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My friend Paul Hawkins has written a cracker on the altar of incense.  Enjoy!

Read Exodus 30:1-10, 34-38

I wonder how many of us are in something like a prayer triplet, getting together with say two other Christians to pray together?

CAUGHT UP IN THE TRINITY

Exodus 30 is a great chapter on prayer.  We’re in the middle of the tabernacle, this massive multimedia picture of heaven and earth.  And inside the tabernacle were three pieces of furniture described back in Exodus 25.  The ark, symbolising the throne of God the Father. The table of the Presence, symbolising God the Son, present with us.  And the lamp-stand, a picture of God the Holy Spirit, shining to the world.

But there was one other piece of furniture in the tabernacle, only one, which was the altar of incense.  In verses 1-3 we see it was quite small, it was made of wood covered with gold and if we look on to verse 6, Moses is told

“Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the Testimony—before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony—where I will meet with you.”

That means it would have stood right in the middle of those other three things, symbolically in the middle of Father, Son and Spirit.

So what’s this altar, and this incense, all about – what’s it a picture of?  Well we’re told in a number of places and one of them is Revelation chapter 8 verse 3, which says an angel

came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.”

The prayers of all the saints.  That’s us!  It’s as if the Father the Son and the Spirit are at three corners of a triangle and we and our prayers are right in the middle.  Here’s the original prayer triplet, God himself, and the glorious reality is that if we’re Christians we are surrounded by him.

OUR PRAYERS RISE TO GOD’S THRONE

I don’t know what sort of terms you’re on with Her Majesty the Queen.  If I gave her a call I think I might just struggle to get put through.  But with prayer, it’s not just that we can get through to God if we call him up – if we sort-of throw up a few prayers.  No, we’re in the centre of his life, we’re family, it’s like we’re with the Queen in her living room, and she’s saying, how’s it going – what’s on your mind?

And prayer is how we live out this family life caught up in God.  Look down at verses 7 and 8 – Aaron burned incense (so think: prayers of the saints) every morning and evening, regularly before the Lord.  Verse 9, he didn’t come with a sacrifice or another offering or anything, no just incense, prayer.  Prayer is our expression of the divine life.

THE LAMB’S BLOOD MAKES US WELCOME

So how is it that we can share in God’s life – how come we’re caught up in this divine prayer triplet? Well verse 10 talks about atonement being made with the blood of the atoning sin offering, it says it’s most holy to the Lord.  Isn’t that the heart of the message of the cross, where the Lord God himself, gave his own blood to make us holy.  His passion gives us his life.

And do we see how that means we are very welcome as he brings us into the throne-room of God?  Very welcome.

OUR PRAYERS SMELL SWEET TO GOD

So what does God think of our prayers?  Well what’s this incense like?  Looking on to verse 34 we see – it’s fragrant!

What’s your favourite smell?  I was thinking mine might be fresh raspberries – gorgeous.  Well these spices here have sweet and powerful aromas and as they rise to the Lord they’re verse 37 holy to him, verse 38 they’re enjoyable – no-one’s allowed to copy them for their own enjoyment, no they’re for the Lord’s enjoyment.  So when we pray, God thinks, “… what’s that lovely smell?  Ah, the incense, the prayers of my saints, how wonderful!”

Isn’t that amazing? … Not that there’s anything in us that makes our prayers smell nice – no, it’s because we’re caught up in this sweet fragrant life of God himself – God the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and prays, for us (Romans 8), he takes our feeble prayers and wraps them up in Jesus.

SO LET’S PRAY

So what do you find hard about prayer?  I mean, we all do, don’t we?  I think for me I too often spend my time worrying, thinking, “how am I gonna cope?” instead of bringing everything to the Lord.  Maybe someone is reading and thinking “my prayers are just so rubbish” or “I’m too bad, surely God can’t accept my prayers.”

No, if we’re in Christ, the wonderful news to grasp is that God the Father is delighted with our prayers.  Next time we smell a lovely fragrant aroma, let’s think to ourselves – “that’s how God thinks of my prayers”.

So let’s pray – how often is prayer the last thing we think of, not the first thing we do – maybe it’s time to join a prayer triplet, let’s take every opportunity to pray.  We’re locked into the life of God, and the immeasurable resources of the Godhead are ready and waiting.

What a friend we have in Jesus.  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

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When studying the Lord's prayer it's common to think about the character of God that's assumed in the prayer: i.e. Father, in heaven, holy, etc, etc.

What about the character of the one praying it?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Childlike
  • Reverent
  • Expectant
  • Guileless
  • Obedient
  • No agenda of our own
  • Desperate
  • Dependent for all things
  • Confident of mercy
  • Acknowledging sin
  • Repentant
  • Merciful
  • Having a deep appreciation of grace
  • A follower
  • Hating sin and temptation
  • At war with the evil one
  • Sheltering in the Lord's deliverance

Three thoughts:

1) I want to be this person.

2) Jesus has made me this person (John 16:23-27)  The Father regards me as this very person, clothed in my Advocate. I not only pray in and through Jesus but with Him.

3) As I pray, resting in the intercession of Jesus, I am increasingly living up to what I've already attained in Him.

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Genesis 18:20-33

God is a Haggler.  He wants us to haggle.

What do we feel about that?

Here's a website offering to take the cringe factor out of your financial exchanges.  Instead of negotiating with a real, live human being, you can simply click a button in the privacy of our own home.

Are you from a haggling culture?

I wonder whether the way we shop and the way we pray are linked.  I'm used to fixed prices, no negotiations, no back and forth, no give and take, in and out in 18 seconds, the less chat the better.  And my prayers?  Are they just as clean and clinical?  Do I know what it is to haggle with God?

Here's audio from a 10 minute talk for our prayer meeting last night.

Click below for the rest of the text.

...continue reading "God is a Haggler"

From last night's sermon on Galatians 4:6:

A new year has begun, it’s often a time when we assess our Christian lives and think about how they’re going.  If I were to ask you ‘how is your prayer life going?’ How would you respond?

If you belong to Jesus, you can look me in the eye and tell me ‘My prayer life is unimprovable’.  How’s your prayer life? ‘My prayer life is divine.’

I am clothed in the Son of God and His prayer-life is pretty darned good.  And Galatians 4 verse 6 tells me that the Spirit of the Son is in me.  And what is He doing?  He is praying!

What is He praying?  He is praying the prayer of Jesus to the Father.  ‘Abba, Father’ is Jesus’ own prayer – He prayed it in the Garden of Gethsemane – it’s Jesus’ own prayer “Abba, Father.”  (Mark 14:36)  And the Spirit OF THE SON is praying that prayer from within ME.

I’m not just invited to pray, I am already caught up in the prayer life of God.  The Spirit is already praying Jesus’ perfect prayer IN me and praying it to the Father.

The Spirit is praying from within you right now, ‘Abba, Father, Abba, Father, Abba, Father’ – it’s as constant as your heart-beat.  ‘Abba, Father’ – that is your spiritual pulse.  The Spirit of the Son calling out to your Father from the depth of your being.

And those words ‘Abba, Father’ – they are not just the first line of a prayer.  ‘Abba, Father’ is the essence of prayer.  It is resting like a needy child in the arms of a strong and loving Heavenly Father.

And all our little prayers that we say (when we get around to it) – they are the ‘Amen’ to the Spirit’s continual prayer.  We’re always late to prayers – did you know that?  However early you get up in the morning – the Spirit has been up earlier, and He’s been praying in you.  You join in late and add your own Amen.

And as we go on in the Christian life, the Spirit of the Son will help our little prayers to become more child-like, so that more and more we call out “Daddy” the way He does (Rom 8:15).  And then we stop praying like slaves and start praying like sons.

Every time I forget I’m a son, I start praying like a slave and it kills my prayer life.  I pray like I’m a slave and He’s a slave-master, like I’m a soldier and He’s a commanding officer.  But Jesus didn’t teach us to pray ‘Our Sergeant-Major in Heaven’ or ‘Our Line Manager in Heaven’  – instead: Our Father in Heaven.

We need to be little children in prayer and thankfully the Spirit of the Son makes us exactly that and helps us to pray child-like prayers where we depend on our heavenly Dad.

Our own attempts at praying won’t be very good but, wonderfully, the Spirit takes even our most rubbish efforts at prayer and wraps them up in the Son’s perfect prayer and lifts them the to the Father.

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I've been listening to sermons from the web on Luke 14.  It's Jesus at a banquet.  He heals on the Sabbath, He teaches about refusing the seats of honour, He calls us to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner and He speaks of the kingdom as a great feast.  Wonderful stuff.

But do you know, in all the sermons I've listened to from the web, what's been the number one application of Luke 14??  Quiet times!  From both UK and US pastors, the predominant take-home message was 'make sure you get alone with God every day.'  I'm not going to name names but I listened to some big hitters.  And they preached on the feast.  The feast where Jesus tells us to throw feasts and then speaks of the kingdom as a feast.  And what's their conclusion: 'We need to get on our own more!'

??!

Usually the logic was: Don't take the places of honour => Therefore get humble => Therefore get on your knees => Therefore commit to quiet times.

Now there were two notable exceptions:  John Piper was good.  And so was the Australian (obviously!) Mike Frost.  (Those two aren't usually positively lumped together but there you are).  But the rest took Luke 14 and boiled it down into some very individualistic applications.

Now I'm all in favour of ensuring that our doing flows from a lively relationship with Christ.  But why does that equate to 'getting alone with God'??  I mean how do we get from the feast to the prayer closet??  Are conservative evangelicals that afraid of getting our hands dirty in mission, in rubbing shoulders with the poor, crippled, blind and lame?  Are we that individualistic and moralistic?

Anyway...  I do think a healthy relationship with Christ means talking and listening to Him daily.  But why is the quiet time the touch-stone of evangelical spirituality?  Why is it the default application for every sermon?  Why do we reach for the privatized exhortations so readily?

And how many times have I heard Robert Murray McCheyne's daunting challenge:

What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.

I mean it's right to be challenged by that.  But is it true?  And is it right to aim for this as the very model and highpoint of Christian maturity?  What about: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  (John 13:35)

I dunno.  Bit of a rant really.  What do you think?

Here's the Luke 14 sermon I ended up preaching.

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Ok, I'll get off the subject soon enough.  Just a little test for us all, inspired by Heather's comment.

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My Name humble themselves, and pray and seek My Face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. ” 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

"Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."  James 5:17-18

So what causes climate change, pollutants or prayer?

Cue howls of disbelief.  Choruses of "medieval superstition!"  Derisive laughter...

Yeah, yeah.  Get it out of your system.  But seriously...  Which is it?  Pollutants or prayer?

And of course you say, 'It's not an either-or.'

Well... even when it is a both-and, it's by no means a symmetrical 'both-and' is it?  Prayer can change the climate quite apart from the levels of Co2 in the atmosphere.

And really - who's running this show?  Christ or carbon?

Cue more mocking and incredulity.  I hear your protests: 'Don't be ridiculous Glen, typical overstatement!  The sovereign Lord still works via means and agents.  He might well say to the waters 'This far and no further' but He uses gravity to do the job.  Same with climate.  He's Lord of climate change, but He oversees it according to cycles and seasons and constants and laws.'

Mmmm fine.  That's what I thought you were going to say.  I just wanted to see how quickly you said it.  As a matter of interest, how immediate was your 'Yeah, but...'?

I'll probably agree with your 'Yeah, but...'  I just want to know how quickly it snapped into place.  I want to know how strongly it rose to the surface.  Because in my heart and mind it springs like a steel trap.

And the place it springs from is not my training in historic reformed Christianity.  Oh I can happily use Calvinism to justify it (secondary causes and all that).  But I'm pretty sure it springs from enlightenment sources, not reformational ones.

You see I read 2 Chronicles 7, lodge its truths in some cerebral filing cabinet under 'theology', and then return to the real world where principles and programmes and professors and pollutants rule the roost.  In the real world iron laws grind out our predicatable fate.  And the only difference between us and the 'enlightened' secularist is that we know the name of the One pulling the levers.  Right?

Sheesh... Of course by the time you've made peace with this view - the name of the One pulling the levers is so immaterial to the discussion you can afford to drop it entirely.  And nothing really changes.  Because, let's face it, we we basically reckon the levers pull themselves.  Right?

And so here's my little test.  Can you say this sentence out loud and for ten minutes refuse every urge in you to clamp down with your 'Yeah, but...':

Ultimately, prayer changes the climate, not pollutants.

Can you linger on this for a full ten minutes?  Can you mull over all its radical implications?

Christ not carbon is the determining factor

Here's the deal - if you can remove yourself from the deistic clockwork universe for ten minutes and feel the immediacy and Personality of the biblical universe, I'll let you go to Copenhagen.

Fair?

Ok, off you go.  But I warn you, it's a lot harder than it sounds.

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Close your eyes.

Imagine yourself kneeling at the side of Christ's throne, head on His chest, His arm around your shoulder.

Christ is speaking.  He's addressing His Father.

And this is what He's saying: Psalm 119.

Listen in. This really is the one thing you must do.  Listen.

Add your Amens and your Thankyous as He speaks.

Find a verse or phrase to hide in your heart for today.

Pray the Lord's prayer.

Stand up and walk into your day.

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Close your eyes.

Imagine yourself kneeling at the side of Christ's throne, head on His chest, His arm around your shoulder.

Christ is speaking.  He's addressing His Father.

And this is what He's saying: Psalm 119.

Listen in. This really is the one thing you must do.  Listen.

Add your Amens and your Thankyous as He speaks.

Find a verse or phrase to hide in your heart for today.

Pray the Lord's prayer.

Stand up and walk into your day.

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Wednesday afternoon bible study.  Hebrews 4:14-16 - "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence..."

Sheila pipes up with my favourite bible study comment ever:

Well of course I'm going to approach with confidence.  I mean the blinking devil waltzes into God's throne room doesn't he?!  What a nerve!  Blasted devil walks straight in.  Well if Satan's got that much cheek, there's no way I'm gonna have less.

Job 1:6
Job 1:6

Wednesday afternoon bible study.  Hebrews 4:14-16 - "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence..."

Sheila pipes up with my favourite bible study comment ever:

Well of course I'm going to approach with confidence.  I mean the blinking devil waltzes into God's throne room doesn't he?!  What a nerve!  Blasted devil walks straight in.  Well if Satan's got that much cheek, there's no way I'm gonna have less.

Job 1:6
Job 1:6
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