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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Life Grounded in Prayer

Grace before the Meal; Fritz von Uhde (1885)

Alice C. Linsley

Consider the Jewish girl at prayer to whom the Archangel Gabriel appeared with a message that changes everything for her and for all people in all time and space. Then try to convince me there is no power in prayer.

The prayerful Virgin Mother taught us to pray for surely, her Blessed Son learned to pray at her knee as much as in the local synagogue. They teach us to pray for our daily bread, for forgiveness, and for protection from evil.

All life is to be wrapped in prayer. The Lord's Prayer gives us no sense that bread and forgiveness are unrelated or that praying for protection is superstition. That prayer's realistic view of life enhances its potency. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, "What we do when we weed a field is not quite different from what we do when we pray for a good harvest. But there is an important difference all the same." (Work and Prayer)

The day begins with prayer, for we need to clear away the detritus of dreams and the inertia of first light.

Our meals begin with prayer, for we need to be reminded of God's bountiful goodness.

We pray with our children, for they need to learn the words of holy parents.

We pray with our fellow Christians, for we need each other for comfort, strength, and encouragement.

We join in liturgical prayers, giving hardy assent to joint praises and petitions, just as our Jewish Lord did throughout his earthly life.

Those who disdain liturgical prayers as "vain repetition" should count how many times favorite phrases are repeated in the ex tempore prayers of their clergy.

As C.S. Lewis notes, liturgical prayers can set "our devotions free"... and prevent us from "getting too completely eaten up by whatever happens to be the preoccupation of the moment (i.e., war, an election, or what not)."

Lewis notes that in the liturgical prayers of the Church, "The permanent shape of Christianity shows through." (Letters to Malcolm, 1 April 1952) 

Note how that permanent shape is expressed in these liturgical prayers.

Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Antiochian Orthodox)

Heavenly King, Paraclete, Spirit of truth, 
present in all places and filling all things, 
Treasury of good and Master of life; 
come and dwell within us, cleanse us from all stain, and save our souls.

Prayer of Humble Access (Anglican)

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, 
O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, 
but in thy manifold and great mercies. 
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. 
But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: 
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, 
so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, 
and to drink his blood, 
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, 
and our souls washed through his most precious blood, 
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen

Liturgy of Malabar (Oriental Orthodox)

Holy art thou, God, the Father of Truth,
from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named;
holy also is thine Only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
by whom all things were made;
holy also is the Spirit, the giver of all truth,
by whom all are sanctified.
Woe to me! Woe to me!
for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips
and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.
How terrible is this place today,
wherein the Lord is seen face to face!
Let thy mercy be upon us, O Lord, cleanse our defilement,
sanctify our lips, and let the voices of our foolishness mingle 
with the praises of seraphim and archangels glorifying thy love:
for herein thou hast associated mortal men with spirits.
With these heavenly hosts then,
we, thy poor weak and useless servants, praise thee, My Lord,
because of thy great mercy towards us, 
for which we cannot render thee due thanks.

Monday, September 28, 2020

A Disciple’s Guide to Bible Study

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Alice C. Linsley

There are different approaches to Bible study. Some are more formal than others. One approach is called topical study. Topics of special importance include faith, healing, and justification.

Devotional Bible reading is motivated by the desire to draw closer to God and find strength for daily life. In this approach certain passages may speak to the individual, providing encouragement, correction, and direction. 

Another approach involves the study of biblical figures. A popular take on this is a study of "Women in the New Testament" or "Lives of the Prophets."

In a sense these are short cuts to gaining an understanding of the Bible. The best way to gain a thorough knowledge is to read the Bible from cover to cover three times using three different recensions such as the King James (Authorized Version); the New International Version, and the New Jerusalem Bible. This is the best way to become formed and informed by Holy Scripture.

In general there are two ways to read the Bible. They are called "eisegesis" and "exegesis." Eisegesis involves reading meaning into a text and often leads to subjective and private interpretations that might not be universally accepted in the Church.
Exegetical Bible study draws meaning from the text. This is a more scholarly way to read the Bible and requires checking reliable sources such as commentaries and the writings of the Church Fathers. Sloppy exegesis can lead to misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the biblical material.

The following template provides a way to get started, but each person must find what works best for them.

Prepare a space where you will be comfortable. Have the Bible and a notebook or journal ready.

Thank God for the written Word and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study.

Pick a chapter or short passage and read it once aloud and once silently.

Make observations: who, what, where, when and why?

Explore the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Consider how the reading applies to your life and situation.

Record your thoughts in the notebook or journal.

Close in prayer. Your prayer should include confession, thanksgiving, requests, and intercessions for others.

Related reading: Formed and Informed by the Bible; The Veracity of Holy Scripture; Pursuing Truth as Persons of Faith; Why an Empirical Approach to the Bible?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Stand Firm in Heavenly Adoption

A Study in First John

Hope Ellen Rapson

“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist---he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this what he promised us---even eternal life.” (1 John 2: 22-24)

The Apostle John lived long enough to see “antichrists” coming into the church. By this time the other ten faithful disciples of Christ had been martyred for sharing the true nature and Gospel of Jesus. 

Today, these pastors, teachers, and leaders, discredit or totally deny the truth that Jesus was God in flesh providing through His death a sacrifice for the forgiveness of mankind, and through His resurrection opening up the gates of eternal life; they are called “apostates.” 

Apostates deceive their followers with lies that take the heart of Christianity - that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ - out of churches. As did the antichrists of John’s day, they use the trappings of religion to perpetuate their own ideas and ambitions. At the heart of their teachings and lifestyles is a denial that Jesus is “God in Flesh” and "Risen Lord".

A Doctor of Divinity once said, “It does not matter whether or not you believe in the resurrection of Jesus; Christianity is about kindness, nothing else.” 

That is an eviscerated Gospel. Jesus clearly stated, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, He that believes in me shall live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26). 

Jesus also said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).

He is the beloved Son of God who was given “that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”(John 2:16) 

The disciples died and suffered for their eyewitness proclamation: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14)

Confessing Christians sometimes have doubts. They sometimes fail in obedience to Jesus Christ. We are frail beings. We falter in our Christian walk and witness. However, that does not mean we are apostates; an apostate never recognizes Jesus as God in the flesh and the Risen Lord.

The faltering Christian still knows in the depths of their being that they are “born again.” How? Because when a person is “born again,” the Holy Spirit takes up residence within that person and anoints them as an adopted son or daughter of God. (John 1:12-13) 

The Holy Spirit prompts them to repent, and convicts them of their need to walk with the living Lord. Regardless of their struggles, they can and be restored and trust Jesus Christ again as their Savior and Lord.

John admonishes believers: “As for you, this anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you, but as his anointing teaches you about all things, and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit---just as it has taught you, remain in Him. And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears, we may be confident and unashamed before Him at his coming.” (1 John 2: 27-28).

The second proof that one is born again is a firm belief that Jesus Christ is exactly who He said He is.

Related reading: The First Proof That One is Born Again

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Bible Blurb: Weary and Worn?

You say: "Lord, I'm so weary."

God says: "I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: "I can't find a way forward."

God says: "I will direct your steps." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

You say: "It's not worth the effort."

God says: "It will be worth it." (Romans 8:28)

Related reading: But God!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Dimensions of Prayer


Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141:2)

Prayer has many dimensions. Prayers are offered in corporate worship. Corporate worship joins the individual to the saints in heaven and to the Body of Christ on earth. The initial prayers prepare the people to "receive the King of all things, who comes escorted by unseen armies of angels" (The Cherubic Hymn).

Another dimension of prayer is what happens in private. Private prayers are often deeply personal. They come from the heart. Sometimes the heart is broken. God loves to comfort the broken heart. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Prayer often involves asking for something we want or feel we need. If we are fortunate, God will give us what is best for us. We should make requests for ourselves in humility, as Jesus Himself submitted to the will of the Father when He asked to have the cup of sorrow removed, and then said, "Nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done" (Luke 22:42).

Philippians 4:6-7 states: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

We are to pray, supplicate and give thanks to God. This is a way of life for the Christian. We are told "in everything" to make our requests known to God.

Note also that we are admonished to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. A life of Christ-centered prayer protects us from dark thoughts. Grant, that being ever protected by Thy power, to Thee we may ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and from all Ages to all Ages."

Personal prayer and corporate prayer in worship are aspects of the Christian's life. We are not meant to be alone! We gather to hear the Gospel that feeds us. Some ancient liturgical prayers include these words: "May we be accounted worthy to hear thy holy Gospel." We gather to sing praises. We gather to receive Communion, another way in which God feeds us.

Some prayers are intercessions for others. We are urged to pray for others because others are aided by our prayers. "How great is the daring, O Lord, of that man who fears not to plead for an man, a mortal for a mortal, ashes for ashes, before thee, our Lord and Master!" (Gregorian Sacramentary)

We pray for others in private and in times of corporate worship. "Look thou thyself O Master, according to thy tenderness of heart, on us and on this holy house; and deal with us, and those who pray with us, in the riches of thy mercies and thy compassions" (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Finally, the Apostle Paul reminds us to give thanks. We are to thank God for the innumerable mercies He has shown us, especially for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ. We are to acknowledge with grateful hearts the ways God is working in our lives and in the lives of those for whom we pray.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Comprehending the Mystery of God

God by definition is unchanging, uncreated, and beyond the ability of humans to fully comprehend. The Bible presents the mystery of God by use of metaphors and analogies. In Psalm 18, God is described as a rock, a shield and a fortress (see also 2 Samuel 22). Psalm 84 uses the Sun as a symbol for the High God.

Wings are often used to illustrate God's care and protection. In Deuteronomy 32:9-12 eagle's wings describe how God carried His people through the wilderness: 
"As an eagle stirs up its nest, Hovers over its young, Spreading out its wings, taking them up, Carrying them on its wings, So the Lord alone led him, And there was no foreign god with him."
When Boaz met Ruth for the first time he encouraged her by saying, "The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" (Ruth 2:12).

The Bible also uses descriptive names for God. El Elyon means God Most High and is associated with royal shrines and temples constructed at high elevations. These are sometimes referred to as "Sun temples" by anthropologists. Among Abraham's ancestors the Sun was the emblem of the Creator and to this day Jews perform the Sun blessing. The Birkat Hachama (ברכת החמה, "Blessing of the Sun") is recited when the sun completes its cycle every 28 years on a Tuesday at sundown.

God is described as the Groom whose bride is faithless Israel in Hosea.

God is described as the Shepherd who watches over his flock.

The idea that God has a son is found in the Old and New Testaments, but is especially prevalent in the New Testament. Consider Proverbs 30:4:
Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in His hands? Who has bound up the waters in His cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His Son--surely you know!

The son of God is described in ancient Horite Hebrew tests as having a "red clock."

Trinitarian correspondences between the beliefs of the ancient Nilotes and the Mesopotamians have also been noted. Judaism later suppressed this understanding of God Father, God Son, and God Spirit.

God is so far beyond human comprehension that many images, metaphors and analogies are needed to help us begin to grasp God's nature. Thankfully, Jesus Messiah came into the world - "God of God... very God of very God"-  so that we might know the Father through the Son. As Jesus explained to Phillip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

The Apostle Paul insists that there is no rational reason to claim ignorance of God. God has been busy revealing His nature from the beginning! "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-21).

Monday, September 7, 2020

Preparing to Lead and Teach

Edward F. Lundwall Jr.

The Christian worker should have a frame of reference for understanding what is involved in the growth of a believer. I believe that the Bible provides that. Consider how Galilean fishermen came to preach and teach with such authority. After his conversion, Paul withdrew from the world for three years to gain a deeper understanding of the Gospel. To become a reproductive member of the Body of Christ one needs spiritual authority. That is not achieved overnight.

Other necessary developments are identified in Scripture. Word, Prayer, and Fellowship are life building relationships that ground the believer. The Christian who would teach must be well grounded in the Bible. He or she must be quick to pray and eager to form fellowship bonds with other believers.

Having this grounding, the Christian should be active in some Ministry. Ministry can build character and strengthen one's faith. Ministry, Character and Faith are life building exercises that edify the individual and have lasting benefits for others. 

Finally, the one who would lead and teach must have spiritual authority. This does not come from within oneself. It is the fruit of being in harmony with God.

These seven areas in the process of becoming a mature Christian should be observed by all who wish to teach and disciple others. This is in accordance with the Apostle Paul's instructions to Timothy: "..what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2)