Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King,
My reigning sins subdue,
Drive the old Dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into Thy hands I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.
Waiting in Prayer
There’s a growing trend in year-end sales. “Self-gifting” is the new economic engine. Accelerated by Black Friday and End of Year deals, savvy shoppers have decided that they want to buy now rather than wait.
In a world of no money down, no interest, no payments for 12 months, there is little incentive to wait. “You snooze, you lose,” the saying goes. You can have your 50” LED HDTV and buy somegifts for the others (besides, that’s what the line of credit is for,right?!?). With newer iPhone models released regularly, marketers are now psychologists who sell you a lifestyle, not a product. Creating hunger for the newest,
the latest gadget causes disenchantment for those who wait.
Suddenly, in an instant world, praying to a God who values waiting brings disappointment. The first evidence that waiting is a lost virtue is in diminished prayer.
But it is in prayer that our strength is renewed (Isa 40:29-31), our hope built (Ps 130), and our joy
abounds. In the darkest time of the
year, Advent calls us to wait and cry out for the Light to come again, just as
God’s perfect gift was given in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4). More than watchmen long for the morning (Ps.130:5-6), waiting on God reminds us of His promises, recounts His faithfulness, seeks His forgiveness, and intensifies our longing for Him!
God is not your genie in a bottle (three wishes answered immediately!); He is infinitely better. He knows how to create a hunger in your soul that only he can satisfy with a lasting satisfaction (Ps. 16:11). It is good to wait for God’s deliverance (Lam 3:26). And when you have learned to waitupon him, then light will pierce the dark night of the soul, his healing will cometo you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your defense (Isa. 58:8).
3) express your confidence in His Word (Ps 130:5-6); and
4) praise God in the presence of others (Ps 130:7-8).
So call out to Him! Wait upon Him! Pour out your heart to Him! Find renewed strength, guidance, and hope as you wait for the promise of no more tears, sorrow, sadness, or loss, for His Son’s second coming is closer than when you first believed!
I did not have what was His;
He did not have what was mine.
He assumed what is mine, that I might share in what is His.”
- Ambrose of Milan, 4th century.
Spend your time in nothing which you know musy be repented of; in nothing on which you might not pray for the blessing of God; in nothing which you could not review with a quiet conscience on your dying bed; in nothing on which you might not safely and properly be found doing if death should surprise you in the act.
Provoked by Idols
I remember vividly my first encounter with an idol. It was the first day of second grade, and the Buddha-like figure sat prominently at the front of the carpeted area where we gathered for every activity, story, and lesson. Coming to the carpet, our teacher instructed us to look to the statue and sit quietly in an Eastern meditation posture.
Whenever I read the statement about Paul’s response when he came into Athens and saw the idols, I remember second grade: “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). At age seven, I was a deeply troubled and didn’t know how to sit, listen, and read whenever we came to the carpet. What was I to do?
Christians throughout the ages have been faced with the question of how to live faithfully in a pluralistic world. Should we respond vociferously with moral outrage? Protect our Christian roots? Create political parties to advance our cause?
Before we react, we remember the problem is not merely the idol, but what sociologist Peter Berger has called the “plausibility structures” of our age. Plausibility structures are those beliefs that are thought widely and are almost unquestioningly accepted in our culture. People hold these beliefs with great tenacity, as though society’s future was at stake.
So how did Paul respond in Acts 17? While provoked in his spirit, Paul dismantled the Athenians plausibility structures and gave them a new story that was to shape their lives. He did this in several ways:
- He saw the points of connection. The “Unknown God”? Paul knew him and could speak of the Creator, Redeemer, and Saviour.
- He exposed the folly of idolatry. "You think you serve God? Who gives you life and breath? A statue? God created you and calls you to worship him!
- He spoke with civility. Moral outrage would convince no one and would never commend the Lord Jesus Christ to them. He quoted their poets. He saw they were religious in many ways.
- He shared the gospel. Of first priority was to win people to Christ, and his testimony gave him opportunity to explain Jesus Christ and the reality of sin.
- He was prepared to suffer. Some mocked him. But Christ was worth more, because…
- He delighted in the Lord.
The result was some came to trust in Christ while others continued to dialogue. And the church in Athens was born.
The idols of our day ought to provoke us. But may it not be the kind of provoking that paralyzes us into inaction. May the provoking of our spirit be the kind that moves us to love our neighbours, tell them of Christ winsomely and wisely, with civility and gentleness and respect, and pray for God to build his Church!
Courage to Stand by Faith
Everyone, it seemed, was on his side: the emperor, the leading churchmen, the politicians. Arius, a popular, well connected theologian made a lot of sense. His songs were catchy and sung in churches across the continent. He had convinced the world through song and sermon that Jesus Christ was divine in nature but not one in substance with the Father. Jesus was “a son of God,” if you like. Almost everyone agreed. Who would oppose a catchy tune and a smooth speaker?
One man did. Athanasius saw through Arius’s teaching. If Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father, he could not truly be God. What was at stake was the Trinity and our salvation. Even though he was one man, Athanasius stood contra mundum - against the world. It would take several years of debating, reasoning, and firmness, but in the end, Athanasius swung the theological tide. The historic Nicean creed was reaffirmed and clarified.
Courage means standing up despite fears, concerns, or pain and a willingness to endure hardship. That endurance comes from conviction - we believe there is something greater or more valuable than the present option.
But courage comes to ordinary people. Elijah was a man like us (Jas 5). An ordinary man who believed in an extraordinary God, believing His Word and holding on to the promises of Scripture. He believed, prayed, stood. In a faithless world of godless worship, he remained faithful and courageous right up to the end.
You and I are not called to be Athanasius or Elijah. We are called to be who God intends us to be. There are places and situations God has strategically placed you and you may be the only one who stands with courage and conviction. In a difficult family situation. A workplace filled with compromise. A school filled with skepticism. You need to be wise and courageous where God has placed you.
You are, however, called to trust in the same God that Elijah and Athanasius trusted. The God who enabled men of old to stand for him is the same God who is eager to strengthen you with resolve and courage today. Courage comes by faith - a faith that believes that what is unseen is of greater worth than what is seen. As Hebrews 11:24-26 says of Moses: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”
What will help you to stand? What will cause you to go against the flow? You must know the God of the Bible, be convinced of his superior value and worth, and believe that it is more pleasurable to obey because there is something better than this life now.
Suspicion of God
“To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil…goes about seeking to devour us by roaring: ‘God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever.’ In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses… The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil…the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts, ‘Abba, Father.’ And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God. The Spirit cries because of our weakness…(and) is sent forth into our hearts…to assure us of the grace of God” (Martin Luther on Galatians 4:6 in his Commentary on Galatians).
At the heart of our vision is not a new way of doing events but the creation of word-centered gospel communities in which people are sharing life with one another and with unbelievers, seeking to bless their neighborhoods, “gospeling” one another and sharing the good news with unbelievers. The context for this gospel-centered community and mission is not events but ordinary, everyday life.
Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life. Because we are not pastoring one another in everyday life, we create accountability groups. Because we are not sharing the gospel in everyday life, we create guest services. Because we are not joining social groups to witness to Jesus, we create our own church social groups. Please do not misunderstand. We are not against meetings or events or programs. The regular meeting of the church around God’s Word is vital for the health of everything else. This is where God’s people are prepared for works of service. But the works of service take place in the context of everyday life.
- Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Everyday Church
No other gods
I was surprised by the topic on CBC Radio One’s religion program Tapestry: Idolatry for Beginners. It examined our obsession with money, celebrity status, or sex and how they keep us from connecting with the transcendent.
Why the surprise? To contemporary people, idolatry conjures up notions of primitive peoples bowing down before statues. For some, Sunday school stories such as the fiery furnace (Dan. 3) or the golden calf (Exod. 32) come to mind. Others think of the Roman gods like Aphrodite, Ares, or Artemis.
But what Tapestry vividly revealed is the modern reality of idolatry. For eight consecutive seasons, American Idol led TV ratings. Culture was admitting that they do worship celebrity status and money. We, too, have our idols.
Idolatry is a human problem. John Calvin said that the heart is an “idol factory” (cf. Ezek. 14:3). Our affections make goodthings into ultimate things. And when we lose them, we despair and lose hope. We become spiritual addicts, absorbed in heart, imagination, and attention by idols who keep us from God. Their demand for allegiance, sacrifice, and worship never fulfill.
We need the Living God to topple our idols (1 Sam 5:1-7). Delivering us from slavery, God tells us “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2-3). We lose jobs, have family struggles, feel financial pressures - all as gracious reminders that none of these things fulfill or satisfy.
In 1 Kings 17, we see that the gods of any age cannot do what the One True Living God can do. Can Baal create rain? No - only Elohim, the Creator God can (vv. 1-2). Can Baal provide food? No - only Yahweh Yireh, the Providential Sovereign God, can make ravens bring bread and meat, and make oil and flour last (vv. 3-16). Can Baal bring life? No, only the Living Yahweh can redeem people and bring life from death (vv. 17-24).
The only way forward in this life is to discern the idols of the age, see their powerlessness, and return to the Lord. Only One offers true fulfillment and complete forgiveness. Money, work, family, success, significance - all of these things will demand allegiance and that you do more. But only Jesus Christ calls for your allegiance and says in his sacrificial death, “It is done for you” (John 19:30).
So worship the One who says, “You shall have no other gods before me” and who lays down his life for you so that you might enjoy his pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11)!!!
The Gospel in 7 Words
Here’s my attempt:
"Christ died and rose for repentant sinners."
Check out what others have said here.