Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Psalm 119:11~Stockpiling God's Word

Psalm 119:11 has long been a key verse for memorizing Scripture. The psalmist says he hides God's Word in his heart. By memorizing the Word he wages war against sin. The ESV translates hidden as "stored up." The psalmist stockpiles God's Word like a crazed end of the worlder stockpiles food. He has verses to fight fear. He has verses to fight anger. He has verses to remind him to be holy. He has verses to remind him of God's character. If the enemy confounds him, he runs to God's Word to find verses so he is not defeated again By hiding up God's Word, he is like a well equipped soldier, prepared to enter battle.  

However, this verse does not simply mean that we should memorize Scripture. “Heart” in the Old Testament encompasses the entire life of a man, not just the mind. God’s Word is to be internalized by us. It is to become part of who we are. It is to flow through our veins.  We should memorize particular verses and passages. But we should also become familiar with all of God’s Word. We should read it over and over again until it becomes “deeply seated in our hearts” (John Calvin). We grow in obedience to God’s Word so that we are able to discern good and evil.  We talk about God’s Word with other Christians. We listen carefully to sermons and teaching by our pastors and elders. The goal is not memorization. Memorization is the means. The goal is a life governed by the Word of God. 

This verse teaches us that Old Testament saints were supposed to have God’s Word in their hearts. Many Christians believe the OT was focused on the outward rituals, such as washings and sacrifices, while the New Testament is now focused on the internal. Our passage here, as well as many others, cuts down this idea. The OT saints were expected to love God from their heart. Psalm 37:31 says that the righteous man has the law of God in his heart. There are differences between the OT and the NT, but focus on the heart is not one of them.

If we drink deeply of God’s Word sin will find it difficult to take root in our hearts and lives. We should want the soil of hearts to be hard to sin and soft to the Word and righteousness. We cannot expect to avoid sin if we do not know God’s Word. God’s Word defines sin, tells us how ugly it is, and gives us strategies to put it to death in our lives. If we do not have God’s Word in our minds and in our bones then we will be easily deceived by Satan and drawn into all kinds of traps, snares, and pits.  If we do not have God’s Word on our tongues then our words will reflect the world and her priorities. If we do not have God’s Word in our hearts then our emotions and feelings will lead us astray. God’s Word is our primary weapon in our fight against sin.

The application of this verse is simple: Read, study, memorize, pray, sing, and obey the Scriptures with the aim that your entire life, heart, mind, emotions, and will, are shaped by God's Word.  Make sure you well stocked in your fight against sin. 

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4

Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The First Prayer: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 47

What is our first priority in prayer? When we pray what is the main goal? Jesus helps us answer this question by placing "Hallowed be your name" at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer. Here, at the very beginning of our fundamental prayer, our Lord tells us that the main concern in our prayers should be that God's name would be hallowed. That God would be worshiped and glorified and praised by our thoughts, words, and lives, as well as all peoples and nations around the world is our first prayer. Jesus will go on to tell us to pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. One author noted that this works backward. As God's will is done, his kingdom is made manifest, and then his name is hallowed.

I pray for many things. I pray for my children, my church, my physical needs, my leaders, my parents, and my in-laws. But only rarely do I focus those prayers towards hallowing God's name. Usually these prayers are about what God provides us, not what we are supposed to give to God. How would our prayer lives change if our primary concern, our first prayer, was that God's name, that is his character and works, would be glorified?

Which bring us to this week's Heidelberg Catechism reading says:

Q: 122. Which is the first petition?
A: "Hallowed be thy name"; that is, grant us, first, rightly to know you, and to sanctify, glorify and praise you, in all thy works, in which thy power, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy and truth, are clearly displayed; and further also, that we may so order and direct our whole lives, our thoughts, words and actions, that thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account. 

If we were to break this down here is what that first petition is asking.

First, that we might rightly know God. We should study God. Theology is a Christian duty.  Knowing God is our great aim.

Second that we might sanctify, glorify and praise God for all his wonderful works and how those works show forth His character.  What God does tells us who God is.  When we read about his wonderful deeds it should direct us back to his wonderful character, which in turn should lead to unceasing praise. 

Third, that we should live in such a way that God's name is honored on our account and not blasphemed. We can curse God with our lives as well as our tongues. Look at how it is phrased. "Order and direct our whole lives..." Those words mean we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. We think about how God can be glorified by our actions. It does not just happen.

How would our prayer lives change if the glory of God's name was our priority?  Would our requests change? Yes, I think they would.  Would our attitude change? Yes, that would change as well. Would our lives and the lives of those around us change? Certainly.  In short when we seek God's glory above all else in prayer we become consumed by the one thing that ultimately matters; that our Father, who has redeemed us and in that redemption shown his goodness, should be praised and glorified by all men everywhere. 

Kevin DeYoung summarizes it this way:
Our Father in heaven, the concern nearest to my heart and the one that shapes all other requests is that Your name would be regarded as holy, that Your fame would be heralded in the earth, that You would be honored among the nations, that Your glory would be magnified for all to see. O Lord, be pleased to cause men everywhere to take pleasure in You, that you might be praised now and forever.
Calvin says this about the first petition:
To summarize: we should wish God to have the honor He deserves; men should never speak or think of him without the highest reverence...His sternness no less than his leniency should lead us to  praise him, seeing that he has engraved marks of his glory upon a manifold diversity of works, and this rightly calls forth praises from every tongue... But the petition is directed also to this end: that all impiety which has besmirched this holy name may perish and be wiped out; that all detractions and mockeries  which dim this hallowing or diminish may be banished; and that in silencing all sacrileges, God may shine forth more and more in his majesty.
How do your prayers need to change so that hallowing God's name is the priority when you kneel?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where and What, But Not Who?

It has become common, even among conservative Christians, to hold that the restrictions on women teaching and having authority over men in I Timothy 2:11-12 are limited to preaching and in some cases church discipline. Mixed Sunday school classes, small group studies, and church conferences can all have women teaching men and not be in violation of this passage. Pastor Philip Ryken argues this in his commentary on I Timothy 2:11-15. He bases this on the use of the Greek word διδάσκω, which means to teach. Here are some quotes from his commentary on I Timothy 2:12. By the way he titles this section of his commentary "But Not to Preach."

He says the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:17-18 means that all "God's sons and daughters exercise prophetic ministry" which makes "it clear that at least certain kinds of teaching are to be carried out universally within the church." He does not explain what he means by this, which is odd because in principle no one disagrees. The question is not can women teach in the church. The question is can they teach men. He then notes that Priscilla taught a man and thus it must be okay for women to teach men at least in some circumstances (Acts 18:24-26). Again no clear indication of what these circumstances are.

Then he says (all bold is mine):
There is at least one place where it is not appropriate for women to teach however:in the authoritative proclamation of God's Word in the context of the public worship of the church...What he [Paul] writes is not intended to govern men and women in every situation, but applies especially to those occasions when the church gathers for the preaching of the Word of God...What the Holy Spirit does not permit women to do is to transmit apostolic doctrine publicly and officially. To put it more simply, the main thing God forbids women to do is preach (or to exercise the doctrinal and disciplinary authority that is tied to the preaching ministry). 
Ryken goes on to link "authority" with teaching, thus restricting the entire phrase "to teach or have authority" to:
Writing of creeds and confessions that summarize Christian doctrine, and also the formulation of church policy on theological issues. The word authentein [authority] hints that church discipline also may be in view. These things are the exclusive work of the elders of the preach is to exercise teaching authority.  
Depending on the discretion of the elders in the church, some other teaching situations may fall under the category of teaching with authority. The training of elders, for example, or classes on fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. But elders are by no means required to teach every  Bible study and Sunday school class in the church. Women and men who are not ordained may teach a wide variety of biblical, historical, and practical subjects (although they should not, in my view, teach confessional doctrine).
Perhaps this is the best place to emphasize that beyond this one biblical restriction, women are at liberty to use their spiritual gifts to their fullest extent in the church.  

Why He is Wrong
"At least one place where it is inappropriate...the main thing God forbids women to do is preach...beyond this one biblical restriction."

Ryken believes Paul's restriction on women in I Timothy 2:11-12 is about where they teach (worship) and what they teach (fundamental doctrines), but not who they teach. They can teach mixed Sunday School, Bible studies, and small groups, but what they cannot do is preach at the regular gathering of the saints and they cannot pass on apostolic doctrine in any official way. Ryken's interpretation falls flats for several reasons.

First, in the text the key is not where they are teaching or what they are teaching, but who they are teaching. Women cannot teach men in the church, which is the subject of Paul's letter (I Timothy 3:15). Ryken's commentary on this section of Scripture is a classic exercise in trying to get around in any way possible what the text actually says.

Second, Ryken wants didasko (the Greek word for teach) to mean preaching, as in Sunday morning in the pulpit. But unfortunately for him the word and its derivatives have a wide variety of meanings including teaching from house to house (Acts 20:20), all Christians teaching all Christians (Col. 3:18), older women teaching younger women (Titus 2:3), the whole teaching ministry of the apostles ( Col. 1:28, 2:7),  and what nature teaches us about men having long hair (I Cor. 11:14).  Didasko cannot be restricted to official preaching on Sunday morning. It can include that of course, but it also includes other teaching as well.  More than likely, Paul here is talking about the entire teaching ministry of the church. There is no reason in the passage, I Timothy, or in the use of the word to restrict this the Sunday morning preaching.

Third, Ryken wants the content of the teaching to be "apostolic doctrine," "confessional doctrine," "church policy on theological issues," and possibly church discipline. Ryken is not clear about what he means here. Obviously, the whole New Testament is apostolic. But Ryken does not mean that women cannot teach men the Bible. He says later that women can teach men "on a wide variety of biblical, historical, and practical subjects." According to Ryken, women can teach men the Bible in a public setting. It just can't be Sunday morning. And they cannot teach the fundamentals of the faith.

However, the word didasko is not limited to fundamental doctrines. Paul's teaching covers a whole host of "Biblical and practical" subjects that are not creedal or confessional in nature. In I Timothy Paul encourages Timothy to "teach (didasko)" on things like sex, marriage, food, and exercise (I Timothy 4:1-11) and how slaves are supposed to react to masters (I Timothy 6:2).  In Titus, there are false teachers who are "teaching things they ought not to" (Titus 1:11). In response to these false teachers, Paul encourages Titus to  "Speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1)." The word "doctrine" is a derivative of didasko. Paul then tells Titus to teach older men, older women, younger women, and younger men about things like wise speech, loving their husbands, being reverent in behavior, being sober minded, and not drinking too much wine.  In other words, sound doctrine includes a lot of practical stuff (Titus 2:1-10). This section ends with an appeal to slaves to be faithful so the doctrine, again a derivative of didasko, of our God may be adorned (Titus 2:10). Some form of the word for teaching is used in Titus 1:9, 11, 2:1, 7, 10.  Paul does not encourage his pastors, Timothy or Titus, to restrict their teaching to the fundamental doctrines of the faith. In other words, teaching includes "Biblical and practical subjects" and therefore Ryken's assertion that didasko is limited to key doctrines is wrong. I Timothy 2:11-12 does not mean women shouldn't teach men the fundamentals of the faith. It  means, in the church, women should not teach men at all, whether the subject is fundamental doctrine, other Biblical subjects, or practical subjects.

Ryken's position has become popular over the years. The restrictions on women teaching men in the church have become lax. We don't let them in pulpit...just yet. But anywhere else in the church it is often fine for women to teach men.

Ironically Ryken goes on in the next section to say this:
The preceding explanation of I Timothy 2:11-12 (or something close to it) has been the nearly universal understanding of the Christian church. Only in the late twentieth century did it come under relentless attack...The liberal strategy has been to deny the authority of these verses. 
Ryken counts himself among the conservative interpreters. But he isn't. He is just a softer liberal than the evangelical feminists he mentions later, but his interpretation will eventually gets us in the same mess.The way he limits I Timothy 2:11-12 is exegetically untenable. His restriction of the word didasko is unnecessary and strips the passage of its force. His failure to be clear on what he means provides the necessary wiggle room to look conservative while not sounding too harsh on the fairer sex. This is an interpretative and pastoral failure right at the point where the barbarians are storming the gates. Ryken believes he is preserving the church from the forces of liberal, feminist, Christians. But the reality is he has cracked open the door just enough for them to slip in.

Related Posts
Why a Conservative Interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 is Not Enough

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Psalm 119:9~Guarding Your Way With the Word

Is there any segment of society more notorious for their sins than young men? They are often headstrong and willful. Rarely can they see the downstream effects of their actions. They fail to listen carefully to advice thus making foolish and ignorant choices. The psalmist knows this. In fact, he was probably a young man himself. Psalm 119:9-16 begins with something that sounds like a word of despair:
How can a young man cleanse his way?
Or as the ESV says:
How can a young man keep his way pure? 
"Lord, I am a young man. The world is filled with pits and dangers. My heart is filled with sin. There are lusts that wage war on my soul. There are temptations to greed, anger, bitterness, lust, and disrespect all around and I give in to them too often. Lord, how can I stay clean in a world like this with a heart like mine?"

Is that not a cry for help?

The word for "cleanse/pure" points to morally purity. Asaph uses it in Psalm 73:13 where it looks like the wicked are winning. He thinks he has been morally clean for no good reason. David pleads with God to cleanse him from his sins in Psalm 51:7. Here we see that the word does not just point to action, but also to our hearts. David is asking the Lord to clean his heart. Micah 6:11 says that those who cheat others out of money cannot be counted as "pure." In Psalm 119:9 the emphasis is on how we live, how we walk.

How can I live a pure life in the midst of this wicked world?

The first thing we should note is humans do not change, no matter how much time has passed. Young men in 600 B.C. are the same as young men in A.D. 2015.  Their hair may be different. They carry cell-phones instead of spears. They shop at Wal-Mart instead of hunting for antelope or growing corn. But inside nothing has changed. The temptation to sexual immorality is the same. The desire to get rich while being lazy has not changed. The tightening in the throat when they are told what to do by parents or employers has not changed. Therefore the Bible remains relevant at all times, in all places, and for all men because it is given by the one God who does not change to address the fundamental needs of mankind who does not change. Despite being over 2,500 years old Psalm 119:9 still speaks.

The answer to the young man's cry is simple. "Take heed/guard [his way] according to God's Word."  A young man is to watch his path and his heart. When he sees himself wandering from God’s Word he is to come back. His thoughts, deeds, words, and desires are to be fenced in by the Word of God. God's Word keeps us from heading down the path of destruction. 

We don't like this answer. We want something new. We want something magical. And let's be honest, we want something easy. But the path of holiness is obedience to God's revealed Word. It always has been and always will be.  The only way a young man can stay clean in this world is to read, study, memorize, and obey the Bible.  The Scriptures are the primary tool for sanctification. If you do not use this tool then you cannot expect victory. There are no short cuts around God's Word for righteous living. 

The psalmist is telling young men to watch out for "big" sins, such as sexual immorality. But he is talking about much more than that. A young man whose way is guarded by God's Word will be a man of prayer and repentance. He will be a man whose faith in God grows day by day. He will learn to sacrifice for those around him. He will put off temporary ease for long term gain. He will love his neighbor. He will protect the weak and cast down the proud. He will love to sit underneath God's Word every Sunday. He will treat women with respect. He will work hard and give generously. His close friends will be those who love Jesus. Be careful about thinking of a pure/clean life only in terms of sexual sin. It includes that of course, but there is much more to "cleansing our way" than avoiding porn. 

The battles young men fight with lust, anger, pride, laziness, disrespect, and apathy are not new battles. They are as old as Genesis 3.  The way to win these battles has always been the same; believe and obey God’s Word. Young men if you are losing the battle against sin you can be sure your failure to believe and obey God's Word is the main problem. Do you know the Word? Are you reading it regularly? Are you memorizing verses or passages? Do you humbly listen to your pastor every Sunday? God has given all you need to grow in holiness. Are you using what He has given?

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Don't Want It

Desiring God just posted an article about Holly Holm. She is the woman who beat up Ronda Rousey on Saturday night during a Ultimate Fighting Championship match and sent Rousey to the hospital. One might think that given what the Scriptures teach and Desiring God's commitment to the Biblical view of women that this article would be decrying the fact that Americans get their jollies by two women beating each other into a bloody pulp in the ring. But no. Instead this article praises Holly Holm for her humility and selflessness.

The article cites Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Ronda Rousey was the arrogant, loud mouthed, braggart, while Holm is the humble woman who overcame all odds. The author ends his article by comparing Holm to Jesus
The UFC now has a new kind of queen on the throne. The reign of this queen will have a fresh flavor, marked by humility and quiet confidence that echoes a true and better king. Such a counter-cultural reign, no doubt, will be underappreciated, even mocked, by the world. It won’t capture the attention and hype of a Rousey reign, but it will leave its mark, and remind us of the path and calling of the true champion.
This is one of the more astounding statements I have seen in print in a long time, especially coming from a conservative, Christian blog. A Christian woman, created by God to nurture and care for children, commanded by God to have "a gentle and quiet spirit," (I Peter 3:4), created by God to give life, as her mother Eve did (Genesis 3:20, I Timothy 2:15, 5:10, 14, Titus 2:4) and yet here she is praised by a PCA pastor for beating another woman up so bad she had to go to the hospital. She has spent her life beating up other women for pay and somehow she is model for other Christian women?  She is going around kicking other women in the head and somehow she is like Jesus? The article shows how far the church has fallen from the Scriptural view of what women are and who God made them to be. Holly Holm is a Christian. I cannot doubt that and nor should I. But her model of womanhood is so far removed from the Scriptural pattern for females that she should not be praised for what she is doing. 

Here is why those of us who believe in the classic roles of men and women in church, home, and society think so little of many 21st century complementarians. They cannot even get the basics right. Yes, there are gray areas, but this not one of them. Women beating each other to a bloody pulp in a ring for money is not a gray area. Women donning military garb and heading into battle is not a gray area. Women busting down doors to arrest drug dealers is not one of them. Women refusing to marry and have children or marrying and refusing to have children so they can pursue money is not one of them.  Too many complementarians want to push almost every distinction between men and women into the culturally conditioned gray area. When an article like this gets published by a complementarian leaning blog is there any wonder we want to go back to the term "patriarchy." If this is the fruit of complementarianism then I don't want it. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ten Quotes: The New Pastor's Handbook by Jason Helopoulos

I was pleasantly surprised by Jason Helopoulos book, The New Pastor's Handbook. As I read, I was encouraged and convicted in numerous areas. The book fills a niche in our culture by having short chapters, tons of practical advice, covering a lot of topics, and focusing on new pastors, thus avoiding repetition of more well known works, such as John Piper's Brothers, We are Not Professionals. Here are ten of my favorite quotes from the book.
As undershepherds of his great flock, we care for his sheep by feeding them the Word; it is the very core and heartbeat of the calling on our lives. 
There will be weeks, months, and perhaps even years when the average church planter wonders what he has gotten into; in those moments perseverance matters a great deal. It can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful church plant. [The book has a chapter on church planting which was helpful for me as a church planter. P.J.]
Ministry, like baseball, is quite simple. It is nothing more than loving Christ, loving his people, and loving the Word. That is it.
As we seek to love his people, we bring this Word to bear on their souls for the glory of God. We have no greater gift to offer those under our care, for nothing can minister to them like the Word of God.
Apart from knowledge of the Word, we have no competence in the ministry.
It is a foolish pastor who forsakes shepherding his own family in the name of shepherding the church.
Our calling is a holy calling. If holiness does not mark us, then we should not be surprised when it does not mark our churches. There are few things more important in the life of the church than the holiness of its pastors.
A faithful pastor will build his ministry on the Word, prayer, and the sacraments. He will not deviate to gimmicks or the latest fads.
Administration creep occurs subtly and easily. We can go through a day of ministry answering emails, returning phone calls, and organizing policies with very little personal ministry taking place. A week can pass in this way, and all of the sudden we realize we have devoted more time to administration than to studying the Word of God, praying, and meeting with people. Our pervasive administrative duties have encroached on our time and taken over.
We need fewer aspiring conference speakers and more faithful pastors committed to their local churches. 
And One:
I try to remind myself of two things every day before I pursue the pastoral work set before me. First, I labor by the financial tithes of God's people. Therefore, I must strive to honor their sacrifice. Second, I remind myself that I fight in battle every day...(Col. 1:25-26). That is my task. I am engaged vocationally in holy warfare every day. Since no day in the pastorate approaches triviality, I am not allowed to "go through the motions." 
Quotes from Other Books
On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg
How to Exasperate Your Wife by Douglas Wilson
The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney
A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter 
Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Making Gay Okay by Robert Reilly 
Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod
Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God by John Calvin

Book Review: The New Pastor's Handbook

The New Pastor's Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of MinistryThe New Pastor's Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry by Jason Helopoulos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is not Bridges' Christian Ministry, Baxter's Reformed Pastor or Piper's Brothers We are Not Professionals. But what it aims to do it does very, very well: introducing new pastors or pastors to be to the nuts and bolts of pastoral ministry from candidating to hospital visitation.

Several things set this book apart.
First, the chapters are short. Thus the book is accessible.

Second, he covers a large amount of ground without getting bogged down. It is a flyover, but a good one.

Third, he is realistic, but encouraging. I get the sense that the author has been in a lot of different church situations. He has a realistic perspective on ministry. But he does not make it sound like drudgery.

Finally, he is clear and practical without being too specific.

This is an excellent book for any new pastor or ministerial student.

I was provided this book free of charge for review by Bakerbooks. I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Psalm 119:7~Study Should Lead to Praise

What is the end of studying God's Word? Where should it lead us? Naturally, we respond that studying God's word should lead us to Christ. But what then? What is the goal of coming to Christ? Is the end our holiness? But that is not right either. We should never walk around trumpeting our own holiness. The goal of our salvation is not our own glory. The termination point of all our lives is God. Studying his word is no different. The study of God's word should lead to God. More precisely it should lead to praise or God. Time spent over Scripture should end in praise given to the Author of that Scripture.  The Psalmist makes this connection several times in Psalm 119.  
Psalm 119:7  I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 
Psalm 119:62  At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules. 
Psalm 119:164  Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. 
Psalm 119:171  My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. 
Psalm 119:175  Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.
As the Psalmist ponders God's word he ends with praise. All those laws, all those commands, all those passages about sacrifice and entrails end with him lifting his voice in thanksgiving to the Lord. In the darkness of midnight he praises God for His rules. Seven times a day, the number of perfection or completeness, he praises the Lord for his mighty word.  The proper study of God’s word will lead to the praise of God. But we do not always get there. Many times our study of God's word becomes an exercise in drudgery, a box to check before we get to Facebook, work, or the kids. Instead of ending our study with praise we end it with a thank goodness that is over. Why?

First, we forget God's word is personal. We have to be careful here. God's word is not a love letter written by a smitten man to his lady. Nor is it a book where we can go and find answers for each individual problem in our lives. It is not a moralistic grab-bag for 21st century Christians. But it is book written by a personal God to his people to address their most pressing needs. It was and remains God's living, infallible, word to His people. It does not become alive. It is alive, full of the Spirit. When we read the Spirit breathed word we encounter God directly. 

But too often we study God's word like we study a map or the Constitution. There is no person who is making the Constitution come alive for us. A map may some exciting parts, but we would never describe it as breathing. Or we study the word so we can judge the world around us. We study it so we can win theological debates or evangelize better. If we teach or preach, we might study God’s Word so we can teach or preach well. While some of these aims of studying are good, none are primary. The Psalmist's great concern is his relationship to God.  His primary aim in learning God’s judgments, precepts, and statutes is personal. He is not asking questions in the third person: Am I obeying God’s Word rightly? Is my heart in line with God’s Word? He is asking those types of questions, but in the 2nd person. Have I transgressed Your word? Are my beliefs about this world, sin, and redemption shaped by Your word? For the psalmist the Word of God is a word from God to him.  When we read God's word this way it ends in praise. We praise him for his wisdom and power. We praise him for the forgiveness or our sins promised in that word. We praise him for freedom we find in his word. If God is in our reading of Scripture then he will be the one we praise when we are done. 

The second reason our study of God's Word does not end in praise is that we are lazy. We read God's word in a casual, sloppy manner. Over a recent break my father in law and I built a table. This took hard work. We planned. We took numerous trips to the hardware store. We spent money. We measured, cut, and sanded and sanded and sanded. We put on several coats of stain and polyurethane. It took us several days. But when we were done, what a delight it was to sit at that table with my family. When we dig into and work at God's word we get rewarded. The greatest joys in life usually come from the hardest work. But when it comes to God's word we expect great treasure to come easily. We want to clock in a few sleepy eyed minutes and get struck by Holy Spirit lightening. We don't chew on it. We don't memorize. We don’t seek to apply it in various ways. We don’t ask the Scriptures hard questions and then try to find the answers.  We don't take verses and roll them over time after time. We might read it, but the hard study of it is foreign to us.

When God’s Word is a treasure to be dug out, water to a thirsty man, then the final outcome of our study will be praise. As we learn God’s Word, believe God’s promises, marvel at his character and works, confess our transgressions of his law, seek to obey it with our whole heart, we will find that the praise of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes naturally. 

When you finish reading, studying, meditating on your passage for the day, pull out something to praise the Lord about. Don't stop at reading. Push on to thanking him. Only then has the word done it's deepest work. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Words Fail to Explain

Here is a great quote on prayer from John Calvin's Institutes III:XX:2. I have broken it up for easier reading.
Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is, and in how many ways the exercise of prayer is profitable. Surely, with good reason the Heavenly Father affirms that the only stronghold of safety is in calling upon his name.
By so doing we invoke the presence
             of his providence,
                       through which he watches over and guards our affairs, 
             and of his power
                       through which he sustains us, weak as we are and well nigh overcome
             and of his goodness,
                       through which he receives us, miserably burdened with sins, unto grace;
and in short, it is by prayer that we call him to reveal himself as wholly present to us.
Hence comes extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences. For having disclosed to the Lord the necessity that was pressing upon us, we even rest fully in the thought that none of our ills is hid from him who, we are convinced, has both the will and the power to take the best care of us. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Prayer from the Heart: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 45

All Christian catechisms work through three key parts of the Christian faith: the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. These three teaching tools were used for generations to ground Christians in the basics of what it means to be a Christian. The Heidelberg Catechism is no different. The Apostles' Creed it taught from questions 20-58. The Ten Commandments are taught from questions 92-115. The Lord's Prayer is taught from questions 116-129. Lord's Day 45 begins the teaching on the Lord's Prayer:
Q 116. Why do Christians need to pray? 
A. Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking God for them.
Q 117. What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to? 
A. First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, revealed to us in his Word, asking for everything God has commanded us to ask for. Second, we must fully recognize our need and misery, so that we humble ourselves in God's majestic presence. Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what God promised us in his Word.
Q 118. What did God command us to pray for? 
A. Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us.
Q. What is this prayer? 
A. Our Father who art in Heaven....
The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the warmest, most pastoral catechisms out there. This section on the Lord's Prayer is no exception.  Let me draw out a few points for you. 

Prayer is the single most important way we express gratitude to God. Without a healthy, vibrant prayer life you can be sure you are living an ungrateful life. Kevin DeYoung says, "We pray out of gratitude."  The Heidelberg says that the Christian life is one of "expressing our gratitude to God for our deliverance" (Question 2). A life of prayer is a life of thanksgiving to the Lord for his many big and small gifts. 

Look at question 117.  What a rich theology of prayer in such a short paragraph!  It tells us that prayer must be sincere, from the heart. Remember the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14).  He prayed, but not from the heart. When we enter God's presence we should ask him to help us approach him with sincerity of heart. 

Prayer also must be to the true God "revealed to us in his Word." That means we cannot pray to some vague deity or god. True prayer is directed solely at the God of Scripture. Many men pray. And God will hear those prayers from time to time. But only those who pray to the God of Scripture can be assured of having his ear. 

We pray when we recognize we are miserable sinners deserving nothing and when we see that God is majestic.  Seeing our blindness, nakedness, poverty, and sinfulness leads us to prayer. If believe we are really fine without God then why pray (Revelation 3:17-18). Proud men do not truly pray because they do not bend the knee to God. They do not need God. They may pretend to pray. Their mouths may utter prayers that sound wonderful. But they are not humble in God's presence and therefore they are not really praying. 

We know we will be heard. But this is not because we deserve to be heard. God is not in debt to us to provide us with something or to listen. However, the work of Jesus Christ and the promises attached to His work in the Scriptures provide us with an "unshakable foundation." Our Lord Jesus Christ left heaven, was born under the law, suffered at the hands of wicked men, was crucified, died and was buried. He rose again on the third day. All of this was done so we could "come boldly to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). Christ's work attached to the promises given in the Scriptures guarantee that our Father will hear our prayers. 

Finally, we are to ask for everything we need for body and soul. My children are rarely afraid to ask me for anything. They will ask for second helping of dessert, a third bowl of cereal, or more money. They do not always get these things, but they ask for them.  But I am glad they feel the freedom to ask for anything.  That should be our attitude toward our Father in heaven. What do you need? Do you need money? Ask him. Do you need a friend? Ask him. Do you need peace? Ask him. Do you need a husband or wife? Ask him. Do you need to overcome a persistent sin? Ask him. He will not always answer us in the way we want. But he will always hear.  And he is always delighted when his children come to him with their needs. 

I close with a few quotes from John Calvin (Institutes III:XX) on prayer. 
It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father.
We dig up by prayer the treasure that were pointed out by the Lord's gospel, and which our faith gazed upon.
Since no man is worthy to present himself to God an come into his sight, the Heavenly Father himself, to free us at once from free and shame, which might well have thrown our hearts into despair, has given us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our advocate and mediator with him, by whose guidance we may confidently come to him, and with such an intercessor, trusting nothing we ask in his name will be denied us, as nothing can be denied him by the Father.
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8