The Christian Life

Your Spiritual Barometer

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There are many things that we use in life to measure other things. A barometer measures atmospheric pressure; a speedometer measures speed, a pedometer that tells you how many steps you have walked, a thermometer measures tempertature. But is there a device that measures one’s spiritual temperature? Is there such think as a spiritual barometer? Sadly there is no such device, however there is such a practice that measures one’s spiritual temperature.

Now before I go further, you may be thinking, “What do you mean by spiritual temperature? I just made the term up, it means the quality of your relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It means your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no device that measures this, but there is a practice that measures your spiritual temperature, your faith and that practice is prayer.

In writing an article on prayer, I was challenged in thinking “Where does one start when writing about prayer?” and I think a great way to start is to look at Jesus ‘teaching on prayer, and so I think it is helpful to look at Luke 11:1-13 and these verses make up something that Anglican Christians pray weekly which is known as the Lord’s prayer. Though it needs to be said that this prayer should be called, The Disciples Prayer. There is no record any where in the NT of Jesus ever praying this prayer or anyone else in the NT praying this prayer. I must confess that for many years I believed and taught that this prayer is model for prayer and while I think it still is, I had resisted the notion that this is a prayer that we are to pray. But I think differently because if you look with me at v.1 and 2 a disciple asks Jesus to teach them to pray just as John the Baptist taught his disciples. Jesus responds by saying to him, “When you pray, say.” In Matthew’s Gospel Matthew records Jesus saying “Pray then like this”- which I think makes this prayer of model of prayer. My point is that this prayer is both a prayer to pray and a model of what to pray.

And it is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to this beautiful Christian prayer so that you can see things about what the Lord Jesus is teaching us, and perhaps you may discover something about the Lord’s Prayer, that you have been praying for a very long time that you did not realise.

In this section of God’s Word, the passage can be broken into three sections, the first is vv.1-4 where Jesus teaches a prayer to his disciples. Then vv.5-8 Jesus tells a parable on prayer, and then from vv.9-13 Jesus gives a wonderful encouragement and promice to his disciples so that they will pray.

First we are going to look at vv.1-4

1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: ” ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. 

Let’s look at this prayer, section by section: First of all:

“Our Father”

Now in case you are wondering how this prayer is a Christian prayer and only the Christian can pray this prayer. Only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ has the right to call God ‘Father’. Turn with me to John 1:12

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

It is only through faith in Christ alone, by grace that we become adopted as the children of God. Only when that happens to do we have the right to be become children of God and therefore have the right to call God Father. And this is not because we have earned the right, it is all by grace, through faith. We did not earn the right, God gave us the right. What a privilege we have, to call God, Father. To be his children. My children call me Dad, I call my Dad, “Dad”. What a privilege to call my Dad Dad, my brother can. But no one else. Even greater is the privilege to call God Father. So it is no wonder that as we are now the adopted children of God, his sons and daughters, that we are to pray that God’s name, our Father’s name will be hallowed.

Hallowed Be Your Name…

Now I must confess that apart from this prayer, I never use the word “hallowed”. In fact the only time I have heard this word was in the form of a noun rather than a verb and that was in the Harry Potter Movies. Hallowed is a word that we don’t use very much . To ask God that his name be hallowed is asking God that his names will be honoured and revered, by his people, by us, and by you and by me. God is holy and he has revealed his holiness to us in his creation, in his Word and in his Son. We are called to be Holy, but often we are not holy. Sadly if you like me, we often don’t reflect God’s holiness and character in our lives. By praying to God, Hallowed be your name –we are asking that God’s name and character will be revered and that his people will reflect God’s name and character in thought, word and deed. And that God will do this in his people.

Your Kingdom Come

Part and parcel of what I do as a Anglican Minister is ministry to the bereaved. At funerals I speak about how the Lord Jesus is God’s rescue package. As it is through the Lord Jesus that people are saved from sin, death and eternal death (which the Bible calls Hell). Some people have said to me funerals must be hard to do. But I see funerals as a wonderful opportunity to tell people about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is how God is building his kingdom – through the proclaiming of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified. So it is a very timely that the Lord Jesus when teaching us to pray tells us to say to God your kingdom come. When we are praying this, we are asking God that more people will become Christians.

Give us each day our daily bread. 

Two years ago at the church in which I serve we did a four week series on Stewardship and one of the things I have been reminded of powerful is that we are stewards of what God has given us, not owners of what we have provided for ourselves. God provides our needs, and when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, this is what we are acknowledging to God in prayer. In asking God to give us our daily bread – we are acknowledging our daily dependence on God to provide for our needs. And we need God just as much today as we did yesterday, and we will God just as much tomorrow as we do today. God is the creator, we are the creatures. God is the sustainer of life, and we are dependent on him

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against u

Did you notice the relationship between being forgiven by God and forgiving others? They both go hand in hand. We confess our sins to God daily because we sin daily and we forgive others when they sin against us. For the person who loves Jesus and has been forgiven by him and confesses their sins daily, if that person withholds forgiveness, holds a grudge is to be a hypocrite. Jesus people are required to forgive others. I have been alive for 42 years one thing I have learnt is this…the longer you live, the more you will have been hurt – that is part and parcel of living life outside the Garden of Eden. I have also learnt in that time that there are many people who are hurt, who refuse to forgive – Christians included. Sometimes the hurt is serious, but sometimes it is due to pride and/or having a thin skin. In either case, we are to forgive. Now perhaps you are reading this and right now Now I am not trying to dig up the past or stir up old wounds, but unforgiveness is like a poison. Perhaps someone of you need to spend time with God and perhaps some of you need to forgive those who have hurt you. I say this because the Lord Jesus Christ assumes that you will forgive and have forgiven others as you pray this prayer.

Now you may be thinking,

“But why would Jesus tell us to pray this? If the Lord Jesus has dealt with your sin and my sin once for all by his death and resurrection, why should we pray for ongoing forgiveness?”

The reason that Christians are to pray for ongoing forgiveness is because we still sin. We sin daily, intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. We sin in ways we don’t always recognise, and sometimes we forget the sins that we have committed.

By asking God for his forgiveness we are applying Jesus death daily…we are not re-justifying ourselves. As Christians we don’t stop being a Christian when we sin, we don’t ask God to forgive us in order that we re-convert. When we ask God to forgive us we are acknowledging to God our sin, our reliance on his grace shown to us in Christ and this makes us more like Christ. It is all part of the process of God changing us to become more like Jesus Chris and that term is called Sanctifcation.

Isn’t it wonderful that God not only in his Son, has saved us, but he is actually doing a continuous work in us, making us more like His Son! This is why the things we used to love doing before we came to faith, we no longer like doing. That is what happens to people when we become Christians. We see sin for what it is. We see sin in all its raw ugliness. But… we still live here! The battle against sin, the world, the flesh and the devil is a battle we all face. We all face temptation and in ourselves we are weak and without God’s power we will easily and naturally yield. And the Lord Jesus which is why he tells us to pray

And lead us not into temptation. ‘

The word in the Original temptation but it also means testing or trial. So what are we praying to God when we pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’? Well, we are not saying to God, please don’t tempt us. Because does not tempt us. We are told this by the Apostle James, in James 1:13 which says:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

So what do is mean to pray “Lead us not into temptation”?

It means we are acknowledging our sinful weakness, and just how easy it is for us because we are so week to give way to the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Temptation is not a sin, imagine you are in a social setting and your friends start gossiping about someone behind their back and you know a juicy piece of gossip that your friends to love, and the thought of saying it is so sweet, that you can taste it, and you feel the temptation to say it. You have not sinned at this point. But temptation does make obedience difficult. That is because we are weak. This is why asking God not to lead us into temptation is such an appropriate thing to pray. We are asking God, please keep me away from anything that will lead me to sin. And friends that is the Lord’s Prayer!

Prayer – A Wonderful Gift from God.

What a wonderful gift we have been given by the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t know how to pray. It is not in our nature to pray. This prayer is a gift, it is prayer to pray and it is model for prayer. So when we pray this prayer, never say it. Never just say it. Pray it! And remember that the only reason we can pray to God, the only reason he hears us and the only reason we can call him Father is because the Lord Jesus death on the cross gives us access to God. And because of the cross, Jesus death in our place, we can approach God in prayer confidently. As the parable that Jesus gives us in vv.5-8 shows. If a friend gives his mate what he need due to his boldness, or more accurately because of his impudence, how much will God respond to our prayer, God who is much more caring than any friend or neighbour.

So can I encourage you, make prayer a daily habit. As the Lord says to us, when it comes to pray in vv.9-10:

 9″So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Ask, seek, knock. And that is what we are doing everytime we come into God’s presence in prayer.

So pray boldly! Pray daily! Pray habitually! Remember, because of the cross, God is now your Father. So pray! Pray the Lord’s prayer, model your praying from the Lord’s Prayer.

Ask, seek, Knock!

A Not so Cool Acronym

 

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Something I have noticed in our Anglican Culture is how we often we use Acronyms. We seem to have acronyms for everthing! Sydney Missionary & Bible College is SMBC (which some think stands for Sydney Matrimonial & Bridal College), Moore Theological College (MTC), Ministry Training Scheme (MTS), and there is the strange one, Katoomba Youth Convention (KYCK – though for the life of me I have no idea what the ‘K’ stands for).

But there is There is a new acronym that has gained popularity in recent years, particularly amongst baby –boomers and it is an acronym that is increasingly becoming disliked amongst Gen X ers and Gen Y and that is the acronym which is a also a verb for sliding down a snow covered slope and it is the acronym SKI. And it stands for:

Spend

Kids

Inheritance

So when a retired couple say “we are going skiing”, they may not mean that they are going down to the snow, but rather, they are going to blow their money on a mobile home and travel around Australia, then go on a cruise in the Pacific, then followed by a trip to South America led by the famous Alpaca Whisperer Bruce Maclean to learn his techniques and then finish up with a week of fine wine and dining at Doyles on Watson’s Bay in Sydney.

As a Gen Xer it is easy to think about retirement and cultural stereotypes and present a picture of retirement which is ridiculous as it is inaccurate, just like the one I have given above, but something that is not inaccurate is how easy it is to let our culture dictate how we as God’s people should use our retirement and at the same time be blind to God’s Word on the issue.

So what does Godly retirement look like? Does God want me to use my retirement to rest, and spend and play? Is God really concerned about my retirement?

As helpful and as appropriate as these questions are, the first thing I think is important to acknowledge is that retirement as we know it not mentioned in the NT. Historically the majority of people worked until either they could not work due to illness of injury or until they died. Secondly it is also important not to deduce from this that Biblical silence on this issue equals Divine apathy.

The Lord Jesus Christ is Lord, and because he is Lord, this means his rule permeates and is to govern not only all aspects of life but also all aspects of life in every stage of life.

Secondly, retirement as we know it means we that we retire from paid work, but we do not retire from the work of the Lord.

Thirdly, retirement is a blessing from the Lord. Why? Because it offers time for ministry where previously perhaps your paid work took up the time. Have a look at these counter cultural Scripture from the Lord Jesus Christ:

Matthew 6: 19-21

                  [19] “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20] but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It is very easy for us in this world to clutter up our lives with material things, and to starve our place in Heaven because we had not invested in things of eternal worth because we get so caught up with career, yet retirement grants us the opportunity to work in a different way, to work for eternal treasure. There are many ways in which the Christian can use their retirement for work of the Lord, prayer, Bible studies, (hosting or leading), perhaps doing an online Bible course (through Ridley College or Moore College), encouraging the young adults in your parish, opening up your home for hospitality, being part of the service where those saints who are in the thick of work and kids, whom you can befriend, love and support; or even finally being able to make yourself more available to be on the roster at church for the plethora of ways in which one can serve.

There was once a very selfish and wealthy old lady who died and reached Heaven and was told that she would taken to the house that had been prepared for her. She passed many beautiful mansions and saw in them people whom in this world she had known and despised. Finally way on the outskirts of the suburbs of Heaven, she was shown a very small and undistinguished house and she was told that it was hers. She complained and protested but was told quietly ‘ That is all we could do for you with the materials you sent ahead’.

There is an old hymn entitled Consider Christ, I suspect most of you know it, but have you considered your retirement? Have you considered how you can use it for Christ? When one yields their retirement to the Lord Jesus, what a wonderful blessing awaits!

Cultural Blindness

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Have a look at this image…have a good look…what do you see? Do you see a number? If someone said to me “Joshua, I will give you 50K if you can tell me what number is in this image”, I would have to randomly guess a number in the hope that I was correct. No matter how hard I have looked at this image, no matter how much I will myself to see a number, I cannot see it. Even people tell me what number is there, I still cannot see it. I have a form of colour blindness where my colour vision is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum resulting in a reduction in sensitivity to the green area of the spectrum. In other words, I cannot see green very well. The problem is not the wiring of my brain (though some may think otherwise), but it is do with my eyes themselves, I will not bore you with details, except to say that my eyes are missing certain receptors so that my eyes cannot pick up certain waves in the colour spectrum. So distinguishing yellow from light green is difficult, pink from grey and blue from purple is difficult, but in every day life everything seems normal (except for buying bananas that are ripe). The thing about being colour blind is that in every day life I am not aware of it.

But there is another type of blindness that all of us are susceptible to acquiring, not colour blindness but cultural blindness. It is the inability to detect the currents, morés, and values of our culture, the inability to discern them in light of God’s Word and the inability to see if they are influencing us.

Recently in our parish we have just finished a series in Judges and this was really brought home to me with the example of a Judge named Jephthah. Jephthah is one of those OT figures whom is not that well known I suspect. He is not one of those OT figures that is likely to be used in a ‘Kid’s Spot’ in church (like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon). In case the name does not ring a bell for you, his tragic account can be found in Judges 10:6 – 12:7.

At first Jephthah seems like ‘a good guy’. When we are introduced to him, God’s nation of Israel is in a real mess. They had displayed a cascade of failures, morally and spiritually. Verse 6 of Judges 6 shows us how this is the case:

[6] The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him. (ESV)

They not only have done evil in the eyes of the Lord and committed spiritual adultery, they have done it multiple times at the same time. They are have really done evil, not only is now Baal, but also the Ashtoreths, (which is the summary way of saying the male and female Canaanite gods)the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the gods of Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. So they had taken on every ‘god’ of every nation that surrounds them. They served every false god that surrounded them rather than Yahweh. Their failures are presented here, one on top of the other. They have gone from bad to worse. (The fact they would spiritually go to bed witih the god of Aram is perverse since Aram was a nation that God used to punish them back in chapter 3. God raised up Othniel to save Israel from Aram, now generations later they are now worshipping the fake god of Aram).

Israel had sunk so low. Look again at the last sentence of v.7

AND THEY FORSOOK THE LORD AND DID NOT SERVE HIM

The verb ‘forsook’ is a word we don’t really use. It is past tense of the verb forsake, and we don’t really use that word much. For example if a person gives us Maccas, it would be a rare thing for them to announce “I forsook Maccas”, (though this would certainly be to their advantage!). It means to renounce, or abandon, to desert, to leave, to quit. When it came to Israel being God’s people, living in God’s place, living under God’s rule, Israel said to God as a nation “I quit”! “I’m done” It is like the husband or wife saying to their faithful spouse who has loved them “I am leaving”.

Israel’s rebellion is massive and God responds in kind and hands them over to two nations, the Philistines and the Ammonites. But our of sheer outrageous grace God sends a deliverer,  a man named Jephthah.

By the time he comes on the scene, Israel is so desperate, that they have no choice but to turn to this warrior who had a very dodgy parentage, who was hanging out with losers due to being driven out by his own family. To cut a long story short (though it is worth reading), Jephthah gives the oppressing King a theology lesson and a history lesson then goes out to fight him.

Again, this Jephthah seems like a good guy. He lays out the truth. In v.29 we read that the Spirit of Yahweh (or the Lord) is upon him and off to fight the Ammorites he goes! But in his zeal, he sows the seed that will blossom into the tree of tragedy. And this is what i suspect he is remembered for. Look with me at 11:30-31:

[30] And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, [31] then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

It begs the question:

Why would Jephthah, an Israelite make such a vow? And even more tragic, after God grants him the victory, which (very important to remember) God was going to anyway).

The reason…

CULTURAL BLINDNESS.

Jephthah was blind to the cruelty of the pagan cultures around him. He was blind to the evil practice of human sacrifice to gods. He was also blind to the prevailing cultural view of how one approaches the real and living God. Jephthah has imbibed the view that for God to act in a way that was beneficial or favourable, one needed to offer a sacrifice to Him. Thus the greater the sacrifice, the greater the favour. The culture around viewed human sacrifice as the ultimate sacrifice.

The consequences of his cultural blindness are tragic and horrifying!

It was a foolish vow that if fulfilled would have tragic results.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

We want to step back in time and go there and say to him. Don’t do it. Confess your foolishness to God, break your stupid vow, save your daughter’s life. Your vow is useless, it was won’t sway God, he was always going to grant you victory and save Israel.(See 10:16 and 11:29; God had already decided to save Israel, for he could not bear to see Israel suffer. And in v.29, God’s Spirit was upon him). But he goes through with the sacrifice.

His blindspot was massive, and it had massive and fatal consequences.

And herein liesi the challenge for us, we all have blind spots. The tragic example of this not so well known Judge serves to highlight to us that we as God’s people should never underestimate the effect that our culture has on us. And that by and large our culture can and does have a bigger effect on us than the Bible. Our blinds spots can be really difficult to remove…why? Because they are blind spots, we cannot see them. But the Scriptures; God’s Word – and the Holy Spirit (together) they serve as a lens and a scalpel. They enable us identifies those (what I call) cultural and personal cataracts, and remove them.. Over the years God has shown me many blind spots that needed to be removed. They can come in all shapes and sizes, where we take on and imbibe certain cultural traits, morés, and ethics… that our culture deems normal…yet God’s Word deems sinful. It could be external behaviours or internal attitudes or a real unhealthy cocktail of both.

cataractsNow of course we would all say “Amen”! We would all say “Obviously”. But we are people of our time and place and we don’t always see our culture objectively, we don’t always see our culture through the lens of Scripture, we should, but we don’t always do it. Just as cataracts block sight, cultural cataracts block our spiritual sight, blinding us to the truth of God’s Word, and to how we are living our lives in light of it.

Jephthah had God’s Word, he had God’s Law, God had shown him that He was the true and living God and was not like the pagan ‘gods’ around Israel. Yet Jephthah was blind. He could not see how the prevailing pagan worldview around him, he could not discern his culture in light of how God had revealed himself. He was just like the other pagan kings around him.He was blind to the truth of God’s Word.

There is a term that was coined by the Protestant Reformers and the term is

SEMPER REFORMANDA

And it means ‘Always Reforming’. The Reformers used this term because they rightly believed that the church should always be reforming its doctrine and practices in light of Scripture. Here is the challenge. This term applies also at the individual level. Are you, am I, are we Semper Reformanda? Are we constantly being reformed by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God? If we are not, then our spiritual vision will diminish and over time we will have no vision at all.  God’s Word is the lens and the scalpel, God’s Word identifies and cuts out tt those cultural cataracts, God the Holy Spirit is the surgeon, how is your vision? Do you have 20/20 vision? Or do you require radical surgery?