A Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

Today I lift up my head and praise You. Today, Lord, I lift up my eyes and contemplate Your greatness. You are far beyond my ability to comprehend, and yet You know me intimately. Your breath gives me life each day and Your thoughts string the planets along their orbit, yet You know when a sparrow falls and when my daughter skins her knee. How wonderful are Your ways and how splendid Your steadfast, pursuing love!

You deserve praise every day. I quail at the thought of blessing You, and yet with all that is within me I do bless You. May You be exalted, may You be worshipped, may Your people give You honor, may Your creation praise Your Name.

Source of my life, turn Your eyes from my weakness, and guide me toward Your path. Extend to me Your mercy, abound to me Your compassion. I cry out to You! In humility I seek Your face; may I know You? Oh, God, I fail You—support me with Your strong right hand!

Don’t let me stray from Your path and I will trust You to lead me. But, Father, would You open to me the path ahead? You have said without vision the people perish, and I need a vision of what You have in store. I desire to labor alongside You, and some days I’m not sure at what You would have me toil. May I never stop doing what is before me today. May I be always a healing agent in this groaning world. Right-wise us soon, Great Healer! May I live to see Your kingdom established?

Thank You for the job You have given me—it is my portion. Thank You for the wife you have vouchsafed to my care and my aid—she is my delight. Thank You for the children You have blessed me with—they are my legacy.

Hear my prayer! May it be to You as an offering of my free will.

What do you think?

I feel like we’re getting a lot closer to being able to release The Offerings of Our Lips. Just today I finished what I think may prove viable as a front cover. But I’m interested in what you think.

So…is it classic enough to be a prayer book, but interesting enough to catch someone’s attention? If any of you have graphics abilities, take a whack at designing a cover and email me. I’d love to see what you think this book ought to look like.

If you would like a preview of the content, leave a comment to that effect, including your email address, and I’ll reply with a pdf of excerpts.

Cooperating With God

What we have is a direct result of what we do with what God has gifted to us. In other words, have you ever noticed that the “portion” or “inheritance” that God gave Israel was not money but land? It wasn’t food, it was the opportunity to grow or raise food.

This is a prime example of why it is so important to cooperate with God’s design for the world. We are so far removed from the elemental truths of God’s design that we wonder why we need to be different than the carnal world, blissfully (or so we think) unaware of the harm that we are bringing upon ourselves and our children by ignoring the basic principles that God has woven into the fabric of the universe.

We wonder why it is wrong to go out to eat so often…if I can afford it, why not? All the while forgetting that God said, “If you do not work, you do not eat.” What was the message here? While we may be cognizant of the fact that we worked hard to earn the money required to pay for this meal, what lesson are we teaching our children when we are fed food that we didn’t prepare with our own hands several times a week?

We cease from our labors on a regular basis, every evening we spend several hours not working, before we finally head off to our actual night’s rest. Then we wonder why the Sabbath is so difficult to honor, and why it doesn’t really feel any different than the rest of our week.

We are to imitate God. This includes creating. Six days a week, we should be laboring to create something, then on the seventh we ought to cease creating, and simply rest.

There are common sayings that reflect ancient wisdom, but which we have ignored because we are so far removed from the circumstances that they were birthed from. Have you ever wondered why Ben Franklin said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise?”

God designed our universe, and He described for us how to flourish in it. He promised to provide us with everything we need, but He also warned us not to think in our hearts, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” This ought to teach us that God knew we would be tempted to think that is was by our efforts that we experience food, shelter and clothing. However, the reality is that we take each breath at the whim of our Creator. We have land to grow food, or a job to earn money at the behest of our Sovereign Lord. Our hand grips a plow, or our fingers strike a keyboard because He enables it. Therefore, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.”

It is for this reason that God said, “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers.” Deuteronomy 8:1 (NKJV)

The commandments are the principles upon which the universe operates, it is only in our best interest to cooperate with them rather than ignore or worse yet struggle against them. By cooperating (heeding) God’s commandments we will live and multiply, and make use of the “land” (job, talents, etc.) that God swore to us (see also Matthew 6:25-34).

What I am discovering is that as I seek to obey God’s commands, He is revealing to me the “reasons” behind His gracious plan. I’m discovering why it is important to live a self-disciplined life. I would have been much better off if I had simply heeded fully the advice of my parents, but they didn’t tell me why the things they tried to teach me were important, and unfortunately, I’m one of those kinds of people that can be thick-skulled and obstinate at times.

So here’s my suggestion. Seek to obey, seek to understand, and don’t forget to teach your children, why obeying God’s commands make sense. Explain why (in the big picture) we don’t go out to eat 5 times a week, even if we can “afford” to. And honestly, can you really afford to waste money that way, or did God bless you with that extra cash in order that you might provide for someone else without such over-abundance? Show (and tell) your children that we eat as a result of the labors of our hands.

It all goes back to this issue of balance that I keep talking about. God designed an entire universe for us to benefit from, but we must be responsible to use His delights in moderation, otherwise we mess up the balance, and He knows much better than we what a multitude of areas that effects. I’m just beginning to grasp this…may He teach me further, and may He suffer me to teach my children in such a way that they will learn much sooner than did I.

Psalm 50

As many of you may know (since I’ve mentioned it in this blog) I’m working on a prayer book designed for use in the home, around the dining table, etc. So please don’t misunderstand my following comments. I would not be releasing a book of “liturgical” prayers, if I did not find them valuable and beneficial to the godly life. However, as in all things, what honors God is the finding of balance, that tension between seemingly competing truths. Indeed, it is an ability to cope with the tension of the Christian walk that is most representative of maturity.

All that having been said in way of introduction, may I direct your attention, dear reader, to Psalm 50. The first of “The Psalms of Asaph”, this is a rather unique psalm compared to the rest of those attributed to either Asaph’s pen or to his care (Pss 73-83); it takes the form of a covenant lawsuit or what is known in Hebrew as a riv. What I would like to highlight and then comment on are verses 5, 8-9, 13-15 & 23.

Verse 5 reminds us that we chassidim (rendered variously in some popular English translations as “saints”, “godly ones”, “faithful ones” or “covenant people” ) are those, “who have cut a covenant via sacrifice” with God (cf. Exodus 24:3-8). For those who lived during days when there was a functioning Temple/Tabernacle this must have been extraordinarily evocative language. For those of us who look back to Messiah’s atoning sacrifice as the means by which we participate in the covenant, and to the mystery of God’s adoption as the means by which we become children of Abraham, we may need to pause and reflect upon the significance of these words. For a vivid and graphic description of the first cutting of this eternal covenant between Abraham (and his descendants) see Genesis 15:9-17.

In verses 8 & 9 we find God declaring that is not because His people have failed to make sacrifices or to bring Him continual burnt offerings (olah). God’s point is that He doesn’t need our sacrifices, indeed every animal in the Earth belongs to Him. Apparently some Israelites had confused the offering of gifts to the Lord as being something God needed from them. God has no need, but deserves all. This mistake is reminiscent of that definition of idolatry given in Deuteronomy chapter 8. We are reminded to bless the Lord for His provision after every meal (v. 10), and this is contrasted with verse 17,

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” (ESV)

This warrants a comment on Psalm 51 as well. Often I have overheard or read Christians commenting on passages like Psalm 50 or more specifically 51:16, Jeremiah 6:20 or 1 Samuel 15:22, and taking them to mean that sacrifices are not pleasing to God or not what He really wants/wanted. But we forget, passages that strike that oh-so-necessary balance, like Psalm 51:19 or 50:14 or 50: 23.

And this brings us to the crux of this post. It is my hope that we will understand that while God gives us physical and tangible actions to take in the interest of our sanctification and the transforming of our minds/hearts these activities are only pleasing to God when they are offered up (executed by us) with proper motivation and with a heart full of overflowing awe and thanksgiving.

As Yeshua once asked, who is better off the man who says he will do as his father asked but does not act on that promise or he who refuses, but subsequently repents and goes and does the will of his father? Likewise, who is better off, he who does the activities God has prescribed for a godly life, but refuses to set his heart after God, or he who misses the point of the activities and thus neglects them, but in his naiveté seeks anxiously after God, and serves Him to the best of his uninformed ability?

Charles Spurgeon in Volume 1 of his The Treasury of David has the following to say in his commentary to Psalm 50. Many who believe similarly to myself might easily mistake the message of the following quote, but I would urge you to ponder them in the spirit of that I’ve conveyed in this post.

(speaking of 50:15) “Oh, blessed verse! Is this then true sacrifice? Is it an offering to ask an alms of heaven? It is even so. The King himself so regards it. For herein is faith manifested, herein is love proved, for in the hour of peril we fly to those we love. It seems a small thing to pray to God when we are distressed, yet is it a more acceptable worship than the mere heartless presentation of bullocks and he-goats. This is a voice from the throne, and how full of mercy it is! It is very tempestuous round about Jehovah, and yet what soft drops of mercy’s rain fall from the bosom of the storm! Who would not suffer such sacrifice? Troubled one, haste to present it now! Who shall say that Old Testament saints did not know the gospel? Its very spirit and essence breathe like frankincense all around this holy Psalm. ‘I will deliver thee.’ The reality of thy sacrifice of prayer shall be seen in its answer. Whether the smoke of burning bulls be sweet to me or no, certainly thy humble prayer shall be, and I will prove it so by my gracious reply to thy supplication. This promise is very large, and may refer both to temporal and eternal deliverances; faith can turn it every way, like the sword of the cherubim. ‘And thou shalt glorify me.’ Their prayer will honour me, and their grateful perception of my answering mercy will also glorify me. The goats and bullocks would prove a failure, but the true sacrifice never could. The calves of the stall might be a vain oblation, but not the calves of sincere lips.

Thus we see what is true ritual. Here we read inspired rubrics. Spiritual worship is the great, the essential matter; all else without it is rather provoking than pleasing to God. As helps to the soul, outward offerings were precious, but when men went not beyond them, even their hallowed things were profaned in the view of heaven.”

Let us be afraid, yes afraid, of claiming in our heart of hearts, “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this __________ (you fill in the blank).” Let us be equally afraid of performing service to God without the proper perspective and the right heart attitude.

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, . . . The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalms 50:14, 23 (ESV)

Challenging!

I stumbled upon a series of 3 books by Dr. Robbert A. Veen, assistant professor of theology and ethics at the Free University of Amsterdam. I’m in the middle of reading the second book titled, The End of the Law?, and thought I ought not to let such a vigorous and coherent polemic go by un-quoted. Plus, these books clearly need greater publicity.

“The apparent success of the Hellenistic mission with its emphasis on the law-free gospel is in itself not a sufficient argument to dispense with the Mosaic law in Christian ethics, if the latter can be shown to be a consistent position, held by a substantial minority in the early Church and in continuity with the earliest traditions around Jesus. Nor can the argument be construed in opposite direction. What we need is a reason that makes sense in a modern systematic theology, to dispense with Matthew’s claim to the validity of the Mosaic law for the Church like has been done in the past. And if we cannot find one, we should be prepared to adopt Matthew’s affirmation of the Mosaic law into the inner circle of foundational notions in Christian ethics. In general, we need to find the biblical and systematic argument if any can be found, for such a direct contradiction to the gospel of Matthew. It is the Church that stands convicted for its past ignorance of Mosaic law if no such argument can be found.”

(from pg 14-15 of The End of the Law? by Robbert A. Veen)

You can purchase these titles at http://www.lulu.com/raveen. Be advised some of his books are in Dutch, but look for the three English titles (Fulfillment of the Law, The End of the Law?, and Justification and the Law). Also, it’s somewhat unfortunate that Dr. Veen didn’t enlist the services of an editor, but the content of the books far outweigh the sometime awkward phrasing, or occasional typo.

Among other things, in Justification & the Law, Veen references a thesis by theologian John A. Toews of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary that needs further commentary, so you can expect that I will be interacting further with these books and with whatever I can find by Dr. Toews, whose works are proving difficult to find…barring a trip to Canada.

Coming Soon

Here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming prayer book, The Offerings of Our Lips: Prayers for the Family Altar.

Prayer Upon Rising

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8)

I thank you, living and eternal King, for you have graciously given me another day to serve you. You are forever faithful and abounding in compassion! May your kingdom reign this day in my life and my home. I acknowledge you as Lord, and declare myself your servant.

And from the Guide to Usage:

“Prayer Upon Rising” is designed to be short and sweet (and easily memorized) so as to be the first thing that crosses your lips as soon as sleep has departed enough to allow coherence!