The Church

Rookie Mistake on Proverbs 3 & the Rest of the Story

By: Dan Seale

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Sunday morning as I was preaching at the 8:30 am service, I realized I made a rookie mistake.  I had too much material. So, while I was preaching my mind was also considering what changes I needed to make which impacted both the content and the delivery of the sermon.  Thankfully, I know God uses His Word by His Spirit no matter what, so while frustrated, I was not too discouraged.  That has not always been the case.  It can be very difficult to wrestle with feeling that you not only failed your people but that you also failed God in handling a passage of Scripture.  I had one pastor friend who would just disappear into the basement of the church after he preached a bad sermon.  By God’s grace, the Lord has taught me to be resilient after many perceived failures and trust Him more.  However, I used the time between the two services to reorganize and adjust my sermon for the 11 am service.  I also texted a few people to pray for my rewrites, for my heart and for the second service. I think my second sermon was greatly improved in organization and delivery, but again, the effectiveness of the sermon is ultimately up to the Lord not me. 

 

So why share that experience?  For the small number of people who heard both sermons, it will explain the changes I made – assuming anyone but me noticed.    Also, we all fall short of our own and others’ expectations at times in our work; and how we deal with that can help us or hurt us.  We need to learn to be resilient and lean into the Lord in our failures and be humble and grateful for any wins we experience. 

 

And here is the rest of the story of Proverbs 3 that never made it to either sermon.

 

First, a quick review.  In verses 1-12 we saw that if we want to experience life to its fullest, we must trust the Lord, with our whole heart and our whole life.

 

These  poetic couplets of commands for us followed by the benefits of wisdom lay out for us a compelling call to pursue wisdom and obey God’s commands.

 

v. 1 - Keep my commandments                                 v. 2 - Life & peace (shalom)

v. 3 - Don’t let go of steadfast love and faithfulness           v. 4 – Favor & success before God & people

v. 5 - Trust the Lord                                                   v. 6 - straight paths – get you to your goal

v. 7 -Fear the Lord                                                      v. 8 - healing and refreshment

v. 9 - Honor the Lord                                                 v. 10 - more wealth to use for Him

Don’t despise discipline                                            v. 12 - It’s a sign of His love

 

We are commanded to know God’s Word, to know His love, to trust Him, to know ourselves, and to worship him with our best.  When we fail to do that, he will lovingly discipline us to bring us back to him (Hebrews 12:1-11).

 

The next section, Proverbs 3:13-20, speaks of the beauty and value of wisdom.  The person who finds wisdom and gets understanding about how life works has greater wealth than all the gold, silver or jewels they could own.  Wisdom creates a culture of life in this world that is filled with so much death.  Wisdom enriches all who find it, not just in their length of days but also in the quality of those days (3:16). 

 

The reference in verse 18 to the tree of life is very provocative.  This causes us to think of the tree of life in the garden of Eden.  This image suggests more than long life but eternal life, being in the presence of God.  As long as you embrace the tree of life you live.  In order to prevent Adam and Eve from extending their lives in judgment in perpetuity, they had to be ejected from the garden. This removal provided the opportunity for God’s plan of redemption to be fulfilled ultimately in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the promised seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15).  Now through Jesus, who is our wisdom, we have contact with the tree of life, and can look forward to a future day where we will be with God again in a glorious garden in the new heavens and the new earth.

 

3:19-20 shows us again that wisdom matters to God and was used in creation (Proverbs 8, John 1).  Creation is ordered.  It is not random.  The fact that God created all things is why we are able to discover the logic and wisdom of how things work in the world in the realm of science and medicine. Recognizing wisdom in creation should make us want to pursue this wisdom and to study creation.  In the past Christians were often leaders in medical and scientific discoveries, and I believe we need to encourage believers to pursue being the best scientists and researchers.

 

The last section, Proverbs 3:21-35, unpacks what it looks like to trust God with all your life.  God’s wisdom provides personal safety (3:21-26).  Ray Ortlund writes, “As we grow in wisdom God protects us from the land mines that sin has hidden in the world.”  In addition, v. 26 reminds us the Lord will be our confidence and companion protecting us.  This idea is throughout the Bible and culminates in the incarnation of Jesus who is with us no matter what we face (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).

 

In Proverbs 3:28-35, we see the marriage of worship and ethics. How we treat others is a prime indicator of how we view God and of who/what we truly worship. 1 John 4:20 says,

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brothers, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” 

This proverb calls us to love our neighbor.  Ray Ortlund has a helpful summary: We are to help our needy neighbor, protect our innocent neighbor, and avoid our violent neighbor.  In a culture of life where wisdom is valued people will help each other as much as possible.  We will protect and trust our neighbors. Trust is the glue that holds relationships and communities together.  When trust is broken it can take a long time to rebuild the trust that was lost. Lastly, wise people steer clear of trouble makers and violent people.  It can often seem like violent or evil people are getting ahead in the world which can tempt us to follow their behavior. The psalmist often cried out about this apparent success.  But 3:34 is translated this way in the Septuagint (the Old Testament written in Greek and quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5):

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

 

Wisdom fosters an abiding trust in the Lord that emboldens us to love others.

Wisdom fosters a proper humility as we know and fear the Lord in all his beauty and holiness and understand our own limitations and tendency to self-trust and self-reliance.  

 

If we want to experience life to its fullest, we must trust the Lord, with our whole heart and our whole life and only the wise will do so.

 

 

If only we had a GPS for our spiritual life…well maybe not.

By: Dan Seale

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Before GPS, if you were driving and became lost you would be faced with the decision to try to drive your way out of your lostness or to stop and ask directions.  More often than not trying to drive your way out of your lostness ended up in becoming more lost.  With the advent of GPS, we are told when and where to turn and also warned of accidents and traffic jams so that we can arrive at our destination faster.  It seems the worst-case scenario is we miss a turn or start heading in the wrong direction and GPS tell us to make a U-turn and get back on the right path. There is no such device for our walk with God. 

There is a sense in which God does provide a road map through His law and wisdom and leading by the Spirit but we are not given second by second directions to navigate life nor would most of us truly want that.  Too often through our own folly or rebellion we end up lost and headed away from God and His design for us. Too often pride, guilt, shame, and fear of rejection and fear of consequences keep us from asking for help from God or from others who love us. And if we are honest there are times when we love our sin more than we desire to return to following God. 

What do we do when we find ourselves in trouble having ignored God and His wisdom?

We need to return to God which in biblical terms is faith and repentance.  We may also need to ask for help from friends and experts if we find ourselves really lost and disabled on the side of the road due to our sin or others – but that’s a topic for another day.

Today I want to share some insights on repentance that I gathered in my studies preparing for the sermon on Proverbs 1 &2 that didn’t make it into the sermon. 

If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

Proverbs 1:23

We have a choice (If you turn). We can turn back to the Lord and get back on the right path and he will guide and direct us or we can choose to stay on the path of folly and reject God’s wisdom, thus rejecting God himself.  The heart of repentance is returning to God.

We are faced with a choice and Proverbs often helps clarify those choices.

You can choose to experience the pain of change or live with the pain of regret.

Which will you choose?

In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul distinguishes between worldly sorrow and godly grief which leads to repentance.  How can you tell which is which?  Both tend to produce tears.  Both seem to have sadness for the damage that has taken place. Only time can help you distinguish the difference between the two. Initially they can look the same.  We can mistake being sorry for being repentant.

Let’s say Adam sins against me.  How can I tell if Adam is repentant or just sorry he got caught?  With just worldly sorrow Adam will feel sadness and regret for the harm that he caused and for the consequences and fall out, but his focus will be more on himself than on me and how his actions harmed me.

Worldly sorrow sheds tears over the pain I am feeling more than crying over the pain I have inflicted.

Over time godly sorrow leads to repentance so that Adam takes full responsibility for his words or actions.  He doesn’t try to blame me or circumstances, or rationalize and defend himself, or lie, minimize or deny what he did.  Godly repentance leads Adam to make amends not just in words but in new obedience.  Adam will endure the appropriate consequences of his actions without complaint having been humbled before God enabling him to keep his mouth shut and not defend or minimize his sinful actions.

Words do not immediately restore broken relationships. New behaviors restore trust.

However, this is still not a full orbed repentance.  True repentance recognizes the pardon of God. We must turn away from looking at our sin to looking at Christ, so that His grace can enable us to repent and believe.  True repentance is a gift of God as he melts our heart and draws us back to him. Repentance is a return to God and life marked by the light of God in our lives.

Here are several marks of repentance from 2 Cor. 7:8-11

1.     Earnestness – serious attitude about sin– before indifferent & careless to sin

2.     Eagerness to clear themselves – not self-defense – BUT rectifying their faults – deal with the cause of their sin lest they be found guilty again

3.     Indignation – vexation/frustration with themselves

4.     Alarm / fear – fear – awakened conscience and seeing they are under the discipline of God

5.     Longing – longing for things to be right with God and others –

6.     Concern / zeal – restoration to Christ and the body of Christ – zealous to obey Paul and God’s commands

Repentance is comprehensive. It impacts our emotions but extends to every aspect of our being.  Repentance means the whole of life returning to the purpose of God.

The paradox – as faith deepens and brings new levels of joy and assurance, so also repentance deepens, bringing ever more profound an awareness of our need of Christ.

We may not have a spiritual GPS but we have something greater, a living vital union and communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  May God by his grace and mercy continue to work deep faith and repentance in us for His glory and our good.

Wise Living: A study of the book of Proverbs

By: Dan Seale

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This week we began our journey through the Book of Proverbs.  We will be working our way through this book from now through the summer.  While we may be familiar with a few of the pithy sayings, few of us know the purpose of the book of Proverbs or are skilled in how to properly use it in our pursuit of God. 

Proverbs is not about a little self-improvement to have a better life.  Proverbs is about your ultimate choices that are revealed in your small choices.  Proverbs is about life and death.

The big question is, “Will you pursue and listen to God’s words to you and find security and peace, or will you refuse to listen to Him, chart your own course and ultimately find calamity?”

These topical sermons could be a great opportunity to invite believing and non-believing friends to church to find wisdom for living with regard to parenting, words, anger, laziness, forgiveness, family, work, sex, finances and much more.

Here are some helpful resources to help orient you to literary genre of wisdom literature as well as how to read the book of Proverbs and how it can serve as a mini-guide to life.

Wisdom Literature – a 5 minute video

How to read Proverbs – an 8 minute video

A mini-guide to life – a 5 minute read from Tim Keller 

I am looking forward to our journey to seek wisdom together as a family of faith.

Pastor Dan

 

1 Corinthians 1:26-34

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

 

 

 

Some Thoughts on Expanding our Facilities

By: Brad Rogers 

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I was against it.

When we first started talking about building a bigger facility for Redeemer, I didn’t want to do it.

I know as well as anyone that our current building is inadequate. However, by nature I am risk averse; I am grateful that Redeemer has not struggled with finances, and I don’t want that to change. I’ve questioned if the money we’d spend on a building might better serve the Kingdom of God elsewhere. And, I wondered how important facilities really are in helping people know and follow Jesus.

I bet some of you have the same or similar questions.

At Redeemer, our desire is to build up the body of Christ, and I hope you can tell from our recent sermon series and the church-wide desserts that this is the goal for the proposed new building. Expanding our facility must help us accomplish this or we should not build.

What does that mean, to build up the body of Christ? It means two things. First, we want Redeemer to be a place where we mature as disciples who grow in knowledge of Christ and follow him more closely. Second, we want more people in Raleigh to know the love of Christ that brings perfect freedom and lasting peace.

As I was thinking and praying about the new building, I came across a few ideas that changed my perspective and I’d like share them with you.

 

God’s First Sanctuary

In Genesis 2, the Lord God planted a garden for Adam and Eve - our first parents. The name Eden indicates delight, pleasure, luxury, and lushness – it was a place of beauty. God put trees in the garden that not only produced good food but were also beautiful to the eyes. In the garden, there was a great river that branched out into four smaller rivers that nurtured the entire garden and it helped Adam and Eve, and all living things, thrive. We are told that God decorated the garden with gold and onyx, which shows that the garden was abundant in resources.

In Eden, we see that God intentionally made a beautiful space for his people, and this says something about God: God cares about beauty. It also says something about what God wants for his people: God cares to create a beautiful space for his people. As the ESV study Bible notes, “the overall picture of Eden presented… suggests that the park-like garden is part of a divine sanctuary.” The garden is a beautiful space created for Adam and Eve to meet with and know the Lord.

In his Genesis commentary, Bruce Waltke writes that Eden “represents territorial space in the created order where God invites human beings to enjoy bliss and harmony between themselves and God, one another, animals and the land. God is uniquely present here, the garden of Eden is a temple-garden, represented later in the tabernacle… It is the archetypal sanctuary.”


Is it just a building?

I think it is entirely possible that some churches think way too much of their buildings. Certainly Israel turned the temple into more than God meant for it to be. But, it is also possible for churches to think too little of the space that they dedicate to meeting with the Lord and to learning what God’s word teaches us and our children.

I think many Christians fail to consider what the people who don’t yet follow Christ make of our church buildings. Isn’t it important for church buildings to be both helpful and beautiful so that unbelievers are inspired to hear about our Lord? Do we care enough about others, our neighbors, to create inviting spaces for them?

I love that Redeemer has been able to accomplish so much in our current facility. However, I think we have to admit that our building is crowded and sometimes less than inviting. It can be difficult to have a conversation between services much less meet new people. If I talk with someone in the hallway right after the service for only three minutes, we will need to move out of the way two or three times to let people pass through. This is not exactly the welcoming environment that we would like to foster.

 

Is It Consumerism?

Raleigh dwellers place a high value on quality and distinction. When Rachel and I moved to North Raleigh from Kentucky, we noticed that the businesses, shopping centers, parks, and neighborhoods were well thought out and inviting. I thought to myself, if a business is going to make it in this neck of the woods then they are going to have to do things with excellence.

One may argue that this is just caving into the consumerism of our culture, and perhaps the desire to create a beautiful and useful sanctuary and education space is a reflection of our consumer culture. As you might imagine from my reflections on Genesis 2, I don’t agree.  But if you do think this way, I would like to invite you to consider that this is the culture that God has placed us in that we would like to hear the good news about Jesus.

Thom Rainer interviewed hundreds of formerly unchurched unbelievers who came to Christ through the ministry of local churches. He found that after biblical preaching and true friendliness of the congregation, the condition of the facilities can determine whether the unchurched and unbelieving will return. Rainer found that 90% of the formerly unchurched named some factor about people or the facilities that impacted their decision to return for another visit. As he plowed more deeply into their reasoning he discovered that the issue was more about excellence than pleasing insatiable consumer appetites. One woman commented to Thom, “I have no doubt that God used the preaching of his Word and the witnessing of his people to bring me to Jesus. But I never would have heard the message if I had not been thoroughly impressed with the quality of their facilities. I showed up at the church one Sunday to be there for my nephew’s baptism. One of the reasons I came back on my own was a sense that the church did everything with excellence, and it showed from the parking lot to the restrooms.”

I recognize that the onus is on us, the congregation, not the building, to make people feel important and cared for when they come to worship with us. But when we invest in our facility, it indicates to people the importance of what happens when we join together to worship the living God. Our goal is for someone to walk into Redeemer, look around and meet some people and realize that “something of significance is happening here.”

 

Sadly Short on Space

On any Sunday morning, if you peek into the children’s Sunday school classes you’ll see that they are all overcrowded. Our restrooms, too, are overcrowded, and the women’s restroom spills into the nursery drop off areas.

I would love for Redeemer to offer smaller adult Sunday school classes that encourage engagement and discussion. Actually, we would like to offer a variety of adult classes, but we had to re-purpose our one adult classroom for our 5th and 6th graders. We simply can’t cram them into one of our smaller classrooms, which are filled with children too.

Our youth meeting space in the modular unit (aka “junior”) is already too small for the whole group. Some of our youth have to step outside occasionally because the room can feel tight and stuffy and lead them to feel anxious.

These are just a few examples, but the point is that our current building is just too small to be welcoming.

 

From Nay to Yea

After thinking through these things, I now support expanding our building.

Here’s why:

·       Bigger facilities will enable us to help each other know and follow Jesus and love our neighbors, as we are commanded.

·       The proposed building plans are a great fit to our setting in North Raleigh, and when we invest in our facility, people see that we are investing in what God is doing among us. It also shows that we care to make room for more people to come join with us.

·       The proposed building will be a more inviting place where Christ followers can come to worship the Lord, where others can come investigate the claims of Christ, and where all can taste and see the beauty and excellence of our gracious God.

I have come to believe that giving towards the expansion of our facilities is a wise way to steward the resources God has given us. Yet, I don’t want anyone to give toward the building expansion who doesn’t agree. I certainly don’t want anyone to violate their conscience.

I have no intention to pressure you into giving, but I have written these things with the hope that it will help you think through your own involvement with Redeemer’s proposed building expansion.

 

 

Allowing Scripture to Drive our Prayer Requests for Growth

By: Brad Rogers

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I have participated and led many Bible study small groups that end with the question, “How can we pray for you tonight?”  When I ask this question, people often mishear my question. They begin to share prayer requests that they have for other people. I think it’s good to pray for those who are not in the room, but I also want to pray for the people in the room.  When people struggle to come up with things to pray for themselves, I gently press on by asking them where they think it will be difficult for them to follow Jesus in the coming week. I usually joke that if they can’t think of any, they may be much closer to Jesus than I am.  Now, to be fair, this is a personal question. Depending on the small group, it may not be appropriate to share certain sin struggles you will face in the coming week. 

However, there is another problem here.  Not only do I not know the future, but it is the very nature of sin to deceive, which means that I don’t always know the sin in my heart.  Scripture reveals God’s heart and God’s will to me in such a way that it exposes sin in my heart that I did not know I had.  I long for the applications discussed when we are studying the Bible in small groups to drive the personal requests people make during prayer time. 

I think this is also a great practice to incorporate into our personal Bible reading time as well. As the Holy Spirit works by and with God’s Word, we see sin in ourselves we may not have realized was there.  We should confess newly revealed sin and ask God to transform us so we might become a person who continues to say “no” to this sin. We may have many other specific things in our lives for which we make requests to God. This is a great thing, and God desires us to do so. However, if we want our time of reading in God’s Word to help us grow to be more like Christ, it only makes sense that we ask God to help us change in such a way so as to live out what the Scriptures say.  

If you have been following along in our series, you will know that I have been writing about a particular way of meeting with God that seeks to wed Scripture reading and prayer. It utilizes what is called the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) not only as a means of prayer but also as a means of reading God’s Word.  Using a journal as I read a passage of Scripture devotionally, I note attributes of God, sins I need to confess, things I can thank God for, and any prayer requests I want to make to God as a result of this reading. I will then pray these things back to God when I am done reading my passage (or passages) for the day.  I have previously written about adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. This week, I am focusing on supplication - making requests known to God in prayer.

Supplication from the Word helps us apply the Scriptures in our lives

For me, the supplication section of my journal focuses on the applications I think I need to make in my life based on the Bible reading for the day.  Most often, they flow directly from the things I have written down in the confession of sin section of my journal.  Largely because I want the Holy Spirit to help me put the sin I confessed to death.  Here are some questions from Tim Keller, New York City pastor and author, which think through prayer requests based on Scripture reading:

  • What do I need from God to obey what he reveals here?

  • What specific problems result when this quality of God or this teaching is forgotten or denied?

  • Does my life demonstrate that I am practicing this teaching?

  • How will I be different if I begin to do so?

  • Where will I next need this teaching?

  • What kind of love toward God do I most lack and need --love of appreciation (praise and joy), love of complacency (rest and peace), or love of benevolence (zeal and boldness)? What “put on” will I need to practice in order to “put off’ this sin?

It may be that you want to make yourself a little cheat sheet of these questions that you keep with you in your journal.  The more you use these questions, though, the more you can use them instinctively. They are really helpful when you can’t immediately think of any to apply from the day’s reading.

Getting Practical

Here is a small sampling from my journal that could help you get started.  

“Show me where my hypocrisy lies and help me repent.  Help me not presume but rather rely on your grace.  May I not tempt others to sin with the attitude of my heart.  May I love sinners like you do.  Help me recognize that what I most want is found in your Word, may I have Christ-like character.  Help me believe your Word. May I be a person who turns at your rebuke and repents. May I never forget that my sins are forgiven. Help me seek the lost until they are found.  Clean my heart from the inside out.  Help me be gracious with others like you.  Help me serve others like Jesus served me.  Help me not to despise your discipline.  Lord, may I actually heed your warnings and not just merely read them with agreement. Help me walk as one who is wise making the best use of the time.  May I fear you above all others. Help me not grow weary and doing good. Lord, lift the veil from my eyes that I might live as one who is fully yours.” 

As I read Scripture, I see various ways that I fall short of loving God and loving people as God has called me to do; and these are the areas where I ask God to help me grow. May God bless your reading and praying of God’s word so that you grow closer to him and become more like him.   

 

Giving Thanks

By: Brad Rogers 

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The Bible commands us to give thanks throughout its many pages. If you’re like me, you read that command but struggle to want to give thanks which is ultimately a heart problem. When I do give thanks, I find my prayers of thanksgiving in general are boring and redundant. If this latter problem resonates with you, I want to commend a method of Bible reading that can bring needed variety and specificity to your prayers of thanksgiving, keeping them fresh and genuine (I offer thoughts on the former problem below as well). In our last two blog posts, I have been writing about a particular way of meeting with God that seeks to wed Scripture reading (God speaking to us through His Word) and prayer (we speak to God in prayer).  It is certainly by no means the only way to meet with God, but it’s a way that has been very helpful to many. It utilizes what is called the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) not only as a means of prayer but also as a means of reading God’s Word.  In this model, we read God’s Word and take note of how we can adore God, sin we should confess, thanksgiving we can offer, and requests we should make to God. When we finish reading the Scripture, we take our notes on the passage and pray them back to God.  At Redeemer Presbyterian church in Raleigh, we are utilizing the Community Bible Reading (CBR) Journal which uses this method. But you can try this method out and put it into practice whether you are following the CBR reading plan or not.  Two weeks ago, I wrote about praise; last week, I wrote about confessing our sins; so this week, I am writing about thanksgiving.

The Importance of Giving Thanks

Romans 1:21 is a verse that has always fascinated me for the way it describes what happens to people when we do not offer thanks to God. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  A lack of honoring God (praise) and giving God thanks compromises one’s ability to think well about ultimate matters.  The rest of Romans 1 shows a cesspool of “branch” sins whose roots stem from the heart of a person that fails to honor and give thanks to the God who made us all. It could be said that if you really want to get serious about putting sin to death in your life and becoming more like Jesus, you cannot do so without regularly offering prayers of thanksgiving to God.  We struggle to do this because it reveals to us what we don’t naturally want to admit – that we are not spiritually sufficient on our own and are dependent on God for everything.  When we suppress thoughts of our dependence on God, we are delusional about reality which ultimately leads to all kinds of wrong thinking and sin. We must offer thanks to God as Scripture commands, or we risk losing our grasp on reality, living in the darkness of maturing sin, and wandering (or running) away from God.    

Distinguishing between Thanksgiving and Praise

Thanksgiving is really a sub-category of praise.  Distinguishing between the two helps ensure that we follow the many commands in the Bible that ask us to give praise as well as the commands to offer thanksgiving to God.  Often when a people distinguish between praise and thanksgiving, they are distinguishing between praising God for His attributes as we see them in Scripture and thanking God for what He has done for us as His people.  Praise proper is adoring God for who He is in Himself; for His attributes, His nature, and His person, which leads Him to action in and for this world HE has made.  Thanksgiving is giving thanks for all of His loving action towards us and this world. It is good to keep in mind that God is always about redeeming us and this world through Christ, so it’s important to be looking out for how God is working out His plan of redemption in any given passage for which you can offer thanks.    

Getting Practical

Here are a couple of questions to help you as you note things in Scripture in your reading for the day for which you can thank God.  What in this passage leads me to thank God for His goodness to me? What does this passage say about God’s character or work that provides redemption? I like to write down specific things to thank God for as I read a passage of Scripture, but you may want to read the passage as a whole and then write down things for which you can thank God.  Sometimes, when I get to the end, I notice I don’t have much in my thanksgiving section and so I go back and skim the passage. I am almost always able to find more things for which to thank God. Since my journal is not big, but my handwriting is, I try to write something short that I can then expand upon when I actually pray these thanksgivings back to God.  However, it can help write those few words in ways that help you remember where it came from in the passage you read.  Here is a sampling of things I write in the thanksgiving section of my Bible reading journal: “Thank you for saving Abraham in spite of his flaw (so that salvation might ultimately come to me as well). Thank you for preserving Noah; thank you for teaching your disciples about the Kingdom of God. Thank you for choosing and making disciples. Jesus, thank you for taking away my reproach. Thank you for this earth you have made. Thank you for desiring our good when we did not desire yours. Thank you for seeking genuine justice. Thank you for your presence through Jesus. Thank you for defeating Satan. Thank you for providing witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.”  As you can see, these notes are a little unfiltered and unedited for publication, but they are notes that I am using to commune with God in prayer. May your thanksgiving lead you to sweeter fellowship with God and a more realistic view of life in this world. 

 

 

Confession: Responding to the Light Scripture Shines on our Darkness

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By: Brad Rogers

When Christians read the scriptures and pray, we want to grow closer to God in our relationship with Him. A great way to do this is to use the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, & Supplication) as a way to engage with God through the Scriptures.  Last week, I wrote about how we can write down God’s praise worthy attributes as we read Scripture in order to utilize those praises in prayer back to God when we have completed our reading (Adoration).  This week, I want to share some thoughts using Scripture reading to help us identify and confess sins to the Lord.

 

Confessing our Sins to Grow in our Relationship with God

Confessing sin before the Lord is not something that brings most of us great excitement (nor does writing about it) – at least not on the surface.  While we might say confessing our sins to God is not a “fun” part of being a Christian, it is a vital aspect of growing closer to God just as taking responsibility for how we hurt others is critical to the well-being of any relationship in our lives.  When we recognize that following Jesus as our King is relational and that our disregard for his commands is personally offensive to Him, it is not difficult to see the need to confess our sins to Him.  Since it is part of sin’s very nature to deceive, we won’t know so many of the ways that we offend the Lord unless He reveals it to us.  In His grace, God works by His Holy Spirit to bring the light of His word to our darkened hearts that we might see our sins for what they are and turn from them.  God tells us in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Since God promises to forgive, there is no need to fear admitting our wrongs to Him.  Confession of sin allows us to address the relational wedge our sin introduces between us and God so that we can grow in our intimacy with God. 

A Word of Caution

When we confess our sins to God, we need to do so with a heart that forsakes the sin itself.  Mere acknowledgment of sin won’t lead to transformation nor will it lead to greater intimacy with God.  We need to see our sin as God sees it so that we actually hate the sin itself that dishonors God rather than just feeling sorry for ourselves for sinning.  This can lead to confessing our sins simply in the hopes that God will be gracious with any consequences stemming from our sin, which is really a just a form of self-interest rather than seeking to reconcile with the God we have offended. The goal of confessing our sins is ultimately a closer walk with Jesus (growth in our love for God and his honor).  We need to recognize that our sin dishonors God and hinders our fellowship with Him so that when we confess sins to God we actually hate the sin itself. Then we can rightly receive His forgiveness anew in a way that our enhances our intimacy with God and grows our love for Him.  This helps produce the kind of heart change that truly honors God and makes less vulnerable to the sin in the future.    

Confessing Sins from your Scripture Reading in Practice

As I read a Scripture devotionally, I ask myself, “Is there any sin that this scripture reveals in my life?”  You might find certain commands in the text you have read that you don't keep.  You might find that you have the same sinful attitude as someone in a biblical story that you are reading.  You might also find an exemplary attitude of a biblical character that you don’t possess.  You might see that you are lacking some of God’s attributes in His actions towards people that God calls us to imitate.  It might be His love for His enemies or His concern and care for the poor.  As I discover sins in my Scripture reading, I write them down so that when I am finished with my reading, I can take the time to reflect on them before confessing these sins to the Lord in prayer.  Here are some questions that come from pastor and author Tim Keller that help you reflect on the sins you write down:

  • What are the dangers of this sin?

  • What is the specific nature of the guiltiness of this sin (what aspect of God’s character does it offend, ignore, or deny)?

  • What do I learn about God’s grace by the fact that He redeems this sin? (This last question leads us nicely into thanksgiving which we will consider in next week’s blog.)

 You certainly don’t need to use these additional questions; but when I do use them, I have found that I am well prepared to confess my sins to the Lord in prayer.  Regardless, the point of writing down sins to confess while you read Scripture is to actually confess your sins to the Lord that you might know His forgiveness and love afresh, so don’t leave this step out.  May we all honor the Lord by listening to His words to us in Scripture and rooting out the sin which so easily entangles us all through confession so that we might draw closer to Him who has drawn near to us in love. 

Praising the God of the Bible

By: Brad Rogers

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Here at Redeemer Presbyterian in Raleigh, we are using a Community Bible Reading plan complete with a handy journal as an aid to help us personally commune with God, know the Scriptures, and grow in community.  The journal is laid out in such a way as to help us pray the Scriptures back to God.  As such the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, & Supplication) is utilized as a way to engage with God through the Scriptures.  The idea is that as one reads a particular text; he/she writes in the journal things for which they find God praiseworthy (adoration), sins the text reveals they may need to confess (confession), aspects of God’s saving work the text reveals for which to be thankful (thanksgiving) and any requests that one would like to make to God in response to what they find in God’s word that day. A person can then take what they have written in each of these four sections of the journal and pray them back to God. This model of reading and praying the Scriptures can be a little clunky and awkward at first, but I have found that pushing past that initial uncomfortableness has yielded much fruit in my life personally. In the humble interest of helping those on this plan and anyone else desiring a closer walk with Christ by praying the Scriptures, I am beginning a 4 part series today taking each aspect of the A.C.T.S. model of prayer one at a time.

Adoration: The Importance of Praise

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, the first thing he modeled for them was asking that our heavenly Father’s name might be hallowed. He was showing us that we should pray that God’s name would be revered, or regarded as holy. It is praying that all people everywhere would praise and adore God.  Over and again in the book of Psalms we find God calling His people to praise His name.  We don’t need to get bent out of shape as if this is some other human asking us to give them honor. 

God has revealed who He is to us, and He is a God infinitely beyond us in holiness, power, and glory.  C.S. Lewis has helpfully pointed out that failing to admire that which is truly admirable is a flaw in itself and causes one to miss out on the full experience of something wonderful.  In his Reflections on the Psalms, he writes that if God is the great object of admiration behind all other beauties and magnificence, then to praise and admire him would be “simply to be awake, to have entered the real world … but not to do so would be to be deaf, blind and bedridden with respect to the real world.”   It is important not to merely think God is worthy of praise, but to actually praise him for those attributes for which He is worthy as this honors Him and moves us beyond knowledge of facts about God into a loving relationship with Him that changes our hearts.  James K.A. Smith says that “we are what we adore” (and maybe we can say that we are becoming that which we adore). 

Practicing Adoration through Bible Reading

As you are reading any text of the Bible devotionally, it is good to jot down those attributes of God you see in that Scripture that are worthy of praise as a means of understanding the text itself, but also so that you can take those praises up in prayer once you have completed your Bible reading.  Throughout the Bible, God is redeeming people prone to wander in sin back to himself.  When we are thinking through the category of praise it’s helpful to ask ourselves as we read, “What is it about God’s nature and character that leads Him to the redeeming work that I see in this particular passage?”  In a paper, I was told New York City Pastor Tim Keller wrote that he asks these questions of the Scriptures to help identify particular attributes of God worthy of praise.  What does this (Scripture) teach me: of God’s excellence? Of his majesty/greatness? Of his grace/tenderness? Of his wisdom/symmetry?  In sum, in the adoration section of your journal, you are looking to write down what kind of God the passage in front of you reveals. 

I tend to write out praise worthy attributes down as I read the text.  You might prefer to read through the whole text for the day (or for a section at a time) and then write down praise worthy attributes you notice about God.  It could be one word, or it could be several words. I tend to write down something short that I can expand on when I begin to actually praise God in my prayers. Looking through recent entries into the adoration section of my journal I find words and phrases like: healer, the holy one, Lord over the fish in the seas, searcher of hearts, Authoritative One, Creator, Mighty One, supplier of food, revealer of truth and one for whom nothing is impossible.  Even if you don’t journal or don’t have a journal with you, it’s still possible to make mental notes of things regarding God’s character that you can then reflect back to Him in prayer.  In these times, I find myself praying such things back to God as I read rather than waiting until I finish.  The journal is aimed at helping you engage with God and commune with Him as He speaks to you in the Scriptures.  The Community Bible Reading Journal is just a tool and a means towards this end, so I wouldn’t get overly concerned with the particulars.  The ultimate goal is to become more comfortable with the method so that you better understand, appreciate, and adore God as He reveals himself to us in the Bible so that we become more like the God we praise.

 

 

 

 

Communicating Hope Amidst a Sexual Revolution

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Often when I am pushing an article out via this blog I let you know that the article I am sending is not very long with the hopes that you will be willing to read it among all of your other life responsibilities. 

 

This article by Sam Allberry is long - well, at least significantly longer than most I recommend. It needs to be long for it addresses significant issues in our culture regarding sexuality with grace. Unfortunately, I find many of the things written by Christians on the topic of sexuality to be lacking in clarity, deep thought, or grace.  I think you will agree that this article suffers none of those errors even if you disagree with his views. 

 

The first part of the article is written to help Christians understand why the historical Christian views on sexuality have come to be viewed as dangerous to society in Western culture.  I think it’s important for everyone to have a greater understanding of the items he draws to our attention in order to have reasonable conversations around the issue of sexuality itself. 

 

The second half of the article is meant to help Christians think through how they might respond to people with opposing views.  One of my favorite sentences is, “Rebuttal isn’t persuasion.” He directs this towards Christians to say that stating a biblical position is not enough.  He invites Christians to understand the Bible’s sexual ethic as a whole and learn to explain it clearly with humility and love.  I think it’s well worth your time.  You can read it here.

I don’t want Redeemer to be a friendly church….

I don’t want Redeemer to be a friendly church even though guests often say we are.

I want Redeemer to be more than a friendly church.   

I want Redeemer to be a place where people find friendships.

I want us to be a church where people find friends that enrich their lives as we help each other follow Jesus. 

More than that I want people to find family at Redeemer.