Lessons for the Lenten season: How shall we then pray?

In my observance of the Lenten season as a time of meditating on the sufferings of Christ that led up to the last week, I have also been focused on the the whole question of Adam’s race in rebellion that necessitated it all. This of course leads me into confessing my own participation in the rebellion which is universal. Learning to pray from this platform is taking me into some interesting requests, not the least of which has to do with renewing my own covenantal vows of the Christian Faith.

Recently I’ve been re-reading a classic book by one of my favorite Puritan writers, John Owen, on beholding the glory of Christ. I mentioned this last year in a post and suggested this is what we are supposed to do in living the Christian life. It can be considered our “reasonable worship” as redeemed people of the New Covenant. In the last few days I ran across a post quoting from this book which I found especially helpful in knowing more specifically how to pray from this same perspective.

“Renewed repentance is seen in fervent prayer. ‘Take words with you. Say to him…’ We must know what we are to pray for. We are to pray for pardon of all iniquity. ‘Take away all iniquity.’ Not one sin must be left to be indulged. We are to pray that God will graciously receive us. ‘Receive us graciously.’ Confession must be made of the sins that caused our backslidings. ‘Assyria will not save us. Nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” Fleshly confidence and false worship were the two sins that ruined the people, and of these sins God expects a full and free confession so that we may be healed.

“Believers must renew their covenant with God, renouncing all other hopes and expectations, and put their trust and confidence only and wholly in him, for only in God do the fatherless find mercy (14:3). The result of such repentance is praise and thanksgiving: ‘We will offer the sacrifice or our lips’ (14:2). When God heals our backslidings he will communicate his grace to us, to the praise of his own glory…”  (John Owen)

To read the entire post over at ‘Cultivating Epiphanies’ go here.

The Gospel of Christ Crucified

Getting ready for Next Sunday of Advent.

I hope some of you celebrated the first Sunday of Advent in your worship today. I was in a service where the Lectionary readings were not read as such, however the reading and the message was from the first twenty-five verses of Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1. This actually fits in with the emphasis for Second Sunday of Advent, so I thought I would go ahead and get up the Scriptures as we look forward to next week.

Announcing the Promised Messenger

Second Sunday of Advent (Dec.6) Announcing the Messenger of the Covenant!


Malachi 3:1-4 – The Prophet’s vision

Luke 1:68-79. – The Song of Zachariah

Philippians 1:3-11. – The Desired Result

Luke 3:1-6. – John the Baptist

Where do you typically look for “way-showers?” Where do you typically find the real ones?Luke locates the ministry of John the Baptist historically within the timelines of the Roman Empire and theologically in the prophecy of Isaiah: The winding and difficult pathways between Babylon and Jerusalem were about to be turned into a straight and level highway for returning exiles so that all could witness God’s salvation. John announced this message, and more besides (which we’ll see and hear next week) in a ministry that took him up and down the Jordan River valley. In so doing, he sought out a fairly remote wilderness area inhabited by forgotten people and “little” people rather than the “bright lights” of Jerusalem, fulfilling in this way his father Zechariah’s song.

Paul gives joyous thanks for his partnership with the church in Philippi. The graciousness and power he has experienced with them gives him every confidence that God will finish God’s work in them to present them blameless on the day of the return of Christ, “having produced the harvest of righteousness” (verse 11). Paul’s “end-time” hope for them, and by extension for all Christians, is for all of them, as God’s people, to “serve God in holiness and righteousness all their days,” a living sign of the Promised One in their midst.

How is the “messianic” harvest of righteousness being cultivated, cared for, and gathered in where you are?

Zechariah’s song identifies John the Baptizer as the foretold messenger of the Lord with a substantially broader mission than fixing the ritual anomalies and the broken spirituality in the priesthood Malachi had identified. A descendent of David was coming who would re-constitute whole people and save them from their enemies so they could worship and serve God in holiness and righteousness all their days. The ministry of the way-shower would prepare the “mighty Savior’s” way by calling for repentance and announcing forgiveness of sins to all, even those in “darkness and the shadow of death.”

 A century or more after the restoration of the city and the temple in Jerusalem, the word of the Lord through the prophet declares the coming of “my messenger” (Malachi, in Hebrew) who would radically purify the temple priesthood. How and where are clergy and lay leaders being purified where you are?

(comments from The General Board of Disciplehip of the UMC)

voyageofPaul” Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.”   – ACTS 20:16

Following a three month stay in Greece encouraging the disciples, Luke tells us that Paul set sail for Jerusalem: ” We sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.” (20:6) So Luke begins the narrative of Paul, as on a predetermined schedule that he had carefully thought out, leaving Greece at Passover and heading for Jerusalem and the Day of Pentecost.

Why was he so determined to be in Jerusalem at Pentecost? Why was he deliberately heading in to the very heart of the camp from which his most violent opposition was coming from? We can never know for sure, but considering what is given us in Luke’s narrative together with what the Apostle tells us in his letters, we can make an educated but tentative suggestion.

One thing is fairly obvious to the honest reader of the New Testament documents and that is this: all the writers were in agreement that what had come to pass in the Christ Advent- his forerunner’s unusual birth and revival ministry (John the Baptist), his own miraculous virgin birth, his teaching, his miracles, his sinlessness, the manner of his crucifixion and resurrection, everything together convinced the writers that all that was promised and anticipated by the Old Covenant Scriptures found their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth.

In our last post we saw how Paul’s concept of the Law had been radically altered by the revelation he received from Christ himself. He explains in detail in the Roman letter, that the Law could never make God’s People holy, and that is the crux of the matter. So instead of bringing the untold blessings of the promised Kingdom, the inheritance promised Father Abraham, it could only reveal the “coming short of the glory of God” of the human race;  in place of blessing it brought condemnation and curse. At the close of the seventh chapter he cries out:

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

The Law fulfills the purpose intended when it produces the same cry from the heart of those seeking to please God and leads them to look outside of themselves for a worthy redeemer. Paul had in essence already answered his own cry as he started this section of his letter (Chapters 5-8). I urge you to take time to read 5:5-10  before finishing this post. I’ll put the link on the verses so all you will have to do is click and read. Verse 5, however, is the one I want to zero in on: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the HOLY SPIRIT who was given to us.”

This I think, is why Paul was so determined to go to Jerusalem for the very Feast which the Jewish nation on one hand was celebrating with the giving of TORAH utmost on their minds, while the heart of the Gospel Paul risked his life to preach was that on the very day of the ancient celebration, after Christ had been exalted in heaven, he together with the Father now gave something even more precious than the Law; the very thing the Law could not do for the worshipper of the Holy God. Pentecost is the very time for Paul to declare once again that God has given the Life giving Spirit of Christ.

There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ (i.e.from chapter six-those who have been baptized into Christ death and resurrection), who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death”.

What Christ the redeemer, accomplished for God’s people and finished once and for all (see the message of the book of Hebrews), was poured out at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit Himself was given to the disciples.

Undoubtedly Paul was hoping that the collection he had taken up from the Gentile churches for the Saints in Jerusalem would provide an opportunity to declare the faithfulness of God in keeping His word to the Fathers, and the promises made through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. As he sailed on toward Jerusalem I can almost sense that against all the warnings his friends uttered trying to persuade him not to go to what seemed like sudden death, he said : “None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”.

This then is how Saint Paul celebrated The Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. How will you spend this date on the church calendar?