How about a little thanksgiving with that prayer?

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5-7

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. – Colossians 4:2

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, – 1 Timothy 2:1-3

Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

    Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds. – Psalm 57:8-10

 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 136:26
Prayer and Thanksgiving

Do you want to give God a gift he will truly appreciate? When someone has done something significant to help us, it is natural to want to do something for them in return. We want to pay people for the service they have rendered to us. These days it seems that cash is the go to currency. There was a day when it would have been a freshly baked pie or a casserole.

But what gift do we give God? We have nothing that he hasn’t given to us first. Scripture calls us to give thanks. Why? Because his steadfast love endures forever. Whatever we may feel thankful for, ultimately it is because his steadfast love endures forever, it is great to the heavens and his faithfulness to the clouds, that is, it is greater than we imagine.
(more…)

How to see God’s purpose fulfilled in your life

Doing what you can't do apart from Jesus

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. – John 15:1-17

Wouldn’t it be great if whenever we prayed for something we would see the answer we want right away? Our God is sovereign and can do anything; he could answer prayers that way. It is in his power to do so. But it isn’t in his purpose to do so. This section of John’s gospel contains two of the favorite pro-prayer passages in Scripture:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

These seem to be pretty straightforward promises to give us whatever we want and ask for…until, of course, we take into account the context. Nonetheless, they are still powerful promises that are beyond human belief. (more…)

How do you think God feels about you?

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.
10 From beyond the rivers of Cush
    my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
    shall bring my offering.

11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame
    because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;
for then I will remove from your midst
    your proudly exultant ones,
and you shall no longer be haughty
    in my holy mountain.
12 But I will leave in your midst
    a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord,
13     those who are left in Israel;
they shall do no injustice
    and speak no lies,
nor shall there be found in their mouth
    a deceitful tongue.
For they shall graze and lie down,
    and none shall make them afraid.”

14  Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
    so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
    at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord. – Zephaniah 3:9-20

Do you know how God feels about you? Do you have the feeling that maybe he isn’t so pleased with you? Like, maybe he is mad at you and probably everybody else, too? Or, do you, perhaps, have the thought that God is giddy happy over you? Like the teenager who is in the midst of their “first love?”

If I were to survey the honest feelings of each of you reading this, most would have to admit they fall more to the “God is probably mad at me” side. That shouldn’t be surprising since we all have sinned (and do so quite often) and we know God hates sin, so, logically, he wouldn’t be happy with me since I sin. (more…)

Are you in the good-news, bad-news-good-news story?

When bad news is good news.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;
say to him,
    “Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
    and we will pay with bulls
    the vows of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
    It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
    from me comes your fruit.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them,
    but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:1-9

The bulk of the book of Hosea is just sad. Israel, sometimes referred to as Ephraim the largest tribe in Israel, is called a whore, one who has run after idols, instead of God, her husband. One of the famous passages from Hosea is in Hosea 8:7, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” The prophet had the unenviable calling to speak for God a message that was hard and extended over about 30 years and four kings. I surmise that Hosea was not too popular in the king’s court or anywhere else in Israel.

However, the message wasn’t all “bad.” Right after being told, “You are Not My People,” he says, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” So, even in the midst of pronouncements of judgment, there is the promise of mercy. We still see the loving heart of God. (more…)

How to effectively pray for your children

Appreciating the sovereignty of God in prayer

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John5:13-14

 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5

I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy… – Colossians 1:9-11

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  – Ephesians 1:16-23

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. = Psalm 90:14

 

Praying the word

Every Christian parent aches for their children to have a deep and abiding faith in Christ more than anything else. Am I pollyannaish about this? I don’t think so.

I do realize that when things are going well, we tend to be more superficial. That is natural. But when the going gets rough, we tend to move toward the things of true value. Then our true desires for our children come to the forefront. We want them to truly know God and have that deep abiding faith that will carry them through the tough times in this life and on to the joys of the New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells. (more…)

What did the suffering servant suffer for?

The benefits of a life of faith

Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.
14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.
15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. – Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:4-6,11-12

A root out of dry ground

I usually include the entire text I am going to comment on, but today’s text is just too long. So, if you are of a mind, you can read Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. It is the most precise and graphic prophetic depiction of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Many people, when they just hear this text read, assume it to be from the New Testament, it so precisely describes the work of Christ.

Today, I want to focus us on the benefits of the work of Christ that are depicted in this text. (more…)

Will all nations really worship God? You’re kidding, right?

God's vision for the future

Incline Your ear, O Lordand answer me;
For I am afflicted and needy.
Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man;
O You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
For to You I cry all day long.
Make glad the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
And give heed to the voice of my supplications!
In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You,
For You will answer me.
There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord,
Nor are there any works like Yours.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And they shall glorify Your name.
10 For You are great and do wondrous deeds;
You alone are God.

11 Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
12 I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.
13 For Your lovingkindness toward me is great,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, arrogant men have risen up against me,
And a band of violent men have sought my life,
And they have not set You before them.
15 But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.
16 Turn to me, and be gracious to me;
Oh grant Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your handmaid.
17 Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

North Korea threatens world peace. Russia is attempting to reestablish herself as a super-power. Iran and its client-states are bent on destroying Israel. Islamists are terrorizing parts of Africa enslaving many. The Syrian conflict is still out of control. The United States is in internal turmoil while she attempts to use her might to stabilize the chaos around the earth. This picture makes it appear the world is in worse shape than it was during the last century with it’s two world wars and the cold war along with the cultural revolution that exploded on the scene in the West during the 1960’s.

Men’s hearts are failing them.

In this mess, what is the good news? Is there any? Yes, there is. (more…)

How to have a theological debate

Getting along when we disagree

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

.11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3:1-5; 11-18

Debating the meaning of Scripture among believers is a good thing. When we engage honestly, we learn, We grow.

I had a delightful lunch yesterday with a young man who is a student at our local seminary. He shared with me that he no longer engages with some of his friends because the engagement with them was just too painful. Rather than fellowship in Jesus, they engaged in doctrinal fights. (more…)

Jesus wants you to know joy

His purpose for our abiding in him

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11

Jesus intends that we live in his joy and that we experience it to the full.

Jesus taught that he is the true vine and we the branches so that we be able to live in his joy and that our joy be full.

So, what’s the “secret sauce” that gets us to this place of joy?

It is very simple, but maybe not so easy. Jesus’ analogy is a vine and branches and fruit bearing. It’s not hard to understand. Branches get their nourishment from the vine that in turn produces fruit.

Since Jesus says he is the true vine and we are the branches, it is clear that we are to draw our lives from him. He is the source. Here is where the hard part comes in. We are used to earning our way in this life. And we should work hard. But, we can’t earn life from God. It is given by grace.

It is love that motivates us to draw our life from God. We love God because he first loved us. Note the priority. Jesus ties love and obedience to his commands together. Our natural bent is to assume that if we obey his commands then we prove our love and he will love us. Wrong.

Obedience to God’s commands flows out of God’s love; his love for us and responsively our love for him. Jesus said that the flow goes like this: The Father loved the Son, the Son loves us, so live in his love. By living in his love, we will keep his commandments just as Jesus, living in the Father’s love, keeps his commandments.

We get it backward, naturally. We have a default setting that says we are to obey to be loved. We need to hit the reset button to, “because God loves me I want to keep his commandments and live in his love.” His gracious love doesn’t take obedience to God’s commandments out of our lives; it just puts it in the proper light. Obedience is fruit, not cause.

What is the fruit that we are to bear? The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. These come from walking in the Spirit which is essentially the same as abiding in Christ; drawing our life from God. We certainly don’t do a good job of producing these characteristics on our own, at least I don’t, and I’ve learned that I am not that different from other people.

Conclusion: God loves us, as a response to his love, we obey his commands and draw our life from God. This is a grace based relationship of the fullness of life with God. The reason Jesus taught us about this is so his joy can be in us, and our joy can be full. This is a big deal. His purpose in teaching us about abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of that relationship is so we can know joy, real joy, his joy and that it will be full in us. This joy is one of the amazing products of the gospel. God loves us and provides us with joy in abundance that is not determined by, nor dependant on, our life circumstances.

Revel in his love. Revel in his joy.