Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #18

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Prayer of Consecration (A Paraphrase of Psalm 132)

O God, I’m using the devotion of Your servant David as a pattern for my own life. His heart’s desire was for You, O Mighty One of Heaven, that You would have a dwelling-place on earth. It would be a place where You could be worshiped for all of Your splendor, where You would abide, where reminders of Your might would be housed. Your priests would be clothed in righteousness and Your saints would sing for joy.

Here I am discovering Your plan to fulfill David’s dream through people like me. You want my spirit to be Your dwelling place, my body to be Your holy temple. Your righteousness washes me and then clothes me so I may serve You in holiness. Your splendor and power is meant to flow through me in love and mercy toward others. How can this be?

Because of Your great sacrifice, Jesus, I am able to be part of this amazing and glorious plan. You are the King of Kings for whom David’s throne was prepared. You are the High Priest who makes my life a holy temple

So I consecrate myself to You again today, LORD, to be Your dwelling place. My body, heart and soul are in it. My life is a room cleansed by Your forgiving love, ransomed by Your death and dedicated for holy and eternal use by Your death-defying resurrection. My life belongs to You now. It is Your handiwork from start to finish. Be the Master of it, LORD. Reign here, rule forever here; be the rest I long for.

I’m looking to You, LORD, for every need to be met: my hunger with Your bread of life, my vulnerability with Your compassionate salvation, my deepest yearnings with rightful worship of You.

Jesus, help me stay true as I daily consecrate myself to participating with You in Your purposes for this life of mine and this world in which I live. Dwell in me and with me and through me. Help me to abide in You and with You and through You. You are the Anointed One—the Crowned One who rules my heart.

(Photo Credit: Eastern Wall of Jerusalem, By Yaakov Shoham – Own work (own picture), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1894985)

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Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #9

Prayer of a Servant (Paraphrasing Psalm 123)

I’m thinking of Your right to rule, God. My mind’s eye is looking through the heavens and catching Isaiah’s glimpse of You enthroned as King of Kings. This upward-looking attitude is a ready reminder that You are the Sovereign Ruler of this universe, and I am a creation of Yours. It is right that Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

As a creature before her Creator, as a servant before her Master, and as a child before her Father I come to You asking for Your mercy; this world that I live in has gone crazy. Everywhere I look in this culture around me—even in myself—I see evidences of pride and arrogance, foolish ‘wisdom’, impatience and contempt.

Please protect me from these negative and destructive attitudes. I’d rather have a servant’s heart than see myself become like the godless—rebellious against Your right to rule, proud and angry, lost, wounded and dangerous. Rejecting You is a slow soul suffocation, minds dulled to the horror of an eternity without You.

Have mercy on us, Lord. Protect us from that influence. Keep us always looking upward, aware of Your all-encompassing presence, breathing You like air, knowing You as our great and merciful God.

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 22

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Dressing Down

The banquet had ground to a halt. The man who had been singled out was ashen-faced and speechless. The host, father of the groom and a very important man, had singled him out causing the room to fall to a hush.

“Friend,” the host had asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?”

Every eye turned upon the man who stood facing the gracious but stolid host. A defiant flush burned up the man’s neck and across his face replacing the grey pallor. He opened his mouth to retort but not a sound came out.

Looking out at the crowd of guests he could see he was out of place. Everyone wore splendid clothes of silk and satin, Egyptian cotton and Argentan lace, tulle and taffeta and tweed. Every outfit had been provided by the host in the receiving room, wedding favours of the most exclusive and unequaled kind. But this man had not come in through the grand arch-covered gates. He had slipped in through an open side door, drawn by the flickering lantern-light highlighting a table-full of magnificent wedding gifts. But he had been caught—his gig was up. In a word, the party crasher was dressed down, parceled up and sent packing.

Matthew records Jesus telling this parable to a large group of people who had yet again surrounded Him, longing to hear words of wisdom that would give hope for their weary down-trodden lives. As always, the dictatorial religious leaders were hanging about keeping surveillance on the scene. They wanted only to catch Jesus saying something to justify their arrest of Him.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son,” Jesus had begun the story. The parable had allowed Him to communicate to his listeners truths about God’s design for humanity. The religious leaders understood. Jesus had revealed them as the sort who would be escorted not into but out of God’s kingdom banquet. “For many are invited, but few are chosen,” Jesus had ended His parable. Words like these would eventually bring about His execution, but not today. God had other tasks for Him to complete first.

As we hear this parable recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, we see the focus of the story is on the ‘wedding clothes’ the guests were wearing. In absence of these a man is excluded from the great heavenly wedding banquet. There is no excuse for attending the banquet without the host-provided garments. What is it about the clothes that is so important?

We are helped in understanding the allegory of the clothes by other references in Scripture:

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).

“…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Philippians 3:9).

“Then each of them was given a white robe and they were told to wait a little longer” (Revelation 6:11).

Our own attempts to be ‘good enough’ for God, for entering His presence, for being part of His eternal kingdom are cast away “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Instead, a ‘robe’ of righteousness is the only garment necessary and available to allow us access into the great banquet of community with God.

These verses picture Jesus’ perfect sinlessness being accredited to those who entrust their eternal future to Him. The truth permeates Scripture; it’s the classic rags to riches story, the prince to pauper transfer of apparel, birthright and privilege we thought was only found in fairy tales. But this story is for real. Saying we are righteous in God’s eyes is not a matter of being ‘holier than thou’—only Christ is truly that; it’s a matter of realizing we are totally incapable of being good enough on our own—we need Christ’s salvation.

So today, as we dress for the day, let’s remember to accept Christ’s provision of His robe of righteousness to be our spiritual garment. There’s a banquet waiting; who wouldn’t want to be dressed and ready for the grandest celebration ever held?

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Silar; [[File:The ZORA Folkdancegroup of Mohács in Hungarian traditional ethnic costume, 2008 Wisła 01.JPG|thumb|The ZORA Folkdancegroup of Mohács in Hungarian traditional ethnic costume, 2008 Wisła 01]])

Who Are You, Really? (Part 2)

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Citizens of Another Place.

Syrian refugees will soon arrive on our shores—and not ours only. Nations around the world are opening their doors to Syrians displaced from their communities by the violence of a fatiguing war. Men, women and children like my family and yours simply want a new beginning. They want a chance to live quiet, peaceful lives again. They want their work to be meaningful, their children to develop to their full potential, and their relationships to thrive. They want to escape the constant warring and destruction—and they are willing to change their citizenship to make it happen.

As we explore identity through the eyes of the Apostle Peter who was an eyewitness of the historical Jesus and a veteran of God’s transforming power, we see some parallels to our current socio-political state of affairs. The first element of identity the Apostle examined was our role as children of a Heavenly Father. The second follows closely on its heels: citizenship.

“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially,” reasons Peter, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (I Peter 1:17). Live as strangers here, he counsels. Strangers to what? Peter goes on to clarify his unusual message by explaining, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (I Peter 2:11).

There is a war going on in, around, and for each of us. It’s a war that we are not fully cognizant of, yet neither are we fully innocent of. The devil, spurious wraith and enemy of our souls, is behind this war. He works from without and from within to slide us closer and closer to the slippery precipice of destruction. He masquerades as a rainbow of light, inhabits the shadows of our fears, and hides in the darkness of our ignorance—even implying he doesn’t exist—anything to ensure we fail to return to our true Father. But we do not need to remain in his territory ‘Sin’, under his terrible tyranny, helpless against the terrorism of his attacks.

We have a Father and He has prepared a ‘kingdom’ for those who have their hopes set higher than the rebellion our race has inhabited. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” explains another first century follower of Christ, “and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20).

When we identify ourselves as citizens of heaven we find our identities with earth are less confining, less descriptive of our true selves. (Note: heaven is not the location depicted by cartoons as caricatured angels in clouds and saints on duty at heavenly golden gates. It is the embodiment of life beyond time where individuals finally realize their full created potential in relationship with God).

Earthly identities can be anything from roles within our families, national and ethnic identification, educational and vocational labels, to gender and sexual identities. All of these earthly identities begin to fade in the brilliant light of identity as citizens of God’s absolute, unhindered domain. Only this identity is eternal.

“Here,” explains the Apostle Paul, “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). Paul is listing common identities in the first century Roman Empire. He gives examples of national and ethnic identities, religious and gender-based identities, military identities and societal identities. They are examples, not meant to be exhaustive but to incorporate all temporal identities we humans gravitate toward embracing. In contrast, identity with Christ is unveiled as the supreme and quintessential identification available to us. When Christ is all to us we realize the true proportions of our existence—we discover all we were designed to be and do and experience.

So how do we live with this heavenly identity foremost in our minds? Are we relegated, as the saying goes, to ‘be so heavenly-minded we are of no earthly good’? We may remember Peter’s counsel that we live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. Our citizenship in Christ’s eternal domain is to affect our daily living by giving us a reverence for life here on earth as created by and for God, and a hope for the life to come. We are to fear the consequences of destroying ourselves by embracing other identities—they all turn us little by little away from God, away from His love for us—and instead come in awe, daily, submitting ourselves to God’s plans for us. It is not easy but it is what our souls are designed for.

Join with countless followers of Christ as we hold citizenship in God’s kingdom in highest regard in our heart of hearts; we “set (our) hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1).

(Photo Credit: [[File:Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. Author Mstyslav Chernov]

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 6

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PLEASURE.

True or False: God says pleasure is sin. T ___: F ___.

Pleasure is one of the most commonly misunderstood subjects relating to Christians. If we refer to someone as a ‘Puritan’, what is implied? We’re saying they are against pleasure. Let’s face it, Christians are generally characterized as people who think pleasure is a sin, so they avoid pleasure, or at least appear to avoid it, and are called hypocrites if they are found to have participated in any form of it.

As we have been exploring the sixteenth psalm, we have discovered some surprises. We have found that God is a safe place to take refuge; His mastery is good for us; His followers are a family that brings delight to one another and glory to God; worship of God protects people from entering into idolatry; and those who entrust themselves to Jesus have security for eternity. To all this, the psalmist, David, adds another grace for which followers can be thankful.

“The boundary lines,” he explains, “have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). What David means is that God created us to experience and appreciate pleasure—real pleasure, not the cheap, gaudy, penny-candy type but true, soul-deep spirit-maturing pleasure. God also created us to bring pleasure to Himself. Pleasure, in fact, is God’s idea. It is His domain. That is why there are so many references to words like “rejoice” and “be glad” and “blessed” found in Scripture. Corrupted pleasure is what God rejects because He knows the ultimate harm that results from its practice. Corrupted pleasure is theft; it is stealing forbidden fruit for its immediate gratification only to find ourselves unable to enjoy any healthy fruit thereafter. It is the apple laced with poison Snow White’s deceptor gleefully offers her hapless victim.

C.S. Lewis writes of corrupted pleasure in his satire “The Screwtape Letters” where we hear demons describing their attempts to “encourage humans” to become hell-bound. Keep in mind that the “Enemy”, from Screwtape’s perspective, is God.

“Never forget,” (writes the demon Screwtape), “that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.”

Pleasure is God’s invention. And pleasure must have its boundaries—for our good, not to kill joy but to expand it. The psalmist confirms this by observing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” All true pleasure has boundary lines that protect us from falling over the edge into an abyss of corrupted pleasures that destroy us.

Pure pleasures that come to us from God leave no regrets. Not one. They fill us with life and spirit-health and a compassion for others to experience the same pleasures. They are the pleasures of enjoying God’s creation, of loving Him with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind, of loving others as ourselves. They are the pleasures of living by God’s standards of justice and goodness, even when it hurts us, and of seeing others we love being healed by God and enjoying His pure pleasures too. We inherit these God-focused pleasures now in tidbits as we can manage them, and in greater portions as we experience them in God’s presence throughout our day. Like rich, fresh and healthy fruit they feed us and help us stay on the heavenward path toward Jesus, “who, for the joy (pleasure) set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). That is what God-given pleasure appetizes us for—eternal life.

Now we are able to answer the question in a new way. True or false: God says pure pleasure is God’s gift and inheritance for those who come to Him. T: ___; F: ___.

(Photo Credit: “Calvados Apfel 0596” by Harald Bischoff – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calvados_Apfel_0596.jpg#/media/File:Calvados_Apfel_0596.jpg)

HOME

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The City of Vancouver has a problem. It’s ranked as the tenth cleanest city in the world, one of the most livable places in North America, and boasts one of the world’s most beautiful metropolitan reprieves, Stanley Park. That’s not the problem. The problem is homelessness. In spite of a goal to completely eradicate the dilemma by 2014, the number of homeless people on Vancouver’s streets is on the rise. But that’s not the worst of it. If we are honest and look deep enough, we have to admit every one of us has contributed to those numbers.

We have all left the safety of home and camped on skid row, figuratively speaking. We’ve cast away the restraints with which our consciences have tried to surround us. We’ve said to the Father of our souls in one way or another, “I’m out of here!” Perhaps we’ve only dared to slip out under cover of night and return before dawn to hide our forays. Or we’ve ignored the Father, while living under His roof, so that others in the household will think all is well. We have all left home one way or another. Away seemed like the answer to our penchant for happiness.

Dr. J. Begbie, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has a theory[1] about this movement we all experience. He sees this trend as descriptive of the Bible’s story of our world. He calls it the “home-away-Home” progression, and he says music illustrates this same phenomenon. There is a beginning, followed by tension, followed by resolution. He says it is one of the fundamental patterns governing our lives. He describes it this way:

Home is “the equilibrium of the good earth and the Garden of Eden, with the first humans live in harmony with God and delight in each other.” That’s only a distant genetic memory for us, but we sense it, don’t we? We long for it in the quiet moments of our lives.

Away describes the tensions that have entered. “Humans rebel, they say no to God.” We’ve done that. We’ve wandered, explored places we should never have gone. We’ve been homeless.

 Home is God’s “work on a resolution, beginning with a character called Abraham, climaxing in Jesus, and finishing with what the last book of the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’…not simply a return to how things were but to a universe remade.” That’s the resolution we each need in our lives—souls remade.

Jesus describes a similar story about our problem of homelessness. He talks about His going home to the Father to prepare a place for those who turn to Him. It’s the Home our souls have longed for. It’s where the Father resolves the tension of our wayfaring souls.

We’re all at different places on the journey. Jesus says no one is so far away that they have to remain homeless; if they truly want to come Home He can bring them there. That’s what you and I need, isn’t it? Someone who can turn our hands and feet, heart and soul toward Home. He’s there for the asking.

Father of my soul, I’ve been away far too long. My wanderlust has led me places I never meant to go. Only You can make me fit for Your Home of homes. Let Your love bind me to Yourself so I will always be where You are. Thank you Jesus.

 

[1] Willard, D. ed., A Place for Truth, IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL, p.217-219.

(Photo Credit: Ajith Rajeswari, Wikimedia Commons)

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM HEBREWS ELEVEN

ALIENS AND STRANGERS

Hebrews 11:13,14

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“…they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute believes they are ‘conducting the most profound search in human history’. They are searching for aliens. They are convinced these strangers hold the key to our earth’s beginnings and to our future. They are right. But the aliens and strangers are not as far away as they might imagine.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of men and women of faith as being “aliens and strangers on earth”; of people who are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one”; of people who have so fixed their minds and hearts and eyes on Jesus that His home is their home and earth-living is a visit. These aliens seem to be characterized by five peculiar qualities:

1. Their primary loyalty is to heaven rather than earth’s civilizations; while they participate in various sub-cultures’ activities and responsibilities, their connection with the family of God takes precedence.

2. Their roots go into spiritual soil rather than into material attachments; the development of spiritual character has more significance than does temporal gain. They are often characterized more by giving than by taking.

3. Their visit is purpose-driven; their objective is to ascertain and fulfill the will of God in their lives. Their own desires become secondary. Loving God and others takes precedence.

4. Their return home is assured; the Father has put into their hearts a longing for heaven. It is the ‘eternity in their hearts’ that strengthens them with hope. Death is merely the vehicle by which they will be brought to their eternal heavenly abode.

5. Their mother tongue is prayer; while on earth they call home regularly. Prayer is the means by which they keep in intimate connection with the Father. The deeper their commitment to prayer, the richer their vocabulary develops. This language of love then spills over into the earthly languages they have acquired.

As aliens and strangers here on earth, we of the Faith have a high calling. We hold in trembling hands the key to our earth’s beginnings and future. We are ambassadors of the Lord of the Universe, the Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.  We have a message of a bright future for those who will accept the Son, the greatest otherworldly Being. As the words of a seventies tune once said, “He’s an unidentified flying object coming back to take you home. He’s an unidentified flying object, he will roll away your stone.” (‘UFO’ by Larry Norman). Let’s arise and reveal our true identity as aliens and strangers. Then this world’s search will not be in vain.