Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A man who knew the secret of blessing but…

Solomon had an idea why God had blessed his father David. When God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said "Ask what I shall give you." Part of Solomon’s reply is:

"You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day." 1 Kings 3:6 ESV

Part of the tragedy of Solomon is that although he knew that God’s favour had been on his Father because he had walked in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward God, Solomon himself did not do so.

Indeed in 1 Kings 3, the rot had already set in. 1Kings 3:3 says that “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. “

The tragedy unfolds with the book of 1 Kings. It is Solomon who presides over the greatest period of prosperity in the history of Israel. It is Solomon who builds the temple, Israel’s great house of worship and it is Solomon whose sin against the Lord results in the division of Israel as one nation

Solomon is remembered for his wisdom, and yet as you read his story in 1 Kings, it seems as though we are to be reminded that it is one thing to know wisdom and another to live wisely.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

What’s that parcel?

Or some thoughts on reading....

I got a delivery of books from Amazon this morning, and so I have another small pile of books to read through in the next couple of weeks. So what’s in the pile?

First there are a couple of books from John Piper. I find his passion for God infectious and read his books from time to time to refresh my own passion for the Lord. I am trying to read my way though most of what he has written. In this consignment were “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” and “When I don’t desire God: How to fight for joy

If you have never read any Piper I recommend that you start with his excellent “Desiring God.” You can check it out on the net here, but it’s such a great book that I recommend you have a paper copy, and read it pencil in hand.

I also have a thin volume entitled “Praying the Psalms” by Thomas Merton. I picked up one of his books when staying at a retreat house recently and found it illuminating, and this was all I could get from Amazon so I thought I would give it a try. I guess the reason for this purchase is what you might call exploring new territory.

The final book in the pile is D.A.Carson’s “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.” D.A. Carson is one of my trusted guides, and I find is gracious way of disagreeing with others quite refreshing. I read D. A. Carson to stimulate my mind. He is a master of the written word and writes with a clarity and power of logic.

So there is my latest pile of books. What are you reading right now? And more importantly why are you reading it? (My blog - I know! For the pedants out there I meant what book are your reading?)

I believe that for those in ministry taking time to read is essential and for Christians generally highly desirable. But I guess what we read is of great importance. Frankly I find visiting Christian bookshops increasingly depressing, and don’t get me started on the Christian best seller list…..

So where should you start? I need to think about this some more, but I thought I would start a recommended reading list and add to it from time to time. So here are a few thoughts to get us started on my list of books I wish every Christian should read.

First as I’ve already said John Piper’s ““Desiring God.” is truly excellent. It’s not a lightweight paperback, but it is readable and you can give it a try on line. Don’t be put off by the expression “Christian Hedonist” that he uses. I’m probably one of those that wished that he hadn’t used this expression, but it doesn’t really spoil a great book.

Second, though I’ve not read it from cover to cover Fee and Stuart’s “How to read the Bible for all its worth” has been a useful guide and is a great introduction to how we understand the Bible

I was going to recommend “The fight” by John White, but it’s getting difficult to get hold of. This is a fairly simple little book on discipleship and well worth a read if you ever find it anywhere.

If you have never read "The Screwtape letters” by C.S. Lewis then thy are worth a read as they are insightful and helpful.

That should do for now! As I said I will have a think about this subject and may return with a reading list. While I am tempted to begin a list of books that I don’t think any Christian should read - ever, I don’t think I will because while it might be fun, it might not be helpful, and what’s more I am going to upset some people if I do and the emails will keep coming and……

Finally I thought I would conclude this post by commenting on how I read. Some of you know that I operate a (fairly flexible) discipline of reading every week day. Sometimes time does not allow, and it goes by the way.

Recently I’ve developed a technique for reading that I have found helpful and so will recommend. I take a sheet of A5 paper and fold it lengthways into three and then use this as a book mark. I read with a pencil in hand and underline key passages. When I underline I note the page numbers on the A5 paper and leave the book mark in the book when I’ve finished. This means I can flick back though and find quotes very easily.

Anyway happy reading and I’ll be thinking about that recommended list.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Just praying for people....

God is challenging me about just praying for people at the moment. Now why is it that I find it so hard just to pray with people? Please understand me, I’m not talking about Christians, that’s easy. I’m talking about the people who I meet from day to day. The people who rarely darken the door of a church, but who might well answer honestly when I ask them “how are you doing?”
I think I got it right the other day. Don’t think I am blowing my own trumpet, I get it wrong so often. The other day I asked someone I knew a bit how they were doing and they told me. They told me about the really big thing that was going on for them at the moment, and I made the appropriate noises and then I thought “I should offer to pray with him.” So I did, and he said yes and I asked Jesus to deal with the situation there and then. As I said, that dy I think I got it right.

It made me think though. Why am I so often reluctant to offer to pray? Here are a few thoughts as to why that might be.

1) I think it will frighten people off. You know we can be so careful of other people’s feelings about our faith that we are spiritually useless. I won’t offer to pray, I think because they might feel offended. I’ve offered to pray with people before and I’ve never been refused.

2) Cultural conditioning. It’s not done is it – offering spiritual help if you are British. I think such thoughts are about fifteen years out of date. The world around us is changing and many people have a sense of spirituality. They might even expect us to pray!

3) So called theological sophistication. Some of you will recognise the thoughts. “Well Jesus might not heal, I don’t want to set her up for disappointment” “what if what he wants isn’t God’s will?“ Obviously I need to be wise about what I pray, but at the same time not be paralysed by our questions.

Here are a few thoughts about how to pray and offer to pray for folks.

1) Simply offer and leave the ball in their court. I think if we just asked “would you like me to pray with you about that?” We might be surprised how many people say yes.

2) Simply pray and don’t go wacky. Wacky and non Christians don’t go together. That you ask and who you ask is more important than how you ask, so don’t do religious clichés, just simply ask Jesus into the situation.

3) Pray later. Why not continue to pray for God’s work in the situation?

4) Check back with the person later. They might need to be gently reminded “Well that’s what we prayed for!“

Death by Powerpoint...

What could be worse than no Powerpoint? Bad Powerpoint! Working Smart by Michael Hyatt has a post entitled Five rules for better Powerpoint which is definitely worth a read if you are a Powerpoint user!

Even though he has jumped ship as it were and left the world of PC's for an Apple, Michael's blog has some very useful Powerpoint links. He writes as "President and Chief Operating Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world." and his site has had some very useful information and tips.

It’s Good to revisit special places…

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I’ve been preparing to preach elsewhere on Sunday, and I’ve been reminded that it is good to revisit special places. When I preach elsewhere I normally rework something that I’ve used before that has particularly gripped me. I guess I am reminded that it is good for the soul when we remind ourselves of those things that God has said to us in the past.

I think that it’s so easy in the swirl of life to move on from what God has said. I’ve blogged before about Israel piling up stones as they crossed the Jordan into the promised land. They set up a permanent reminder, a monument to God’s miracle working power.

It could be a place, as it was for Israel, it could be a scripture, it could be a sermon or a teaching or a book or….. it could be so many things. I think part of the importance of these special places is that they help us to recover direction in life.

I guess that the lesson is that too often we are too busy to stop and remember and reflect. I guess it disturbs me when revisiting a sermon from before, how much has been left behind and forgotten, and it’s good to remember…

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why eikon?

Well I suppose it’s about time that I got around to posting on why I chose the name “eikon.” Eikon is a Greek word found in a couple of significant places in the New Testament where it is normally translated “image”

As it says in the heading of this blog, two of the places where this word is used are Colossians 1:15 which says:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” ESV

and Col 3:10 which says:

“and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” ESV

I guess for me these two verses sum up so much of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Colossians 1:15 says something utterly profound about the Jesus whom we follow. We follow no mere man. He is more than a prophet. He is more than a teacher, he is God, the eternal Word made flesh.

But the Christian call is more than a call to a set of theologically correct propositions about the nature and being of God. The Christian call is a call to response and worship and to consequential transformation.

Paul says to the Colossians “you have put off the old self with it’s practices” (Col 3:9) and have put on a new self that is being renewed… after the image of its creator.

As a follower of Jesus, I am to look more and more like Jesus. To use another scripture containing the word eikon:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2Co 3:18 ESV

Friday, June 17, 2005

In a sweat for Jesus…

It’s that time of year again! What do I mean? Well its getting hotter and especially so, it seems when I am leading worship.

For those of you who don’t know me I am a guitarist of sorts and tend to lead worship from that instrument and when the church is fairly full, and the sun is out then… well to put it politely I perspire!

I was thinking about it the other day and thinking that actually it is not bad thing to get in a sweat for Jesus!

Do we sometimes underestimate the perseverance and stamina needed in the service of Jesus. The reality is that sometimes the work of the gospel, work that honours Jesus is just plain hard work. Yes rewarding work but hard too.

So keep running the race, keep going!

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

How are you praying? (Part 4)

It’s been a bit of a long day so a short post tonight! A few final thoughts on the Prayers of Paul. This one is a bit of a cheat as it’s not a prayer so much as a prayer request. In Romans 15:30-33 Paul writes:

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. ESV

I find this a humbling prayer. You see I reckon one of the temptations that faces us as Christians is a temptation to be self reliant. To ask another to pray for me can almost feel like an admission of defeat or failure.

The great apostle Paul, writes to his friends in the church in Rome and says ‘Would you pray for me; I need you to pray for me. "

I takes humility to ask others to pray for you.

On final observation on the prayers of Paul. Do you notice the language used here when Paul asks for prayer? “Strive together with me” he says. Paul wants prayers who will stick at it, who will be persistent, who will wait on God for him and seek his power and blessing. Those who serve in this way are partners “together with” him.

So… how about asking someone to pray for you to fulfill the ministry to which God has called you? And by all means pray that for me!

What you could pray for me right now:
  • For God's guidance in my preparation for this Sunday
  • For God's anointing on my preaching especially.
  • Pray for power! I was struck by 1 Cor 4:20 recently. "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." I'm asking God for his power in my ministry and in the ministry of his church.
  • I'm preaching at Ladyfield Evangelical a week Sunday and would apreciate prayers for guidance and anointing as I prepare for that... (There is a theme developing here....)
  • That God would give me and the other leaders of PSBC wisdom as we try and understand the prioroties for the next season in the churches life.
  • That I would use the sabatical month coming up this summer well.

There that should keep you going!

Monday, June 13, 2005

How are you praying? (Part 3)

Or.... Praying for the impossible

It’s been a couple of days since I posted, I’m afraid its been a couple of busy days, but here goes!
I’ve posted twice so far on the prayers of Paul and I’m going to reflect on another in this post. (You can read the first part here and the second part here.)

Ephesians 3:14-21 is perhaps Paul’s best known account of his prayers, and like many well known passages of scripture I guess that it is easy to miss the power of the content in the familiarity of the words.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)

Have you noticed that in this passage, Paul tells the Ephesians that he is praying for the impossible? Have you noticed that he prays for these Christians to have power to “know” the love of Christ. He then goes on to say that this love of Christ “surpasses knowledge.” To put it another way. Paul says “I’m praying for you that you would know something that can’t be known, namely the love of Christ.”

So if the love of Christ “surpasses knowledge” how can it be known? That’s why Paul begins by praying for power to make them strong on the inside, and the prayer builds from that point with a series consequential requests.

This is a really important point for any Christian to note. The love of Christ cannot be known by reason alone. It “surpasses knowledge.” Indeed the love of Christ can only be known by revelation and this is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit of God for which Paul prays.

I guess that is why this is such an important prayer. In order to be a loving person, I need to have a revelation of the love of Christ in all its breadth, length, height and depth. Doesn’t the Bible say that we love because he first loved us? (1 John 4:19) A real appreciation of the vastness and scale of the love of Christ is beyond my human faculties except for the powerful work of the Spirit of God.

So get praying. Pray for one another, pray for me, pray for yourself. Pray for a deeper revelation of the love of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For your use, here is my go at turning the text into a prayer:

Heavenly Father, rich in glory
I pray for….
That you might cause them to
be strengthened in power by your Holy Spirit in the innermost places of his/her
being
So that Christ might dwell in his/her heart through faith.
So that
rooted and grounded in love …. might have strength to comprehend with all the
saints; the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of the love of Christ.
So that he/she might know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
So
that he/she might be filled with all the fullness of God.
Amen

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

What kind of churches?...

I'll get back to the prayers of Paul when I have time. Came across this not so long ago and thought it was worth posting. WHat kind of churches should we be trying to build? Here is a descriptive quote from John Piper from his "Counted Righteous in Christ."

He calls for churches that are:

"God-centered, truth-treasuring, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, cross-focused, spirit-dependent, prayer-soaked, soul-winning, justice-pursuing congregations with a wartime mindset ready to lay down their lives for the salvation of the nations and the neighborhoods"

Monday, June 06, 2005

How are you praying? (Part 2)

In my last post I began a short series of thoughts on the prayers of Paul. I guess I was in part confessing that I sometimes worry about our prayers. It’s not just that I worry that there ought to be more of it, but I worry about what we pray for as Christians. Sometimes, I suspect that our prayers reveal how worldly we really are.

At the beginning of his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes:

And so, from the day we heard, 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, 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.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:9-14 ESV

(It might be worth reading the whole of Colossians 1 here.)

Now the first thing I notice with this passage is that even though Paul has probably never met these Christians, he prays for them, and if you read the whole chapter you will see that he is grateful to God because they are renowned for their faith and love.

As I said in my previous post, these prayers tend to unmask the warped priorities that we sometimes carry through life. If our prayers reveal our priorities, then so too do our thanksgivings.

Notice with me again what Paul is praying for in these verses.

In the first case, Paul tells these Christians that he is asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (v9) I think there is a danger for Chrisitans that we spend so much energy worrying about what we call “God’s will for our lives” that we miss the fact that God has a will for me today. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be open to the calling of God on our lives, indeed we should! I am saying that God’s call on the rest of my life begins with today, and I can worry about the future and forget that today God calls me.

Today he calls me to show love. Today he calls me to forgive. Today he calls me to bear with my brothers and sisters. Today he calls me to submit to my brothers and sisters. Today he calls me to share my faith. Today he calls me to receive heavenly resources. Today he calls me to pray without ceasing. Today he calls me to immerse myself in the scriptures. Today he calls me to do away with sin and compromise in my life. Today… you get the idea.

What a prayer to pray for myself and others. “Lord fill me/them with the knowledge of your will. Give me/them wisdom and understanding that my/their life might be pleasing to you.”

What outcome are you looking for in prayer? Notice Paul’s desire as he prays. He wants lives pleasing to the Lord. He wants fruit bearing lives. He wants these Christians to be increasing in the knowledge of God. He wants them to be strengthened in endurance and patience, and he wants them to be people of joy.

In short Paul is looking for high quality Christians, and that is what he prays for.

Here is a final comment for this post. Paul is so confident in the power of the gospel as he writes. This is something that some Christians would do well to notice. I have to be a bit careful here lest I get on a bit of a hobby horse but…

I get bothered by models of ministry that seem so lacking in confidence of the power of the gospel. For example, some prayer ministry models seem to have missed the sheer vastness of the scale of gospel and the decisiveness of it’s effect. Just notice the strength of v 13 "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." What Paul is saying here is that if someone is a Christian then a radical and decisive transformation has taken place. It really makes a difference that someone is a believer, they have been translated into a different kingdom, and we need to have confidence that salvation makes a massive difference.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

How are you praying? (Part 1)

Over the next week or so, I’m going to post some reflections on the prayers of Paul.

From time to time I find myself looking for a method for evaluating and sharpening an area of my spiritual life.

What I am going to do over the next couple of days is revisit some of the prayers of Paul that are recorded for us in the New Testament, and ask myself to what extent the concerns expressed as prayers in his letters find themselves expressed in my prayers for others and myself.

Now I’m not going to suggest that our prayers should only be for those kinds of things that Paul mentions in his prayers, but I do think that if the concerns Paul expressed in prayer are largely absent from our prayers, then that might be a sign that we need to allow God to reorder our priorities.

Before reading on, it might be worthwhile just taking a moment to note the things that you have prayed for in the last week or so as a basis for comparison.

Here is the first prayer. In 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 Paul writes:

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, 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. ESV

Without going into this passage in depth, just take a moment to notice what Paul prays for the church in Thessalonica in these verses.

Here are two requests and a reason for the requests. In the first request Paul asks that "our God may make you worthy of his calling."

Now how can any Christians become worthy of God’s calling?

Paul’s prayer here is for transformation, or more specifically the transforming work of the Spirit of God. How often when we pray for ourselves, or for others, do we pray for Christ-likeness?

Of course such a prayer poses the question about how such transformation takes place. It is certainly not the case that it happens without human effort, but neither does it happen without divine intervention, and so we should pray for it!

The second request is that God may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.

I have to say that I really like this bit of the prayer. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it like this “pray that he'll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something.”

I guess I get concerned about Christians who seem to sit around waiting for divine inspiration and never get around to doing anything. Was it Tony Campolo who said that it is a lot easier to steer a moving car?

As someone who loves God, and wants to build his kingdom, but who can’t always claim a prophetic vision about what I should do next I find it encouraging to hear Paul praying these words and to see that right intentioned faith founded ideas and initiatives can be filled with God’s power.

Finally, Paul tells us why he might pray such a prayer; “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”

I find that too many of my prayers are, if I am honest, motivated primarily by my desire for comfort, rather than by a desire for the glory of Jesus.

Is it not the case that our reasons for praying will have implications on the prayers that we pray?

God can be glorified by answering my prayers for comfort, but I notice that Paul is motivated to pray because of he desires that Christ be glorified. Because that is his priority he prays for lives and actions that bring glory to the Lord Jesus.

We should never entertain the devil’s whispers that being concerned for the glory of God will rob us of joy and make us the poorer. I suspect that the “and you in him” is a prayer for the Thessalonians based on the conviction that God will honor those whose primary desire is glorify Jesus.

We will leave it there for today. I'll try and get the next post up on Monday if time allows.

Why not take a moment to use the questions below to evaluate your own prayers in the light of this prayer.

As I said, some time ago I preached through the Prayers of Paul, and at that time I found Don Carson's A call to spiritual reformation really helpful, and would highly recommend it to those who want to think about such things more deeply.

For reflection:

  • How often do we ask God for the transforming work of the Spirit in our lives in order that we might be found more and more in the image of Christ?
  • How often do I pray for myself and others that God’s power would be present in thoughts and actions?
  • What is my motivation for prayer? How concerned am I for the glory of God?