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Thingamy-Jiggery-Pokery

Posted on by Glen in faith, grace, pastoral theology, prayer, preaching | 18 Comments

the-thing-movie-poster

We’re always making a thing out of things that aren’t things. There’s a technical term for this but I’m just going to call it thingification. The name’s not important. What is important is that it’s ruining your Christian life. Let me show you how with reference to 6 things that are commonly thingified.

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Grace is not a thing.

“Grace, Grace, Grace” we sing. And I think “She sounds awesome, I wish I could meet her.” But I can’t meet her because there’s no such person. There’s only Jesus who is given to me by the Father apart from any desert of my own. That’s grace. But grace is not a thing. Grace is the gift of a Person and if I want to know more grace I need to train my eyes on Jesus. Then I’ll see how freely He’s given. At that point I have an experience of grace, but my experience won’t be of a thing but of a Him. (For more see here).

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Faith is not a thing.

“We’ve got to have more faith” we cry. And so we check the little perspex window on our heart to see if the faith pilot-light is flickering strong. Oops, looks like it’s going out. Quick, turn the faith tap to maximum. But  how? What is faith? Again, it’s not a thing. Faith is to recognise and receive Jesus (John 1:12-13). He has been graciously given, therefore we trustingly receive Him. But faith is not something we dredge up out of our inner spiritual life. If you want “more faith”, don’t look for faith – look to Jesus. That’s how faith comes. (For more see here).

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Prayer is not a thing.

“I need to work on my prayer life” we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is “I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian.” Or maybe we want to improve because we want to “improve our relationship with God.” In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures “my prayer life” as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on “my prayer life” but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: “Please may God bless this work…” And we think, “Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?” Perhaps the pray-er does manage to address God but then mixes up the Persons. At that point you have to ask: Has prayer become a thing that we do. Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don’t we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God? (For more see here).

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Bible Reading is not a thing.

“I must read my Bible” we vow, “every day, come rain, hail or shine.” Well alright but why? Another spiritual discipline to master? A duty to tick off the list? If we manage it, is there not a sense of “Phew, job done!” But what if “Bible Reading” isn’t a thing in the Christian life. What if Bible Reading is simply how the Father speaks His word to us in Christ and by the Spirit. What if Bible Reading is not a thing we need to get right but a word in our ear from our gracious God? (For more see here).

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The Sermon is not a thing.

“What did you make of The Sermon” we ask each other after the service. Suddenly The Sermon is a thing – a thing in between the preacher and the congregation. It’s a production that we then pass comment on. And from the preacher’s point of view the same thingification can happen: “we prepare and deliver a sermon” rather than “herald God’s word to a congregation.” Unfortunately this thing arises in between preacher and people – a thing that will be dissected and focused upon by both sides. But really there is no such thing. There’s only God’s word coming down through the preacher’s lips. There’s only a congregation hearing the voice of the living Christ. The Sermon is an artifice. It is not a proper object of our attention – only the Christ which it proclaims. (For more see here).

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Discipleship is not a thing. (Updated)

“The church has woefully neglected discipleship” they lament. We all give a hearty ‘Amen’ then we look in our Bibles for the word “discipleship” and, shock horror, it’s not there. The word “disciple” is certainly there, but discipleship? No, the Bible is not interested in disciple-craft. Jesus does not want us to be good at the art of following Him. He just wants us to follow Him. Yet, might it be that discipleship is one more concept that takes us away from Jesus Himself and makes us dwell on a thing in abstraction from Christ? It’s worth considering. (For more see here).

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What do you think? And are there other aspects of the Christian life we thingify?

Our Father Above – All Age Song Based on the Lord’s Prayer

Posted on by Glen in creative, music, My videos, songs, videos | 1 Comment

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Our Father above
Your Name shall be holy
Your kingdom and love
Come down to the lowly

Provide for each day
And pardon each deed
As we pardon others
Protect us and lead

ALL MY SONGS

Help Get Prayer Mate on Android

Posted on by Glen in prayer, recommendations | 1 Comment

PrayerMateI use Prayer Mate for my morning prayer time and it’s helped massively (see Tim Challies’ very positive review here).

Don Carson talks about the problem of mental “drift” in prayer. My problem is mental “quantum leaps”. My thoughts do not merely wander, they embark on Odyssian journeys from which few, if any, return.

Prayer Mate has helped anchor my thoughts (along with the practice of praying out loud – I have no idea how people can pray for any length of time silently. Does that actually work for anyone?) Prayer Mate has also helped me arrange my prayer points, ensured I don’t miss stuff and introduced me (through its feeds) to other worthy ministries to pray for. I highly recommend it – if you have an iPod/Pad/Phone.

Until now, there’s been no Android version, but this Kickstarter project is aimed at fixing that. Head over and see if you can help out – it will certainly help you.

 

 

 

The Priesthood of Christ and Your Relationship With God

Posted on by Glen in mediation of Christ, prayer | Leave a comment

Repost

How much thought do you give to the Priesthood of Jesus?  It seems to me to be a much neglected teaching.  But it’s absolutely crucial, especially when thinking about mental illness.

What’s it all about?  Well here’s Job, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews…

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.”  (Job 16:18-20)

“Christ Jesus… is also interceding for us.”  (Romans 8:34)

“Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

According to the bible we have a Friend in high places.  And He’s praying for us.  Continually.

I remember speaking at a prayer meeting and beginning with these words “You’re all late to prayers.”  One person who’d only just stolen in at the back spoke up sheepishly, “Sorry I had car trouble…”  I said, “You’re not the only one late.  I was late.  Everyone was late.  We are all always late to prayers.  Before we ever think to pray, Jesus has already been offering up to the Father the perfect prayer, the perfect obedience, the perfect worship, the perfect love.  He has been doing it in our place and on our behalf.  And He always will.  Any prayers we pray are just the Amen to His perfect prayer.”

In other words, Jesus is our Priest.  And He will continue to be our Priest forever. Our whole lives are offered up to the Father perfectly by Jesus, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

That’s crucial when dealing with depression or with any kind of dark time.  When it seems impossible to pray, when I don’t even want to pray, Jesus is praying for me.  When my heart is as hard as nails towards God, Jesus is the true Man after God’s heart.  When my internal world is completely chaotic, Jesus is my peace.  And He always lives to intercede for me.  My status before God is not me – it’s Him!

Therefore when times are hard and my heart’s a mess, my hope is not in sorting myself out.  My hope is not in me rising above it all.  My hope is seated far above my stormy circumstances and He is immovably secure.

Emma and I have a friend who wrote to us with a letter addressed to God.  It was full of mixed emotions – wanting to serve God yet feeling completely unworthy.  On the one hand she had great love for God but on the other, terrible anger and feelings of distance and loneliness.  It was an unresolved tension throughout her prayer.  Extremely presumptuously, I wrote a reply to her as Jesus.  It was His Priesthood that I really wanted to communicate.  Here’s what I wrote (in Jesus’ name):

Dear Lucy,

I hear you.  I know you.  I’m for you.

In the midst of your darkness and pain and in the midst of your sin I hear you, I know you and I’m for you.
I have you on my heart before the Father and I pray for you.  Constantly.  However you feel and however you rebel, you are secure before the throne of God.  I’ve got you.

I offer to God the perfect praise, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect obedience, in your name and on your behalf.

You are more than forgiven Lucy.  Your sins have been covered, cleansed and removed as far as the east is from the west.  My work on the cross was complete.  There’s nothing between you and God now.  Only me.  And I am keeping you together.  I will do that forever – I will never leave you or forsake you.

When you feel unable to pray – I am praying for you.
When you feel far from God – I am lifting you to Him.
When you wallow in the darkness – I’ve got you in the light.
When you sin – I am bearing the wounds of your forgiveness.
When you cut – I am robing you in righteousness and love.

I am yours forever,
Jesus

The Priesthood of Christ lifts us out of ourselves and allows us to take our eyes off our own stuck-ness.  Even if we don’t feel it, that’s ok.  It’s true.  Far above and beyond our own hearts it is true.  So then, let’s allow ourselves to be told the truth:

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong, a perfect Plea,
A Great High Priest Whose name is love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

John 17 sermon

Posted on by Glen in prayer, sermons, trinity | Leave a comment

John 17

Unfortunately the sermon didn’t record but here are my slides and below are my notes for a recent sermon on John 17:1-19.

JOHN 17:1-19

Split up congregation into 6 groups. Ask each group to address a different “picture”…

WHAT IS YOUR PICTURE OF: GOD, PRAYER, ETERNAL LIFE, GLORY, HOLINESS, THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

GOD

Before the world began: 17:24. The Holy Spirit was also there: 16:15.  Three Persons united in love. A fountain of love opened to the world.
So what? So EVERYTHING. Let me show you…

PRAYER

Not a lonely endeavour. Not doubtful.  John 17:1 High Priestly Prayer. Describe the Day of Atonement.
Christ carrying us on His heart before the Father.  We’re not yelling up to heaven, we’re at God’s right hand, whispering in ear.

ETERNAL LIFE

Eternal life is not a place or a time. Verse 3 – here and now it’s JESUS.
What does this mean? Eternal life is entering God’s family. It begins now, stretches on forever.

Some say “Isn’t it narrow that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?” But no, Jesus is eternal life!

GLORY

What is the highest height of Godness? The deepest depth of deity? Zeus throwing a thunderbolt?
No – v2-5: The Father sending His Son. The cross. v2-5

You might find it difficult to comprehend the love of the trinity before the world began – you’re not alone. None of us can really wrap our heads around it. But Jesus says He can show us what it looks like. It looks like the cross. John 10:17 – “the reason the Father loves Him is He lays down His life.” Life poured out is the eternal essence of God. The Lamb at the centre of the throne (Rev 7:17) This God is for you with every drop of His blood. Don’t you want this God?

HOLINESS

Not a nose in the air or a back turned to the world. NO! A face towards the world. v17-19
Of course! God = an outgoing community of self-giving love. Godliness looks exactly the same.

CHRISTIAN LIFE

The Christian life is not an upgrade to first class. It’s not a burden, plodding along. There are two realities to consider with the Christian life.  Verse 14-16: The World, the Flesh and the Devil! But also (v1-5) Christ our High Priest.
Question: Are we in the world or in Christ? Answer: Both!  (16:33)

So then, how to live?
We cling onto Christ’s WORD: (8,13,14). The word brings joy because by the Spirit it communicates the Father’s love for the Son – a love which is ours in Christ.

Persistence in Prayer – Luke 18:1-17

Posted on by Glen in prayer, sermons | 1 Comment

Luke 18

SERMON TEXT

SERMON AUDIO

 


 

Psalm 143 sermon

Posted on by glenscriv in prayer, sermons | 1 Comment

Psalm 143

TEXT

POWERPOINT

AUDIO

…The Book of Psalms is Jesus’ prayer journal. But don’t worry, He’s very happy for us to be reading His prayer journal. It’s not confidential. We’re meant to own these prayers ourselves and the Spirit helps us to pray Jesus’s prayers to the Father.

This is such a relief. Because, just speaking for myself, I’m very bad at praying. And when I feel desperate and faint and spiritually thirsty, I’m just no good at articulating that, whether before God or anyone else for that matter.

So, how wonderful to know that Jesus has felt those things Himself. He knows what it is to be flat on His face in desperation, sweating blood, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He knows about betrayal and loss and excruciating pain. He knows about the valley of the shadow of death. He knows how it feels to be utterly ashamed, utterly alone, utterly godforsaken.  God the Son knows ALL these feelings.

More than this, He knows how to pray through them. And here are those prayers. What a relief! Because we’re terrible at praying. Yet Jesus prays for us. And then He says, “Why don’t you join in? Why don’t you pray my prayers? I’ll give you my Spirit to help you, and now you pray to God like I pray to God. I call God “Abba, Father”, why don’t you call God what I call God? And why don’t you pray to God what I pray to God? I’ll even give you a whole prayer book of 150 prayers – they cover EVERY situation. So use my prayers, the Spirit will help you and my Father will hear you.”…

Incredible Sermon on Preaching (and it’s all about prayer)

Posted on by glenscriv in prayer, preaching, sermons | 12 Comments

Levy

Steve Levy on Ephesians 6:19-20; Ezekiel 37

If you preach, please listen, and pray.

If you listen to preaching, please listen, and pray.

If you know someone who preaches, please pass it on.

So they can listen. And pray.

I firmly believe that evangelicalism would be revolutionized if we had a true theology of preaching. This sermon both models and exhorts us towards that kind of proclamation. And prayer.

It’s not about rules it’s about Working Hard at My Relationship With God…

Posted on by glenscriv in gospel, pastoral theology, prayer | 11 Comments

It’s happened three times in the last three weeks, so let me give you a composite account of the conversations…

— [Embarrassed biting of lip] Umm… I know I should know the answer to this… And I feel really silly for bringing it up.  I realise it’s, like, really basic… but it’s been bugging me for ages now:  How do I Have A Relationship With God?

— What do you mean?

— Well I know it’s not about rules.  I keep hearing that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.  Well, ok.  But how do I Have A Relationship With God?  It sounds so stupid that I should ask that.  I know this is Christianity 101.  It makes me wonder whether I’m even a Christian.  But when people talk about “having a relationship with God”, I kinda know what they mean.  But I’m not sure I have what they’re talking about.  What are they talking about?

— To be honest, I don’t really know what they’re talking about.  And I wonder if they know what they’re talking about.

Yes, that’s really how I’ve been answering this question.  Really.

Which will make you wonder whether I’m even a Christian.  I mean honestly, who could possibly be against having a relationship with God??

Well I’m not against enjoying the gift of relationship with God.  But I’m dead set against definitions of Christianity that throw the spotlight on me and my relationship with God.  That might sound like a trivial difference.  Actually it’s all the difference in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the living God – a personal God – I hear Him in His word, I speak to Him in prayer.  I enjoy fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Honest, I do.  It’s great.  All a wonderful gift that’s mine in Jesus.  Fantastic.

But if I have to “have a relationship with God” then I’m stuffed.  Seriously.  I’m hell-fodder if ‘relationship with God’ is up to me.

Let’s put the exact same truth in slightly different terms and you’ll see what I mean:  I love the law. It describes the good life of loving God and loving neighbour.  Brilliant.  And I have performed good works which the Father has prepared in advance for me to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).  And that’s been a lot of fun.  Yay law.  Yay works.  Yay.  But if I ever start talking about ‘the heart of Christianity’ as ‘me obeying the law’ then let me be accursed!  If I ever say “People get the wrong idea about Christianity, it’s not about ancient rituals, it’s actually all about legal obedience” – you’ll instantly realize my error.  Well, it’s just the same when you say “It’s not about being religious, it’s about Having A Relationship With God.”

And you’ll say – No, Glen, you’ve got it backwards.  Religion is about rules – yuck.  But Christianity is a totally different thing.  It’s all about relationship.  It’s not the same thing at all!

To which I’ll say – Really?

Really??

I understand that the essence of Christianity is not my outward works (so far, so good) – but then I’m commonly told that it’s about the quality of my inner devotional life towards God.  Do you see what’s happened?  We’ve come to a different swamp, but we’re still sunk.  We’re still lost in ‘works righteousness’, it’s just there’s a different flavour to the ‘works’.  Before it was all about outward, ritualistic hoops.  Now I’m being told it’s all about inward, pietistic hoops.

Well Hallelujah!  Don’t you feel the chains just falling off you?  Rejoice, you don’t have to perform physical acts, only mental and spiritual ones! Is that the freedom the gospel brings?

No, it’s just a different kind of slavery.  And in some ways, it’s an even deeper slavery.  That’s why Christians, furtively, secretly, wonder to themselves (and sometimes they wonder it aloud to visiting Christian speakers) What is this Relationship With God I keep being told to manufacture?  And why is it spoken of as liberating when all I feel is condemned by it??

Because, seriously, who on earth can have “a relationship with God”?  Where would you even begin?

Look at the person in that photo at the top. Are you like them? Can you do what they’re doing?

And if you could manage it, what, precisely, would be the point of Jesus?  Do we really need “the One Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”?  Is He actually crucial to our Christianity?  Or perhaps He just gets us in the door and then leaves us to get on with the main work of Christianity: having a relationship with God?  Is that it?

No! The priesthood of Jesus is absolutely vital to understand. And this is what I’ve told my questioners when they’ve asked. The good news is this: We, by nature, are sunk in self and sin and have no chance of a relationship with God. But Christ is our Mediator who became Man for us, who lived our life for us, died our death for us and rose again to the Father’s right hand for us. He now lives to intercede for us, carrying us on His heart the way Aaron carried the sons of Israel on his (Exodus 28:29).

Jesus is the true David – the true Man after God’s own heart. Now, by the Spirit, I am swept up into Him – carried on His heart while He enjoys the ultimate heart-to-heart. I am included in the true God-Man relationship – not because of any devotional aptitude or inclination on my part. It is a sheer gift of grace given freely in Jesus.

I have a relationship with God. The good news is that it’s not my own relationship, which would be as fickle as my feelings. No the relationship I have with God is Christ’s relationship with God.

Some don’t like this way of speaking.  They think it diminishes a warm and personal walk with God. The opposite is the case. To know that I have Christ’s relationship with the Father is where my personal walk begins. Secure in Jesus I can enjoy my status as a child of God. I can even join in with the Spirit’s constant prayer: “Abba, Father.” But none of this is a relationship I must manufacture. It’s the grace in which – FACT – I now stand through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:1-2).

So this is what I said to my questioners. Don’t look within, trying to find a relationship with God. You won’t find it in you. Look to Christ – your Mediator, Advocate, Intercessor and Priest. He is your relationship with God. To the degree that you know you’re on His heart, you’ll feel Him in yours.

Memorialist Prayer

Posted on by glenscriv in pastoral theology, prayer | 5 Comments

Previously I’ve blurted out some thoughts on memorialist sex and memorialist preaching.

In both (as with memorialist communion) there is an unhelpful divorce between the physical act and an internal realm: where ‘the action’ really happens.

In sex it leads to a proliferation of fantasy sex (porn) and/or a growing uncomfortability with the physical act.  The mechanics of sex put us off and we retreat into remembrances of the real thing.  All the while, the pressure for sex to be “mind-blowing” makes actual love-making less and less likely.

In preaching it leads to sermons that offer the raw materials of gospel proclamation but there’s no belief in the ‘real presence’ of Christ ‘in, with and under’ the preacher’s words.  Preaching does not hand over Christ, it merely calls truths to mind and leaves the congregation to piece it together in their own internal worlds.

Here’s another area, ripe for the divorce between physical acts and the real meaning: prayer.  Let me ask you some questions:

How do you feel about prayer beads?  Why?

Do you close your eyes when you pray? Why?

Do you pray silently? Why?

There is an explicit reference to silent prayer in the bible.  Hannah came to the temple to pray for a child:

Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli [the Priest] took her to be a drunken woman.  (1 Samuel 1:13)

The High Priest thought only a drunk would pray silently!  He was wrong of course.  But it’s interesting what his expectations were.  And it’s interesting how our expectations have almost completely inverted.  Prayer, for us, is a silent and utterly internal act.  As with communion, as with sex, as with preaching, apparently all the action happens between our ears.

And when we do physically pray (especially with others) we find our prayers are peppered with “Just… really… Lord… hmmmm…. Just…. Just…   LORD…  HMMMM…. Really….”  We know we’re praying but we feel that… really… you know… we should… REALLY… MEAN IT!  We feel that prayer is one thing but the main thing is a “spiritual” frame of mind – one which becomes increasingly difficult to muster.

Are you the same?  When I pray with others I “hmm” along, as is our evangelical wont, I say ‘Amen’ but still I sense a lack of emotional intensity in my soul. So I attach a silent addendum to the prayer-time: “Lord, Really. I meant that one. Please.  Mmm.”  Is it just me?

I’m tempted to think that the act of praying is one thing, but on top of that there’s a pressure.  A pressure to really mean my prayers.  And so I leave prayer meetings with furrowed brows and sage nods and an intangible fear that I wasn’t ‘engaged’ enough.  Perhaps – Oh dear – I was just ‘going through the motions.’

But I wonder whether I’m labouring under a pretty serious misapprehension.  Maybe I’m imagining that my prayers themselves establish a connection between myself and the Father.  Perhaps I’ve been duped into thinking my prayers must make the journey to the throne of grace.  In which case, they’d better be good!  They better be sent up with a fair bit of impetus.  What kind of thrust do rockets need to escape the earth’s gravitational pull?  Well surely I need to match that intensity – emotionally speaking!

But what if my prayers don’t travel to the throne of grace.  What if Christ has already made that journey?  What if I’m not shouting up to heaven.  What if I’m at the Father’s right hand – whispering in His ear?  What if my prayers go, not in my name, but in Jesus’ name?  What if their efficacy is not determined by my heart towards God, but Christ’s heart?  What if the Spirit is Himself praying within me (Gal 4:6)?  What if I genuinely have the Father’s ear before and apart from any of my “prayer-righteousness”?

Then I can just pray.  I can take the focus off my internal world, and simply speak to my heavenly Father.  Of course, as I do that, I might just find myself “really meaning” my prayers.  Great!  When you understand the real presence of Christ in the Supper, you’re free to commune with Him in your heart.  When you understand the real connection which sex brings, you’re free to commune with each other in a personal way.  When you understand the real presence of Christ in the sermon, you’re free to receive Him powerfully in your pew.  But it’s got to start with the reality.

Prayer really connects with God – not because you really connect with God but because Christ does.  Prayer really works, but it works apart from any of your fickle feelings.  So, speak to your Father and rest your confidence, not on your own heart, but on Christ’s.

So the High Priest shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.  (Exodus 28:29)

 

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