Friday, November 23, 2012

The sin-killing power of thankfulness

For you who weren't able to attend our Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday night, I shared five ways in which a God-ward, thankful attitude empowers us to kill temptation and help us avoid sin.  The way I phrased it is that we cannot be thankful and simultaneously commit sin 'X'.  Here are the five for your benefit:

You cannot be thankful to God and simultaneously grouchy and complaining.

You cannot be thankful to God and simultaneously burdensome to others.

You cannot be thankful to God and simultaneously worried and fearful.

You cannot be thankful to God and simultaneously rebellious.

You cannot be thankful to God and simultaneously self-centered.

The next time you sense yourself drifting into one of these sins, ask yourself, "Am I Godwardly grateful right now?  Why not?"  Commit to begin each day focused on the ocean of grace God has surrounded you with and thank Him in response - and discipline yourself to keep thanking Him throughout the day.  As you do that, watch what happens as sins you've long struggled with begin to loosen their grip on your heart.  Few weapons in our holy arsenal are as effective and powerful as a grateful heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An open letter to a pastor

Dear Pastor,

Speaking on behalf of the church that called you to serve God, we feel an urgent need to remind you of your high and holy calling so God's true work will not be abandoned for good but lesser things.  We want you to be responsible for saying and acting among us what the Bible teaches about God, His Kingdom and His gospel.  We believe that everything, especially everything in our world and lives that looks like wreckage, is material that God is using to make a praising life.  We believe all this, but we rarely see or remember it.  We need you to help us see it, and remind us of the unchanging truths of hope we have in Christ.

We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate, and our lives conforming to our beliefs.  We don't trust ourselves - our emotions seduce us into sin.  We know that we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and that there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it.  We want you to help us: be our pastor, a minister of the Word and sacrament, in the middle of this world's life.  Minister with Word and sacrament to us in all the different parts and stages of our lives - in our work and play, with our children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle.  Yours isn't the only task in the life of faith, but this is your task.  We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks.  This is yours: Word and sacrament.

One more thing: we want you to vow to us that you will stick to your calling.  This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community.  We know that you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are.  We know that your emotions are as fickle as ours, and that your mind can play the same tricks on you as ours.  That is why we are exacting a holy vow from you.  We know that there will be days and months and maybe even years when we won't feel like we are believing anything and won't want to hear it from you.  And we know that there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won't feel like saying it.  It doesn't matter.  Do it.  You have vowed yourself to God for our good.  There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else.  Promise right now that you won't give in to what we demand.  You are not the minister of our changing desires or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs or our secularized hopes for a better life.  Today we lash you to the mast of the Word and sacrament so that you will remain deaf to our subjective desires and demands.  Your task is simply to keep telling us - and helping us believe and tell others - the Story of our Redeemer, crucified, risen and coming again.  This is your work.  So help you God.

With love,

God's people under your care

- adapted from Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, pp. 23-25

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A prayer for our leaders - old and new

Our all holy and powerful God,

  • You are the best of fathers, so we know we can trust that You arranged last night's election for Your own eternal purposes to be set in motion.  
  • Give us grateful hearts that we live in a land in which political contests do not erode into civil war and ethnic cleansing or religious pogroms.  For 225 years You have ordained that our nation have a peaceful balance and frequent transfer of power.  Such a thing is very rare in the history of mankind, and we praise You with awe that we are privileged to experience its benefits ourselves.
  • Just as we teach our children, please give us the grace, in the wake of last night's elections, neither to win in a boastful, condescending way nor lose full of self-pity and unthankful bitterness.
  • We pray for those You sovereignly ordained for public office in our land:
    • That they might exercise their influence and authority for the good of Your church, "that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way." (I Timothy 2:2)
    • That they might give us daily reason to "rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything, knowing that this is Your will for us in Christ Jesus."  (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
    • That they might prove examples to our nation and the world of common grace which pleases You, loving their spouses in a way which mirrors the truth of the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33), caring for their children in a way which engenders respect and obedience (Colossians 3:21), doing good to everyone, especially those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) and  making wise decisions in harmony with your global plan to spread a passion for Your glory and bless all people (Genesis 1:26-28, 12:3).
    • That they might exercise their authority with care and righteousness, calling sin 'sin', exalting justice and bearing the sword in a way which increases security, blesses law-abiders and punishes law-breakers, yielding peace in the land (Romans 13:1-7).  
    • That they might have compassion for those in need of justice and benevolence (Amos 5:24), and require every able person to work hard in supplying for their own needs (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
    • That, by Your great mercy, You might convict them of personal sin as well as the sins of our land, leading to their own repentance and trust in the grace of Christ as Savior and Lord (Acts 2:37-41, 13:12, 26:28-29).
  • In all things give us joy that "our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases."
In the powerful, matchless name of Christ we praise and thank You.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An election day prayer

Want to be full of hope and joy this election day?  Based on the end of God's great Story, Scotty Smith leads us in a prayerful focus we need:
  The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. Rev. 11:15-17 
     Dear Lord Jesus, it won’t be long before we will stand and sing Handel’s magnificent rendition of the grand affirmation of this text: “And He shall reign forever and ever, King of kings! and Lord of lords! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” It’s hard to believe Advent season is upon us. And yet we don’t really need to wait. Election Day is a perfect day to rise to our feet, or fall to our faces, and worship God with peace-filled and joy-laden hearts.
     Lord Jesus, you are the King of kings and Lord of lords. Your reign has already begun and your reign is coming in fullness. Not a breath will be taken from our lungs, nor a day taken from our lifespan, apart from your decree. No premier or president, emperor or autocrat, dictator or potentate is a threat to you, or necessary to your purposes.
     Demons tremble at your name and stars sing your praise; fierce hurricanes become gentle zephyrs, and placid lakes become roaring oceans at your bidding. Lame legs walk, deaf ears hear, mute mouths shout at your command. Loved ones are taken to heaven and sufficient grace is given, all in keeping with your purposes, timing and glory. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of our Lord.
     On this Election Day, we bow to you and cast our votes. The brokenness in our country, hearts and world leads us to cry out, “How long, Oh, Lord? How long before you return, Lord Jesus, and finish making all things new?” Until that Day, we will seek to “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Pet. 2:7 ). We will seek to live as good citizens of two kingdoms—the city of man and the City of God. We will seek to adorn the gospel and serve you faith-fully, wherever you place us in the community and culture.
     Whatever the results of this Presidential election, (as well as the many, many other offices which will be decided today), we affirm with renewed confidence and in-this-moment gratitude, that you, Lord Jesus, are the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Hallelujah, what a Savior; Hallelujah, what a salvation. And you shall reign for ever and ever! So very Amen we pray, in your loving and triumphant name.