Transforming Christians to Transform Culture

Prayer Changes Things

Posted on July 30, 2014

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Read: 1 Kings 17:17–24

If you’ve ever visited Christian bookstores, you likely have seen bracelets or plaques or bumper stickers with the statement, “Prayer Changes Things.” For years I thought that statement was trite. After all, lots of these bookstore statements are trite: “God is my copilot,” “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” “Honk if you love Jesus” (I once saw a bumper sticker-response: “If you love Jesus, tithe; anybody can honk”). But over the years, the more I pondered “Prayer Changes Things” the more I’ve come to believe that it is true, and not only true, but precisely and powerfully true in a sense we do not often consider. The culprit is that we misunderstand prayer.

Prayer is more than communion

We are called to commune with God. We worship him. We think about him, we ponder who he is and what he is done in the world. We stand in awe of the sovereign, triune God.

But this is not the same thing as prayer. Almost all prayer in the Bible is petitionary. By that I mean, in prayer, we ask God to do things in the earth. More importantly, we ask God to change things. Prayer really is asking God to change the status quo. Things are a certain way — our hearts are cold, or someone has cancer, or we don’t have enough money for the bills, or our children are drifting from the Lord, or we need direction for a decision, whatever — and we ask God to change the way things are. In other words, we’re not satisfied with the way things are. And, by the way, there’s a godly dissatisfaction. Ungodly dissatisfaction is when God does good things for us, and we don’t accept what he’s done. But godly dissatisfaction is when things are out of kilter, and we ask God to change them. There’s nothing ungodly about that kind of dissatisfaction.

Some people seem to have the idea that if we ask God for things, if we petition God, that’s somehow self-centered or unspiritual. Only if we’re worshiping God or telling him how great he is are we truly glorifying him. This is a very mistaken, and possibly even a spiritually fatal, idea.

In addressing the Lord’s Prayer, the commentator Matthew Henry notes that the devout Jews of Jesus’ time would often pray by telling God how great he is. This is a wonderful and entirely appropriate way of approaching him. But Henry writes that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told him to pray petitions. In other words, he told them to ask his Father for things. When we ask for things we are not somehow less spiritual than when we tell God how great he is.

Answered prayer glorifies God

For one thing, when we pray, and when God answers prayer, he increases our faith, and he shows the world his great might and power. Let’s take one petition in the Lord’s Prayer: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When God answers that prayer, when people turn to Jesus Christ for salvation, when they start living godly lives, when artists and businessmen and politicians start doing God’s will, God glorifies himself. Both believers and unbelievers look around and say, “This God must be some kind of God to do all this when his followers ask him. Nobody I ask has ever been able to do something so massive!” In other words, God gets the glory when we pray and when he answers our prayers. And know this: God loves to get the glory. He deserves to get the glory.

Prayer changes things. When we pray, we’re asking God to change things. And when he answers our prayer, he changes things. This brings us to a most telling fact that we don’t often consider: if we are perfectly willing to accept the way things are, we will never be people of prayer. Great prayer warriors are people who want things to change. Prayer changes circumstances. Prayer changes people. And prayer changes God.

I want to show you this most graphically in this passage from the life of Elijah. I could’ve selected hundreds of passages in the Bible (yes, literally hundreds), but this one I read recently, and it’s especially powerful.

Prayer Changes Circumstances

Note, first, that prayer changes circumstances. God had sent a great drought on Israel because Elijah had prayed for it. Ahab was the king, and he and his wife Jezebel were apostates and idolaters. And Elijah was God’s prophet, and he’d read God’s law which says that if God’s people apostatize, he will shut up the heavens so that they will not send rain (Dt. 28:23–24). In other words, Elijah prayed, and he declared God’s actions according to God’s revealed will.

Think about this. Elijah didn’t need to ponder what the will of God was. He knew what the will of God was. If God’s people turn away from him, he promised to punish them. Elijah prayed that God would do just that. Elijah prayed that God would act according to his word. That’s always a safe prayer to pray.

Well, as result of the drought, there was little food and water. God led Elijah to the home of a widow and her son, and God miraculously provided for her so that she could provide for Elijah. After awhile, this precious woman’s son got sick and died, and you can imagine how grieved she was and, in fact, how resentful she was of Elijah, whom God had sent to invade her home (see v. 18). Elijah, too, as you might imagine, was deeply shaken. Why would God allow this tragedy?

Now, I draw your attention to a most striking fact. In observing this child’s death, and in seeing the mother’s grief, Elijah did not pray a “predestinarian prayer.” He didn’t pray, “Lord, you’ve allowed this precious child to die, and obviously that is your will, so we accept your will.” And then he didn’t encourage the mother simply to accept her son’s death as God’s will. No. Elijah apparently did not believe that it would be pious, that it would be God-honoring, to allow the child to remain dead.

No, Elijah didn’t accept the status quo. Elijah knew that prayer changes things. This leads us to what some Protestant quarters, but, I believe, no one who reads the Bible without prejudice on this issue, would deem a controversial view: if you constantly accept the status quo as God’s decretive will, you cannot be a mighty man or woman of prayer.

Too often we are so worried about violating the secret decrees of God that we turn our backs on the revealed word of God. God is a powerful, prayer-hearing God, and he longs as a heavenly Father to do good things for his people. The Bible teaches this very plainly (Mt. 7:11). Yes, sometimes God allows “bad things to happen to good people” (Job), but that’s not the way he operates most of the time. He is a loving, heavenly Father to his children, and just as you want to do good things for your children, so he wants to do good things for his children. Unless you believe that you are a better parent than God is? I don’t think so.

So let’s be very careful about using God’s secret councils as an excuse not to pray. They are called God’s secret councils for a reason. We can’t know them. Let’s pray according to what we do know, and not according to what we do not know. And we do know that God is a loving, kind, Father who wishes to delight his children.

Prayer changes circumstances, and it changed this widow’s circumstances.

Prayer Changes People

Second, prayer changes people. This child was dead. Elijah prayed, and God raised him from the dead. This is not an example of a modern “healing ministry.” Some of you know about a large charismatic church in Redding, California that specializes in alleged public resurrections. There’s a huge amount of weirdness and goofiness and theological error surrounding this ministry, but one thing I want to point out is that when Elijah raised this child from the dead, there wasn’t a bunch of public fanfare. There wasn’t any fanfare at all. In other words, this wasn’t an example of an “answered prayer party.” These “healing ministries” that bring in hundreds of thousands of spectators and bring glory to man and bring money into the coffers are a prostitution of the biblical teaching a prayer. When God used Elijah to raise this boy, three people knew. Only three people needed to know. And they did.

Prayer changes people. God gives us volition and choice, and he doesn’t turn us into robots or machines, but God can work in our and in other people’s lives in such a way as to change us. This means that we can pray that God changes people. And we should.

This is why Paul tells Timothy (1 Tim. 2:2) to teach his flock that they should pray for their political leaders, so that the people of God can live a quiet and peaceful life. In other words, we should pray that God changes the hearts of political leaders so that they leave the church and God’s people alone to do God’s work.

Job was a godly man of prayer (1:1–6). Every day he would pray that God would forgive his adult children if they had sinned.

And then there are several times in the Bible (see, for example, Jer. 14:11) where God tells his prophets not to pray for his people. In other words, they have turned their back on God so much, that he didn’t want his prophets trying to persuade him not to send judgment. This means that God recognizes that prayer for people can be very effective — God has made himself so vulnerable to prayer that he sometimes told his saints not to pray. Please ponder the implications of this fact.

Prayer changes people. I don’t mean by that that if we pray, the act of prayer will change us. Of course that’s true. When we pour out our hearts to God, we get much closer to him. Our minds and hearts are riveted to spiritual things. We gradually lose our worldliness. God changes the people who pray.

But I meant something else. I meant that we should pray for God to change people, and he will change them. Just as God raised this child in answer to Elijah’s prayer, so he can and will raise sinners to eternal life because of our prayer. The question for us is: do we pray for God to save sinners? And if not, why not?

If we answer, “Well, we don’t know if they are one of the elect,” we give the wrong answer. All of God’s chosen will be in the fold in the final day, but he uses prayer to get them there. Are God doesn’t only elect the men; he elects the means. And one of those big means is prayer.

If our spouse or children or friends are walking away from the Lord, let’s pray that God unleashes his bloodhounds to find them and bring them back. They have the mark of baptism on them. That’s the mark of discipleship. That means they’ve been given to the Lord. Well, they have been given to him, so let’s pray that he goes and gets them. This isn’t rocket science. This is godly prayer.

If our brothers and sisters are sick, we need to pray that God heals them. This isn’t just a good idea. This is what the Bible demands (Jas. 5:13–16). Think of that fact. God didn’t say that prayer for healing is a wonderful privilege if only we choose to exercise it. He says that if someone is sick, we need to pray that God heals them, and, in fact, they should call for the elders to anoint them and pray over them.

Yes, there are certain specific illnesses that are in God’s will (2 Tim. 4:20). But in many, many cases, God sends illnesses so that we will pray and exercise faith and be healed and bring glory to God (Jn. 11:4).

In other words, like Elijah, when someone is sick, even to the point of death, we shouldn’t merely accept the status quo.

Why? Because prayer changes people.

Prayer Changes God

Finally, prayer changes God. This statement may not ring true in our ears. The Bible says plainly that God does not change (Mal. 3:6). Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Obviously, there is some sense in which God does not change. But we know that in another sense, he does change. Again and again the Bible says that God repents, or relents, or changes his mind (Gen. 6:6; Ex. 32:14; Dt. 32:36; Jer. 42:10). This isn’t a contradiction, and it’s not hard to understand.

God’s character doesn’t change. He’s always loving, just, holy, kind, long-suffering. God isn’t capricious. God isn’t flighty. God cannot be evil. He cannot be unrighteous. He cannot be unloving. His nature cannot change.

But his stated purposes can change, and they do change. One of the most powerful proofs of this is Genesis 6, where we read the God looked on the earth in Noah’s time, and he was sorry that he had created humanity. He was excited to have created man, and it grieved him that man had raced into depravity. He was sad that he had even created man.

In the book of Jonah we read that God says that within a few weeks, he’ll completely destroy Nineveh. He didn’t put any qualifications on that warning. He didn’t say, “If you repent, I won’t judge you.” But they did repent, and God didn’t judge them.

God says he’s going to do something, and then people pour out their hearts before God, and then he changes his mind. This happens again and again in the Bible, so many times, in fact, that we might want to say that it’s in God’s nature to change his mind when his people pour out their souls to him.

A great example is in our text. We read that twice Elijah “cried” to the Lord (vv. 20, 21). This means that he spoke emotionally, in a very loud voice. This is just the opposite of a “quiet-time” prayer. And we read in verse 22 that the Lord listened to or heard his prayer.

This verse implies something very important. God was set on the path to take the widow’s son in death. That was his implied purpose. But Elijah’s great emotional plea turned God around. God changed what he had planned to do. Elijah prayed, and his prayer changed God.

The Bible is quite clear that prayer changes God. If this is true, then we should be much more audacious in prayer than we are. We read in Exodus 32 about how Israel turned to idolatry and fornication when Moses was on Sinai receiving from God his law. God told Moses that he was going to destroy the entire nation and then he said something very interesting. He said to Moses, “Leave me alone” (v. 10). God knew that Moses was in the habit of “disturbing” him in prayer. God would say, “I’m going to do this,” and Moses would say, “I beg you, God, don’t do that,” and God would change his mind.

In other words, God’s stated purposes can be changed if we pour out our hearts in prayer. This is another way of saying that God has made himself vulnerable and susceptible to man’s pleading. This isn’t the God of the ancient pagan Greek philosophers. The Greeks believed that emotion and changeableness were inferior qualities. Therefore, the highest deity they could think of was a god who had no emotions and who never changed his mind. The problem is that this isn’t a person. A person has emotions and changes his mind. Emotion is not sin. Changing your mind is not sin. You’re not somehow inferior because you have emotions or change your mind. And since God is the greatest possible person, he has emotions, and he changes his mind.

Therefore, when something bad has happened, or when someone has committed some terrible sin, don’t just sit and wait for God’s judgment. Get on your knees and beg God to avert his judgment and to lead them to repentance. God will never break his promises to us, but God certainly will change his declared purposes if we pour out our hearts before him.

Do not think that your prayer cannot affect God. Do not think that God is not emotional about his people. He gets furious at them when they turn their back on him, and he delights in them when they love and trust him and repent and obey. Therefore, appeal to God’s mercy and honor and even his reputation (Ex. 32:11–14) when you pray.

Prayer changes circumstances. Prayer changes people. And prayer changes God.

If this is true, and it is, we should pray more, and we should pray more often, and we should pray more fervently, and we should pray more confidently, and we should never settle for the status quo, because the whole point of prayer is for God to change the status quo.

The Tyranny of Individualism versus the Liberty of Community

Posted on July 11, 2014

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Absence of state coercion is not equivalent to political liberty.  Political liberty is possible only when there is a series of independent social institutions that check each other’s authority.  These institutions are communities.  Man cannot live without community (Gen. 2:18).  Aside from the Bible itself, perhaps no work in recent times has made that point more effectively than Robert Nisbet’s The Quest for Community. Nisbet, a communitarian-libertarian, argues that man is a communitarian being.  He is made to live, laugh, work, play, love, suffer, cry, and die in a community.   And he will always find communities in which to live.  Communitarianism is ineluctable.

Now in the Bible and the Christian faith, that community is manifested primarily in the family and church, and secondarily in vocation (“business”) and other “private” spheres. These are the multiple communities in which people live their lives.  They find their liberty in participation in various communities, each of which stands as a sentinel over its own prerogatives and provides a haven for individuals treated unjustly by other communities.  If a husband is dictatorial, the wife can appeal to the church.  If the church is abusive, the family can appeal to a higher church court or another church body.  If a business is unjust, the individual or family can appeal to a private court system. In the case of injustice, a Christian-ordered society almost always offers recourse to another community.

The problem with the modern state is that it professes to be a community.  For this reason, as Nisbet shrewdly notes, the state is not opposed to “individual freedom.” Individual freedom, far from being the effect of emancipation from state power, is, in fact, the precondition of that power. Tyrannical states do not war against the individual; they war against those non-coercive, intermediate institutions which claim the individual’s allegiance: the family, the church, the school, business, and so on. In fact, as Nisbet observes, the only freedom tyrannical societies permit is individual freedom. They desire an individual wedded exclusively to the state as an exclusive community, and offer him a certain limited sphere of “freedom.” It is not individual freedom that these tyrannies oppose, but competitors to their authority that they find unacceptable.  They do not mind individual freedom; they only mind competitors to the allegiance they require of men. They are willing to give men a long leash, as long as they alone are grasping the other end.

The modern state is never at war with the individual.  The state needs the individual (and it wants only the individual) for its sordid, tyrannical purposes.  The state is at war with other communities that vie for man’s allegiance – the family, church, business, and so on. The state wants to wipe out all communitarian competition so that it can remake man into a pliant agent for state purposes. Men are “material” to the modern state, particularly the secular humanist state.  They exist, in Mikhail Heller’s language, to be “cogs in the wheel” of a massive, utopian state enterprise.

In other words, the state wants a monopoly on community.  Libertarians err if they suppose that the center of the statist program is economic monopoly – exclusive ownership and distribution of goods and services.  Statist economic monopoly is easy once it is has seized a communitarian monopoly.  When people’s lives, hopes and aspirations are severed from family, church, and vocation, they are an easy prey for the state.  The state will permit great latitude to these individuals, just as long as they do not create, or divert their allegiance to, other communities.

In these communities, people willingly exercise and live under authority.  As rulers, they act as humble servants to (not dictators over) those for whom they are responsible (Mk. 10:42-45).  As subjects, they honor and obey those in authority (Heb. 13:17).

But trouble brews when politics becomes a community — because it soon will lust to be the only one.

 

New CCL Contact Data

Posted on July 1, 2014

Dear Friends and Supporters,

CCL is gearing up to expand as at no time in our history. I need your prayer — fervent, unremitting, prayer.

The new CCL contact data is here:

P. O. Box 100

Coulterville, CA 95311

209-852-4438

If you donate to CCL via direct checks from your bank, please make the change on-line today. Thank you for donating.

If you don’t donate, I need you to start. Even $50 a month (tax-deductible) would help.

The totally revamped web site will appear soon.

I’ll give a fuller update in the August mailing. Please send me a private FB message with your snail address to be added to the mailing list.

Meanwhile: please keep praying, and please keep donating — in that order.

The Good Old Way: A Father’s Day Message

Posted on June 15, 2014

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Read:   Jer. 6:16 a, b; Prov. 22:28

Introduction

Jeremiah’s time was eerily similar to ours. God’s people had turned away from him. They’d turned to idolatry and fornication. They were imitating the worldly, pagan practices surrounding them. They were mistreating one another, cheating one another. The politicians cared nothing for God’s truth. Even the priests and shepherds abandoned God at his word.

In 1:13 Jeremiah uses a striking metaphor to describe this apostasy. God’s people have turned away from him, the truth, the living fountain of water. In his place, they have fashioned their own cisterns. In other words, they have forsaken the true God, and they had tried to replace him with worldly, idolatrous satisfaction.

God’s people (old covenant Judah) were both a church a nation. Like old covenant Judah, the church today in many cases has turned away from God. We’ve become worldly. We worship entertainment. We think premarital sex is just fine. We keep quiet about abortion and same-sex marriage. We think there are other ways to God except by Jesus Christ. In other words, we are living and thinking like the pagans around us —  just as ancient Judah did.

Our nation has turned away from God. Of course, no modern nation is the people of God in the way that ancient Israel was. However, our own United States was founded mostly by Christians, and certainly on Christian principles. But like Judah of old, our nation has turned its back on God and his truth.

The book of Jeremiah is almost painful to read. If you want to read some of the most agonizing parts of the Bible, read the first part of Jeremiah. Some people have the idea that God lacks emotions (that’s he’s not “passible”). I don’t think they understand or truly believe the book of Jeremiah. God describes how his heart is broken because his tender bride, the Jews, have committed adultery on him. But he also calls them his children. He tells Judah,  “I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me” (3:19). But they turned away from their Father, and they quit following him. So God warned that a fierce civilization (Babylon) was coming to besiege the city, and rampage, and take captives back to their own land. It’s all very harrowing reading.

In the middle of all of this tragic apostasy, God the Father gives his children a way back, a way out. It’s in 6:16: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

This Father’s Day, I want to stress three important facts from this verse. It will help us to be better fathers, it will help our children to be better children, and it will help our church to be a better church. It will help our nation to be a better nation, if only we would hear.

Stop and Look Around

First, “[s]tand by the roads, and look.” The Jews were walking, they were traveling, but they had lost their way. God told him to quit walking. He told him to stand and look.

Have you ever noticed that when you are busy doing wrong, Satan has a vested interest in keeping you busy. He has a great incentive to keep you and me from slowing down and thinking. And today we have text messages and Facebook and our iPod playlist to keep us busy every waking hour. These days it is literally possible to keep yourself from thinking about God and his word and truth every single minute you are awake. And that’s precisely what many people do. They instinctively know that if they slow down, if they are quiet, if they muse with their own hearts, they might think about God and how they’ve turned her back on him. So they stay busy, not thinking about God.

But God tells us to stand — not walk or run, but stand and look. Look at where you are. Look at the road you’ve taken. Would you like to know why you are where you are today? Because you took a road to get there. If you’re not where you should be, you need to get off that road, and get back on the right road.

Let me give you some examples of this, based right on what Jeremiah says. Check out 6:10c, “[T]he word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.”

God’s word an object of scorn? Can you imagine it? But we live in those days. Who wants to talk about living a holy life before the Lord when pornography is so pervasive? When prescription drugs are so available? When filthy movies play at almost every theater every week (and, of course, at home on premium cable)? When abortion is birth control’s backup plan? When nobody cares about prayer meetings? When more and more people want the government to pay for their groceries and healthcare and prophylactics?

The time comes in the history of certain cultures and civilizations that they depart so much from God but they don’t even know how far they’ve gone.  In 1:15 Jeremiah says, “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.” He didn’t say they didn’t blush; he said they didn’t know how to blush.

Have you ever considered how rare blushing is in our culture? Blush is defined as “the red color that spreads over your face when you are ashamed, embarrassed, confused, etc.” Blushing happens when a sensitive, embarrassing topic comes up that we don’t want to think or talk about. Years ago young women (some men too) would blush when people discussed sexual intercourse or pregnancy. They really blushed when people talked about shameful sins like homosexuality or cross-dressing or sadomasochism or incest. But few people blush today. They do not blush because they are quite comfortable talking and hearing about detestable sins. They are callous about the sins that anger and sadden God. They are blissfully brazen faced.

Therefore, when they hear what the Bible says, they are really stunned. They can’t believe that the Bible would forbid what they take for granted. Obviously, then, the Bible must be wrong.

If they stood, and stopped, and considered, they’d know they were on the wrong road. They’d see the ripped-up marriages. The millions of children from broken families who barely see their mom or dad. Young single men who don’t care about supporting a wife or children. Young single women who care more about a career than about bearing children and caring for a husband. If they looked, they’d see the self-centeredness and the lack of real, lasting friendships. They’d see they are on the wrong road.

Only Two Ways

Then, after they stand and look they (and we) should:

Second, “ask for the ancient paths.” The Bible doesn’t teach that all old ways are good ways. After all, the first evil way is very, very old: the Garden of Eden. Don’t think that all the old ways are the best ways. This is a big problem as we age. We think the “good old days” were better than they really were. We romanticize the past.

When Jeremiah talks about the ancient paths, however, he means the paths that all the Jews should have known about, the paths that started their very nation, the covenant paths of God and his Word. Solomon was likely talking about the same thing: “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). A landmark established property boundaries. It was sacred. It marked out the land that a man and his family owned. To move a landmark was to steal (Dt. 19:14).

The last few generations we’ve lived in a time that is obsessed with change. “Make it new” is the theme of modernism. We don’t make products that will last for many years. We make cheap products that will break very soon so that very soon we can buy new, shiny ones. Understand that this isn’t just because people want cheap products. It’s because they want new products all the time. They are in love with change.

Change can be good. If we’re sinning, we need to repent; we need to turn around; we need to change. There’s nothing wrong with improvement. But all change is not improvement.

I was reading C. S.Lewis this week, and I encountered one of his famous statements: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” Our culture above all else wants to be progressive. But too often we’re progressing in the wrong direction. That’s not progress; that’s regress. Progress means getting off at road and getting back on the right road. And, according to Jeremiah, the right road is the ancient road of God’s ways.

What is that ancient road? It’s loving and honoring and serving and obeying God. It means not trying to imitate the surrounding sinful culture. There’s an antithesis, a radical difference, between God’s ways and the world’s ways. God’s way means glorious, committed sex within marriage. The world’s way means all consensual sex is permissible (even desirable). God’s way means pouring your life out for other people. The world’s way means putting yourself first at all costs. God’s ways for husbands means leading and cherishing and sacrificing for your wife and children. The world’s way means letting your wife lead and ignoring her and her needs. God’s way for wives means loving and submitting to their husbands and training children (as God gives them). The world’s way is to create your own life apart from your husband and children. God’s way for children means honoring and obeying their parents. The world’s way means getting your own way. God’s way means you get satisfaction and joy by loving and trusting him. The world’s way means you get satisfaction from chemicals or images on machines (“gaming”).

There are only two ways. Only God’s way is the right way.

Ours is a day of multiculturalism and moral relativism. It’s rude to say that one spiritual or cultural way is better than another. The multiculturalists don’t really believe this (let’s call them “boutique multiculturalists”). They would never say that a racist or sexist culture is equal to an egalitarian culture. The college freshman relativist who says, “Who am I to judge somebody else’s morality?” gets religion whenever somebody steals his iPod. He finally is forced to admit that there’s a right way and a wrong way.

There are the old biblical paths and the new worldly paths.  Find the old paths.

The Good Old Way

Third, the old paths are “where the good way is … walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Now think about this. The old paths aren’t just the right paths. They are the paths that are best for us. They’re the paths that end up in joy and peace and satisfaction and hope. In other words, God’s way is meant to bring us delight.

The Devil launched his Big Lie in the Garden and Eden by trying to convince Eve that God didn’t have her best interests at heart. “The reason God won’t let you eat of one tree is because he’s keeping something good from you.” In other words, God’s ways will keep us bored and unhappy, while Satan’s rebellion is pure fun. This is a destructive lie. All the heartache and anguish in the world has come about because people believe that lie. Drug and alcohol and porn and gaming addictions, and broken marriages and friendships, and venereal diseases, and poverty, and war, and anxiety, and sadness are all the result of believing and acting on Satan’s lie.

But if you want to find rest for your souls, walk in the old path.

Conclusion

I conclude with an exhortation this Father’s Day. Fathers, don’t be shy about leading your children in the good, old way. That’s literally what Jeremiah calls it — the Good Old Way. Be brave in your family. Take your stand with Joshua:

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15)

The culture wants you to think if you do this, you’re “imposing your views” on your family. That’s precisely the wrong way to look at it. Instead, if you refuse to lead in the Good Old Way, you’re leading your family away from joy and delight and blessing; you’re leading them into ruin and judgment.

Finally: our godly fathers who went before walked in the Good Old Way. They worked hard and prayed and gave money and sacrificed so that we would stay on that road. We owe it first to the Lord, but also to them, our forefathers, to stay on the Good Old Way. They have committed a trust to us. They knew about prayer and about reading the Word and about strong marriages and godly children and a Bible-preaching, Gospel church and a society that knew about God’s moral law and tried to uphold it. We dare not betray them. We dare not betray our Lord most of all. Let’s live in the Good Old Way.

God Is Not an Absentee Father

Posted on June 8, 2014

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Read:  Rom. 8:14­–17; Ps. 103:13–14; Mt. 7:7–11

Introduction

I’m ambivalent whenever I hear the popular expression “Christ-centered.” It’s understandable why we’d use it. Jesus the Christ died for our sins and rose (1 Cor. 15:1f.). He’s the exact imprint of God to man (Heb. 1:3). He’s King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). He’s our only mediator — there’s no salvation without him (1 Tim. 2:5). We disciples are called “Christians” (Ac. 11:26).

But we must always remember that there are two other members of the Trinity. They’re just as important as our Lord. There’s no hierarchy in the Trinity. That’s called subordinationism, and it’s heresy. Each member has a role to play in God’s plan for the world (his “economy”), but none is more important than the other.

We should be wary lest we deemphasize the Father and the Spirit. I want to talk about the Father today. I’ve quoted three important teachings in the Bible regarding the Fatherhood of God. But I want to do more than talk. I want the Holy Spirit to change our thinking about God. Of all the mental errors in the world, none could be more dangerous than errors about God.

Projecting human relationships onto God

Perhaps the biggest reason we entertain mistaken views about God is that we project human relationships onto our relationship with God. The most obvious example is our own fathers. There are no sinless fathers on earth. Even those of us who had faithful, godly, Christian fathers did not have sinless fathers. And it’s easy to project back onto God’s Fatherhood the relationship we’ve had with our own fathers. But that has things just backwards. God’s Fatherhood is the pattern toward which human fathers should strive, not vice versa. Our human fathers do not show us what God is like as a Father. God as the Father shows us what human fathers should be like.

I’d like to consider this morning whether some of our ideas about God have been mistaken. And if they have been mistaken, let’s pray that we can change that.

The Christian name for God

One more point of introduction: this topic is so important because, as J. I. Packer wrote: “‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.” There’re many names for God in the Bible: Yahweh (Lord, Jehovah), Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty) are just three. But the predominant Christian name for God is simply Father.

This is why Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Jesus constantly referred to God as his Father). This is why the Apostles’ Creed starts, “I believe in God the Father Almighty.”

This is not how unbelievers should mainly see God, but it is how we Christians should see God. The first and the main thing (by no means the only thing) we need to know about God is that he is our Father.

God could not have chosen a tenderer way to describe himself to his people. Let me prove this for you from the Bible.

The Glory of a Father’s Adoption

First, God has adopted us into his family.

Paul writes: “[Y]ou have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” “Abba” is a Hebrew word (though used here in the New Testament) of tender endearment. In English we might say, “Papa.”

Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit assures our hearts that God has adopted us into his family.

But God already had a family. We often don’t think of this. God has an eternal Son. Since that Son came into the world 2000 years ago, we Christians have known him as Jesus the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. God wasn’t lonely. God has been a Father from eternity past. He’s never not had a child. But he wanted more children. He didn’t want more because his Son wasn’t sufficient. He wanted more because he wanted to share the great love and communion that they already had (Jn. 17:20–26). “This is so blessed, so fulfilling, so glorious,” the Father said, “that we need to share it with others.” And that’s why God created man and woman.

Of course, we are not God’s child in precisely the sense that Jesus is. He is fully God, and we are not. But we are no less God’s children than Jesus is (Rom. 8:17).

We’re here today, worshiping in God’s church, because God wanted more than one Son. He wanted more than one child. He wanted many sons and daughters.

Adoption contrary to nature

Adoption is not biological. It is contrary to nature. We adopt children that we cannot, or do not, birth biologically. This is a fascinating point. We cannot choose our biological children. We have them as they are given to us. But we choose our adopted children. A childless couple, for example, travels to Africa or China and inspects little boys and girls and chooses one. And if all goes well, and if they pay a hefty fee, and if they fill out innumerable forms, after a long time they might be able to bring that child home.

Understand that God the Father chose us as children: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). It was the Father’s will to gather more children into his family, and he chose each one of us as his child, and he has already determined our destiny that we will always be his children.

Think about the implications of this fact before we move on. God didn’t just choose children en masse. He didn’t just choose a group of children. He came by the orphanage, as it were , he inspected, that he chose us (when we were sinful and unlovely) to be in his family with him and with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit. With all of our sins and failures and unbelief, the Father still chose us. He wanted us to join him and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and to revel and rejoice with them and share their communion, and to be where they are eternally.

This is the Father of adoption.

The Tenderness of a Father’s Compassion

Second, our Father is compassionate to us. The Psalmist sings these lyrics:

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

That expression “he knows our frame” means literally “he knows how we are formed.” Well, he knows how we are formed, because he’s the one that formed us. Let’s think about that creative act for a moment.

In Genesis we learn that God formed man from the dust of the ground; he breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. This is man’s composition. The word “soul” in the Bible doesn’t have the meaning that the Greeks gave to it. For the ancient Greeks, the soul is the “real you” inside your body. Your body is a prison or a cage, and the soul is the “ghost in the machine.” When you die, the “real you” escapes and the prison or cage is gone forever.

In Genesis we learn that man became a living soul, that is, a living being, after God breathed into dirt that he had fashioned as a human body. It’s God’s breath in the dirt that constitutes man a living being.

Now let’s think back at the song that the Psalmist wrote. God is our Father. He has compassion on us just as a human father has compassion on his children. He knows our frame, that we are dust. God knows that we are dirt. He knows how weak we are. He knows how anxious we can be.

This week I was talking to a dear Christian man. He’s a local businessman. I’ve known him a long time. I was at his business, and he pulled me aside, and  shared with me some of the great hardships he’s enduring at home and work. His wife suffers from a difficult cancer. The company for which he works has been putting pressure on him to move or be demoted. He suffering anxiety and panic attacks. I told him that I knew just what he was going through, and I stopped right there and prayed that our heavenly Father would calm his heart and meet the desires of his heart.

Our Father is not unaware of our dusty frame. He made that frame. He probably made us from dust so we can vulnerable, so that that we would rely entirely on him. He didn’t make us steel machines. He made us from dirt. Dirt is very weak and vulnerable. We are made marvelously, amazingly, in God’s image (Ps. 139), but we are still a composite of dirt and breath. God is our Father, and he wants us to trust his Fatherly goodness.

Father’s longing to protect and care for children

There’s something about men, the right kind of men, that impels them to have children.  God places a desire in men to love and protect the weak and vulnerable. This is a main reason that a man wants to marry a woman, and it’s a main reason that he wants to bring children into the world. We don’t just want to play with them and have them love us. We have an innate desire to shower our goodness and our care and protection on a little, helpless life. This, too, is what impelled the Father — our Father — to adopt us into his family. We are weak and helpless and vulnerable. And he wants to show his great love and power and tenderness and mercy by caring for his children.

Those of you going through real difficulties today, remember this: God the Father longs to show compassion. In fact, he often allows us to go through hardships so we will turn to him as a heavenly Father. When our little children come to us and ask, “Dad, can you fix this?” our heart goes out to them, we know our obligation to them, and we would go to any length necessary to come to their aid. Know this: our Father will go to any length necessary to come to our aid.

The Father’s Desire for His Children’s Requests

Third, and finally, our Father wants to give us good things. Jesus invites his disciples:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

We often read the word of God, but we don’t think hard about what we read.

Jesus is contrasting human fathers negatively with our heavenly Father. He is saying: if our earthly fathers are sinful, and if they still care deeply for us, imagine how much our heavenly Father, who is not sinful, cares for us.

I’m afraid that many Christians, and perhaps some of us, have developed severely mistaken ideas of God on this point.

We sometimes think, “The important thing isn’t what I want but God’s sovereign will”. Of course, in the ultimate sense, that’s true. In another sense, it’s a slap in the face to God. Would you think of your own father that way? What if you heard your children say, “The important thing is not what I want, but what my father wants.” I daresay, that sentiment would not entirely please you. And there’s a simple reason for this. You want your children to know that one main thing you long for is to give them things that they want. You want them to know that you want to do good things for them. You don’t want them to think that you do not care about them, that all you care about is getting your own way all the time. God does get his way, but please understand that one big way that God gets what he wants is to please his people.

God is more loving, more caring, more interested, more compassionate, and more selfless than any human father could be. Therefore, he wants to “give good things to those who ask him.”

Don’t deprive God of his Fatherly delight

Think harder with me: if God wants to do good things for us at our request, we are depriving him of what he wants by refusing to ask him for good things. If your children never asked you for any good things, would that silence please you? I dare say, it would annoy and sadden you.

Question: Are you a better father than God? If not, we need to get busy asking God the Father for good things, because as a loving father he delights to do good things for his people. Do not deprive him of his fatherly delight.

Let’s review: (1) God our Father adopted us into his family; he chose us to be Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (2) God our Father is compassionate to us as his children; he knows our dusty frame. (3) And, finally, God our Father wants to do good things for us; let’s not deprive him of what delights him as our Father.

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