God’s Will Be Done: H.C. Lord’s Day 49

Q 124. What does the third petition mean? 

A 124. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” means:
Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good.
Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.
 
Language about the “will of God” can be very confusing.  This is due in part to the variety of ways that this language is used in Scripture, but also finds it’s puzzlement in how Christians use the term to talk about what is going on in their lives.  We readily dismiss negative events in our lives, even those related to the presence and impact of sin, as being God’s will.  A tragic death, a fatal illness, and even injustice that we experience in the world around us is all chalked up to and dismissed as “the will” of God.
 
Yet, even in that rather dispassionate response, there is something unsettling that stirs in us.  The question of how a good God can allow for such evil arises.  When we dismiss sin as the “will of God,” we even begin to walk the line of blaming God for sin and potentially see Him as the cause of it.  Thoughts such as this are contrary to what we know about God; He cannot sin and is wholly separate from sin.  How can these two things be reconciled?
 
There are really two sides of God’s will that Scripture reveals to us: His will of decree and His will of Desire.  God’s will of decree has to do with His continual governing and provision of the entire universe.  His divine sovereignty covers everything from the orbits of planets and galaxies to the number of hairs on your head and the color of your eyes.  Most of all, God’s unthwartable will is the ultimate redemption and restoration of Creation and the annihilation of sin.
 
God’s Will of desire is what the Lord’s prayer is pointing toward.  God’s will of desire has to do with what God wants for His people and for the world, but it is a will that can be disregarded by His rebellious creatures.  This is where human freedom comes in.  While it is God’s desire that everything on earth be as perfect as it is in heaven; perfect worship, perfect obedience, perfect service, perfect holiness.  He has, however, instilled freedom in the human heart.  It is this freedom that ultimately led to sin entering the world and it is this freedom that continues to allow God’s creatures to turn from Him and reject Him.
 
Ultimately, this is why we pray that God’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  As we have been talking about already, the Lord’s prayer is about teaching us to pray.  Clearly, praying these exact words does not enact God’s will of desire here on earth instantly.  If that were true, everything would be perfect once again.  Instead, this once again reminds us of who we are praying to and what He desires for us.
 
First, by praying this we are reminded that it is indeed God’s will, not our own will, that we are to desire.  For us, that also means that we are putting our own will aside.  Scripture describes this as “dying” to ourselves.  There are many examples of human desires and will taking center stage and God’s will being put aside.  Whether it is that time when we littered while we were driving in the country or the concentration camps of the Nazis in World War 2, when human will is allowed to run free, it always runs to sin.  Clearly, we need a Savior, and one of the results of God’s salvation is the changing of the heart; we desire that God’s will would be done, not our own.
 
For this to take place, a second thing needs to happen: we need to trust God’s will.  It isn’t enough to just want God’s will to happen, we need to trust that how He is working and what He is doing is the right thing too.  Often this is where Christians start to say things like “it’s God’s will.”  Certainly, nothing in the world happens without God allowing it to happen.  However, it is not God’s will that people would die, that people would abuse or kill, or that sin would continue to have all of the horrible impacts on the world that it does.  In the midst of this, however, God is at work.  As we desire His will over ours, and as we trust in Him, we begin to see things change in our lives.  Our faith grows, our trust grows, and we look to Him in the good times and the bad, recognizing God’s faithfulness and His love, even in the midst of our pain.
 
Finally, as we desire God’s will and trust His will, we must also carry out His will.  This is the ultimate end of transformation in our hearts; it overflows into and out of our lives.  As we learn to pray and learn from this prayer, we begin to see things as God sees them, to feel about people the way God feels about them, and our hearts begin to beat in sync with His.  In essence, God’s will of desire becomes the desire of our will!  It is to that end, then, that we begin to desire that heaven would come to earth and we work to that end, spreading God’s love and working God’s will in the world around us.


What's Next? H.C. Question 86 (Part 2)

Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works? 

Matthew 7:17-18 – Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Galatians 5:22-24 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

2 Peter 1:10-11 – Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Romans 14:17-19 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

1 Peter 2:12 – Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 3:1-2 – Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.



Titus 2 – Salvation or salvation?

Read Titus 2

As Paul is writing to Titus, he is imploring Titus to teach and encourage transformed living in a way that is applied to all who are believers.  It isn’t simply enough to have leaders who reflect the transformative work that is done by the Holy Spirit, all must live in this way.  This is a response to our eternal Salvation, and yet at the same time is part of “earthly,” contemporary (current time) salvation as well.

Far too often we get “salvation” mixed up as being something that happens to us when we die.  When we believe in Jesus, we know that we will “go to heaven” after we die.  But if this is the extent of the salvation that we understand, we are getting a very small picture of what God is actually doing in our lives.

The work of our salvation begins even before the very moment that we place our faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, building up our faith.  God is constantly at work in us, reforming and reshaping us into the image of His Son.  We call this “sanctification,” and it is a very important part of the Christian life.

Not only is God working on us in this way, He continues to work in this world to bring about redemption and restoration to all of His creation.  This is something that He has been doing since the very beginning and something we also are called to participate in through the careful tending and treatment of this planet.

When we limit the scope of God’s salvific (salvation related) work to a sort of “escapist” mentality line of thinking that is only true for us when we die, we grossly limit and box in God’s extraordinary work throughout history, culminating, but not ending in the work of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross.



Titus 1 – Do Good

Read Titus 1

Paul opens his letter to Titus explaining both why he left Titus in Crete and what he should now be doing while he is there.  The Cretan churches were in some manner of disarray, needing sound leadership and a strong hand to guide them.  To facilitate this, Paul encourages Titus to work on appointing elders in every town throughout Crete.  The Elders, leaders in those communities, should live as examples as to how those in the church should be.

Though Paul seems to emphasize “good works” here as a major theme, it is important to note that all of this comes from his application of the Gospel message onto the lives of believers.  In the instance of the Cretan churches, there is a stark contrast in the way that “all Cretans” live and the new life that they are called to as believers in Christ.

It is interesting here that Paul lumps laziness with “law following” as part of the things that need to be rebuked and corrected.  Indeed, it is much easier, and takes much less effort to just follow the rules with no real thought or internal change.  What is more interesting, I think, is that Paul tells Titus that they must “do good,” citing the example of those who are appointed elders, as the way of faith.

This would seem, to many, as Paul advocating for “works righteousness,” exchanging one set of laws for another.  However, what he is suggesting is to actually live into this transformed life.  “Doing good” by way of the law is simply following the rules… doing good in response to the Grace of God in Jesus Christ is a sign of a redeemed and transformed life.

Especially for those who are new to the faith, there are some boundaries that are necessary to help foster growth and encourage change and transformation.  In the same way that a young, newly freed Israelite nation needed the law to show them the boundaries of their new freedom, so too do we need some boundaries to foster our freedom in Christ.  What is important, though, is that those boundaries don’t become laws for us, simply following the rules for the sake of the rules, rather than living in response to God’s love for us.



2 Timothy 4 – Inconvenient Truth

Read 2 Timothy 4

Once again Paul makes a number of remarks that have come to pass in a number of concrete ways once again in the present time.  In a culture which celebrates truth as being “relative” to each individual, people are becoming less and less open to hearing the teachings of Scripture, the message of the Gospel, and the call of God to live a transformed life.  People are happy enough to simply be “good” people, even “spiritual” people, but all without the commitment of faith and religion.

And why not?  Christianity, as well as all of the other major religions, has its dark marks throughout history.  We are imperfect people, seeking to follow the will of God, and messing it up far too often.

Through it all, however, the message of the Gospel has not changed, and the call of God to live in response to grace has also not changed.  Scripture tells that we are to flee from sin in all its various forms.  It also outlines what sin is.  Unfortunately, as we “progress” in society, those boundaries seem to mean less and less.

Paul says that a time will come when people will no longer listen to sound doctrine, but instead will seek to hear only what they want to hear.  We have seen this happen in the church far too much in recent history.  In one sense, this is the reason that we have so many denominations of Christianity in the Church today.  It is also the reason why we continue to fight and argue about peripheral things rather than focusing on the unity that Scripture calls us to as the Body of Christ and the message that we are called to proclaim together.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for everyone, but good news doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t challenge or ways of life.  Grace abounds through all things, but God calls us to not conform to this world but be transformed by the Holy Spirit’s work in renewing us each day.



Galatians 6 – New Creation

Read Galatians 6

Paul closes his letter to the churches in Galatia by reiterating what he has just said along with a few practical applications.  Freedom gives us extraordinary latitude in how we can live, and yet there are limits to that as well.  However, rather than condemning those who sin, we have the freedom to love them and help restore them.  This is why Paul encourages mutual accountability within the body of Christ.  Not only does it help to bring people back after a sin, but it helps us to keep our own ego in check.

The reality is that, with freedom, comes a transformed life.  When we receive Christ, we are a “new creation.”  Even though Scripture tells us “the old is gone and the new has come,” we still struggle with sin.  Our impulse is to revert back to the legalistic notion of having to pay for our sins.  To this, however, Paul says No.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, all that matters is the New Creation that you are becoming.

Beautiful, no matter how lowly the start may be.

Jesus Christ doesn’t look at who you were, He is much more concerned with who you are becoming.  Part of who we are becoming is seen in the fruit that our lives produce as we embrace our freedom in Christ.  Paul reminds his readers that freedom gives us the opportunity to move toward each other in restorative, supportive, and loving ways the build up the body of Christ.

It is important to remember, though, that we sometimes confuse these actions with legalistic things that we *have* to do as Christians.  They aren’t.  Instead, they are things that we now have the opportunity to do to show the love of Christ and as a response to the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.



2 Corinthians 11 – Eloquent Fool

Read 2 Corinthians 11

If ever there was a place where sarcasm was used in the Bible, this chapter would be it.  As he continues to address the issue of the church in Corinth following some “other voices” that seem to be leading them astray, questions their wisdom through a rather sarcastic tone, making him look “foolish.”  Certainly, he is the foolish one in relationship to the “super” apostles because of his lack of eloquence in speaking… or the fact that he told them the truth, even if it was difficult to hear.

The reality of this situation is not something unique to the Corinthian church, though.  In fact, many churches continue to struggle with these things today.  While the truth of the Gospel message is simple, its implications are broad reaching and often challenge the way that we live.

Far too often, eloquent speakers come in and offer a feel-good message that we are “good” and “don’t have to change.”  We are told that nothing is actually wrong with us and that “God loves us just the way we are.”  There is some truth in these messages, but it isn’t the whole truth.  God meets us where we are, but doesn’t want us to stay there, He wants us to go deeper, to be transformed through His Spirit.  Sometimes this growth hurts… sometimes it is difficult…

Whenever people come to us offering a “better way” that we can know for the “low low price of…” we should be wary.  Scripture tells us that God’s Word is near us, in our mouths and on our hearts; the Holy Spirit will speak through it and transform us.  We need not pay an “expert” for a “special way” to our salvation…

Sadly, the Corinthians listened to those who boasted in human wisdom and ability, touting a better way than the Gospel Message.  I think of “prosperity gospel” preachers here… those who require payment for their blessing, who fly on private jets to “advance the ‘gospel…'”  Would they ever be willing to face beatings or imprisonment for the message they are preaching?  Would they stand with those who are facing that now?  Paul would… Paul did… Paul faced death for the sake of winning souls for Christ, not his own glory or wealth.



Day 346: 1 Thessalonians 4-5; The Day of the Lord

One of the things that Paul addresses here in First Thessalonians has to do with the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.  In the first century after Jesus ascended into heaven, when he said that he would return soon, they thought that meant within their lifetime.  For some, this meant that there was a bit of necessity to stay alive until Christ’s return.  When Christ’s return didn’t happen right away and believers started dying, it constituted a crisis within the Church as they all grappled with what that meant for these believers that had “fallen asleep.”

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This exhortation comes within a greater discussion about Christian living.  From my perspective, what I see here is an encouragement from Paul that the believers take the faith and hope in which they living from day to day and take it with them as they deal with the death of their loved ones who are believers.  Paul has given them some instruction in how they should be living as believers, walking according to the Word of God and keeping away from the things of this world like lust and sexual sins.  The way in which we are called to live as Christians is that of a transformed life, as we talked about yesterday.  Again, this doesn’t come to us by way of a set of rules and legalism, but as a response to the grace that we have found in Christ Jesus and in an effort to live a life of faith out of gratitude for this wonderful gift.

For Paul, this is just a natural extension of his understanding of the second coming of Christ.  He has addresses this in a metaphor of those who live in the day and those who live at night.

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.  But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.  For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.  So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.  For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

The assurance and hope in which we live as believers in Christ Jesus is also the assurance and hope which we take with us into death, whether the death of a loved one or our own death.  This is not to say that there is nothing sad about a loved one dying, and that we shouldn’t mourn the loss.  Indeed death is not what we are created for, neither was sin.  But we do not approach it as others do either, without hope, in the same way that Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers to not live in the way that others do.  The transformation takes place through the grace of Jesus Christ is one that should be pervasive throughout all of our life.  Again, salvation is not some sort of cosmic fire insurance, but an event that makes a life of transformation, which we call sanctification, that happens continually over the course of the life of us as believers.



Day 345: 1 Thessalonians 1-3; Paul's First Letter

Chronologically speaking, the book of 1 Thessalonians is the first letter that Paul wrote to a church in the New Testament.  The Church at Thessalonica, now known as modern day Thessaloniki in Greece was one of the cities that Paul visited on his second missionary journey (reference Acts 17).  Some would say that this is one of the first churches that Paul set up as well.  It wasn’t as rosy as it sounds though as apparently Paul was driven out of the city because of intense persecution by Jews who opposed the teaching of Christ.

Before we continue into the content of our reading, I think it is interesting to note here some of what we read in Acts 17 about the Thessalonian church.  Luke, the writer of Acts, mentions “not a few leading women.”  Now, it is generally understood that Paul wrote this letter from Corinth, another church that Paul started whose letters we have recently read as well.  This understanding of the leadership of women seems to show very clearly that women in leadership within the church is a very acceptable thing.  We cannot dismiss these writings while holding up others such as Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church where he says that women “should be silent in worship” in chapter 14.  It is important that we keep in mind both context and content as we read.  The Thessalonian church benefited and prospered while having women in leadership positions, while the church in Corinth may have had some work to do before this would have been acceptable.  Let us take from both examples, not just the one that we wish to hold up, and work to further God’s Kingdom by utilizing all the gifts of God’s people.

Returning to our reading today, Paul is writing to the Thessalonian believers soon after he has been driven from the city in order to encourage and reassure them in their persecution, and to offer guidance to them as they seek to live a faithful life.  He talks about this right at the beginning of the letter, how they have been faithful and, in many things, he doesn’t feel the need to worry about them at all.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know,brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Paul also makes a point of telling the Thessalonian believers that his visit, though short, was not one that was in vain.

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

I think that as Americans we tend to lean towards what Paul is trying to counter here.  Western culture pushes us towards production, showing a result of our labor as a way of proving that we have accomplished something.  In this light, if we started a project and then were forced out of it, we would often consider it a failure rather than a success.  To this Paul says, that though they were only there for a short time and they had been persecuted in other cities as well, the visit was not in vain.  God is clearly at work here in greater ways than can be measured by human hands.

Often, this idea of productivity is measured in our church mission work as well, both local and abroad.  What is it that people so very often ask missionaries when they come to visit?  “How many conversions have you had?”  What do we ask ourselves in church when we look at the past year?  “Have we grown in number?”  Its as if we think that the only work that God does is with numbers.  If more people are coming to our church or are getting converted by our missionaries, then that means God is giving us success and we are clearly in God’s will.  I think Paul kind of addresses this here as well.  What is it that is really important?  Lives that are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

You can have a church with a very a great speaker that draws thousands and thousands of people to that building, but if lives aren’t being transformed then we really aren’t doing much more than good motivational speaking.  We can get people to pray “the sinner’s prayer” in droves, but if they aren’t truly coming to faith, and their lives aren’t being changed by the Gospel, then are we simply revealing Christ as some sort of cosmic fire insurance?  This is not the Good News of the Gospel, because it leaves us still in bondage to sin.  Christ did not come so that we could get our “get out of hell free” card and then live in the same ways of the world that we had always lived… Christ came that we might be set free from the Law and from Sin, that our lives may be transformed by the Gospel and that we may be brought to newness of life by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, through the Power of the Holy Spirit!



Day 139: Nehemiah 5-7; The Completion of the Wall

As I read through these chapters of Nehemiah, I think of one thing: Transformation.  At the same time that Nehemiah and the people are working to build the wall, an act that will transform Jerusalem from a defenseless pile of rubble into a defensible city once again, so too are Nehemiah and the people working to transform their lives to be more like the people of God that they are called to be.  Part of this was happening yesterday in the way that, through dependence and trust in God the people continued to build the wall of Jerusalem despite the threats and jeers of the people of the land that wanted to see them fail.  They were living in the city of David, their home.  It was the place that they were called back to.  Yet without a wall it really is just a pile of rubble on a hill, without any means of protection from all that was around them.

Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem

Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, as we see the people working and trusting God with their lives rather than succumbing to fear and doubt, we see the transformation begin to take place.  The gates get built, the wall gets connected, the gaps are filled in.  Their enemies may not like it, but who can stand against the power of God working in and through the people?  More and more they work and trust and the wall is built up to completion.  When the wall is complete though, they don’t just leave it alone.  No, Nehemiah assigns people to the wall, gatekeepers, guards, and I’m sure (though it doesn’t say this) people to tend to the wall as well to continue to keep it strong.

At the same time that all this is happening, Nehemiah is dealing with another crisis as well.  The poor in the community seem to be getting poorer while the rich seem to be living off the backs of the poor.  People are selling themselves and their children as slaves to their brothers and sisters because they can’t pay their debts.  Others were selling their fields and lands, which would have been their means to make money, just so they could pay off others.  We read that there was a great outcry from the poor among them, and when Nehemiah heard of this, he was outraged.  But not, I think, for the reasons we might think he would be.

We hear of people selling themselves into slavery and are usually appalled.  How could someone own a slave?  However, this isn’t the full story of what is going on here.  The Law of Moses, part of their identity as the people of God, expressly forbids the Hebrew people from owning as slaves, their own kinsmen.  This comes directly from Leviticus 25.  In the cultures surrounding Israel, profit was the name of the game.  I know right?  Big surprise.  The people of God, however, we to be set apart from those people.  Where the people of the nations would gladly force their brother, sister, family or friend into slavery, the people of Israel were to care for the poor, look after them, give them a place to eat, and perhaps a job as well.  Never were they to own each other, force each other to pay interest, or be uncaring in a time of need.  So you can see why Nehemiah was upset.  This isn’t to say that slavery is OK… I certainly don’t believe that.  However, this is one cultural difference between then and now that does not translate perfectly.  As Christians we are called to care for the poor, the helpless, the least/last/lost of the world.  The slavery thing doesn’t translate well for us, but caring for those that are in need translates perfectly.

So the culture is being transformed.  The people are working to become more like the people of God that they are called to be.  And the city is being transformed.  Through work and trust in God the people are building a wall that can raise up the city and make it defensible and great once again.  This is not unlike our own lives is it?  We are called to be people that are set apart for God as well aren’t we?  We are called to live lives that are “worthy of the calling that we have received.”  As we live and grow, we are also transformed through the work the Spirit.  We call this sanctification.  The Spirit moves, we respond; and it all happens because of the power of God working in us.  Like the people of Israel who trusted in God protect them while they worked, and the same people that yielded to God’s work and teaching in their lives to take care of the poor, so do we need to open our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit that we too may be transformed into the image of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.