Your Kingdom Come: H.C. Lord’s Day 48

Q. What does the second petition mean?
A. “Your kingdom come” means: Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.

Preserve your church and make it grow.

Destroy the devil’s work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your holy Word.

Do this until your kingdom fully comes, when you will be all in all.
 
If interesting factoids are your thing, it would probably interest you to know that one of the greatest theologians in the Reformation, John Calvin, began his commentary notes on this phrase by saying, “this is nothing new.”  At first glance, it might seem a bit shocking to use such casual and dismissive language as this in a commentary on the Lord’s prayer.  Yet, when we look a bit deeper, we can see that he is right.
 
Coming to this second petition, we’ve already prayed that God’s name would be made holy and isn’t that, at least in part, what happens as God’s Kingdom comes in our lives and expands in the world?  God is, after all, the antonym of sin, and His will is not just that sin would take a back seat or generally be less bad.  His will is that sin will be completely crushed and entirely eradicated from the hearts of all people and from the world.  There will be no compromise at the end of time, sin will be done away with completely.
 
It can be so easy for us to get caught up in the issues of the day, whether they be social, political, or otherwise.  We have opinions, ideologies, and preferences that are part of the makeup of who we are as human beings for each and every subject or issue that we are presented with.  Make no mistake, God also does as well.  When we pray that to God “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven,” we are laying aside our own will and preference for the sake of God’s work and ultimately God’s glory in our lives and in the world.
 
Remember, Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer was not meant to be a line-up of words that have some sort of magical ability to get God’s attention.  Jesus wasn’t giving us the passcode to God’s listening ear, He was teaching us about prayer, the content, substance, and direction that He wanted to see it take in His disciples’ lives.  So once again, while this statement can be simply a declaration, it is a phrase that reminds us what our purpose is: we are praying into God’s Kingdom.
 
What this doesn’t mean for us is that if we pray fervently enough all of the sudden good things will happen.  Nowhere in Scripture will you find anything that teaches this.  Unlike the teachings of some, particularly those who tout the prosperity gospel of “name it and claim it,” this is not simply a matter of having the right words with the right intensity.
 
This also does not come as a sort of passive statement that, if we say it, eventually God will make it happen.  While Scripture does teach that God acts on behalf of His people, perhaps in the case of healing diseases or turning the hearts of people toward himself and that the prayer of the righteous person is both “powerful and effective,” we are again no talking about magical incantations that bend God toward our will.
 
In fact, we see right in the wording that Jesus uses that this isn’t about our will, it’s about God’s.  As Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, He is teaching them that the appropriate posture of God’s people is to see their will bent towards His.  The Heidelberg Catechism’s answer to this Lord’s Day is incredibly telling here: “Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you.
 
As we pray into the will of God, we begin to see our hearts turned toward His.  We begin to see things as He sees them; love people as He loves them.  We even see ourselves more able to forgive others just as God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ.  In all of this, we then see the expansion of God’s Kingdom, His rule, and reign on the hearts of His people, spread outward from our lives into the world around us.  The effects of sin are pushed back… our selfish hearts are softened and our desires are molded and shaped into God’s will both in our lives and in the world.
 
When we take this approach, too, we will see God’s Church expand as well.  The Church is not the Kingdom, but when churches become Kingdom minded, they will give witness to the Kingdom, be heralds of the Kingdom, work to expand the Kingdom, and in turn, see themselves grow as well.  Never in Scripture do we see teaching of prioritizing our church before the Kingdom.  Sometimes it is difficult to see this when our local church is going through difficult times.  We tend to look inward, hoard our resources, and protect ourselves.  That, however, is not the teaching that Christ puts forth in this prayer.
 
God calls us to be about the business of the Kingdom, to be workers in His harvest field.  When we declare “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done…” we are reminded of the priorities that God has for His people.  God’s Kingdom is one of abundance and provision coupled with trust.  Sure, we can be prudent with church finances and expenditures, but never at the expense of Kingdom vision and work.  We are called to “Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.  Then all of the other things will be added unto you.”


The "called out" ones: H.C. Lord's Day 21

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21

Q 54. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A 54. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.  And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

Q 55. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A 55. First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.

Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.

Q 56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A 56. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.

Rather, by grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  It seems like that has often been the question the surrounds the question of God’s people.  This has become so true that it seems that church has taken on a rather “exclusivist” mindset when it comes to its members.  We see this is a number of different ways, not the least of which is the rampant denominationalism that plagues the church in North America.  Everyone, it seems, has their own idea of what exactly “true faith” looks like, to the exclusion of all others who, they think, clearly do not exhibit it.

This posture within the church has, sadly, become so pervasive that it has negatively impacted the witness of the church on many levels.  As the world looks at the Church, with all its churches, fighting and bickering with each other over petty, selfish issues, they don’t see the body of Christ reaching out to those around them and emulating the same love that Christ had for all people.  What they see is a broken institution that has become more about itself, citing faithfulness to Scripture as an expression of musical form, clothing choice, or even regularity of worship attendance.

All the while we seem to have forgotten a few things.  First and foremost, we aren’t making the rules here, God is.  We are not the ones that have somehow “saved ourselves” into God’s good graces.  Rather, we have been saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and adopted into God’s family by grace through faith.

Second, to be in God’s family is not a matter of membership, raising our own status and watching our for our own rights as some have made it out to be.  In fact, being “in Christ” doesn’t have much to do with our own selves at all (apart from the assurance of our salvation and eternal life) but has much, much more to do with taking on the heart of Christ…

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.  – Philippians 2:6-11

Two of Jesus’ disciples seemed to deal with this same sort of mistake, arguing about who among them was the greatest.  Jesus, responding to this question, pointed out that the greatest among them was the “servant of all.”  In other words, they were called to be outward focused, modeling His heart for the least, the last, and the lost.

Finally, I think it is important for us to remember what the true meaning of the word “church” is as it relates to the calling of the people of God.  “Church” comes from a Greek word which literally means “the called out ones.”  Certainly, to be “called out” implies some sort of a distinctive identity, somehow different than before.  In the Old Testament, this looked like those that belonged to the “people of God,” or Biblical Israel.  They were called, chosen by God to be His people through whom He would work to accomplish His will in the world.

The Church, Scripture says, is the “spiritual Israel,” God’s people with whom and through whom He is working to share the Good News of His love and grace.  This people is not one of bloodlines or family heritage, it is a people chosen by God, who have received His grace through faith.  There is no limit, no exclusion to who can be a part of this people.  There is no special thing that we can do to earn our way in… it is solely by God’s grace and love, which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ that we find ourselves adopted as God’s own children.

When we find ourselves here, we also find ourselves different than before.  We begin to take on the heart of Christ, turning our focus outward as Christ did, to share the great love and hope that we have found with all those around us and taking on the very nature of a servant, following Christ’s example set for us by His life, death, and resurrection.



The Saints: H.C. Question 55

What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?

Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

1 Corinthians 6:17 – But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 – There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 John 1:3 – We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:4-8 – For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

1 Corinthians 12:20-27 – As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 – If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Philippians 2:4-8 – not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!



The Church: H.C. Question 54 (Part 2)

 What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?

Ephesians 1:3-14 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

1 John 3:19-21 – This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God

John 10:27-28 – My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Peter 1:3-5 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.



The Church: H.C. Question 54

What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?

John 10:14-16 – “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Acts 20:28 – Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Romans 10:14-17 – How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Colossians 1:18 – And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Genesis 26:3-4 – Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,

Revelation 5:9 – And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Isaiah 59:21 – “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Matthew 16:18 – And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

John 10:28-30 – I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Romans 8:28-30 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.



Galatians 5 – Christian Freedom

Read Galatians 5

The Statue of Liberty has represented freedom for many years

Using the word “freedom” in a Christian context can often be confusing because so much if what we understand “freedom” to mean comes from the cultural context of the United States of America.  We are the “land of the free” and any of our national symbols have become synonymous with freedom and liberty.

There has also been a struggle within the church in the United States which has wrongly portrayed civic duty and patriotism as being part of our “Christian duty” along with the notion that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”

While it may be true that the U.S.A may have been founded using some Christian principles, mentioning God in historical documents and the like, but it doesn’t take a lot of looking around at culture to recognize that we are certainly not a Christian nation, at least not anymore.

When Paul talks about freedom in today’s passage, he is representing the freedom from the bondage of sin that is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ.  He is also continuing the themes of the last several chapters, helping us to understand that our salvation is not based on works of any sort, but by grace through faith.

In this freedom, we are no longer bound by sin in any form and not required to perform any ritual acts to absolve us from those sins.  Paul lists a number of them here, following it by a list of effects that freedom in Christ has on our lives.  No longer do we need to look out for ourselves, but we are free to love others as Christ loved us.

I love the freedoms that we celebrate and far too often take for granted in the U.S.  However, the freedom we have in Christ is so much deeper and greater than any human freedom could ever be.



Acts 18 – Paul in Corinth

Read Acts 18

The city of Corinth was one of the major trade cities in the Roman empire.  Sitting directly on an isthmus that separated northern and southern Greece, Corinth was the place to stop either for getting supplies for the long journey ahead or for offloading all the trade goods that a ship was carrying.  It was actually easier for them, in that day, to carry a ship full of trade goods across the isthmus and then reload another ship on the other side than it was to sail around the southern tip of Greece.

Corinth was a very strategic city for both the Roman Empire and for the spread of Christianity.  Like Israel’s placement at the “crossroads” of the known world (the area joining Asia, Europe, and Africa), Corinth was the crossroads for trade at that time.  Obviously, God knew this.  He kept Paul there for a year and a half helping to set up the church and strengthening the believers.  Paul develops deep relationships here and a great affection for the Corinthian church which we will see more of when we read Paul’s correspondences to them later.

One thing that struck me here is God’s message to Paul.  God said, “I have many people in this city…”  Paul had never been to Corinth prior to this.  There is no record of any Christians going to Corinth prior to Paul’s visit, yet God already had many people there.  The way had been prepared for Paul long before he physically arrived, and the Spirit was at work before Paul even knew it.

Sometimes we wonder if we will “have an effect” when we share the Gospel.  Remember, God has been at work for far longer and in much deeper ways than we will ever know and we must trust Him.

 



Introduction to Acts

The book of Acts is the first book following the Gospels but is also linked very closely to them, particularly the book of Luke.  Acts is Luke’s second volume, a companion book the Gospel of Luke, that follows the expansion of the Church after Jesus ascends into heaven.

At the beginning, Jesus gives a charge to His followers before He returns to heaven.  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This is effectively the “thesis statement” for the book of Acts.  Luke follows the work of Peter and the apostles, and then the work of Paul as the message of Christ spreads in ever expanding circles throughout the Roman Empire.

Acts is the only book deemed “historical” as a writing genre.  What this means is that there is less teaching associated with it and more recording that takes place.  We will see more narratives of things that happened and less of the teaching that we have seen Jesus doing in the course of His ministry.  That said, there is still plenty that God’s Word will teach us in this book.

Finally, a note about the language of the “early church” that refers to Acts and is used in our contemporary church today.  We will observe a number of ways that the Church functioned in the setting of the first century under Roman rule.  The book of Acts is by no means “prescriptive” of the “ideal” church, but rather a record of God’s faithfulness in building the Church.  Rather than trying to copy what they did, something incredibly difficult for us in the 21st century, it is important that our focus is drawn to the One who provided for, empowered, and sustained the Church in these difficult times.



John 17 – My Prayer for You

Read John 17

Jesus concludes the Passover celebration, His Last Supper with His disciples with a prayer for Himself, His disciples, and for all those who will believe in Him.  In this prayer, Jesus hits three major points: God’s glorification (His and the Father), the protection of His disciples, and the unity of believers.

Glorification: Ultimately, Jesus’ glorification through the cross.  As we have talked about, the ultimate purpose of Jesus was to bring light into the darkness, life into a world of death.  All that Jesus did was meant to bring glory to the Father (remember the blind man?)  Now God’s glory would be revealed again as Jesus finishes His work and goes to the cross.  Jesus’ glory too would be revealed, in both His death and resurrection.

Protection:  As He has prepared them for His departure, Jesus now prays for His disciples knowing that there are trying times ahead for them.  This is an echo of His words in John 13: “In this world you will face trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  He also points out that, while He is leaving, it is important for them to stay.  Though they would face many trials, it was part of their sanctification.

Unity: Jesus prays for what we consider the Church universal.  Yet He doesn’t pray for protection for us but instead for unity.  When the Church is one as He and the Father are one, Jesus says that people will know and believe in Him.

Part of this unity comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.  God has made this possible for us; the question is whether we will live into this unity or not.  It seems that, at least on some level, the message of the Gospel depends on it.



John 5 – Father and Son

Read John 5

The major theme of John’s Gospel is to reveal Jesus as not only our Savior but also as the Divine Son of God who is also one with God the Father.  Much of John’s writings, themes, and theology form the basis for would later be known as Trinitarian Theology.  The Athanasian Creed lays this out well:

We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing… nor dividing the divine being.

For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

 John begins to lay this foundation through Jesus’ conversation with the religious leaders.  Jesus doesn’t mince words at all, talking about Himself as being equal with the Father, and especially doing the “Father’s work.”  In fact, Jesus points out that He can do nothing apart from the Father.

There are some difficult sayings here too, but ones that we must take seriously.  Jesus says that those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father.  In an age where many people seem to think its ok to say “we all serve the same God,” Jesus’ words add a caveat to that.  Several major world religions find their roots in the Old Testament, but only through honoring Jesus as Lord do we find the true way back to the Father.  Watch for more of this theme later in John.

One other thing to consider: Jesus does only what He sees the Father doing.  As the body of Christ, the Church would fall into this same function.  I wonder if we are focused on looking for where the Father is working so as to know what we should be doing?