27 January 2009

Things We Ought To Know #4: Successful Prayer

Since we'd all like our prayers to come true, we ought to know how to pray "in Jesus' name". To that end, here is a possible rendering of "Jesus" in Elvish: Eruedraith (Air-oo-ehd-rithe; literally means "God saves").


Just OK - Groaning

Often when people ask me, "How are you?" I respond in honesty with, "Okay." The inevitable response to this by people who actually care is, "Just okay?" and I say, "Yes, just okay."

From there it is usually hard for me to describe why I feel this way. Having said so much on simple living, I think we are at a position that most adequately communicates my feeling. Here it is: I am not satisfied. I am "just okay" because I am just not satisfied. As I said before, "happily ever after" begins at death. I will not be satisfied until I eat of the fruit that yields of the tree nourished by the river flowing from the throne of God.

Perhaps a more Biblical term for this dissatisfaction is groaning. Paul Tripp's words ring true on this in A Quest for More where he describes the conflict in us between gratitude and groaning:

Big kingdom living is lived in the tension between deep gratitude and daily groaning. I am thankful because I have been rescued and am being progressively freed from my bondage to the unfulfilled promises of physical earth. I am thankful because I am learning to keep creation in its proper place. Yes, I am thankful for gorgeous flowers, sweet aromas, and the delicate taste of well-prepared food. I am thankful for the many people in my life, for sunsets and rivers, for mountains and animals. And I am thankful for how each of these things in some way reflects the glory of God. But most of all I am thankful that God has broken the power of these things over me and is teaching me not to look to them for the satisfaction of my soul.

At the same time I groan. I groan because this world is a broken place. There is nowhere I look where this brokenness cannot be seen. I groan because I am not yet all that God’s grace can enable me to be. I groan because I long for God’s kingdom to come. I groan because I have tasted the pleasures of this earth and they do not satisfy. Because of these things there is never a day when it is not right for me to groan.

Notice the logic of [Romans 8:22-25]. We are supposed to groan because there are things that we have been promised but do not yet have. We are supposed to groan because the full expression of God’s kingdom has not yet come. We are supposed to groan because we are not yet all that God shed the blood of his son for us to become. We are supposed to groan because the temporary pleasures of this physical world do not satisfy us; they always leave a void in our hearts. We are supposed to groan because in every situation and circumstance we see the damage that sin has done and is doing. We are supposed to groan because we recognize how we each give in to the temptation to seek in the physical world what we can only find in the Lord and what will only be fulfilled in eternity. This side of eternity, groaning is meant to be the default language of the big kingdom. When we groan for these reasons we get it right.

How are you? Just peachy? If you don't groan, consider if you are more satisfied in this life than you should be.

22 January 2009

Can We Have Nice Things?

In the fear that Why We Can't Have Nice Things could be taken to extremes, I must make some clarifications. This will require a little review of where we've been.

Back on the post Luxury, Comfort and Simple Living I 'rote:
I don't wish to say right now that having "stuff" is bad in itself. The danger is losing a sense of gratitude for all that you are given. Yes, it is given, not earned. I am contending that those who continually harbor that thankfulness and a remembrance of people with less will be compelled to help those people. Then the luxuries become sour and the "sacrifices of love" become sweet.

Then in the next post I quoted 1 Tim. 6:17-19 and said:
Last time I said I shouldn't be arrogant in my desire for comfort, but thankful instead. "Haughty" in verse 17 could be translated "arrogant." Then I said thankfulness should lead to good works, as in verse 18. This passage also never condemns "stuff" in itself, but condemns putting our hope in our stuff.

So, again, I find the Scriptures never condemn having stuff. It does not say we CANNOT have nice things. So in that sense the phrase could be confusing.

The foundation for all of this is love for God and love for neighbor. Remember this.

There seem to be certain temporary pleasures God has granted to exist for us here in order to hold us over until we cross Jordan and enter the promised land. I must acknowledge that the song I mentioned last time used examples of marriage and having children, things which we can only experience in this life. So these are temporary pleasures. Does that mean we must seek them or else we will miss out on life? NO. I think they are to hold us over. They are good, but there is better. Instead, focus on seeking His kingdom. Work! It is urgent!

This issue is difficult in my mind and has yet to be reconciled: The promise to the children of Israel is specifically earthly. It was a promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. (Also note the lack of afterlife references in the Old Testament). The promise to Gentile believers is specifically heavenly. Our "promised land" is in heaven. So how are Christians to live in the interim? Are we to seek temporal blessings as though the promises to Israel are to be applied to us literally? I don't believe so. How we are to live is complicated. That's been the whole point of all this. Again, it comes down to love for God and love for neighbor. I've been trying to say that people such as I are far too comfortable; that we need to be shaken from our comforts and luxuries in nice things to remember our neighbors; that we need to stop believing the lies of the world and hope in God.

Now, consider a hypothetical Christian that loves God and is earnestly seeking to live for Christ. He spends significant time helping at a homeless shelter. He has grown up in a low-income family and has never known luxury. One day he wins a contest for a brand new high-def plasma 58 inch TV. So at this juncture I do not say that having a TV in itself is wrong. But I CANNOT conceive of this person being excited at winning a TV if his love for his neighbor runs deep. Is he feeding that homeless guy, just itching to get home and sit back in his chair to watch The Office? Is that love for his neighbor? Is there no guilt there? Again, if he has never known luxury, to get excited at having such a TV means he has bought in to the world's lie that a TV is better, like he's been oppressed and has suddenly tasted some freedom. But would it really make his life better? Sure, he can be thankful to God for the TV as a temporary pleasure or a means to relax, but will he continue to seek God as his means to refuel or will he waste away hours watching movies? As I said before, I should think that one whose love runs deep will find luxuries becoming sour. And I don't think this is specific to the telly -- it is always stuff that gets in the way:

Mat 19:21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
Mat 19:22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Mat 19:23 And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

Mar 4:18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word,
Mar 4:19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Is it not the poor that are truly blessed by God? For they are blessed in spirit having a lack of blessings in the flesh. Those such as me blessed in the flesh have a difficult time surrendering my hope in things to hope in God.

Ultimately in your life if you understand yourself to be in right standing before God in your love towards Him and your neighbor while having stuff, I am not to judge that.

By the way, I promise I won't become cross when you cross me.

In Jesus' Veins, Amen

Does God hear all prayers? If not, on what basis will He hear a prayer?

I am reminded of the movie "Angels In the Outfield" where the boy prays something like, "God, if you are out there, please may the Angels win the pennant this year." Then of course angels appear during games to help the California Angels baseball team win. So it seems to suggest that God would hear such a prayer. According to Hollywood anyway.

This issue arises out of all the commotion going on about those prayers surrounding the Presidential inauguration. Gay "Bishop" Robinson prayed to the "God of our many understandings." Such an approach to prayer is an attempt to include all those listening, so that if you have a different god than me you can still listen and agree with me in my words as you direct them towards your god. Isn't that nice. This says that tolerance is desirable even at the cost of promoting the worship of false gods. I dare say that a prayer as this is received by God as noise in His ears and a foul stench in His nostrils. That is, it is not received at all.

Hear the words of God through Isaiah:

Isa 59:1 Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
Isa 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

And Zechariah:

Zec 7:13 "As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear," says the LORD of hosts.

I often get the feeling that at the end of a prayer "in Jesus' name" is included merely out of habit or because we think it is a magical phrase. At the inauguration Rick Warren closed with, "I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, Isa, Jesús, Jesus." Now I thought I heard people saying he didn't pray "in Jesus' name" but it sure appears that way to me. In fact he pointed out something important, that the name of Jesus has various pronunciations across the world. Therefore the magical phrase theory is debunked (and anyway, if it were like a spell, we should probably be saying "Jesus" in Elvish) .

As the verses above suggest, anyone in sin and rebellion before God will not be heard by God. But Jesus said, "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son," John 14:13. This means that in Jesus the sin problem that kept us from God is washed away. We pray in Jesus' name in the sense that he is the mediator between us and God. We would still be in sin and God would not hear our prayers if not for the blood of Jesus.

Heb 10:19b we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,
Heb 10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh

So to emphasize this concept and to stick the habitual trend of saying "in Jesus' name" I suggest trying something that sounds similar but alludes to the atoning blood of Jesus:

"In Jesus' veins, amen."

So you can Read more and I can 'Rite less:

Matthew Henry's commentary on John 14:13 states:
To ask in Christ's name is, (1.) To plead his merit and intercession, and to depend upon that plea. (2.) It is to aim at his glory and to seek this as our highest end in all our prayers.

Johnny Mac, as I like to call him, has an interesting list of 15 reasons why a prayer is not heard.

15 January 2009

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I'm not exactly certain where the phrase "this is why we can't have nice things" has come from, but it seems to have gained sudden popularity as a jest. I am led to believe that the original usage would be from a mother spoken to her reckless child that has just broken something. "We can't have nice things" because if we did they would just get broken anyway, thus ceasing to be nice. Now it has become a fun phrase to use to mock your friend that just made a "smooth move."

But leave it to me to take a fun phrase and make something serious of it.

The phrase has been helpful to me when I notice other people with "nice things." It forces me to remind myself "why I can't have nice things." And it isn't because I tend to break them. It's because I do not have a goal in life to attain nice things. You see, I equate having nice things with a comfortable life, and a comfortable life is not the life of a Christian.

Imagine a mother using such a phrase towards her child. It implies that what things she currently has are not nice, so already such an attitude displays a lack of thankfulness for her possessions (not to mention for her child). Next it implies that she is under some kind of oppression, as though there is an active force keeping her from unbridled happiness in niceties. This buys in to the lie that having stuff brings happiness. It is selfish, foolish, and nearsighted.

I think we've discussed the selfish and foolish parts of luxurious living before, so let me explain the nearsighted aspect. What I mean is that a desire for happiness in stuff in this life does not reflect an eternal perspective. It only sees this life, but a vapor, as the opportunity for happiness. It is nearsighted to forget the unseen, unheard of, and unimaginable happiness to be found after this life.

I heard a song on "Christian" radio today that disappointed me. You may know it; the chorus says:

You only get just one time around
You only get one shot at this
One chance to find out
The one thing that you don't wanna miss

Now you'd maybe think the answer to "the one thing you don't wanna miss" is a relationship with Jesus. Nope! The song implies that for a certain man the "one thing" is spending time with his wife. For a certain woman it's caring for and loving her child. This song says you've only got one life, so be sure to love it! Severely nearsighted.

Christian, be thankful for your life and do not take for granted the good things God has given you, but do not love your life. Lose your life for the sake of Christ, and you will save it. The fields are white for harvest. The world is in pain, including your neighbor. Our Lord's return is imminent. Work! Get exhausted! Do not get comfortable. Your relaxation is in the next life. Store up your treasures there.

This is why we can't have nice things!

11 January 2009

Ron Cherry: Referee and Human

While watching the college football national championship game, I noted the announcer say that the referee, Ron Cherry, was the first African-American to referee the national championship game.

Yes, I think that is a good thing.

But when we stop keeping records of such things based on someone's skin -- then I'll get excited.

01 January 2009

Laws Meant To Be Broken

Check here if you have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions.

Since you are reading this blog, I will assume you are savvy with computers and the interweb. Likewise, you have probably read many terms and conditions agreements or skipped them and just put a check in the box.

My question: Is it dishonest or wrong in any way to check the box affirming you have read it when in fact you skipped it?

Or how about laws that are made to be broken? For example, the interstate speed limit. Lawmakers know that people will always drive 5-10 mph faster than the limit. There's really little purpose for police to stop every vehicle going 5 mph over (although I have heard of "zero tolerance" policies). Thus if the intentioned limit is 85, the law will be made at 75. So am I really breaking the law if I go 80?

What do you say?