Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lord's Prayer Pt. 3 - May Your Kingdom Come

Once when my church was still meeting in an elementary school, a well-spoken, gentle young man decided to visit us. We happened to be teaching on Luke 4:40-43 where Jesus heals scores of people and casts out demons from sundown to sunup one night. We talked about how Luke records Jesus saying in verse 43, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

We discussed how many of those people probably felt as if Jesus was turning their world upside down. However, what Jesus was actually doing was helping to set everything right side up again.

So many areas that had been turned upside down by the Fall in Eden were getting turned right side up by Jesus bringing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Little did I know, the kingdom of God was about to invade that young man’s life. After the service as folks were tearing stuff down, he came up to me weeping and asking if I would pray for him. So I took him behind the stage and off to the side where we wouldn’t attract any attention.

I felt led to ask him if he was having any compulsive sinful behaviors or thoughts. Areas where he almost felt driven to do or think those destructive things, no matter how hard he fought against them. He mentioned three areas and confirmed that those were the reasons he wanted prayer.

So I began by helping him with a prayer of confession in each of those areas. Then, starting with the first area of concern, I prayed that God would bring him cleansing and deliverance from that stronghold, and that His kingdom would come.

Suddenly, he began convulsing and vomited all over the floor and a little on one of my boots. Assuring him everything was okay, I gently began praying for the second area and… another big puddle of vomit. This time, though, I was able to get my feet out of the way in time. God blessed us with similar success in the third area as well.

The young man was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace as he shed a few tears of joy. It was amazing to watch Jesus’ kingdom begin to flip upside down areas of his life right side up in such a dramatic way. Praise God!

However, when Jesus commands us to pray for His kingdom to come, He isn’t speaking only of exorcisms and healings. He’s mostly speaking of us letting the King be Himself in us. And can you imagine what a tremendous blessing we Christians would be to the world if we believed and prayed the promise Jesus made that His disciples would do the same works as He did?

Cyprian did:

In the prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” we ask that the kingdom of God may be set forth to us, even as we also ask that His name may be sanctified in us. … He who dedicates himself to God and Christ desires not earthly, but heavenly kingdoms. … We add, also, and say, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” … Now that is the will of God, which Christ both did and taught. Humility in conversation; steadfastness in faith; modesty in words; justice in deeds; mercifulness in works; discipline in morals; to be unable to do a wrong, and to be able to bear a wrong when done; to keep peace with the brethren; to love God with all one’s heart; to love Him in that He is a Father; to fear Him in that He is God; to prefer nothing whatever to Christ, because He did not prefer anything to us; to adhere inseparably to His love; to stand by His cross bravely and faithfully. – Cyprian 250CE Volume 5, p. 788-789

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lord's Prayer Pt. 2 - Hallowed Be Your Name

Teaching the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer is a fun and challenging exercise whether you’re discussing the matter with adults or your 7-year-old daughter. This is especially true when you get to words like ‘hallowed’. Hallowed is just not a word that one hears in 2016. 

To help break down the concept of what it means to hallow God’s name, let me tell you a brief story. In 2004, I went to Africa for the first time. Our group from Houston Baptist University was doing AIDS education in various high schools in Swaziland. At that point, Swaziland had the highest AIDS prevalence rate in the world. It was heartbreaking.

One day, we had finished our daily presentations and were outside talking with the students. I remember one girl telling me how desperately she wanted to go to America. I asked her why, and what she said amazed me.

The picture of America she described seemed like it had been taken right out of a Britney Spears video. (I realize that is a dated reference, but this story occurred in 2004.) If you want America to have a good name with outsiders, and they have any semblance of a moral compass, you probably should keep them away from Britney Spears videos.

Anyway, I tried to tell her that America as a whole wasn’t like that, but she wouldn’t believe me. Even though America’s name was soiled in toxic waste in her mind, the depravity was appealing to her. Heartbreak upon heartbreak.

It made me think of Paul’s word to the Corinthians that Christians, are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).”

Before our team from HBU came to her school, those music videos were the only representation of America that girl had ever seen. It was as if America was making its appeal through Britney. However, far more than being representatives of the country of America, our team from HBU was there as ambassadors for the kingdom and family of God.

A kingdom whose laws and values are far richer than those of America. A kingdom whose King is infinitely better than any ruler who has sat in the White house. A kingdom whose citizens don’t seek first financial security and physical safety, but rather the King’s glory in every aspect of their lives. A kingdom that keeps growing because the name/character of the King is mirrored by His children.

What does it mean for us to hallow God’s name? Cyprian says it well. 

When we call God Father, we ought to act as God’s children; so that in the measure in which we find pleasure in considering God as a Father, He might also be able to find pleasure in us. Let us converse as temples of God, that it may be plain that God dwells in us. … “You are not your own; for you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear about God in your body.” After this we say, “Hallowed be Thy name;” not that we wish for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beseech of Him that His name may be hallowed in us. … Because He says, “Be holy, even as I am holy,” we ask and entreat, that we who were sanctified in baptism may continue in that which we have begun to be. And this we daily pray for; for we have need of daily sanctification. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 787-788 [CD-ROM] 

If we are God's children, we should seek to reflect our Father more and more purely so the world will love Him more than itself.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lord's Prayer Pt. 1 - Our Father in Heaven

Every night, Stephanie and I do devotionals with our kids. Usually I take my 12-year-old son, but about once a week I get to do the devotional with my 7-year-old daughter, Z. When it’s my turn, we read from the Jesus Storybook Bible, which is pretty great, by the way.

A few nights ago she asked if we could read the passage about the Lord’s Prayer. Evidently, that is a section she loves to read. However, before we began I asked her if she knew the actual version of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6. She said no. So I began to talk with her about the first phrase.

Our Father in heaven…

I began by asking Z why the prayer doesn’t begin with “My Father”. She said that God is not just her Father, but our Father. So I asked her who ‘our’ referred to. Who is God the Father of? She said ‘us’. Everybody.

Is that the case? Is God the Father of everyone?

Many in the hyper-grace movement believe so. One author writes, apparently about everyone:
We are not solitary pilgrims looking to the heavens and calling out to God, but adopted sons and daughters looking out at the world, each other, and ourselves through God. “For ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28, italics mine). We are already “in” Christ. We need not ascend but fall deeper into an awareness of that experience.

I can understand the heart behind such statements. As Christians, we should earnestly want everyone to be with Jesus forever. But does scripture actually teach that all people are already in Christ? Is everyone physically born into the kingdom of God, born into God’s family, and only in need of becoming aware of this truth to find salvation?

John’s Gospel was the last to be written, and was penned after all of Paul’s letters. In the first chapter John narrates that Jesus came to His own people, but they didn’t receive Him. However, to everyone who will receive Him, to those who will believe in His name, He has given the right to become children of God. Children not born by their natural parents, but born by God.

John appears to be clearly saying that no one can be naturally born into God’s family (See John 3:1-7 for further clarification). Scripture, though, can be interpreted in various ways. So what was the early Church’s orthodox position on this subject and passage?

The new man, born again and restored to his God by His grace, says “Father,” in the first place because he has now begun to be a son. “He came,” He says, “to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in His name.” … Beloved brethren … observe and understand that we should call Him our Father, that is, the Father of those who believe—of those who, being sanctified by Him and restored by the nativity of spiritual grace, have begun to be sons of God. – Cyprian 250CE, Vol. 5, p. 786-787

The early church took John 1 seriously and literally (Two other examples include Irenaeus and Justin Martyr). They believed that only those who choose to receive Jesus become born again into God’s family, and that birth brings supernatural transformation. They also believed that there is an intrinsic relationship between baptism and becoming born again as God’s sons and daughters.

I told Z that we could pray “our Father” because she, her mom and I had given our lives to Jesus because of what Jesus had done for us. And in doing so, we were now adopted sons and daughters of God. We were born again into God's family as brothers and sisters.

However, that also means that even though she and her physical brother have the same biological parents, he still needs to give his life to Jesus to be able to say “our Father” in an authentic way. Therefore, we needed to pray for Him to really understand God’s love for him, and trust in God the Father with all of his heart.

We prayed that her brother would trust that God is a heavenly Father. God is perfectly good in everything He does, and not like anyone else he had ever met. We prayed that he would see that God the Father is just like Jesus, who reflects our heavenly Father. We prayed that one day soon, our whole family would pray “our Father” all together as adopted brothers and sisters of the King.

I’d love it if you would pray about that for us too! 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Colonoscopies, Fried Chicken and Repentance

Most men are pressured to get their first colonoscopy around age 50. I had the pleasure of receiving mine about 7 years ago at age 29.

It all started one week when I had some of the best fried chicken and fried okra from a great barbecue joint down the street. The next day I ate a large pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars, and the constipation had taken full effect. This story is already gross, I know, but it gets worse. I bled every time I went #2 that week.

But instead of telling Stephanie, I just kept on doing what I was doing. And the second week was quite similar to the first. Tasty, yet excruciatingly painful. Eventually, though, I let her in on my struggles and she gave me a thorough tongue-lashing. It was well deserved.

According to medical professionals, you shouldn’t bleed every time you poop. It is probably a sign of some bad plumbing.

So I went to the doctor and got set up for a colonoscopy, which freaked me out. But, of course, the actual procedure was not anywhere as frustrating as the colonblow. You know, the preparatory drink they give you to cleanse your system that keeps you up all night? It’s the worst.

My problem, evidently, was that I consumed way too much fried food, pizza and soft drinks, and not enough fiber and water. That, and I had developed a case of diverticulosis, where small pouches had formed in the wall of my colon.

The doctor basically gently rebuked me for about 10 minutes about my poor eating habits and need for greater self-control. At first I felt myself getting defensive, but then I realized that this man was trying to save me. He wasn’t against me, he was for me. But in order to be for me, he had to call me to repentance.

Repentance? From what sin? James 4:17 says, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” I knew I shouldn’t have been eating that way, and yet I kept on doing it for so long. Living in a self-destructive way, all because it made me feel… good?

I was being a bad steward of the body God gave me and I needed to repent.

2nd Century writing the Shepherd of Hermas says this about repentance:

Repentance is great wisdom. For he who has sinned understands that he acted wickedly in the sight of the Lord. He remembers the actions he has done, and he repents. He no longer acts wickedly, but he does good generously. He humbles… his soul because he has sinned. – Hermas 150CE, Volume 2, p. 22

For some reason, our culture has turned repentance into a negative word. Even large circles of Christianity have cleverly maneuvered their way around scripture to develop systems of theology that insinuate that repentance is no longer necessary because of the cross.

Let me assure you that’s not what the earliest Christians believed. And that’s not what the Bible teaches. Repentance brings life, heath, peace and reconciliation. So may you experience the wisdom of repentance today! 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Excerpt from Ch. 13 – New: Wineskins and the Simple Words of Christ

A false doctrine again creeping into the Church states the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. I say it is creeping in again because it’s well documented that during the second century, a man named Marcion was denounced as a heretic for promoting that and other Gnostic teachings.3 Oftentimes, people who are holding to this ancient heresy will say that while they don’t believe in the God of the Old Testament, they do believe in Jesus and the God of the New Testament.

It’s quite interesting, though, if you read the New Testament, how often Jesus identifies Himself with the God of the Old Testament. 


Maybe you’ve heard that Jesus never claimed to be God. That’s simply not true. He absolutely claimed to be God; He just did it in a Jewish way, since He was a Jew. …

In Isaiah 6, the prophet writes:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, ear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed” (verses 1-10).

In verse 1, Isaiah said he saw the Lord on the throne, lofty and exalted. The Hebrew word used here for “Lord” is Adonai. So, Isaiah testified he saw the Lord, Adonai, high and lifted up on the throne. Second, in verse 5 Isaiah says he is in deep trouble because he is a man of unclean lips and his eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. This is the same Lord of hosts the Seraphim said was “Holy, Holy, Holy” in verse 3. The phrase “Lord of hosts” in Hebrew is Yahweh Sabaoth; or, if you’d prefer, Jehovah Sabaoth. Therefore, we are able to easily deduce that Isaiah saw a manifestation of Yahweh in his vision recorded in Isaiah 6.

Now we will move back to the New Testament. In John 12, we find Jesus in the last week of His life. He has already raised Lazarus from the dead and is popular with most of the people. But the leaders of the Jews are plotting to kill both Him and Lazarus. John writes:

Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (verses 37-43).

John quotes Isaiah 6 and then writes that Isaiah said these things because he saw “His glory, and he spoke of Him.” Who is the “Him” whom John says Isaiah saw? The answer is found in verses 37 and 42, where John says even though Jesus was performing many signs the Jews refused to believe in Him, and the ones who did believe wouldn’t confess Him because they were afraid of being put out of the synagogue.

No one would get put out of the synagogue for confessing belief in Yahweh. All Jews confessed that truth every time they said the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5). But a person would get put out of the synagogue for confessing the truth that Jesus was Yahweh. Many of them were seeing, yet they weren’t believing. Isaiah, however, saw His glory and believed. He saw Yahweh. So, once again, John tells us Jesus and Yahweh are one.

After Isaiah saw the pre-incarnate Jesus, his life was never the same. As his old wineskins were burst, he was filled with an excitement and boldness to do anything for the Lord God no matter the cost. Just as Isaiah’s life was turned rightside up when he actually saw the Lord God after serving Him for so many years, my world was rocked when I began to discover how the entire Old Testament was designed to point us to Jesus. It changed everything. Many of my old wineskins were burst, which helped me make sense of so many things in the Old Testament that had troubled me in the past.