Our Father in Heaven: H.C. Lord’s Day 46

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 46

Q 120. Why did Christ command us to call God “our Father”? 
A 120. To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer what should be basic to our prayer—a childlike reverence and trust that through Christ God has become our Father, and that just as our parents do not refuse us the things of this life, even less will God our Father refuse to give us what we ask in faith.
Q 121. Why the words “in heaven”? 
A 121. These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly and to expect everything needed for body and soul from God’s almighty power.
Being a Father has been life-changing for me.  The unquenchable love that I feel day in and day out for this little girl is absolutely mind-blowing.  She hasn’t done anything to earn my love.  As a matter of fact, if left to simple logic, she has done more in her one and a half years to break me of my fondness for her than she has to amplify it.  Yet, my love for her has known no bounds, something I still cannot even fathom within my own mind.
One thing that has been a joy to me as a father has been to watch my daughter learn.  It is uncanny what she picks up as she learns to play with toys, to interact with other people, and even to speak.  I’ve had to take a step back and examine my own habit when it comes to such things and here’s why: she copies everything I do.  When she first discovered matchbox cars she would just carry them around.  Then she saw my driving them around on the floor so she started doing that do.  Next, I would run them into each other… suffice to say I am glad she won’t be driving anytime soon.  Later I would crash them and then flip the cars over as if it were a big wreck; she does that as well now.
All of Scripture refers to God as the “Heavenly Father.”  This isn’t to say that God is male or female; God is Spirit.  God certainly has many feminine and maternal characteristics.  But Scripture’s revelation of God has Father displays for us an image of who God is to us.  Sadly, today’s culture has twisted that image through both positive and negative movements.
As our culture becomes increasingly aware of the equality of gender in the world, a positive movement if ever there was one.  In that, however, there has been considerable pushback against the notion of God as being a masculine reference.  There is some validity to this as God is not a man and men throughout time have used the masculine reference to God as a way of cementing abusive dominance over others.  This is wrong, but it is not itself a reason to abandon the Scriptural witness of God as Father.
In a similar, but much more negative way, the breakdown of the family in North America as well as the coming to light of so many destroyed relationships due to abusive fathers & husbands has led to a wholesale questioning of whether “Father” is an appropriate reference to God.  For many who have been hurt in this way, whether by abuse or absence, even the term “Father” can bring up painful, bad memories.  Without being insensitive to this, however, it is important to understand that our pain does not supersede Scripture’s revelation.
The reality of God is this: God is our loving Father, the best of what was intended for that position and person in people’s lives.  God created us as His children and loves us in a way that is beyond comprehension to us, despite our disobedience and turning from Him time and time again.  God is overjoyed to see us grow and learn, maturing in our live, our faith, and even in the great gifts and abilities that He has given to us.  God is also the opposite of everything negative that has been infused into the father figure of the 21st century.  He will never abandon us nor is He ever absent; His love is perfect and encourages flourishing within our lives, even healing rather than hurt.
More than this, though, is our reaction to this perfect Father figure in our lives.  As we grow from proverbial infants in our faith into more mature individuals, we, like my daughter with me, begin to see how God is working in the world and how He interacts with and loves His children.  The more we see this modeled for us in our lives, the more we begin to follow those patterns, loving others as God loves us.  Our experience with God, when we turn to Him and fully experience His love, molds and shapes us, informing who we become in Christ.
Sadly, this too has been soured in the world through the unhealthy actions of people within the church.  God’s people have, often, missed the mark when it comes to modeling this for each other as well.  Because of this, people have blamed God for the actions of His people.  Sadly, parents can experience this too, being blamed as a bad parent for the momentary behavioral lapse of a child.  In any case, we must understand that we must look to Scripture to understand God better, not to the actions of His children which, in some circumstances, are not in line with God’s eternal love and purpose.
Additionally, it is vitally important to mention then second part of this week’s question: God’s location.  We are not looking to some local offical, a governmental authority, or even the clergy of a church for help, advice, or anything else.  No, our Divine Father is in Heaven, unconfined by the limits of mortal and material existence, God reigns from His throne, holding the entire universe in the palm of His hand.  Yet, despite God’s infinite magnitude, He concerns Himself with each one of us so much that, as the 1st Question and Answer reminds us: “not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven.”

Old and New: H.C. Lord's Day 33

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 88

Q 88. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion? 
A 88. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the rising-to-life of the new.

Q 89. What is the dying-away of the old self? 
A 89. To be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it.

Q 90. What is the rising-to-life of the new self? 
A 90. Wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God by doing every kind of good work.

Q 91. What are good works? 
A 91. Only those which are done out of true faith, conform to God’s law, and are done for God’s glory; and not those based on our own opinion or human tradition.

If there is one thing that is true across the board when it comes to religion it is the idea that changes need to take place.  Before one is an adherent to any religious ideology, they would be considered “lost,” or “misguided.”  However, when one begins to put faith in whatever deity or element is upheld within a particular religious practice, life changes are assumed.  Every religion has rules to follow and to become a good adherent to that religion, one must follow them to some degree.

As a religion, Christianity is not much different in this respect.  In fact, this Lord’s day talks very specifically about the change that takes place after one comes to faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul writes about this in the book of Romans in terms of “dying to the old-self” and “rising in Christ” or becoming a “new creation.”  The reality he is trying to convey here is that this is a fundamental change in one’s life.  A full 180-degree turn takes place when one places their faith in Jesus, from walking in sin and self-interest to loving God with all their heart, trusting Him with their life, and loving others with the same love God shows to them.

One fundamental difference, however, between Christianity and all other religions is the place from which that change comes from.  In every other faith practice, change is manufactured by the person.  The promise of salvation is for those who best practice their faith according to the rules laid out.  If you are good enough, kind enough, just enough, or, in some cases, oppose other religions enough, you will find some manner of salvation, whether in this life or the next.  It is, however, on you to make this happen.

Faith in Jesus Christ is different.  The promise of God in the Bible is that the saving work required by God has been accomplished for us in Jesus Christ!  This is amazing news for us, the “Gospel of our Salvation” as Paul writes.  In Jesus, when we place our faith in Him, our sins our forgiven and our old self is “put to death.”  Even greater is that we are “raised to newness of life” through God’s grace; this is where the change begins to take place.

Unlike other religions, however, the change that we are called to is one out of gratitude, not requirement.  Because the saving work is done, and we are saved by grace through faith, the new life is not one of obligation but one of desire.  Change, then, is not manufactured from the outside but instead is released from the inside!  This is what we often call “sanctification.”  It is the continuing work of God in our lives, through the Holy Spirit, to form us and shape us into the image of Christ.

Whereas other religions require “personal perfection” in order to gain salvation, Scripture states that Christ’s perfection and sacrifice for us is sufficient for salvation and when we place our faith in Him, that perfection (which we call righteousness) is put on to us.  God then sees us as He sees His Son and we are welcomed back into relationship with Him.  Throughout the rest of our lives, then, God is at work teaching, growing, shaping, and molding us to live into it.  We cooperate with this process by listening, learning, and seeking to live the life of gratitude for our salvation that Scripture calls us to.  It is God’s beautiful work in us to bring His work, accomplished by Christ, to it’s fullness in our lives!

Ephesians 2:8-10 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

1 Timothy 2 – Worship Instructions

Read 1 Timothy 2

I do not typically do a lot of research when it comes to these blog posts.  My goal and hope for these posts when I started them was that they would be more personal reflections out of some of my education and life experiences.  Today, however, I’ve done my homework.

First of all, Paul is addressing the worship of the church, particularly in Ephesus.  Some of this we have talked about elsewhere, especially in the book of Ephesians.  It is interesting to note, I think, that when addressing matters of worship, Paul never once addresses the issue of music.  Music is a stylistic preference that the church has far too often equated with whether worship is “good” or “bad.”

Paul’s concern in worship, as always, is where the heart of the people is as they gather together to worship God.  Here this motivation is found expressly through Paul’s encouragement toward unified prayer, not just for themselves, but for the world around them as well.

In doing so, Paul also encourages Timothy and the church in Ephesus to avoid distractions and put off and selfish ambition.  This is the driving force behind both the plea for unity, “lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing,” as well as Paul’s comments on modesty and appropriate dress.  Those who dressed in fancy clothes, jewelry, and hairstyles did so to show off their elaborate wealth, not as a way of honoring God.

All of this falls in line with what Paul has already written to the church in Ephesus, as does his comments about women being in leadership.  Remember that, in Ephesians 5, Paul talks about the roles of men and women under the distinct phrase: “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”  That is still true here.

The specific context here, 2000 years ago, is somewhat of a mystery.  Where the women of this community particularly dominating in nature, causing trouble with the men?  We do know that, because of the cultic worship of pagan gods that went on in the city, Paul desired that the Christians be set apart.  This pagan worship involved showy signs of spiritual indwelling as well as temple prostitution, most of which happened by women, and which Paul obviously wanted to avoid.  We find this to also be true in the context of the church in Corinth as well.

Whatever the specific issues that led to Paul’s words here, we also cannot read them in a vacuum without looking to the rest of Scripture for God’s will in this subject.  One of the fundamental themes of God’s work in Jesus Christ is breaking down barriers in relationships both with each other and with him.  Through the reconciliation that Jesus Christ ushered in, divisions were also broken down.  Paul himself writes that there is no longer “Jews nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  In addition, the prophets attest to a time when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (not just on men).  Women have been clearly gifted by God for the tasks of leadership and service in the Chuch and in the world and we must honor that gifting and God’s call on their lives by equipping and empowering all women and men to their fullest God-given potential.

Ephesians 3 – Plan A

Read Ephesians 3

What is truly amazing about the love of God and the grace that He shows us is that, as Paul says here, this has always been the point and purpose.  This is why we were created, out of love, and what God has always desired, relationship with us.  It has always been His will to draw us to Himself.

Even after the Fall, when sin entered the world, the point at which God could have said that He was unequivocally done with us because of our lack of obedience, He still stepped into the gap desiring to show us His love.

Furthermore, this plan was always meant to include all the people of the earth, both Jews and Gentiles alike.  While God chose to work through a certain people that He called His own, it wasn’t for the purpose of keeping others out, but rather for the purpose of bringing them in.  This is a fact that often gets missed in the Old Testament, especially by the people of Israel.  They, like the Church, are called to be a “light to the nations” in the same way that Jesus is the “light of the world.”

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” Isaiah 9:2

This full inclusion is made clearer through the life and work of Jesus as well as the revelation and power of the Holy Spirit and God removes the barriers that have long existed to being in a relationship with Him.

Paul accents this point in his prayer for the Ephesians, which is also a prayer for the whole of the church, that

…out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Romans 10 – Missed It By That Much

Read Romans 10

There is a theological line of thinking known as “dispensationalism” that suggested that they way God worked with Israel is completely different than the way He is working with the Gentiles.  Therefore, according to this theology, at some point, God will return to working specifically with Israel in order to save them.  This is the same theological thinking that gives us the idea of the Rapture and is the basis for the Left Behind book series.

Paul’s words in Romans 9 – 11 counter the ideas of dispensationalism, though, drawing on Scripture throughout the Old Testament to make his point.  The fact that Paul draws out of these texts is that God has always desired the hearts of His people, not simply following the rules.  You see, a person can follow the rules of any deity, government, or organization without giving that entity their hearts, but they certainly do not love that thing.  Think of a job that you hated; you probably still followed the rules so that you would keep getting a paycheck.

Yet this is not how God desires to be in relationship with His people.  In fact, the relationship God desires, that of love and faith in response to God’s grace, was a stark contrast to the “demands” that other deities made of their respective peoples.

Returning to the book of Deuteronomy chapter 30, Paul quotes Moses, who represents the law, as proof of God’s desire for the hearts of His people in verses 6-8.  Later, Paul draws on the words of the prophets as well culminating in the reality that salvation has been available to the Jews through faith, and is also available to everyone else through the work of Jesus Christ, the grace that God freely offers, and the response of faith that the Spirit builds within us.

Romans 2 – The Law

Read Romans 2

The prominence and important of the Law in the Old Testament cannot be understated.  It’s relevance to the New Testament and the New Covenant often is.  Paul is laying out the basics of God’s plan for salvation and we see here that the Law was a vital part of that plan.  For God’s people, however, Paul points to the true purpose of the Law and God’s true desire of His people: a “circumcised heart.”

God’s desire for His people was a renewed, reconciled relationship with humankind. Since the calling of Abram in Genesis 12, the whole arc of this relationship was that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through God’s covenant relationship with Abram.  The Law, then, became a part of how God was calling His people to live in this relationship.  It was, as Moses points out in Deuteronomy 6, always about the heart.  God’s Law showed His people the things that would damage their relationship with the goal being that they would want to avoid these things, desiring a deeper relationship with Him.

Yet Israel completely misses this point.  First, they ignore the Law and, when they are punished in exile, they eventually divulge into legalism rather than heart change.  So many laws were developed to protect people from breaking God’s Law that it was literally impossible to follow, even for the religious leaders and teachers that Paul addresses here.

Israel’s problem, in the end, was that they thought that having the Law and being in the land is what gave them their identity.  What they failed to see is that it isn’t what one does that makes them God’s people but who they are as God’s called children.  We too need to remember that our Identity is grounded in Christ, not our actions.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 12, 13

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 17

Romans 1 – No Excuse

Read Romans 1

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is a systematic presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s over-arching plan of salvation.  There is no record, to my knowledge, of how the church in Rome was founded, and therefore it is possible that Paul is writing not simply to encourage but also to educate these brothers and sisters on the basics of Christian faith.  Throughout the letter, Paul does a great deal of work to show that both Jews and Gentiles (of which the Roman church was primarily made up) are alike, under the wrath of God and equal recipients of God’s gift of grace as well, when they put their faith in Jesus Christ.

To fully walk through God’s plan of salvation, Paul begins at the beginning, with creation and the fall of humanity into sin.  Neither the Gospel nor God’s plan of salvation makes sense (or are needed) without the reality of sin.

But there is another truth that Paul also points out here which is the fact that the general ability to know God, and therefore the ability to seek Him out, is made plain through creation.  Because of this, humankind, though sinful, is left without excuse for their sins before God.

The reality here that Paul is expressing is that humans were created by God, in the image of God, to be in relationship with God.  Yet, true relationship, true love requires a choice and so humanity was created with free will.  It is the deepest truth of love: the ability to choose means the risk of rejection.  Yet there is greater joy in the choice to love, something that God desires for us so deeply that He sent His Son to die and make a way for our relationship to be reconciled.

Check out what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this:

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A: 10, 14, 21, 35, 59, 96, 101, 106, 112

Check out what the Belgic Confession says about this:

Belgic Confession Articles: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15

Mark 12:28-34 "What Matters Most?"

There are a lot of things that we consider to be important; sometimes too important.  We make big deals about little things, promoting them to be the true test of orthodoxy (right faith).  Jesus says here that the most important thing is relationships:

  1. Our relationship with God
  2. Our relationship with our neighbor