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

What a way to welcome in the new year.

By far the most memorable new year’s eve celebration my wife and I ever participated in was in the 80’s in the interior of the State of Sao Paulo, Brasil. There is simply no better way to experience the first moments of the new year than to be on your knees in the presence of God and His people.

So here is my New Year’s eve prayer -for myself and all those I love in this world, and for all of you that stop by to read the e4Unity blog: sung by a congregation in Wales. May the Redeemer Himself guide your every step throughout 2010.

The Book of Revelation, chapter 21

” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Meditating on the Prayer Book!                                                   

The Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible has been called by various names but the one that appeals most to me is, “The Prayer book of the Bible”. From one of the resources listed in E4Unity “toolbox” comes this very unique essay on what he calls the “gateway Psalms” of the entire book.  

 

 

Solus Christus in the Psalms  Book

It would be tempting to highlight “particularly Messianic” Psalms and say “There, see, Jesus is spoken of here and there in the psalter.” But I’m not sure that’s right. I once told a friend I was helping preach through an 8 week series called “Jesus in the Psalms”. He said “Right, so you’ll get through Psalms 1-8, when are you going to do the other 142??” I was chastened! That’s absolutely right. It’s not like Messianic Psalms form a sub-division of the psalter: like there’s imprecatory Psalms, Psalms of lament and messianic Psalms. You’d never think of having the ‘God Psalms’ as a sub-category! Christ is not a sub-category of Christian revelation or experience.

Think of the doctine of sola fide (faith alone) for instance. There are a number of passages that we can readily turn up to demonstrate its truth. And a paper on sola fide will spend time going through those specific passages, but not so as to prove that sola fide holds in those cases alone. We look to the specific passages to show that this pattern holds for all God’s dealings with man. And it holds even for those parts of the Scripture which opponents may erroneously claim refutes it. It’s like this with solus Christus (Christ alone). We look at the specifics to demonstrate a divine dynamic which holds for all Scripture.

So as we think about Christ in the Psalms we’re not going to pick out messianic mentions here and there. Instead we’re going to look at Psalms 1 and 2 and see how these model for us what to expect in the rest of the Psalter.

Psalms 1 and 2 are often called the gateway to the Psalms. They belong together for many reasons not least the “blessed”s at the beginning and end. Just as with the Sermon on the Mount, the “blessed”s tell us exactly who is in on what’s about to be discussed. In the Sermon on the Mount, the “blessed”s tell us who’s in the kingdom which Jesus describes. In the Psalter, Psalms 1 and 2 tell us who’s in on the worship of the living God. And who is the blessed man??

Well He is an ‘ish – a representative man. In fact He is the Man. This is an audacious claim. (I rarely even claim to be a man!) Verse 2 says He is a night-and-day Bible-meditator, which makes Him a king (cf Deut 17:18-20; Josh 1:8). Verse 3, He is also like a tree (think ‘Branch’ or ‘Root’ or ‘Vine’ – kings are described like this). Not only this but He can make others become prosperous (causative hiphil stem).

This one Man, this definitive Man, is contrasted in v4 to the many wicked. The Psalm does not begin by comparing righteous people to wicked people but rather The Righteous Man is contrasted with the wicked masses. Then (presumably through the Man/Tree-of-Life causing many others to prosper like Him) we hear about other righteous ones (v5-6).

When we turn to Psalm 2 we see the Man given more names. The LORD’s King (v6) is here called “Anointed One” (Messiah, v2), and “Son” (v7). Though He is raged against, He will be poured out on Zion (v6) and publicly vindicated by the Father (v7) before claiming universal rule. (v8-9) All must love and take refuge in Him – both Judge and Saviour. (v10-12)

Here is the gateway to the Psalms. We ought not to rush into the Psalter without stopping here and asking who is welcome in the Psalter. And the answer is: “Blessed is the Man… and Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” We must be rightly related to Christ to be welcome in the worship of the living God. He, supremely, is the Scripture-meditating, righteous, flourishing, tree-of-life-like Worshipper. But as Calvin comments on Psalm 22:22, He also is the heavenly choir-master who tunes our hearts to sing God’s praises.

Now what implications does this have for how we read the rest of the Psalter? Well one big help we have received in this, the gateway, is that we’ve been introduced to the four main characters in the Psalms. Here we have:

(1) the LORD;

(2) the Christ, the Blessed Man;

(3) The Righteous who take refuge in Him; and

(4) The Wicked who oppose Him.

All the Psalms are about the interaction of these four groups. In some, like Psalm 1, the Blessed Man is shown before the LORD and then the righteous and the wicked are contrasted. In some, like Psalm 2, the righteous complain to the LORD about the wicked and then He reminds them about the Blessed Man, Christ. In some we have simply the words of Christ. In others we have the words of the LORD to Christ. In some we simply have the words of sinners like us taking refuge in Him. But all of the Psalms are about the inter-relation of these four groups. And they all work together to speak to us of Christ. Let’s be alert to that as we read the Psalms, they are related to Christ.

From blog of Glen Scrivener, Church of England pastor in UK)

 

 

ALONG the ECCLESIASTICAL HIGHWAY by T.M. Moore

  The first Christians apparently had but one simple and telling term by which to refer to their project. They called it “The Way.” The Apostle Paul deplored the idea that the people of The Way should ever tolerate divisions within their midst. He raked the Corinthians over the coals for allowing schism to rend their fellowship (1 Corinthians 1-4 ), and he blasted those from the Pharisaical party who sought to divide the churches along ethnic lines.

He warned the Romans to watch out for schismatics and have nothing to do with them (Romans 16:17,18). He implored the Ephesians to see that Christ had broken down every barrier to true fellowship, and they should now be concerned to build one another up in the Spirit (Ephesians 2). There is but one Body, Paul insisted (Ephesians 4:4), and it is every believer’s duty to “work hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, my translation).

There is only one Way of salvation—by the grace of God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and one hope of our calling—that we might stand now and forever in the glory of God to the praise of His holy and exalted name. Thus, from the beginning, those who identified themselves as The Way were made to understand the importance of unity, oneness, collaboration, encouragement, and commonality. The first Christians—the followers of The Way—turned their world upside down for Jesus.

We, on the other hand, appear to have dumped our contentious, competitive, fragmented, and frenzied age upside-down on our own heads, making lots of noise and offering lots of activity before the watching world, but with disproportionately little in the way of lasting impact. Increasingly, the Ecclesiastical Highway is forced to run along the margins of society—which, in case we haven’t noticed, runs very near the ledge. Two thousand years after The Way burst onto the historical scene, its legacy has become a thousands-lane highway where people of varying communions putter along or race ahead, sometimes weaving in and out of traffic, but all the while looking out for their own safety above all. Most folks travel along politely enough, but there’s a fair amount of road rage along the great Ecclesiastical Highway, and plenty of abandoned cars litter the shoulder… more 

National Day of Prayer

 

 

Now is an excellent time to discuss religion in America and to get a basic understanding for what has been called America’s “civil religion”.

 

When I’ve used this phrase recently, I was surprised to hear from otherwise educated adults, “what is civil religion? Is that something you invented?” No, I assured them, I stole it from someone else. Actually it has been around a long time in certain areas of study such as The Sociology of Religion, etc. It is a very helpful concept for anyone trying to get a handle on how religion in general actually functions, and has functioned almost from the beginning, in These United States of America. It is not a very good idea to get into a discussion, at least in public, on such themes as “Separation of Church and State” and a host of other contemporary issues without having a basic understanding of America’s only real religion.

 

I want to blog this week as I said about The National Day of Prayer and this is an excellent time to discuss the concept of civil religion with my blogroll partners. So please, leave your comments and let me know if you’ve already encountered this in your own life experience or not. Here is as good a place to start as any. As you can see it is from a course that is taught in various universities and has been for sometime. It is so fundamental that I think it should be taught at every middle school in America.                     

 

                                                            

“While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of “the American Way of Life,” few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America. This article argues not only that there is such a thing, but also that this religion–or perhaps better, this religious dimension–has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does.” –Robert Bellah,Civil Religion in America

 

(read the article)

 

Related essay by Harry Stout: Baptism-in-Blood