Thursday, June 16, 2011

QOTD: Preachers, "Be afraid to be afraid"

You have to deliver your Lord's errand as he enables you, and if this be done, you are responsible to no one but your heavenly Master, who is no harsh judge. You do not enter the pulpit to shine as an orator, or to gratify the predilections of your audience; you are the messenger of heaven and not the servant of men. Remember the words of the Lord to Jeremiah, and be afraid to be afraid. 'Thou therefore gird up thy loins and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them' (Jer. 1:17). Trust in the Holy Spirit's present help, and the fear of man which bringeth a snare will depart from you.
-- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 175.

It seems appropriate to recount here that Jeremiah suffered many significant hardships as a prophet of the Most High God.

What Do You Think? Interested?

The cultural subtext runs thick in this story about an over-the-top home in New York City:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Colossians 12: Prayer Is Mission

Scripture Text: Colossians 4:2-6

Introductory Comments

The last time we were together we examined some specific exhortations to three different groups of people in the Colossian church. They were, in order, wives and husbands, children and fathers, and slaves and masters. We concluded by saying that the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord fundamentally changed the way folks in each of those groups were to behave. What we learned by these exhortations is that Christ is glorified through acts of deliberate sacrifice, service, submission, kindness, and love after the life of sacrifice, service, submission, kindness, and love revealed perfectly to the universe through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week’s exhortations were targeted to specific individuals in the church. This week’s concluding exhortations are different in that they are intended for every member in the church of Colossae. And as we shall see they are still applicable today, and I hope all of us will be exhorted helpfully by these words from Scripture this morning.

Here is the basic structure of Paul’s’ three concluding appeals to the church. He will exhort us regarding (1) the conduct of our prayer lives, (2) prayer as missionary activity, and (3) our conduct toward those who are outside in terms of their faith and belief in Jesus.

Our Conduct in Prayer – It’s About the Glory of God, Not Us
[2] Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Randy Alcorn sums up Christian prayer this way: “Prayer isn’t passive, it’s active. It’s really doing something. Prayer isn’t the least we can do. It’s the most.”1

The first encouragement Paul gives the Colossians is a threefold message about their prayer lives. Those who have been so graciously transferred into the Kingdom of God’s only Son will desire to be in prayerful communion with Him. And so Paul encourages them to pray (1) steadfastly, (2) watchfully, and (3) thankfully.

What does it mean to pray steadfastly? This is an appeal to be in constant prayer, to doggedly stick with it, to persist in it, taking every opportunity, however brief and fleeting, to grab hold of the throne of grace to present our petitions to our sovereign Lord.

Prayer is to be a priority for the Christian. The usual response to this is: Fine, when will we get the time? But I think if we were honest we would be amazed at the time we let pass without praying. Time spent in front of the computer or television screen, time spent staring off in the distance without applying our minds to anything in particular. Many fear they will be giving up something precious if they devote more time to prayer, but what can be more precious then applying oneself to the blessed communication between saved sinner and savior? One of our Wednesday event Lenten worship services was all about prayer. We said at the time that the church generally suffers from not just a lack of prayer but from an abundance of prayerless praying, where our hearts are not in it. Just this week, in my morning devotions, I came across a prayer that reminded me of my own faults in this regard. The prayer begins this way: “Oh Lord, no day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in thy sight.” How have I been proved guilty? The very next line begins list with, “Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart.”

Father, let our hearts not be prayerless when we come to you in prayer. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that the overabundance of your love will be spoken out to you with passion and persistence.

In addition to being steadfast in our prayers, we are also to be watchful. To be watchful in the sense Paul is using this term mean to be in a state of readiness and on the alert. What are the Colossians to be looking for? It could be that Paul is simply giving them instruction about being alert in their prayers, but I think it is more likely that Paul is pressing the urgency of prayer upon them and telling them to be alert in the expectation of the Lord’s coming. They are to be in prayer as if the Lord might arrive any minute.

What kind of prayers is being encouraged here? I think they are likely prayers of petition to God that he will consummate the kingdom soon. One of the ancient prayers of the church, which is the concluding prayer in Revelation, is Maranatha, or, “Our Lord, come!” Christians long for the arrival of our Lord and Savior. They long to be with him, to worship him, and to find their fullest joy in him by being with him. That is why we pray, each week, “Thy kingdom come.”

If it was a matter of urgency for the Colossians to pray this way, then certainly the urgency is much greater for us some 2,000+ years later.

Finally, their prayers are to be given with thanksgiving. They have great reason to give thanks, as we do, for their gracious delivery from slavery to sin and death thanks to the cross of Jesus.

How often can your prayers be characterized as persistent, watchful, and thankful? For me, the answer is not as often as I would like. So often our prayers are simply a laundry list of to-dos that we desire God to accomplish on our behalf and for our sake. Prayers that are focused exclusively on our own needs end up making much of ourselves and little of God’s glory and power. I think it’s very interesting that Paul would encourage the Colossians, and us, to pray this way. His instructions are all about praying to God for the sake of God and his glory. This is a picture of selfless prayer. Prayers that are persistent require effort on our part, we might have to reorganize our schedules for this, people! Prayers that are watchful require us to move our eyes from the kingdom of the self to the coming glory of the kingdom of God. The same holds true for prayers that are thankful. Prayers that are thankful glorify God for what he has already done in Christ, rather than what we hope he will do for us, like get us that neat new iPod.

Prayer Is Mission
[3] At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—[4] that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Paul next admonished the Colossians to pray for him and his associates, that God might open to declare the gospel. Here Paul makes his imprisonment explicit, and so to ask God to open a door might be to literally open the door to the prison so that they might be freed to proclaim Christ. But it also might mean that a door of opportunity might be open, even if he stays in prison, that the Gospel would be preached clearly.

Paul is very concerned that his missionary work be supported by the prayers of the churches. The first thing we learn here, then, is that prayer is an essential missionary activity. By “missionary” I mean, the mission of proclaiming the gospel throughout the nations in fulfillment of Christ command in Matthew 28. The mission is to proclaim the message clearly, so that the mystery of Christ might be made plain to those who don’t know Jesus.

Many in the church are uncertain about how to evangelize. They would rather have a root canal than tell anyone anything about Jesus at all. Some have a desire, but wonder where their gifts might be. Here is the answer to that question. Prayer is an evangelistic weapon in the arsenal of God’s church. When employed persistently, watchfully, and with thanksgiving, it can have astonishing effects. Sometimes prayer is answered quickly, but other times it can take years. That’s why we are to be persistent with our prayer, especially our evangelical prayers.

John Piper, in his excellent book Don’t Waste Your Life, tells a story about his father, a long-time evangelistic preacher, using an illustration of a man who was converted in his old age.
The church had prayed for his man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone’s amazement he came and took my father’s hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life.2
The prayers of the church in question were devoted to the salvation of this man. Their prayers were that God would open the eyes of this man so that he could see the way to Jesus. Their prayers were in obedience to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus.

Is this how we pray? Is this how you pray? Is there someone in your life who, like this man in his old age, is deeply in need of Jesus? Whose lives are a mess in the pursuit of self-glory and worldly lusts? Do you have family members who don’t know Jesus? Close friends who don’t know Jesus? Pray for them, beloved! Ask others in the Church to pray for them as well. If we truly love them, we will pray that they will know the saving mercies of Christ and the supreme joy he offers them in eternal life. Prayer is mission, loved ones, and we best be about it all the time, because the time grows short. Piper’s book is entitled Don’t Waste Your Life. This story is about not wasting our lives by employing them in the useful and powerful service of prayer. But the story is also about praying so that the lives others might not be wasted by sin.

Living with Outsiders

And that brings us quite naturally to the final exhortation, which is about making the most of our time, especially with those outside the faith:
[5] Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. [6] Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Paul begins with an understanding that the Christians in Colossae were actively involved in the commercial and social affairs of their community. They were not some isolated enclave, but were involved with the common things of life. In that capacity, they were highly likely to encounter those who were not believers. Those are the “outsiders” Paul refers to here. We are to act wisely in their presence. Our speech should be “gracious” and “seasoned with salt.” Meaning, we should be zesty conversation partners. We are not to be passively bland, but active in our engagements. To be wise means to know what someone is about, to be more than just passing acquaintances. I’m convicted here whenever I think of the utter passive way in which I usually conduct business with the person behind the counter at Casey’s or SA or any number of other public establishments. Sometimes I fear I don’t even make eye contact. That, I would suggest, isn’t wise. We want to be this way, Paul says, so that we may know how we ought to answer each person. To answer a person means they need to ask us about something. And the thing we are going to be asked about, if we really are salt and light, is about Jesus.

Just as we ought to pray for others in their evangelistic work, so we should pray for ourselves in our own work. We have the advantage here because when you were saved you received an indwelling of nothing less than the Holy Spirit, who is our comforter and the means by which we gain the superior knowledge of Christ, so that we might be able to interact with outsiders in our day to day lives in such a way that (1) Christ is glorified, and (2) other can see Jesus and be drawn to him in a saving way.

There are not many words I can use to encourage you in a way that is better than what God’s Word says here in this letter. But I want you to understand how important our prayers to God are. First, here is what Jesus says of you: “You are the salt of the earth.” You are the salt of the earth. You are that because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. You are, in Him, a means of seasoning the lives of others by showing forth the glorious body of our Lord.

The final thing I’ll share with you is this quote by George Smeaton: "To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of an entire kingdom from temporal evil." Conversion is an act of God in which he uses his people to proclaim His saving truth. A very significant portion of our prayers should be devoted to the salvation of others, characterized by their persistence, watchfulness, thankfulness, lifting up others whom may God may use gather in His elect, and lastly for us, for our own interactions with those who a strangers to such a wonderful and loving Savior. Amen.

1O’Brien. Colossians. 238.
2Piper. Don’t Waste Your Life. 12.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
June 12, 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Wickedness and Injustice Can Be "Legal"

Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
-- Psalm 94:20-21

The Afterlife

Paul Simon, at 69, is still producing beautiful and original music:

This song and Rewrite got me to spring for the entire album.