Pray: Learning to be Present to Jesus

pray
For you created my inmost being;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
     your works are wonderful,
     I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
     when I was made in the secret place
     when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
     all the days ordained for me were written in your book
     before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16

One of the hardest parts of prayer is the act of being present to Jesus while doing it. Yes, Jesus is always present when we pray, but we’re great at multitasking, especially when praying. I could be praying and simultaneously thinking about the next book to read, idea to ponder, or email draft that needs to go out. (I confess, I have an unnatural desire to plan ahead in such a way that takes me from “being in the moment”).

Instead of simply being, I want to be doing.

We all have an intrinsic desire to produce, to be useful and effective, to have satisfaction from our work, and that’s not a bad thing (in fact, I’m totally for productivity, and I wrote a post about a tool to help you with that here). But most of our work is driven by a sense of self-importance, wondering “if I don’t send out that email and make that work schedule, who will?” It may be true, but why is it that in the midst of those activities, we rarely have the urge to sit still and be quiet before Jesus?

We live scattered lives, driven by the stress we complain about and go to bed thinking, “I should pray more.”

One of the things that has helped me with feeling scattered is the practice of silence. Not just being quiet, but quieting your mind, stopping yourself from thinking about what needs to get done, and reflecting on a word or phrase, like “Jesus” or “God is love” or “you are good.” I’ve been going through a book by Peter Scazzero called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Day by Day, which contain two short devotionals for every day. Each devotional begins and ends with two minutes of silence, stillness and centering before God, with a short reflection on scripture in between. I rarely expect this kind of thing to make an impact on my days, but I’ve seen it happen. I feel lighter, more aware of God’s continual presence, with a new courage to face who I really am and oppose being driven by the dictates of others.

The practice of silence is a like a workout for your brain. Returning to the gym after missing a few days will feel painful on your body. Likewise, when I miss a day or two of silence and reflection, I notice the impact when I pick it up again. With practice I’ve grown stronger in my ability to silence my mind and when I am consistently being present to Jesus in those small moments, it changes the rest of the day and every ounce of self-importance struggle to defend my dignity slowly dissipate into a weightless shadow. As I learn to be present to Jesus, I, like the psalmist, begin to know the true me.

N.T. Wright – Justification

It is unfortunate that most have pigeon-holed N.T. Wright into being a theologian with “liberal tendencies.” Many have categorized him as unbiblical in his “New Perspective” approach that at first glance seems to undermine classical Protestant Theology. “Justification by faith” has become the end all of Protestantism, more specifically for Reformed Theology, and Wright’s approach is not to discard it completely, but to understand in the grand framework of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The implications regarding our definition of justification is enormous, and Wright is simply using the New Perspective as a means to show that Paul’s use of “justification by faith” has way more implications than simply securing ones destination to heaven. Paul’s use of Abraham throughout his epistles, namely Galatians, and Romans, aren’t merely examples or illustrations of faith, but rather provide a framework in which we understand what faith and salvation really is.

The first part of this book is dedicated to a grand introduction, engaging with the “justification” on the basis of history, tradition, and of course the Bible. The second part of the book focuses on the exegesis of Scripture, as he goes through various Pauline epistles, bringing them into light through his exposition framed by the Abrahamic covenant.

Without giving away too many details in this book I will say a few things. Wright defines words like “righteousness” and “justification,” and does so with historical and literal context in mind. These words have familial and communitarian implications and essentially provide a greater Ecclesiology, Christology, and Missiology.  For Wright, the righteousness of God is not explicitly (though perhaps implicitly) a moral virtue, but specifically refers to his covenant faithfulness made with Abraham. This is made clear throughout Wright’s exposition of the book of Romans. Our ‘righteousness’ has to do with our covenant membership and behaviour. The marker then for those who are part of this covenant community is — like abraham — faith, not “works of Torah.” The problem is, that since the late medieval period, the church has ‘de-judaized’ the gospel, and has assumed that the problem with Judaism, and specifically 1st century judaism was legalism; essentially, that Jews from the 1st century were trying to earn their salvation. This is precisely wrong.

The 1st century Jews were quite aware that they were already a part of this covenant family, and the works of the law were a “marker” that intensified their separation from their gentile neighbours. For them, they were “justified by the works of torah” – in other works, they were counted as part of the covenant family and the works of torah was evidence of that fact. There is no such idea that 1st century judaism is attempting to earn salvation, it was already given by God through Abraham.

It was an ethnic elitism that had become problematic for the famous Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Legalism was not the problem. God’s purpose of the Torah was not to intensify some kind of ethnic elitism but to provoke the surrounding nations to become part of the family of God, always intended since God’s covenant with Abraham. They were to be a “light unto the nations,” so that through Abraham, “many nations would be blessed” (Gen. 15). For this reason, Jesus reminds them that they are “a light unto the nations” and a “city set on a hill,” yet unfortunately, they failed miserably.

With this in mind, (and much more if you read the book for yourself), Wright points out that being “justified” by faith, has more implications than merely assuring the believer that he will one day go to heaven. So, if you’re wondering what those implications are, read the book. I highly recommend it.

 

Criticism of A Separate “Rapture”

The following is an excerpt from http://www.theopedia.com/Rapture, Text licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The doctrine of the rapture as an event separate from the general resurrection is a fairly recent doctrinal development within the scope of the Church’s historic body of belief.  Prior to 1830, most of the ‘rapture texts’ were regarded as referring to the General Resurrection. This was especially the case with the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage which was primarily regarded as referring to the resurrection rather than a rapture.

Virtually no prominent theologians held to this theory before Darby‘s influence in the 1840’s.  For example, none of the great reformers, e.g. Luther or Calvin, believed in a “Secret Rapture” theory. Nor did the ancient church fathers such as John ChrysostomJustin MartyrIrenaeus,Hippolytus expressly assert the theory of the pre-tribulation rapture, with the possible exception that The Shepherd of Hermas, 1.4.2 speaks of not going through the Tribulation.

Some Reformed theologians are still favorable of using the term “rapture” but insist on making a very clear distinction between rapture as a synonym for resurrection and what Dispensationalists propose by the term, namely an escape from a yet-future tribulation period. John Stott calls this idea “escapism” in his book Issues Facing Christians Today (2006, 4th ed.). He goes on to write that the Dispensational concept of a “secret rapture”  is one of the most destructive doctrines gripping the Evangelical Church today. According to Stott, it thwarts planning, hinders social involvement, and gives Christians a gloomy outlook for the future.

Other texts used by proponents of a separate rapture, such as Matthew 24:40 – Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left., when taken in context (especially Christ’s statement in Matthew 24:34) are seen by some Preterists as predictions of the Roman catapult bombardment of Jerusalem during the 42 month siege of Jerusalem from late 66-70 AD, not to a rapture. While Dispensationalists claim that the predictions in Matthew 24 are yet-future, centering on a secret-rapture, critics maintain that an exegesis of this passage reveals that this is at best unlikely, if not biblically and historically impossible (cf. The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible by Andrew Corbett).

Ye Holy Angels Bright

In 1681, on the year that his wife died after 19 years of marriage, Richard Baxter wrote the words for the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright.

Ye holy angels bright,
who wait at God’s right hand,
or through the realms of light
fly at your Lord’s command,
assist our song,
for else the theme
too high doth seem
for mortal tongue.

Ye blessed souls at rest,
who ran this earthly race
and now, from sin released,
behold your Savior’s face,
his praises sound,
as in his sight
with sweet delight
ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
adore your heavenly King,
and onward as ye go
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives
and praise him still,
through good or ill,
who ever lives!

My soul, bear thou thy part,
triumph in God above:
and with a well-tuned heart
sing thou the songs of love!
Let all thy days
till life shall end,
whate’er he send,
be filled with praise!

Enlightenment, Deism, Evolution, and the Rapture

N.T. Wright draws the striking connection with the enlightenment project, deistic ideas, evolution, and the church’s anachronistic understanding of heaven. What have you believed about the rapture?

Feel free to check out Wright’s book on this topic:

“Pia Desideria” (Pious Desires) – Philip Jacob Spener

“Every Christian is bound not only to offer himself and what he has, his prayer, thanksgiving, good works, alms, etc., but also industriously to study in the Word of the Lord, with the grace that is given him to teach others, especially those under his own roof, to chastise, exhort, convert and edify them, to observe their life, pray for all, and insofar as possible be concerned about their salvation.” (Pia Disideria, Fortress Press, 1964, p. 94)

Introduction

Philip Jacob Spener’s Pia Desideria was first published in 1675 written as an instructional treatise intended for ministers of the church. Spener was a Lutheran bishop who had originally written a preface for Johann Arndt’s True Christianity.  Within six months, he published Pia Desideria also known as “Pious Desires.” Its purpose was to respond to barren spiritual conditions in the church, of which he described as “slothful,” “a terrible ignorance,” and consequently a “disorderly life” (93).

3 Dimensions

The main theme revealed in the selected excerpt is that of the personal Christian lifestyle. Under the assumption that the readers are themselves Christian who have experienced salvation, Spenner emphasizes the outcome of that salvation has having three main dimensions. Firstly that of the inward dimension; that “every Christian is bound” to “offer himself and what he has.” This of course is closely associated to a preceding dimension that is assumed in the text, that of upward relations with God manifested in salvation. Lastly, and perhaps most emphatically is the outward dimension; the edification of fellow Christians by means of a community centered on good works and the study of Scripture. This is the visible manifestation of the Christian lifestyle seen in three dimensions; upward, inward, and outward.

The Big Idea

The outward dimension of the personal Christian lifestyle is the main emphasis of the document. The author assumes that the reader is a Christian, and “all Christians are made priests by their Savior, are anointed by the Holy Spirit, and are dedicated to perform spiritual-priestly acts” (92). This inward dimension of the Christian life is one of assuming a responsibility,  Spenner ardently claims that “the people must have impressed upon them and must accustom themselves to believing that it is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice” (95). Upon acquiring this responsibility, the Church experiences edification on primarily a personal level, and leading up to a universal level, “more and more would be achieved, and finally the church would be visibly reformed” (95).

Historical Impact

The protestant reformation, though essentially a positive shift in orthodox theology, came with some unfortunate consequences of extremism. Prior to the reformation, there existed an immense fear of sin, purgatory, hell, and ultimately God (perhaps for wrong reasons).  17th century scholastics who sought to systematize doctrine and rational thought, positively emphasized the importance of the Christian mind, breaking down notions of anti-intellectualism. The unfortunate repercussion was an antinomian lifestyle dominating the church. The challenge offered by Spener in Pia Desideria was one that instigated the change from a religion of the head to one of the heart. The dry and lifeless Christianity of the 17th century was now “coming alive” with the help of Spener’s legacy and the many who built upon it.

Searching for Truth

My journey is like Moses who went on the mountain in Exodus 24 in search for God. Or at least my convictions tell me that it should be. He was in search of true theology, while his people waiting for him decided they’d come up with their own theology. One that served creation rather than creator. It came by their impatience and desire to worship.

Moses went up the mountain, was there for a long time, and sought God. My prayer is that my theology would also be formed through prayer. There are many books and commentaries and denominations that interpret biblical theology differently, giving us various “religions” and theologies.

My belief is that there are strengths and weaknesses in every denomination. This places me on a search for truth. Others may be in a place where they too are searching for correct theology, and maybe some believe they have found it. Wherever you are, I pray that you wouldn’t be defined by your denomination, whether Reformed or Pentecostal, or something else, but you would be defined by prayer, not prayer itself, but the result of prayer. In order for this to happen we must be passionate about truth. Truth that doesn’t waiver. Truth that may sometimes offend. Truth that may be hard to swallow.

Moses went up the mountain, Jesus went to a desolate place, and we too ought to seek divine truth in momentous occasions of faith: prayer fueled by our desire for unrelenting truth.

Don’t Waste Your Life

Anyone and everyone should read this book. It will motivate you, inspire you, and convict you… From the moment you begin to read these pages you get a sense of John Piper’s feelings towards life in general. You’ll begin to catch his approach, that every moment of our lives is accounted for, and when it comes down to it… what is the purpose of it all?

I encourage everyone to pick up this book… It’s had a huge influence on me and I believe it can truly be an encouragement to you…

 


Other Classics from John Piper can be found here….

Matteo’s Favorite’s

5 Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church

By Thomas Weaver

1. Make sure your faith is only something you live out in public

Go to church… at least most of the time. Make sure you agree with what you hear the preacher say, and affirm on the way home what was said especially when it has to do with your kids obeying, but let it stop there. Don’t read your Bible at home. The pastor will say everything you need to hear on Sundays. Don’t engage your children in questions they have concerning Jesus and God. Live like you want to live during the week so that your kids can see that duplicity is ok.

2. Pray only in front of people

The only times you need to pray are when your family is over, holiday meals, when someone is sick, and when you want something. Besides that, don’t bother. Your kids will see you pray when other people are watching, no need to do it with them in private.

3. Focus on your morals

Make sure you insist your kids be honest with you. Let them know it is the right thing for them to do, but then feel free to lie in your own life and disregard the need to tell them and others the truth. Get very angry with your children when they say words that are “naughty” and “bad”, but post, read, watch, and say whatever you want on TV, Facebook, and Twitter. Make sure you focus on being a good person. Be ambiguous about what this means.

4. Give financially as long as it doesn’t impede your needs

Make a big deal out of giving at church. Stress the need to your children the value of tithing, while not giving sacrificially yourself. Allow them to see you spend a ton of money on what you want, while negating your command from Scripture to give sacrificially.

5. Make church community a priority… as long as there is nothing else you want to do

Hey, you are a church going family, right? I mean, that’s what you tell your friends and family anyways. Make sure you attend on Sundays. As long as you didn’t stay up too late Saturday night. Or your family isn’t having a big barbeque. Or the big game isn’t on. Or this week you just don’t feel like it. Or… I mean, you’re a church-going family, so what’s the big deal?