A Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent

Repentance is always appropriate during Advent. Only after Repentance do we know the freedom of Forgiveness.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

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Source

Art: Angel of Truth Giving Freedom and Liberty to the Slave by Guérin, Jules Vallée (1866-1946)

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A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

God was faithful to send his prophets, may we heed their preaching (the artwork is John the Baptizer preaching).00001324

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Source

Art

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Some Practical Thoughts from the Front Lines on Ministry-Family Balance

I have spent Thanksgiving visiting dying people in the hospital. A few years ago I did a funeral on Christmas Eve. There have been occasions I’ve had to shift family things around to accommodate church matters. My son has a difficult time with this but I explain to him that if this were your mother dying or dead, you would want your pastor there whether it was his day off or not, whether it is a holiday or not.

The idea that you will be able at all times to balance work and life is a false idea brought about by impractical idealism. The old saw that “family comes first” is simply not true. This is not the case in the secular world and it is (or should be) no less true for ministry. (Why should we serve Christ as his people any less than we would serve the man for a paycheck?) For example, sometimes a secular worker has to say no to family things when the deadline for a big project looms, or an order for a major client has to be completed. During those times, family does not come first, the job does. Other times, family concerns outweigh job issues no matter how pressing the job concerns are. If your child is having surgery, it doesn’t matter what is due, the company will have to get along without you. To make a rule that “Family always comes first” is unrealistic and leads to resentment, unnecessary guilt, and a failure to realize our potential in the Lord’s service.

Kent and Barbara Hughes address this same issue in their book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome where they point out that we have warned young ministers about the danger of sacrificing their families to the point that now many will not sacrifice anything![1]

We fail to take into account the words of Jesus when he said that if we love father or mother more than him we are not worthy of him. In these words, Jesus does not call us to an either-or, love Jesus or love our families, but to a both-and. The point of Jesus’ words is that we must love Jesus so much that our love for others, even our families will look like hatred by comparison.

The view that we should be able to apply a blanket “family comes first” rule across the board comes from a false sense of entitlement.[2] For example, small-business owners, executives, salespeople often know that they must sometimes work outside set times. Why should people in ministry be any different? We must not develop the idea that we deserve not to work when we don’t want to simply because we are in ministry. If anything, we should hold ourselves and be held to a higher standard.

If ministry really is a calling and if you have been called, your desire to minister to those whom the Lord has given into your care will outweigh the other concerns when appropriate. Sometimes the day off has to accommodate ministry issues. Sometimes those whom you shepherd will need you at inconvenient times. Sometimes holidays and family days will be spent caring for those whom God has given you. You cannot begrudge them your service because it is a scheduled day off or a holiday or some other inconvenient time.

This is not to say that you never say no to opportunities. Sometimes it is entirely right and appropriate to refuse to use your personal day or a holiday for ministry. If you set clear expectations with your people such as announcing what days of the week you are unavailable and provide ways for people to contact you in emergencies, you can get closer to the ideal ministry-life balance that we desire.

Some people simply want to waste your time, learn who those people are and train them or ignore them. But don’t turn away people who earnestly need your help during a difficult time simply because it is your day off or it is a holiday. Use such occasions to teach your children and family about the joy of serving the Lord and the fulfillment that comes from ministering even during difficult times. You will also serve as a model for your congregation which will, in turn, encourage them to serve sacrificially.

Knowing where to draw the line is difficult and you won’t always get it right, but if you err on the side of sacrifice and loving people the way Jesus loves, then you will get it right more often than not.

 


[1] Kent and Barbara Hughes, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome (Wheaton: Crossway, 1987, 2008), 41-43. Hughes also points out that many ministers have been warned against burnout until now their big danger is “rusting out.”

[2] Kent and Barbara Hughes address the entitlement issue as well in the same chapter cited above.

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Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

I’ve always been partial to this prayer because it so addresses the struggles of the Christian life. I read it sometimes even when it’s not Advent.00001007

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of
darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of
this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit
us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come
again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the
dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
for ever. Amen.

Source

Art Source

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A Prayer for Thanksgiving

Here’s a prayer from a collection of Puritan Prayers known as The Valley of Vision:Yorck_A_106

O My God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;

for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

Source

Art

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Three Foundational Elements Necessary for Any Serious Doctrine of Election

It is a truism that every Christian or system of Christian theology has or must have a doctrine of election. This is because the Bible uses words like “elect,” “election,” “predestine,” and “predestination” so any serious student of the Bible or theology must account for them and explain them in light of the rest of Scripture and biblical/theological thought.

In II.2 of his Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth lists three points every serious doctrine of election must both have and emphasize:

1. Every serious doctrine of election must assert “the grace of God as free” (19).

Barth explains what exactly God’s freedom in this respect means:

(1) God’s decision is independent of and precedes any creaturely decisions.

This should go without saying since “Salvation is of the Lord,” by which we not only mean that salvation comes through the Lord’s work, but is wholly rooted in his character, nature, and choice.

(2) God’s grace “cannot be called forth or constrained by any claim or merit, by any existing or future condition, on the part of the creature.” (19)

Those who hold to a prescient view of foreknowledge in essence base election on the character and work of humanity and so deny God’s free choice in election.

(3) This means that “there is no place for the self-glorying or the self-praise of the creature.”

These two necessarily go together. If my election is God’s free choice then there is no occasion for boasting. If my election is in any way tied to my choice then any claim of humility is false because I do indeed have occasion, not only to glory, but to glory over others who did not make such a choice.

(4) On the part of the creature, there must be a “recognition of utter weakness and unworthiness.”

Helplessness, though viewed in human terms as a weakness, is the very weakness that God elevates over the proud and strong. Our unworthiness is the reason for the Incarnation since our Lord says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

This means we must understand grace as grace or our grace is no longer grace.

2. Every serious doctrine of election must emphasize the mystery of the God who decrees (20).

Barth: “We were not admitted to the counsel of God as He made His election, nor can we subsequently call Him to give account or to make answer in respect of it.” (20)

Barth says that to peer into this mystery by demanding God give an account of Himself with respect to his “resolve and decree” is to “resist the very being and existence of God Himself.” (20)

At first glance it would seem that Arminianism is the only system guilty of this but the Calvinist also fails to recognize the mystery of God when he or she delves too deeply into the secret things of God just as Calvin himself warned against:

The subject of predestination, which in itself is attended with considerable difficulty is rendered very perplexed and hence perilous by human curiosity, which cannot be restrained from wandering into forbidden paths and climbing to the clouds determined if it can that none of the secret things of God shall remain unexplored. When we see many, some of them in other respects not bad men, everywhere rushing into this audacity and wickedness, it is necessary to remind them of the course of duty in this matter. First, then, when they inquire into predestination, let then remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom, where he who rushes forward securely and confidently, instead of satisfying his curiosity will enter in inextricable labyrinth. For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself, and scan that sublime eternal wisdom which it is his pleasure that we should not apprehend but adore, that therein also his perfections may appear. Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word—revealed in so far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare. (Institutes III.21.1)

To glory in one’s salvation in an arrogant or haughty way also minimizes the mystery of God’s grace because such haughty glorying is tantamount to saying, “Of course God chose me; why would he not?!” and thus not only removes the mystery of grace by positing some definable human basis for one’s election, but also turns grace into something deserved or merited.

3. Every serious doctrine of election must maintain God’s righteousness in the mystery of his freedom. (21)

Citing Romans 9:20 (“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?”), Barth explains that “[w]e must recognize the sovereignty of God and the inscrutability of His election.” The notion of inscrutability with regard to God’s will is important and reminds us of Calvin’s warning from above about delving into the secret things of God.

But to trust God in this we must be reminded of two other characteristics of God: His wisdom and his righteousness. “God Himself, and in Him wisdom itself and righteousness itself, has communicated Himself to us and given Himself as the answer.”

So God’s electing choice is guided by his own wisdom and righteousness. To take issue with God’s electing choice is to malign to character of God and accuse him of both foolishness and unrighteousness. But in taking issue with God’s electing choice, we are judging these two, foolishness and unrighteousness, by human standards which are irrelevant when applied to God. It is also insulting because it permits God’s wisdom and righteousness to be judged by human standards rather than submitting our own judgments and standards to the wisdom and righteousness of God.

Barth:

What God does in freedom is in order. And in that it is done in freedom, we can and must perceive and recognize that it is in order without first measuring it by our own conceptions of order and only then recognizing it to be such. It belongs to God that He should teach us what order is. It belongs to us to measure our conceptions of order by His decision, and to learn from Him what order is. In so doing we do not make any sacrificium intellectus [sacrifice of the intellect], but we become and are truly wise: so assuredly is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom. (22)

So if one’s doctrine of election holds God to any human standard of righteousness, justice, or fairness, it is not only deficient, it is insulting to the character of God by placing Him under us rather than over us.

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Some Tips for Better Engagement in Theological Discourse

Many Christians (and non-Christians) want to be involved in theological discussion on the internet, in Bible studies, and in other contexts where growing Christians (and those opposed to Christianity) are engaged in theological discussion. (Note that I’m mostly talking to Christians and talking about Christians discussing theology with fellow believers some of whom, to be blunt, might just know more about the topic under discussion than you. But it might apply to other contexts, as well.)

  1. Be humble. No one knows everything so there’s no shame in not knowing something.
  2. Recognize that having an opinion and having an informed opinion are two different things. Because, no one knows everything (which means you don’t know everything).
  3. There’s no shame in asking questions. So don’t be afraid to ask questions. This will not only help you figure out what the other person is trying to say; you may learn something.
  4. It helps to learn some terms and background if you want to discuss any topic, especially theology. And this will keep you from looking ignorant. An “Arminian” is not someone from “Armenia” and terms like “amillennial” or “universalist” can serve as useful shorthand to greatly simplify a conversation.
  5. Don’t assume you understand what the other person is saying. (See number 3 above: Ask questions!).
  6. Jumping to conclusions is a sure way to start an argument and get nowhere. And it’s just not nice. For example, if I say I’m opposed to something, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in favor of the opposite, because there may be more than one perspective on the issue.
  7. Remember what one of my theology professors used to say, “You don’t have to agree with me, but I don’t have to make it easy for you to disagree with me.” This is especially true if you’re arguing outside your area of expertise or just plain don’t really know what you’re talking about.
  8. If you get stumped, or shown up, or don’t know what else to say, don’t start making stuff up and pulling things out of thin air (remember number 1: Be Humble). It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
  9. When you don’t know what you’re talking about, people who do know what you’re talking about can tell that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Again, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
  10. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Especially if you don’t.
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