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Habits of Grace -- Week 4

Habits of Grace -- Week 4

 This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Pastor Mike Sandberg shares some reflections on Chapter 7 and 8. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

Overcoming the Inertia of Prayerlessness

As I read chapters seven and eight on the discipline of prayer in David Mathis' Habits of Grace, I was pointedly reminded that my bookshelves are full of books on prayer.  In fact I have one shelf that is two rows deep on the subject.  I have all the best writers speaking to me on all the secrets to prayer – books by E.M. Bounds, Samuel Chadwick, R.A. Torrey, Rufus Jones, F.B. Meyer, George Mueller, J. Oswald Sanders, and the list goes on. And honestly, I have read nearly all of them.  I know more about prayer than is probably good for me. I am captivated by the wonder and mystery of prayer as I read the accounts of answered prayer in the lives of Mueller, Sanders, Torrey and others.  I am energized to pray when I read the accounts of men like John Hyde whose passion for prayer and his devotion to it, earned him the nickname, 'Praying Hyde'.1 Or Edward Payson, of whom it was said, "He prayed without ceasing and felt safe nowhere but at the throne of grace” and whose knees wore deep grooves in the hardwood floors next to his bed where he prayed.2

Yet, like most of you I suspect, actually praying is altogether another story.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, “The act of praying is the highest energy of which the human mind is capable...The great mass of worldly men and of the learned men are absolutely incapable of prayer.” However, it is not that I feel incapable of prayer.  It is rather that I find myself trapped in the inertia of prayerlessness so much of the time.  And I continually find myself needing to fight the daily battle against that inertia.  I know that on the other side of prayerlessness lies a country of great liberty and joy and power in communion with Jesus.  I know too, that my progress in the faith will never grow beyond my progress in this discipline of prayer.  On the one hand, prayer is this incredible privilege we've been granted to have the ear of the Almighty.  On the other hand, our natural disposition and character work to keep us from that privilege. And if you have struggled as I have with this inertia, you've come to the realization that we need to discipline ourselves for the purpose of prayer.  To that end, let me share with you three little thoughts that have greatly helped me in this battle.

Start the day with prayer. 

John Bunyan wrote,“He who runs from God in the morning, will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”3  The prayerbook of the Bible, the Psalms, are full of references to coming to the place of prayer first thing in the day. Psalm 5 says, “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”  Psalm 63 records the heart cry of King David as he says, 'O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you...' And the earnestly here carries the sense of 'diligently and early'. In other words, David was serious about finding God first thing in the morning.  The habit of Jesus was to rise early in the day, while it was still dark, to go out to the place of prayer.4  The best way to break out of the inertia of prayerlessness is to start the day with prayer. “If in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door back and let God in, every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God”.5

Linger longer in the place of prayer. 

E.M. Bounds encourages us: “Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying…God does not bestow His gifts upon the casual or hasty comers and goers.”6  In Exodus 33, Moses prayed, ‘Lord show me Your glory.”  His one great ambition was to see the glory of the Lord.  And so he spent time with the Lord on the mountain.7 The Bible says he lingered on the mountain.  And when he came down he was shining with the light of God’s presence.  It took time for Moses to soak in the glory of God and return transformed.  It takes time for us as well. Satan will communicate frantically with us in order to convince us we don’t need to pray much. He will even make us feel good about just praying a little.  But it is time spent in God's presence that transforms us. That I think was the thought on Paul's heart as he wrote, “But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18 NASB)  It is time spent in prayer that unveils our face to the transforming glory of the Lord.

Overcome the tyranny of the urgent.

The enemy of our soul hates prayer and one of his strategies is to flood our mind with all the things we need to do the moment we go to our knees. More times than I would like to admit my prayer time has been ambushed by endless lists of urgent tasks that otherwise would have gone unnoticed and undone. But the simple act of kneeling down in prayer brings them all rushing in like a whirlwind.  If we are to pray effectively, we need to stand against the tyranny of the urgent, and refuse to be derailed. Samuel Chadwick once observed: “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”8 
 
If we are to break out of the inertia of prayerlessness, we need to be constantly encouraged to pray, both through the word of God, and through the words of men.  And I was greatly encouraged this week as I read in chapter seven of Habits of Grace, these words: “The speaking God not only has spoken, but he also listens – he stops, he stoops, he wants to hear from you. He stands ready to hear your voice. Christian, you have the ear of God. We call it prayer."9 What a high and awesome privilege!  We have God's ear. Christian, be encouraged to pray. Start with prayer. Linger longer. Refuse to be derailed.

 

1 http://www1.cbn.com/prayerandcounseling/profiles-in-prayer%3A-praying-john-hyde
2 http://www.evanwiggs.com/revival/portrait/payson.html
3 https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/326878-he-who-runs-from-god-in-the-morning-will-scarcely
4 Mark 1:35 ESV
5 Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, August 23
6 E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, (Whitaker House, 1982), 43.
7 Deuteronomy 10:10 NASB
8 https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1148687.Samuel_Chadwick
9 David Mathis, Habits of Grace, Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, (Crossway, Wheaton, Ill., 2016) 94.

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How Then Shall We Live?

How Then Shall We Live?

 

 

In a 5-to-4 decision this past week, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that states cannot ban so-called same-sex marriages. In effect they have redefined marriage and legalized, institutionalized, and normalized what the Bible calls sin, and what every culture, past and present, has recognized, at least at some point, as abnormal, perverted and socially unacceptable behavior. Reactions have been loud and passionate on both sides of the issue, and it has been difficult to step back and get perspective on the thing. But we need to try.

 

We should not be surprised that we find ourselves here today. We have been on a trajectory that finds us as a society endorsing, approving and now legalizing something that I would contend was unthinkable even 10 years ago in most people's minds. But if we are surprised, it is only because we have not been paying attention. If you go back to 1962 and the decision to eliminate prayer in our public schools, you can draw a straight line from that point to this. We have consistently taught our children that God is not to be worshipped and honored and adored. We have carefully indoctrinated them to believe that their own pleasures and wishes and desires are paramount, and the most important pursuit in life is the pursuit of self.

 

We told our children in 1962 that God needs to be kept out of certain areas of our lives. We reinforced that by removing His word as the pillar of truth in our schools. We told them that Bible is an error-filled, man-made book that has no relevance today and we shouldn't be shoving Christianity down people's throats. And then we began teaching them that they are products of random chance, accidents of a capricious universe that suddenly sprang somehow into existence, and there really was no purpose to their existence. Eventually we told them that human life was not all that sacred and it was okay to kill babies. We taught them that it was more important to save the whales than save the babies.

 

So this is not a surprise. The children we taught to walk away from God, to shake their fists at Him, have grown up exactly as intended, and learned exactly what we as a society have taught them, and are taking things to their logical end. If you read Romans chapter one this is what you see. It begins with a suppression of the truth and a denial and dishonoring of God and ends with people who are given over by God to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.

 

In 2003, when the Ten Commandments monument resting in the Alabama Supreme Court building was found to be in violation of the Constitution and removed, my first thought was 'When the law of God is no longer our foundation, anything is possible'. And here we are. These are dark days indeed. Not just for Christians, but for everyone, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, athiest, Buddhist, Jew, New Age, Wiccan, agnostic, everyone. We do not fully understand the disaster this landmark decision portends. We cannot even imagine the havoc this will wreak on the fabric of our society.

 

But we will not wring our hands in despair, or circle the wagons and fort up. Now more than ever, the grace that won our hearts to Christ must envelope the sin that confronts us. In one sense, everything has changed. But in another sense, nothing has changed. Jesus died for heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners and the glad tidings of the gospel are still the glad tidings of the gospel.

 

God is still on the throne and He governs everything under the sun. It is just that now the canvas of the world has become that much darker for the light of the gospel to shine that much brighter. Christians will still be reviled, only now we will be thrown into jail for hate speech. We will still be marginalized, and persecuted and hated, much like the Author of our salvation. But we will still proclaim the good news of the gospel, because only the gospel has the power to change the hearts of men and the course of nations. We will still continue to uphold marriage as God intended it to be, one man and one woman. We will continue to speak the truth in love and love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us, and bless those who curse us. God’s truth has not changed. His word is eternal. Our mission in the world has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

Our gracious God and heavenly Father,

 

We ask that in these dark days of open rebellion and the flood of evil that threatens to undo us, that you would grant Your people the joy and hope and strength to be the beacons of light and salvation to an unbelieving and hostile world. Let us be the instruments of Your grace to bring the light of the glorious gospel to those who now oppose You. Let the love of God that sent His only Son into the world to save those who hated Him be our standard and our guide. Grant that we would weep over the lost and dying in the world and make it our ambition to lead them to Christ. And if they be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go unwarned and unprayed for. Give us hearts as big as the world for Your name's sake and Your glory we pray in Jesus' precious name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Biblical "Terror Texts" & Gender Roles (pt. 2)

Biblical "Terror Texts" & Gender Roles (pt. 2)

In Part 1 of our series we introduced how Texts of Terror has come to mean anything in the Bible that collides with our cherished and vigorously guarded, western values of personal freedom and personal choice. In today's post we will examine 1 Cor. 14:26-35, one of several texts that challenge how we understand gender roles.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is dealing with order in the church service (because the Corinthian church apparently was rather disorderly and chaotic) and starting with verse 26 he says:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three,  and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.


As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.


It does appear at first glance that Paul is singling out women for censure in the church. 'Tell the women to shut up'. But earlier, in chapter 11, Paul seems to be all for women praying and prophesying out loud in the church (1 Cor. 11:5). So what's going on? Should women speak in church or not?

The only way to understand this seeming contradiction is to understand that God has given men and women distinctly different roles, not only specifically in the church, but generally in life. In other words there are different functions that men and women have that are built in by God. It would be difficult to reconcile these texts any other way.

Based on the Jewish synagogue model, the early church would often have several speakers who would stand up, read the Scriptures and expound on them. The ruling body of the church, a group of men called elders, would then pass judgment on what was said; either saying 'Amen – that is true' to the exposition, or calling all of it or parts of it into question. And contrary to the male dominated Jewish synagogue, women were given a voice in the Christian church. They could be the ones to stand and deliver as it were.

What they could not do was to either give the 'Amen' or dispute the expositor. In other words, the authority in the church was given to men, not women. And it was not even all the men, just the elders. That is why Paul could write that anyone, man or woman, could stand up and share a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation, then in the same paragraph say, 'Let the women keep silent in the church'.

He finishes with the explanation that a woman's role in the church is different. Not inferior, just different, because a woman's role is submission, not headship. And that is a whole other topic.

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Biblical "Terror Texts" & Gender Roles (pt. 1)

Biblical "Terror Texts" & Gender Roles (pt. 1)

 

Some of the biggest stories and debates in the news in the past year or two, have had to do with gender, and gender roles; LGBT rights, women in the workplace, parenting styles, gay parental rights, and more. Same-sex marriage gained greater public approval and legal status than ever this past year, both in public opinion polling and as a matter of federal law. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg (no relation) told women to "lean in" at the office, while the military told women they were now permitted to "lean in" on the battlefield. Bradley Manning became Chelsea Manning. And researchers argued that same-sex unions had a better chance for success than heterosexual unions because of the inherent conflict of gender roles in traditional marriage – in spite of the lack of any conclusive empirical data.

In dealing with gender and gender roles, the dominant cultural narrative today focuses almost exclusively on equality – equality in the workplace, equality in the home, equality in everything. Men and women should be equal in everything, therefore there is really no difference between the sexes, therefore there are no roles exclusive to either men or women. Women can do what men can do; sometimes better, and vice versa – biology aside. So it is not surprising that gender bending, confusion and outright denial of gender roles is the norm today. To even suggest there are God-ordained roles for men and women is to bring down heaps of scorn and vitriolic abuse on your head and label you an ignorant, backwoods, fundamentalist, Christian.

Part of the problem is that some Christians, who may or may not come from the sticks and consider themselves fundamentalists, are ignorant when it comes to what the Bible says about gender and gender roles. And they use what some like to call the “texts of terror” to bolster whatever view they have of the roles of men and women.

The phrase “texts of terror” comes from a book written in 1984 by Phyllis Trible entitled Texts of Terror: Literary Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. In the book Trible reinterprets the tragic stories of four women in ancient Israel, combining the discipline of literary criticism with a feminist hermeneutic to explain these texts; tools wholly inadequate for this task. She tries to paint a picture of a cruel, silent, God of the Bible, and highlights what she sees as the inherent misogyny of Scripture.

But the term "texts of terror" has come to mean anything in the Bible that collides with our cherished and vigorously guarded, western values of personal freedom and personal choice.

When we're talking about gender roles, there seem to be at least four main texts that are given this title, because they teach that there are different roles assigned to men and women, as one critic said, '...seemingly based on genital configuration alone'.

You will find these passages in 1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2 and 3; 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. We don't have the time or space here to deal with all, but in the next post we will look at one of the more puzzling texts about the differing roles of men and women, and how those roles are lived out in the context of the church.


Read Part 2 of this series here.

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