The Framework of Prayer

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I just finished reading through this powerful book by D.A. Carson. In this book Dr. Carson goes through several of Paul’s prayers. I couldn’t put the book down and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I thought I would try to write some about this book as a way to help process what I read and thought this might be beneficial to others. One of the first prayers of Paul that Carson looks at is found in 2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12 which I included below:

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A Fundamental Component of Prayer – Thanksgiving

What we see at the beginning of this passage is Paul talking about giving thanks to God for these Thessalonian believers. One thing that has struck me lately is how often Paul gives thanks for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Carson says: “Clearly, thanksgiving is a fundamental component of the mental framework that largely controls Paul’s intercession.” As we examine our own prayer lives, I think a good question to ask would be to ask ourselves if thanksgiving is a fundamental component of our mental framework that largely controls our prayers?  I think that we need to drill down even deeper though into this question of thanksgiving in our prayer lives.

D.A. Carson gives us some additional questions to ask: “For what do we commonly give thanks? We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food; we give thanks when we receive material blessings―when the mortgage we’ve applied for comes through,…we may utter a prayer of sincere and fervent thanks when we recover from serious illness. We may actually offer brief thanksgiving when we hear that someone we know has recently been converted. But by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. If a large percentage of our thanksgiving is for material prosperity, it is because we value material prosperity.”

When we look at Paul’s prayer here in this passage we find that: “Paul gives thanks for signs of grace among Christians, among the Christians whom he is addressing.” Paul says: “We…give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly…” These believers are growing in their faith. They are: “stretching upward in spiritual maturity, and for this Paul gives thanks.” Paul continues by giving thanks to God for their increased love for each other. Paul says: “We…give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because…the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” Carson says that: “If their love for one another is growing, it can only be because they are Jesus’s disciples: did not Jesus himself say that such love would be the distinguishing mark of his followers (John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.).

Carson probes this line of thought a little bit further. He points out how groups with shared ideals and goals frequently find it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion among themselves. Groups like a rock-climbing club, a football team, or a trivia team. However, he says the church is different. “It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated,…disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert―and everything in between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them.” Then he points out that when Christians are growing in their love for each other, this is a sign of grace in their lives and is the work of God. When we see brothers and sisters in Christ growing in their love for each other we should direct our thanksgiving to God, as this is a sign of grace in their lives. So, when is the last time we thanked God for believers who were growing in their love for one another? If it has been a long time since we have done this I think we need to hear from Carson again who writes that: “we must look for signs of grace in the lives of Christians and give God thanks for them.”

I will end this post with another series of questions from Carson. He asks: “For what have we thanked God recently? Have we gone over a list of members of our local church, say, or over a list of Christian workers, and quietly thanked God for signs of grace in their lives? Do we make it a matter of praise to God when we observe evidence in one another of growing conformity to Christ, exemplified in trust, reliability, love and genuine spiritual stamina?”

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Sanctification Flows From The Gospel

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Mark said during his sermon this past Sunday that: “You never ever ever ever ever want to detach the imperatives of the Bible from the indicatives of the gospel.” He went on to say that we should never give people the law of God without giving them the gospel as the motivation for keeping the law of God. Commentator Douglas Moo said that: “Rules must never take the place of Christ as the source of spiritual nourishment and growth; and any rules that we propose to follow must be clearly rooted in and lead back to Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson says that: “Sanctification flows from the gospel.” He goes on to say that: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”

Ferguson continues by helpfully telling us that: “Divine indicatives (statements about what God has done, is doing, or will do) logically precede and ground Divine imperatives (statements about what we are to do in response). This is true no matter the actual order in which the indicative and imperative statements appear in any given passage. Thus: Who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do for us (indicative) provides the foundation for our response of faith and obedience (imperative). Thus his grace effects our faithfulness. This is the logic that explains the power of the gospel.”

Biblical Examples Of This

We can look at some Biblical examples of this. In 2nd Corinthians 8 Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor. The most important motivation that he gives us is the gospel. Tim Keller writes that: “When Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor, he pointed to the self-emptying of Jesus and vividly depicted him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and in crucifixion.” This is what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 8: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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 by his poverty might become rich.” Tim Keller describes how Jonathan Edwards helped him on this passage: “Jonathan Edwards noted that Paul’s introduction “I say this not as a command…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant, implying that if one truly grasps substitutionary atonement, one will become profoundly generous to the poor. The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to leave his spiritual riches and enter into spiritual poverty.”

Keller continues: “If it is the gospel that is moving us, our giving to the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because God says so, the next question will be “How much do we have to give so that we aren’t out of compliance?” This attitude is not gospel-shaped giving.

1 Peter 1

Another passage that recently hit me was 1 Peter 1. Peter was writing this letter to a church in modern day Turkey that was facing persecution. Sinclair Ferguson throws out this question: “How would you begin such a letter?” Basically, if we were writing to a persecuted church how would we start that letter? Ferguson then answers: “Perhaps with words of sympathy, saying how sorry you were that things had become so difficult? Not Simon Peter. He began first by reminding them of their identity in Christ and then by breaking into a doxology as he reflected on its implications.” Here is what Peter wrote to this persecuted church at the start of his letter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Ferguson adds that: “Peter’s subliminal logic is: As you face life with all its trials do not lose sight of who you are and what you are for. Be clear about this and you will make progress. Forget this and you will flounder and fall…I need to be clear about who and whose I am, and what I am for in Christ. And Peter is teaching us how to answer them here. If you are a believer you are someone who has been chosen in grace, loved by the Father before you were born, and in your experience sanctified by the Spirit in order that you might become obedient to the Saviour who shed his blood to bring you into covenant fellowship with God…Peter says to believers in Turkey exactly what Paul said to believers in Corinth: You are not your own; you have been bought with a price―the sacrifice of Christ; you are his, so live for his glory because it is for this that you have been purchased.”

The Book of Romans

The last Biblical example I will mention on this post is the book of Romans. I am once again borrowing heavily from Sinclair Ferguson. In the first 11 chapters of the book Romans there are 315 verses. If we went through all 315 verses specifically looking for imperatives―’that is, every statement that is in the form of a command, telling the reader to do something.’ We would only find 7 verses that are imperatives. Romans 6:12, 13, 19; 10:4; and 11:18, 20, 22.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “In essence Paul devotes 308 out of 315 verses to sustained exposition of what God has done, and only then does he open up the sluice-gates and let loose a flood of imperatives. (There are more than 20 of them in Romans chapter 12 alone). Clearly Paul believed in the necessity of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. And his are all-embracing and all-demanding. But the rigorous nature of his imperatives is rooted in his profound exposition of God’s grace. He expects the fruit of obedience because he has dug down deeply to plant its roots in the rich soil of grace. The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. This is the principle that destroys both legalism and antinomianism. For this is how the gospel works:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. -Romans 1:16

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1

Get this right and we have a strong foundation for growth in sanctification. Go wrong here and we may go wrong everywhere.”

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

I will end with a portion of this powerful hymn written by Issac Watts. In that hymn Watts said:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died”

As we ‘survey’ the cross, and as we meditate on the cross we are overwhelmed by the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Then we will respond as Watts does in his hymn:

“My richest gain I count buy loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”

Once again Sinclair Ferguson says: “Thus the motivation, energy and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ. And so if I am to make any progress in sanctification, the place where I must always begin is the gospel of the mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ.” So let us all “immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ…”

 

Preparing For Worship

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It is once again time to prepare for worship. Since the NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing right now I wanted to share an applicable quote from Matt Chandler’s book The Explicit Gospel. The NCAA basketball tournament is oftentimes referred to as March Madness. Matt Chandler calls the tournament March Madness is this powerful quote:

“As I write this, March Madness is going on. It’s the greatest sporting event. (I say that because it’s also the last athletic venue in which David can still beat Goliath. There’s not really another venue like it where a college you’ve never heard of that has, say, eight hundred people in it can upset superpowers in the basketball world.) But here’s the thing about fallen men and women who love March Madness. All over our country, fans are nervous. I’m not joking. They’re nervous in their guts, they want their team to win so badly. They watch the games and yell at their televisions: “No! Yes!” Kids are crying in fear, wives are running for more nachos—it’s chaos. It’s madness. With victory comes elation and surfing a thousand websites to read the same article over and over and over again, and with defeat comes destitution of spirit and days of mourning and moping, angrily arguing on a blog about who really deserved it or an official’s botched call.

Every bit of those affections, every bit of that emotion, and every bit of that passion was given to us by God for God. It was not given for basketball.

Where is the nervousness in our guts when we’re coming into an assembly of those pursuing God? Where is the elation over the resurrection? Where is the desolation over our sins? Where is it? Well, it’s on basketball. It’s on football. It’s on romance. It’s on tweeting and blogging.

Are you really going to believe we’re not worthy of hell?

Thank God for his response to all this blasphemous nonsense: the wrath-absorbing cross of Christ.”

So, as we prepare for worship we might need to confess some idolatry in our hearts. Maybe it has been sports that we have idolized, maybe it is our career, or our families, or perhaps it has been comfort and ease that we have idolized. Rico Tice talks about idolatry and says: “Anything that we serve instead of God is a created thing, an idol. Money, reputation, power, career, family, and so on — our hearts get kidnapped.” Maybe our hearts have been kidnapped by money, reputation, power, career, or family this week. I am convinced that materialism is a massive idol in our churches today, and I am constantly feeling my own heart pulled in that direction. Rico Tice is quick to remind us that we as Christians still struggle with idolatry. He says: “Becoming a Christian doesn’t automatically or immediately cure us of this idol-worship. At the heart of all sin is idolatry in the heart — loving and obeying something other than our loving God. I am constantly struggling to keep the Lord Jesus at the center of my heart, to find my identity and assurance and purpose and satisfaction in him.”

Tice continues with this reminder: “We need to ask ourselves, So what does my heart find easy to love more than Jesus?  We need to spot our idols, so that we can confess our idols, and so we can begin consciously to seek what we have been looking for from those idols in the only place where we will truly find it — the Lord Jesus. We need to replace our idols with the real God: Christ…

We need to ask the Spirit to go to work in our hearts with the gospel, so that we’ll love Christ more and more, and he’ll displace our idols; and so when we talk about what we love, we’ll be talking about him.”

So, we might need to spend time confessing our idols and repenting of any other sin that the Lord has placed upon our hearts. We should also plead with God to stir up our affections for Him. There is a hymn that was written in 1856 called: More love to Thee, O Christ. That hymn starts with these words:

More love to Thee, O Christ,
More love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make
On bended knee;
This is my earnest plea:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!

So, as we prepare for worship we should on bended knee earnestly plead with God for more love for Christ. We should also spend time praying for the service tomorrow. We should lift up Ian and Erin at the throne of grace as they will lead us in worship. If you could pray for me as I do the confessional tomorrow I would appreciate it. Also, we should lift up Mark at the throne of grace as he will open up God’s Word to us. He will be preaching on Galatians 4:21-5:1. The link to the ESV text is below:

Galatians 4

Preparing For Worship

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It is once again time to prepare our hearts for worship. Donald Whitney talks about worshiping God and he says that: “To worship God is to ascribe the proper worth to God, to magnify His worthiness of praise, or better, to approach and address God as He is worthy. As the Holy and Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Sovereign Judge to whom we must give an account, He is worthy of all the worth and honor we can give Him and then infinitely more. Notice, for instance, how those around the throne of God in Revelation 4:11 (“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”) and 5:12 (“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”) addressed God as “worthy” of so many things.

The more we focus on God, the more we understand and appreciate How worthy He is. As we understand and appreciate this, we can’t help but respond to Him. Just as an indescribable sunset or a breathtaking mountaintop vista evokes a spontaneous response, so we cannot encounter the worthiness of God without the response of worship.”

So, as we prepare for worship we should focus on God. Maybe this week we have been focused on ourselves, our jobs, our schoolwork, our families, our future, but maybe we have neglected focusing on God. Jon Bloom asks: “Want to refresh your soul? Want to run with more endurance today?” I would add this, want to prepare your hearts for worship? Then he answers: “Cease to be the focus of your attention.”

Bloom continues: “The state of your soul depends on what occupies your mind. If your self is occupying your mind, forget peace and contentment. You don’t find those in a vacuum of needs and sinful cravings. And forget loving others. A self-preoccupied soul might like the idea of being viewed by others as loving, but ends up finding others obstacles that plug up its craving vacuum.

And forget joy. The soul does not find satisfaction in the self. It’s not designed to. It’s designed to find supreme satisfaction in Someone else (Psalm 107:9), and then to enjoy everything else because of that Someone else (1 Timothy 6:17).”

So, how do we get our minds off of ourselves as we prepare for worship? One answer I would give would be to: “Look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and all that God promises to be and do for you through him. Only he will satisfy your soul (Psalm 63:1-3) and only he has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).”

Look to Jesus

So, as we prepare for worship we should ‘look to Jesus’ or fix our thoughts on Jesus. We should race to the cross. Maybe we need to spend time repenting of our self-centeredness this week and then plead with God to stir up our affections for Him.

After we have raced to the cross, maybe we should just dwell there for awhile. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says: “Look at the cross, my friend. Have you ever really looked at it? Have you ever, with Isaac Watts, surveyed this wondrous cross? I am asking you to do so now. Look at those three crosses on that little hill called Calvary, outside the city of Jerusalem. Look at the middle one and at that person who is dying there. They are amazed that he has died so quickly. Who is he?…He is the eternal Son of God. He is the second person in the blessed Holy Trinity. He is God the Son.”

In John chapter 1 John the Baptist sees Jesus and says: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” So, Jesus the eternal Son of God the second person in the blessed Holy Trinity took on flesh and dwelt among us. Not only did he dwell among us, but he is the sacrificial Lamb who dies condemned in our place.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that: “The Lamb of God has come. God has provided his own sacrifice. It is his own Son. The Lamb of God. This is what happened on Calvary’s tree. God took your sins and mine and he put them on the head of his own Son, and then he smote him, he punished him, he struck him, he killed him. The wages of sin is death. So what was happening on the cross was that God himself was laying your sins and mine upon his own dearly  beloved Son, and he paid the penalty of our guilt and our transgressions. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2nd Corinthians 5:21).”

So, as we meditate on the cross we should remember that all of us are vile sinners, but we should remember that if we have turned from our sins and have trusted in Jesus to save us, then our sins have been paid in full. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says: “And by Jesus all who believe, you included, are at this very moment justified entirely and completely from everything you have ever done…I tell you, in the name of God, all your sins are blotted out completely, as if you had never sinned in your life, and his righteousness is put on you and God sees you perfect in his Son. That is the message of the cross, that is Christian preaching, that it is our Lord who saves us, by dying on the cross, and that nothing else can save us,…”

So, let’s spend time meditating on the cross of Christ as we prepare for worship. Let’s also spend time praying for the service tomorrow. We should continue to lift up Rachel and Ben Bowen and their families at the throne of grace. We should also pray for Ian and Erin as they will lead us in worship. We should also pray for Jerry as he will lead us in a time of confession. Jerry will be looking at Philippians 1. Let’s be sure to pray for Mark as he preaches from 1 Peter 1, I believe. Links to Philippians 1 and 1 Peter 1 are below.

Philippians 1

1 Peter 1

Picture from here

 

Preparing For Worship

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It has been a few months since I have written a preparing for worship post, but I hope we have all sought to prepare our hearts for worship each week. In my very first post from January 2016, I mentioned R. Kent Hughes who said: “We must discipline ourselves in preparation for corporate worship, and that does not begin with the thirty seconds after we have breathlessly sat down.” We need to prepare to meet God in corporate worship.

We need to remember these words from Kent Hughes on worship: “Therefore, it is important that we understand, in distinction to the popular view that worship is for us, that worship begins not with man as its focus, but God. Worship must be orchestrated and conducted with the vision before us of an…awesome, holy, transcendent God who is to be pleased and, above all, glorified by our worship. Everything in our corporate worship should flow from this understanding.”

We should be eagerly anticipating corporate worship each week. R. Kent Hughes is helpful here when he says: “there is something very wonderful about the gathered body of Christ. There is an encouragement that takes place from singing with the people, affirming the same things, saying “amen” to the reading of God’s word, having your Bibles open with all the pages turning at the same time to the text that can’t happen individually. There is nothing like gathered worship.”

Something that I have emphasized many times on these post is that we need to do heart-work before we come to worship. We need to prepare our hearts for worship. Jesus says in Matthew 15:8-9 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” When we honor God with our lips in worship when our hearts are far from the Lord, then we worship in vain. John Piper says that: “the essence of all worship is the act of honoring God.” 

Piper continues by saying that: “Worship throughout biblical history always involved action. The main word for worship in biblical Hebrew means “to bow down.” Worship was performed in bowing, lifting the hands, kneeling, singing, praying, reciting Scripture, etc. All this can be called worship. But all this can also be done when the heart is far from God…We all know this sort of experience in our ordinary life…haven’t you sat through a school talent show and observed how some applause comes from internal appreciation, but other applause comes from external expectation.

Those two different experiences correspond to two different senses in which we use the word “worship.” The one is a series of activities performed by the body and mind. The other is an experience of the heart which may or may not find outward expression. It seems clear to me that when the Bible commands us to worship, it is not commanding us to honor God with our lips while our heart is far from him. When David says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2), and when Jesus says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4:10), and when the angel says to John in Revelation 19:10, “Don’t worship me; worship God,” we can be sure that they did not mean perform liturgical acts regardless of your heart’s condition. In those commands worship refers to an experience of the heart that is anything but far from God.”

Drawing Near To God In Our Hearts

So what does it mean to draw near to God in our hearts? Piper answers: “drawing near of the heart to God means the coming alive of our feelings for God. Worship is an affair of the heart. It is an affair of feeling and of emotion.” He also adds that: “true worship which delights God is the drawing near of the heart to God, or, to put it another way, the quickening of the heart with genuine feelings in response to God’s glory.”

Something that has been stirring my affections for God this week has been to reflect on our adoption into God’s family, which Mark so powerfully preached on last week. (Which if you haven’t heard it yet I would strongly encourage you to listen to it here.) Ephesians 1:3-6 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

J.I. Packer said this about our adoption into God’s family: “Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” The highest privilege that the gospel offers is our adoption! He goes on to say that: “In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge [justification] is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father [adoption] is…greater.”

One thing that I have mentioned over and over as an essential part of preparing our hearts for worship is prayer. We should all spend time in prayer for the service tomorrow. We should lift up Ian, and Erin at the throne of grace. We should lift up Mark and Allen at the throne of grace as well. We should pray that non-Christians would come and that God would open their eyes to see the beauty of Jesus during the service. We should also spend time praying for ourselves that we would be attentive to the preaching of God’s Word. John Piper says we should: “pray, “O Lord, give me a heart for you…Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.”

Mark will be looking in part at Galatians 4 tomorrow. The link to the ESV text of Galatians 4 is below.

Galatians 4

 

 

 

The Year in Review – Part 1

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As we come to the close of the year I wanted to write about how encouraged I have been through North Avenue Church. North Avenue’s first official service was about 11 months ago at the end of January. From that first service 11 months ago until now, I have fully enjoyed being a part of North Avenue Church. I wanted to list some of the things that I have enjoyed about North Avenue.

The first thing I will mention is that I have enjoyed growing in my love for the Savior as a result of North Avenue Church. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed each service that I have attended during the last 11 months. I think I have only missed one service at North Avenue during the last 11 months. Every single service that I attended has in some way stirred up my affections for Jesus. Many times it has been through the preaching of the Word by Mark. Mark is so obviously gifted by God to preach God’s Word and it has been a true joy to sit under his preaching week in and week out. Many of his sermons from Genesis absolutely blew me away. Especially when he pointed out how many of those text in Genesis were pointing us to Jesus. One sermon in Genesis still stands out to me is the one where he talked about Leah being the girl nobody wanted. You can listen to it here. Leah was the girl nobody wanted, but then Mark reminded us to look at Jesus who was the man nobody wanted. As Tim Keller said: “When God came to earth in Jesus Christ, he was the son of Leah. Oh yes, he was! He became the man nobody wanted. He was born in a manger. He had no beauty that we should desire him. He came to his own and his own received him not. And at the end, nobody wanted him. Everybody abandoned him. Even his Father in heaven didn’t want him. Jesus cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The second thing that I have loved about North Avenue Church is the worship. I have been so impressed by the songs that we have sung each week at North Avenue. I am so thankful for Ian, Erin, Molly, Ethan, and Ben who have helped in either singing or playing instruments. I have loved getting to know Ian these last 11 months and have been so impressed with how seriously he takes the worship time at North Avenue. He is so careful in the songs that he chooses to sing. He wants them to be theologically rich and doctrinally sound. Almost every week I find my affections stirred for Jesus as a result of the worship time at North Avenue.

The third thing that I have loved about North Avenue has been the joy of serving alongside Allen, Jerry, and Mark. I remember the night Mark asked me to be an elder at North Avenue I told my wife that I was going to try to do my best to listen and not talk that much when I was around those guys. I was going to try to obey James 1:19: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…” I have learned so much from each of these three godly men. Allen is one of the most gracious, compassionate, and servant-hearted person that I have ever met. Time and time again he serves behind the scenes without wanting any recognition. At Brett’s I have seen him over and over want to help in anyway he can with the trash, with setup, with the food, or whatever else is needed. At the men’s conference I saw him serving nonstop. He helped with the food, he helped with the setup, and take down and he was one of the last people to leave. Allen is such a kind and gracious man who loves the Lord deeply.

Jerry Ediger is perhaps the most godly man that I have ever met. He is so Bible-saturated. The Bible just comes out of him whenever you talk to him and his prayers are filled with Scripture. His abundant joy in the Lord is contagious. His trust in the absolutely sovereignty of God is inspiring. His focus is constantly eternal as he is regularly reminding us all that we are closer to heaven. One of the biggest things that has impacted me this past year is Jerry’s prayer life. He will pray whenever there is a need. He has prayed with me time and time again on the phone, in the parking lot, in his van, or in a restaurant. Jerry is truly a man of prayer, who challenges us all with his joy in and through suffering and it has been an honor to serve alongside him these last 11 months.

Mark is one of the most gifted preachers of God’s Word that I have ever heard. It has been a privilege to sit under his preaching these last 11 months. Mark seems to always help me understand the Bible more deeply. He does this not only in his preaching, but during our conversations he is always teaching me more about the Bible. I don’t think there is anyone at North Avenue who cares more deeply about people’s spiritual lives than Mark does. Just this week he was texting me things that had to do with people’s spiritual growth. He wants us all to love the Lord Jesus more fully, and it has been an honor to serve with Mark these last 11 months.

Preparing For Worhsip

large_when-hearts-are-tuned-to-worship

It is once again time to prepare for worship. I just decided to re-post one of my previous preparing for worship post for this week. I started that one off with this question: How do we prepare for worship when our hearts are cold? How do we prepare for worship when we are spiritually dried up like an old piece of forgotten fruit in the back of the refrigerator? I read something from George Mueller that got me thinking about this. He said: “It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were of no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.” I know I have fallen prey to this temptation. I will be spiritually dry during the week and I will just leave my Bible unattended. I will leave the throne of grace unattended as well, as my heart grows colder and is filling with the dark murky water that we have talked about in the past. If this is you this week Randy Alcorn has some advice. He says: “The key in such times isn’t to give up on God’s Word and prayer but to stay with it and ask Him to give us joy.” “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12).”

So, if your heart is cold today and has been this week, let us run to the throne of grace and just pour our hearts out to God and plead with Him to restore the joy of our salvation. Another thing we can do to help us prepare for worship when our hearts are cold, is to simply go back to the Cross. As Jerry Ediger said in a sermon let us: “race to the Cross.” This has been something that has been a tremendous help to me in my own life when I have been dry. Numerous times I have been spiritually dry and I have simply gone to the Cross. John Stott says the Cross ‘is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled.’ So, I will take my cold, dry heart and I will stand at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. There at the Cross, I behold the sinless, savior, suffering the wrath of God in my place, and sparks begin to fly upon my cold heart. Soon my heart is melted and my eyes begin to fill with tears. Charles Spurgeon said: “something lies within the truth of the Cross which sets the soul aglow;…” I love that line from Spurgeon. So, let us race to the cross and stand beneath that blazing fire to have our love kindled and our souls set aglow.

John Piper said: “The preciousness of being saved will rise in its intensity to the degree that you see the horror of what your saved from, and the beauty of what your saved for.” So, as we prepare for worship today and tomorrow let us remember as the song says that at one time we were running our hell-bound race indifferent to the cost. Just this morning I was thinking about my life before my conversion, and I was reminded just how sinful I was. I was running a hell-bound race. As John Piper says: “I must feel the truth of hell―that it exists and is terrible and horrible beyond imaginings forever and ever…I must feel the truth that once I was as close to hell as I am to the chair I am sitting on―even closer.” As we feel the weight of our sin and understand that we deserve hell and at one time we were running there, we must remember the grace of God.

“That God looked upon our helpless state
And led us to the cross
And we beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in our place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace”

Let us pray for the service tomorrow as well. Let us pray for Ian and Erin who will once again be leading us in worship. Let us pray for Allen who will lead us in a time of confession, and let us pray for Mark as he will open up God’s Word to us. Mark I believe will once again look at Galatians 1. The link to the ESV text is below:

Galatians 1