us.”

Mostly God begins point out and put His finger on our idols – or functional saviors, which are all the earth-bound things we turn to, to quiet the longings or pain that is in our souls.

In the Bible – and in prayer, we have a language of love, trust, holy fear, hope, seeking, and serving.  These are terms describing our legitimate longings, our desires for relationship to the true God.

Then most of us have a host of false loves, false trusts, false fears, false hopes, false pursuits, and even false masters.

Idolatry describes our drift away from God, where we find ourselves serving lessor Gods.  The best working definition for idolatry is: turning a good thing into an ultimate thing…

There are personal, cultural, and religious idols…

1.  Some common personal idols include:

  • Certain relationships can become idolatrous – looking to other people to find our value or worth – and not finding that in and through good.  It may be a spouse, a parent, a boss…
  • Dysfunctional family or marital systems are often idolatrous.  The most destructive of these is the classic addict and enabler.  Did you know you can’t have an addict if there’s no enabler?
  • There are many kinds of addictions…
    • There are ingestive addictions – things like alcohol, drugs, or food.  We ingest substances to satisfy the longs and cravings of our soul.
    • There are also process addictions – things like gambling, pornography and masturbation, shopping (or spending), watching too much TV, religion can become an idol, making money – even working out can become an addiction – although most of us could use a little more time at the gym 🙂

2.  We have many cultural idols – There are famous people that we idolize.  We even have a national TV show – American Idol… What might a North Eastern cultural idol be?  (Patriots :), “Live Free or Die”?)

3.  What are some religious idols?

  • The most common is probably superstition, trying to earn God’s favor, or other forms of moralism.
  • The biblical expression of our lives and the Church through the gospel is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.”
  • Religion alternatively says: “I obey, therefore I am accepted.”
  • The human tendency is bent toward religion, which essentially sets up rules and regulations (i.e., moralism) and we keep them to earn our righteousness before God.
  • This is exactly the “different gospel” that Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians (1:6).  In the same verse Paul expresses amazement at how quickly they have veered and substituted religion for the gospel.  Religious practice can become our functional savior.
  • While the Galatians struggled with abuses of legalism, the Corinthians struggled with abuses of liberty.[1]
  • Both are soulish expressions of religion and not born of the Holy Spirit.  The antidote to both excessive legalism and excessive liberty is the gospel.

What am I saying with all this talk of idolatry?  If we want to learn how to pray, we must be prepared for life to get harder before it gets better.

We must be willing for God to point out our idols – and then ask us to offer them up to Him.

In the end Satan remains the enemy of our souls who wants to disrupt, discourage, distort, and divide (see Eph 6:10-12).

Prayer is not a method to get what we want from God, but THE means of getting more of God Himself, of encountering God so that He becomes the primary object we desire – God becomes the end goal of our lives.

  • Ps 63:1 – O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You…
  • Ps. 42:1 – As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.

Here are some descriptions of prayer that have recently caught my attention:

  • Brennan Manning, prayer is “holy loitering.”
  • Anne Lamott, prayer is our real self trying to communicate with the Real.
  • Richard Rohr, prayer is disrobing our souls before God.
  • Someone has said that prayer is like good jazz – it is both structured and spontaneous; there is tempo, timing, and a key yet there is freedom to move around.
  • Shane Claiborne writes, “the cry of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our vocation as children of God, [we are] orphans adopted into the family of Yahweh…God comes and dwells among us as a Big Brother whom we can emulate.  From Him we learn to pray, “Our Father in heaven.”

[1] Which Paul specifically addresses in 1 Corinthians.

God Is Closer Than You Think #5 – What Is Prayer?

by JT Holderman

DOCTRINE

Illustration of Answered Prayer: Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Daniel is thrown into the pit with the lions and spends the night. But guess what, Daniel was found by King Darius the next morning, unharmed. Prayer is powerful. Both Daniel and King Darius prayed, and God delivered. He heard their prayers.

Definition: A theologian of our day gives a definition for prayer. He says “prayer is personal communication with God” (Wayne Grudem ST-377). I think he captures the essence of prayer, being in relationship, communication, being in conversation with God. Remember you and I were created to be in relationship with God, and relationships are defined by being in communication with one another.

Jesus Makes Prayer Possible: Do you know what gives us confidence in prayer? Jesus. His death on our behalf creates a way for us to know and be in relationship with God again. When you pray to Jesus, he hears you and whispers it into the Father’s ear. Jesus is our advocate.

Kinds of Prayer:

  • Petition: Asking God for…
  • Supplication: Asking God for something on behalf of someone else…
  • Praise: Lifting up God’s greatness
  • Thanksgiving: Thanking God
  • Confession: Asking for forgiveness
  • Sorrow: Prayers of tears and lament

Why do we pray? As Christians prayer is often a response to a need we have. We need help. And we pray because prayer has power. The prayer of Daniel and Darius had power to overcome the Lion’s hunger in the pit. But why does prayer have power? Prayer has power because we communicate with the living God.

Illustration of Answered Prayer #2: There’s a woman in 1st Samuel in the Old Testament. Her name is Hannah. She’s barren, she can’t have a child. She pours out her soul to the Lord. And you know what, God heard her prayer, just like he hears your prayer. He heard it, and he answered it. He gave her a son. His name was Samuel.

What about Unanswered Prayer: We have confidence when we know God has answered our prayer right? But is the same true when we don’t think God has answered our prayer? There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. There is simply prayer that isn’t answered in the manner you and I would like it to be answered. Our prayers are always subject to God’s will. And that’s where we find comfort in unanswered prayer, in the fact that God knows what is best for his children, even when we think he doesn’t.

EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 6:5-13:

Context: Matthew has recorded three chapters worth of His sermon and teachings to the people, we often refer to this portion of Scripture as the “Sermon on the Mount” because Jesus ascended a mountain, sat down, and preached to all those who followed him.

How Not to Pray vv. 5-8: So in v. 5 Jesus begins to instruct us how to pray. And what does he do first? He tells how NOT to pray. Don’t pray like this, and he gives two examples. Don’t pray like the hypocrites. Jesus explains that these people pray to be seen, they find fulfillment not in praying to God, but their motive is to be seen as pious, as holy people by others. Don’t pray like the hypocrites who pray to be seen, but instead Jesus says to pray in private, in secret where the motive is simply to be in conversation with God.

Jesus also says we are not to pray like the Gentiles, non-Jews in Jesus’ day, unclean people. Read vv. 7 and 8 with me. What is the Gentiles problem in prayer? They heap up empty phrases. They simply say things hoping they will be heard. They want to sound sophisticated and use lots of words to try to impress God and earn His favor. Their motive is to impress, to appear holy to God. The hypocrite wants to appear holy to the masses and the Gentile wants to appear holy to God. So we can see here from these first four verses that what is crucial to Jesus in prayer is MOTIVE. Why we pray is important.

How to Pray: So again knowing about prayer is of little value. Knowing HOW to pray is of infinite value. So in vv. 9-13 Jesus launches into “how” we are to pray, it’s commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father…”: Jesus begins with addressing who He is praying to, God the Father. It’s crucial for us to see that He begins by pointing his conversation, his spoken prayer at God. And the word Father here is important. He doesn’t say Lord, even though He is, He doesn’t say God, he says father. And father implies a close relationship, a nearness to God.

“Hallowed be your name”: And after addressing God, Jesus hallows God’s name. Now what does that mean? A person who is hallowed is worthy of our praise. To hallow something or someone is to treat them as Holy, perfect, spotless. But to say that you hallow God’s name, that you revere Him, means also that your life will be such that it reflects that, that it continually brings glory to God as the Holy one.

“Thy Kingdom Come”: Now when you hear the word Kingdom, think of God’s reign, as a King over all the earth. Jesus is often referred to in three offices, prophet, priest and King. The Kingdom of God is the reign of Jesus over all the earth and that began with His earthly ministry. He teaches us here with the authority of a Lord, a King. So when we pray this, we are simply praying that God would reign over this world. We’re just saying, God be God here and now.

“Your will be done…”: This is a hard one to pray. Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? He prayed this, “not my will but yours.” And what happened? He died. To pray that God’s will be done is an absolute sacrifice. It is the ultimate bending of our knee and acknowledging that God knows what is best. It’s hard to pray this because we are inviting God to answer our prayer not in the manner we want, but he wants. Just like Jesus in the garden.

“Give us this day our daily bread”: It isn’t until half way through the prayer that Jesus ever asks for anything in His own life. Here Jesus asks for food, bread. Now this is an image for both physical nourishment that we need from God to live on, as well as spiritual nourishment for our walk with Him.

“Forgive…”: Jesus moves on and asks for forgiveness. Now it’s odd that Jesus asks for forgiveness. Why? Because Scripture tells us that Jesus was perfect, he did not sin, he was the only person who didn’t need forgiveness!!! This is why his death atones for our sins and brings us into relationship with God. So why does he include this. Remember, the whole point of this prayer is an example to you and I of how we should pray. We should pray like Jesus. And so confession, asking for forgiveness is a key part of prayer. Primarily because it forces us to be conscious of our sins, conscious of the ways in which we have turned from God, the ways in which our faith has faltered.

“And lead us not into temptation…”: Jesus ends his example of how we are to pray like Him by admitting that temptation and evil are a reality that we have to deal with, they are universal and inescapable for every human being. The devil is not off the leash. Temptation is essentially a test. When we are tempted our faith is tested. Praying this petition is about admitting that we need God’s help as we face temptation. We can’t do it alone.

Praise and Petition: Now we walked through those pretty quickly. But did you notice as we went through the whole prayer that it was really broken into two separate types of prayer? The first portion of the prayer is what? A prayer of praise. Jesus begins by praising God, by hallowing his name, by exclaiming the goodness of His will and the power of His kingdom. A whole half of this prayer is simply praising God! When you look at your prayer life, if you were to average how much of your prayer time is spent in praising God, hallowing His name, what do you think it would be? And so it isn’t until after Jesus has praised the Father that he moves into asking for things.

APPLICATION

Our Prayer Life: Let’s wind down and bring this home. I would contend the main reason we don’t pray is because God is not a priority in our lives. If God is really our priority in life, if knowing Him is the supreme good above all that we seek after during the hours of the day, then prayer will be as natural as breathing. Prayer is breathing in and out for a Christian. Without prayer we suffocate! And so I argue that the reason we don’t pray as much as we feel called to, or as much as Scripture urges us to, is because God really is not the priority He should be.

And when God becomes our priority, we pray. Not because we are supposed to and it’s what good Christians do, but because we want to! We want to be in relationship with Him who has lavished grace upon us. Prayer is simply communicating with God. What is the most essential thing for any relationship? Communication. If you’re married you know that communication can make a marriage wonderful, or it become a hindrance to loving one another. And so in the same way, our communication with God is of vital importance. Satan wants to thwart prayer more than anything else in our walk as Christians because the reality of our relationship with God is changed through prayer. Prayer is the most powerful action you can do as a Christian. Our call this morning is to take up the charge to be lovers of God, to be people who are characterized by having God as our priority in life.

Closing Prayer: And so where are you? Is God the priority in your life? Or is he simply a priority? Do you pray? Do you wonder what God’s will is for your life? Pray. Do you need help with a struggle you’re currently facing? Pray. Do you feel stuck? Pray. Do you feel lost? Pray. No matter what you are going through this morning, God knows and he wants you to talk to him about it.

God Is Closer Than You Think #3 – What Is The Trinity?

Dr. Jeff Arthurs, Guest Speaker

 Intro: The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the heart of our faith. It is found in the Apostles’ Creed.

Definition: One God existing from all eternity as three Persons.

We come to this doctrine, this revealed word, with humility and wonder. Why do we believe it? It has been revealed.

1. God is One.

 [Dt. 6:4; Is. 46:9]

 2. In three Persons

  • Implied in OT
    • Genesis 1:26, Let us make man in our own image.
    • Gen. 3:22,  Man has now become like one of us.
    • Gen. 11:3, And they said to each other, Come, let us go down and confuse their language.
    • Is. 9:6, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    • Gen. 1:1-2, In the beginning God created…and the Spirit was hovering…
  • More explicit in the NT
    • Baptism (Matt. 3:16-17). Spirit descending and Father saying . . . .
    • Great Commission (Matt. 28:19). Baptize in the name of . . . .
    • Benediction (2 Cor. 13:14). Grace of the Lord Jesus, love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit . . . .
    • High Priestly Prayer (John 14:16). I will ask the Father and he will give you the Spirit of Truth.
    • Deity of Christ (Romans 9:5). From them is traced the human ancestry of Christ who is God over all, forever praised, Amen.
  • Deity of Christ
    • Philippians 2:5-8.

 3. Illustrations:

  •  Roles/hats (father, husband, pastor). No—this is what the ancient church called “modalism.”
  • Egg (three parts of one). No—the three parts do not share the qualities of the other parts.
  • Water (same essence in three forms). Better, but only appearance is different.
  • Human psyche (we can hold conversation with self).
  • Three dimensions of space (height, width, depth).

 Note: the nature of reality is usually (always?) more complex than first glance reveals.  It will be at least as complex as physics.

4. Implications. This is the central reality of the universe. The grand dance of diversity within unity is a dance of mutual honor, love, and submission. That is the essence of reality—love.

  • Eternal life. By grace we are grafted into this life. We become by grace what Christ is by nature—sons of God. How does this occur? He shares it with us.

Ephesians 2: 4-6

  • Christian life.
    • Marriage. Unity and diversity. Equal standing, value, personhood, but distinct roles.

1 Cor. 11:3

    • Church. Diversity and unity.

Rev. 7:9

1 Cor. 12:12

    • Humility, submission, and love.John 15:9

Philippians 2:1-11

God’s Mission Becomes Our Mission

I. INTRO

Last week we turned an important corner in the life of this church with our Sacred Assembly.  Today, I’d like for us to consider the mission of God’s Church – and more specifically this church, Southside Bible Fellowship.

By way of introduction, God has a MISSION, a MEANS, and a METHOD.

1. What is the MISSION of God?

God’s mission is the manifestation of His own glory.

“For the earth will be filled

With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,

As the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14

What is God’s glory?  God’s glory is the shining forth of the perfection of all of God’s attributes.

God’s supreme desire is that He might be known and enjoyed above all things.

God seeks to be recognized as supremely worthy, supremely splendid, and supremely valuable. God’s glory is sensed when we feel the reality of His presence, goodness, and superiority.

2. The MEANS of God’s mission is Jesus Christ and the work He did on the cross.

We call this the gospel.  God creates, calls, rescues, redeems, saves, restores, restrains, and grants — all to the end that we may find our true comfort, joy, and delight in Him.

The gospel is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension — and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy. (We see summary statements of this throughout Scripture – both Old and New Testaments.)

To be “gospel-centered” means to both see and live out this narrative as the central theme, or singular story line, of the Bible.  It is central. It is singular.

The gospel stands at the center of God’s redemptive plan, and in it we see Him most clearly for Who He is and what He has done.

3. The METHOD of God’s mission is you and me – the Church.  In a nutshell we (the Church) are all called to live as missionaries in our current life station and cultural context.

Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – all our social networks.

If you were preparing to be a missionary in Malaysia what activities would best prepare you?

We are to begin the discipleship process BEFORE conversion.  (This is where most churches get it wrong…think about it – we start discipling our kids before they’re converted…)

II. BODY

Having identified God’s MISSION, MEANS, and METHOD I would like to spend the rest of our time considering the mission of the church – and specifically this church – SBF as we enter into a new season of ministry…

The mission of the Church universal is: To glorify God by making disciples through embodying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God’s mission and the mission of His Church are inseparably linked. If God’s mission is to be glorified through the redemption and reconciliation of a people, the Church’s mission must orient around the glory of God and seek to glorify Him through redemption and reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The mission of the Church is highlighted in these verses. As those who have been reconciled to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are now ambassadors of reconciliation to a lost and broken world. We plead, urge, implore, reason, pray, serve, preach, teach and gather to see God glorified through reconciliation.

We also see the mission of the church in the more familiar Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

A suggested mission for SBF: To glorify God through making disciples.  We will accomplish this through:

  1. Gospel-centered worship
  2. Gospel-centered prayer
  3. Gospel-centered community
  4. Gospel-centered service
  5. Gospel-centered mission.

1. Gospel-Centered Worship

All of life is worship. Every thought, word, desire, and deed involves the ascribing of worth and value – glory. Each attitude, affection and activity is an expression of our allegiance, whether to our Creator or His creation. God is alone worthy of our worship.

Worship is related to every area of our lives. We are called to eat, drink, speak, think, and work to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31 – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”). Worship cannot be narrowed down to a particular time and place as if God does not claim authority over certain aspects of our lives. There are no neutral desires or deeds; everything is an expression of worship.

Gospel-centered worship is to be pursued in every facet of our lives as we consider how all encompassing the gospel is to us. Gospel-centered worship is nurtured through:

The gathering of God’s people in a weekend worship service. Within this venue, we worship God by remembering the gospel through preaching, teaching, singing, praying and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and communion. Each presents an opportunity for the church to receive, remember, respond and rejoice in the work of our great King.

Gospel-centered worship also means that we orient our lives (between Sundays) around learning how to worship God and bring Him glory through our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Again, 1 Corinthians 10:31 becomes our holy objective – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”

1 Corinthians 10:31, Psalm 145:1-21, Isaiah 43:6-7, Colossians 3:1-17

2. Gospel-Centered Prayer

Turn with me to Exodus 33:15-18 –“Then [Moses] said to [God], “ If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth? 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!

What we have here is the greatest request we could ever make of God.  It transcends any other request that we could ask of God.

It’s an unrelenting desire to engage the presence of God.

If you want to know the real you, listen for what you pray for involuntarily.  Listen to the spontaneous prayers that irrupt from your heart.

Moses’ prayer is a reflex of the heart.  It reveals what he REALLY wants.

What is it that you involuntarily pray for?  What is the unrehearsed outburst of your soul…

God loves it when we address Him in prayer as the END and not simply a MEANS.  If you’re like me it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing God as the MEANS to our true desires instead of seeing God as the END of all our desires.  We seek God for jobs, for relationships, for good health, for material things – and all those are good yet the ultimate value is God Himself.

The prayer that most delights God is the prayer that makes Him our most passionate desire.

Jonathan Edwards concluded the most essential difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian obeys God out of the sheer delight in who He is. The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of the contemplation of God (i.e., prayer). The moralist will usually only come and petition God for things…

Gospel-centered prayer, is making God the END and not the MEANS — rather than anxious petitioning.

3. Gospel-Centered Community

We worship a triune God, Who has eternally existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In identifying the tri-unity of God, we recognize that God is communal. The Godhead has perpetually dwelt in perfect harmony, unity, joy, and love. Bearing the image of God, we are called to reflect this reality. We are called to be communal creatures imaging the community of our Creator.

Though each Christian has a personal relationship with God, that relationship is not individual or private. The Christian faith is not intended to be lived in isolation. We were made for community – relationship with God and with each other.

The local church is not merely a place that we attend but a people to whom we belong. The Bible calls us members of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) with the expectation that we contribute to the body for the glory of God and the good of His people.

Gospel-centered community is a radical call amid a culture of mere attendance and casual involvement. It involves mutual love, care, consistency and authenticity as we seek to adorn the person and work of Christ with our lives. Where these elements are lacking, we have moved away from gospel-centered community and into the realm of social clubs.

Gospel-centered community is primarily expressed through Community Groups that meet during the week, or Sunday School classes that meet before the service on Sunday mornings. Groups are not perfect and those who participate in them will find them messy at times. However, our hope is that group members will be radically committed to reform from within. This takes time, prayer, effort, patience, love, trust and hope.

Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 3:12-13, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

4. Gospel-Centered Service

Gospel-centered service is motivated by the reconciling work of God and seeks to extend His grace and mercy to others for His glory and not our own. It is an expression of love and stewardship of grace marked by humility, generosity and hospitality and empowered by a passion for the glory of God.

Service can and should be pursued in various ways by all recipients of varied grace. Those who have been impacted by the gospel have countless opportunities – both formal and informal – to serve others by greeting at the doors of the church, following up guests who will be visiting our church, volunteering to work with our children and youth, teaching, singing, serving communion, giving financially to the needs of others, opening their homes to their neighbors, etc.

John 13:1-20, 1 Peter 3:8-11, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15

5. Gospel-Centered Mission

We are used to thinking of mission in terms of funding and sending missionaries to work in other countries to share the plan of salvation with unreached people groups.

If there is an unreached people group in the United States, it is New Englanders. A recent Gallup poll placed the six states of New England in the top ten least religious states in the nation.

Those in New England who attend evangelical churches hover between 1- 3% of the population. There is a higher percentage of evangelical Christian churchgoers in Mormon Utah than in New Hampshire!

Gospel-centered mission is the recognition that each one of us is sent by God as a missionary into our own sphere of relationships – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – where we boldly promote the gospel through collaborative expressions of mercy and generosity.

We serve a missionary God: The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit sends us.

Let me just say that I am more of a fan of mining the vein of our current relational sphere than I am into organizing what we’ve known as “street witnessing.”  And I am more of a fan of initially engaging our relational network through learning how to listen.  In our culture at this moment in history, we will earning the right to speak through first of all learning how to listen.

2 Corinthians 5:11-2, Matthew 28:18-20, Mt. 4:19; John 20:21; Acts 16:20; 17:6, and to make disciples of all nations Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8