Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

This was a question that John Piper sought to answer back in December of 2007, and I find myself in essential agreement with his point of view. So, for your own consideration, here is his response:
I sympathize with those who want to be rigorously and distinctly Christian, who want to be disentangled from the world and any pagan roots that might lie beneath our celebration of Christmas, but I don't go that route on this matter because I think there comes a point where the roots are so far gone that the present meaning doesn't carry the pagan connotation anymore. I'm more concerned about a new paganism that gets layered on top of Christian holidays.

Here's the example I use: All language has roots somewhere. Most of our days of the week—if not all—grew out of pagan names too. So should we stop using the word "Sunday" because it may have related to the worship of the sun once upon a time? In modern English "Sunday" doesn't carry that connotation, and that's the very nature of language. In a sense, holidays are like chronological language.

Christmas now means that we mark, in Christian ways, the birth of Jesus Christ. I think the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are the most important events in human history. Not to mark them in some way, by way of special celebration, would be folly it seems to me.

I remember I lived next door to somebody back in seminary who didn't celebrate birthdays for their kid. The idea was, partly, that all days were special for their kid. But if all days are special then it probably means that there are no special days. Yet some things are so good and precious—like anniversaries, birthdays, and even deaths—that they are worthy of being marked. How much more the birth and death of Jesus Christ!

It's really worth the risk, even if the date of December 25 was chosen because of its proximity to some kind of pagan festival. Let's just take it, sanctify it, and make the most of it, because Christ is worthy of being celebrated in his birth.

There is no point in choosing any other date. It won't work.
This was actually an edited transcription of an "Ask Pastor John" audio file that can be downloaded here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dr. Richard Belcher on the Holy Spirit, Prayer, and Revival

I found two terrific sermons by Dr. Belcher at the Sermon Index website that I highly recommend.

Prayer, the Holy Spirit, and Revival Part 1

Prayer, the Holy Spirit, and Revival Part 2

The first message focuses upon the sovereign role of the Holy Spirit in bringing about revival. The second message focuses upon the role of prayer in light of th Holy Spirit's sovereignty.

If you listen to these sermons, you will quickly discover why Dr. Belcher has been so used of God and why he had such an impact on my life as well. It is because he, by the grace of God, has trusted in the Lord rather than in human means to accomplish the work of the ministry. He is himself an example of how the sovereign Holy Spirit takes and uses a man as He wills.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Sixth Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: Illustration: “In a Frank and Ernest cartoon the two characters are standing before a priest and Frank asks, 'How come opportunity knocks once, but temptation beats at my door every day?'” (Swindoll's Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes, p.562).

“Temptation beats at my door every day” the character says, and we find it amusing not because it is foreign to our experience, but because it is so common to our experience. And this is the very thing that Jesus assumes about us as well. We have seen that He teaches us to pray daily for our physical needs and for forgiveness of sin, but He also wants us to pray daily for deliverance from temptation because He knows it beats at each of our doors every day.

NKJ Matthew 6:13a  “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

In order to understand Jesus' meaning here, let's consider the meaning of the Greek noun translated temptation. The Greek word peirasmós has two primary meanings:
1) It is used in a good sense to describe “God's examination of man” and has the meaning test or trial.

2) It is used in a bad sense to describe an “enticement to sin, either from without or within” and has the meaning temptation (Friberg Lexicon #21267, BibleWorks).
The related Greek verbs peirázō and ekpeirázō are also used in Scripture in both this positive and negative sense.

In order to understand how Jesus intends the word to be understood in the Lord's Prayer, we must remember several important points that become clear as we examine passages which use this terminology in both the Septuagint (or LXX, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and the New Testament.

First, God does test us.

Let's examine several of the many Scripture passages that demonstrate this truth:
NKJ Exodus 20:18-20 “Now all the people witnessed the understandings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, 'You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.' 20 And Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear; for God has come to test [LXX peirázō] you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.'”
We see here that God tests His people in order to help them to learn to trust Him in order to keep them from sin. So His testing is for our good.
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 16 “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. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test [LXX ekpeirázō, “to test thoroughly”] you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD…. 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test [LXX ekpeirázō] you, to do you good in the end....”
Again we see that God tests His people thoroughly for their good. He knows what is best for us in the end, and His tests are designed to bring it about.
NKJ James 1:2-4 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [pl. of peirasmós], 3 knowing that the testing [dokímion] of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Although James does not specifically say here that these trials come from God, he appears to assume it as he speaks of the way in which they are designed in order to do the same thing the Old Testament teaches that God's tests are designed to do by helping us to grow in our faith. James certainly knew the Old Testament well, and I cannot imagine he would say such tests come from anyone else! In addition, when we return to this passage later, we will see that James seems to think that his readers will themselves assume such tests are from God, which is why they might mistakenly be led to think that, when they are tempted in the midst of testing, the temptation also comes from God. This leads to the next important point we need to consider.

Second, God does not tempt us.

After Adam fell, he seemed to forget this fact – as fallen human beings often forget it! Notice how he essentially blames God for having given Eve to him, through whose influence he succumbed to temptation:
NKJ Genesis 3:12 “Then the man said, 'The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.'” (Italics mine.)
But it wasn't God who tempted Adam to sin, for He never tempts anyone to sin! James makes this point quite clearly:
NKJ James 1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted [peirázō], 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
Notice how James has shifted to using the terminology in its negative sense. He was using the terminology in a positive sense when he was teaching about testing, but he knows that frequently, in the midst of testing, we may also find ourselves tempted to sin. When this happens, he wants us never to think that God – who tests us for our good – is Himself responsible for the temptations we may experience in the process. No, James says, all such temptation has has its source our own evil desires (as well as satanic or demonic influence, which, as we shall see further on, Jesus has in mind in this model prayer)But this leads to another important point to consider.

Third, God does allow us to be tempted.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jesus' temptation in the wilderness:
NKJ Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [peirázō] by the devil.
The Apostle Paul also teaches that God allows us to be tempted:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation [peirasmós] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [peirázō] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [peirasmós] will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
When Paul says that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear, does he not also indicate that God will allow us to be tempted within what we are able to bear with His help?

Quote: Someone has said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Whoever said this got it right!

Fourth, God does sometimes test us by allowing us to be tempted.

Let's begin again with a couple of Old Testament examples:
NKJ Deuteronomy 13:1-3 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' -- which you have not known -- 'and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing [LXX peirázō] you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Here God's desire is to test the Israelites by allowing them to be tempted by a false prophet. We find a similar situation when we read about God's reason for allowing the pagan nations to remain in Canaan to test the Israelites:
NKJ Judges 2:20-23 “Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, 'Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 so that through them I may test [LXX peirázō] Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.' 23 Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.”
God knew these nations would tempt Israel to sin, but he allowed such temptation to remain so that He might test them. God Himself did not in any way tempt them to sin, however, but only allowed them to be tempted. Remember our earlier reading of James, in which he emphatically asserted that  “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” In fact, let's take one more look at James 1:
NKJ James 1:12-13 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation [peirasmós, or better “under trial” as in ESV and NASB]; for when he has been approved [dókimos], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted [peirázō], 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
James is relying upon the dual meaning of the word peirasmós in order to make the point that the very testing of our faith (mentioned earlier in verses 2-4) which God brings about and that leads to our being proved/approved may also become a time of temptation for us. But we should never make the mistake of thinking that this temptation comes from God. God may test us, but if such tests become temptations for us, this is not God's doing!

What does Jesus intend in the Lord's Prayer? Is He referring to testing or temptation?

There are those who think that Jesus is telling us to ask the Father not to lead us into times of testing, but this seems unlikely since we know that God will do so for our own good. However, it may be possible to understand this as a request not to lead us into times of testing that are so severe that we may be tempted to stumble.

On the other hand, there are those who think that Jesus is telling us to ask the Father more specifically not to lead us into times of temptation. This option is reflected in most translations (such as the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB) and is the most likely option given the second half of the petition: "but deliver us from the evil one."

In other words – although God may allow us to be tempted – we are taught by Jesus to ask Him not to let us be tempted such that we might be overpowered by the evil one. But this last part of the petition brings up another question:

Does Jesus teach us to ask God to “deliver us from evil” or to “deliver us from the evil one”?

That is, does Jesus refer to evil in general or to a specific and personified worker of evil, namely the devil. I think He intends to refer to the “evil one” (Satan) for a couple of reasons:
1) He used the article – the evil – as well as the masculine form of the word and thus most likely refers to an evil person or being.

2) Earlier in the context Jesus used a similar Greek construction in a clear reference to a personal evildoer:
NKJ Matthew 5:39 “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Italics mine.)
This understanding also reflects other Biblical teaching. For example:
NKJ Ephesians 6:10-18 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints....”
NKJ James 4:7 “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

NKJ 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (All italics mine.)
So we can see that it makes perfect sense for Jesus to teach us to pray that God will deliver us from the evil one, which is Satan. But He doesn't want us to finish praying on this note. He wants us to finish praying with another reminder of the ultimate goal of our lives, which is to bring glory to God.
NKJ Matthew 6:13b “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Some manuscripts do not include this last part of the verse, but I think it is best taken as genuine, and it certainly does reflect other Biblical teaching. In fact, it is similar to other doxologies in Scripture. For example:
NKJ 1 Chronicles 29:10-11 “Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: 'Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all.'”

NKJ Revelation 5:13 “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: 'Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!'”
I think Jesus wants us to finish our prayers with such a focus on God's glory because this focus is what should characterize the motives and desires of all true believers. So we don't ask Him not to lead us into temptation but to deliver us from evil simply for our own good. We do it because this is the way we best glorify Him and acknowledge His Lordship over all things.

Conclusion: Quote: As C.S. Lewis once wrote:
No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is …. Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means. (As quoted in Today in the Word, November, 1998, p. 24)
This is why I want to conclude with an encouragement to take all our struggles with temptation to Christ, for He knows how to help us:
NKJ Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16 “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. 4:14 -16 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Fifth Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: When tempted by Satan, Jesus reminded him that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, citing Deut. 8:3). In the Lord's Prayer, He reminds us that man lives not only by daily bread, but by daily forgiveness from God.

Quote: As D.A. Carson has put it:
The first three petitions stand independently from one another. The last three, however, are linked in Greek by “ands,” almost as if to say that life sustained by food is not enough. We also need forgiveness of sin and deliverance from temptation. (EBC, Vol.8, p.172)
Quote: Thomas Watson elaborates on this same point:
As soon as Christ had said, 'Give us daily bread,' he adds, 'and forgive us.' He joins the petition of forgiveness of sin immediately to the other of daily bread, to show us that though we have daily bread, yet all is nothing without forgiveness. If our sins be not pardoned, we can take but little comfort in our food. As a man that is condemned takes little comfort from the meat you bring him in prison, without a pardon; so, though we have daily bread, yet it will do us no good unless sin be forgiven. What though we should have manna, which was called angels' food, though the rock should pour out rivers of oil, all is nothing unless sin be done away. When Christ had said, 'Give us our daily bread,' he presently added, and 'forgive us our trespasses.' Daily bread may satisfy the appetite, but forgiveness of sin satisfies the conscience ….

Daily bread may make us live comfortably, but forgiveness of sins will make us die comfortably. (The Lord's Prayer, first published as part of A Body of Practical Divinity, 1692)
While keeping in mind that daily forgiveness is just as important as our daily bread, let's examine more closely the way Jesus wants us to pray for this forgiveness.

NKJ Matthew 6:12 "And forgive us our debts [opheílēma], as we forgive our debtors [opheilétēs].

Several questions come to mind as I read this verse: 1) What are the debts Jesus says we need to have forgiven? (What does this term debts mean?) 2) In what sense are our debts forgiven as we forgive our debtors? (Does this imply that we earn forgiveness by first forgiving others?) We shall seek to answer each of this questions in our attempt to understand what Jesus is teaching us.

I. What are the debts Jesus says we need to have forgiven?

As most of us are no doubt already aware, the Bible can sometimes describe sins as debts and the forgiving of sins as the forgiveness of a debt. It is figurative language that was well understood by first century Jews. This is why Jesus uses it in this passage and also why – on another occasion when He taught His disciples to pray in a similar fashion – He could refer to debts and sins interchangeably:
NKJ Luke 11:4a “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted [opheílō] to us.” (Italics mine.)
This metaphorical way of picturing sins as debts is also reflected in one of Jesus' better known parables:
NKJ Matthew 18:21-35 “Then Peter came to Him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' 22 Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, “Pay me what you owe!” 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.'”
Quote: Thomas Watson asks the question, “Why is sin called a debt?” and offers this helpful answer:
Because it fitly resembles it. (1) A debt arises upon non- payment of money, or the not paying that which is one's due. We owe to God exact obedience, and not paying what is due, we are in debt. (2) In case of non-payment, the debtor goes to prison; so, by our sin, we become guilty, and are exposed to God's curse of damnation. Though he grants a sinner a reprieve for a time, yet he remains bound to eternal death if the debt be not forgiven. (The Lord's Prayer, first published as part of A Body of Practical Divinity, 1692)
Watson also goes on to ask the question, “In what sense is sin the worst debt?” to which he gives several answers that are worthy of consideration:
(1) Because we have nothing to pay. If we could pay the debt, what need to pray, 'forgive us'?....

(2) Sin is the worst debt, because it is against an infinite majesty....

(3) Sin is the worst debt, because it is not a single, but a multiplied debt. Forgive us 'our debts;' we have debt upon debt....

(4) Sin is the worst debt; because it is an inexcusable debt in two respects; [1] There is no denying the debt. Other debts men may deny. If the money be not paid before witnesses, or if the creditor lose the bond, the debtor may say he owes him nothing; but there is no denying the debt of sin. If we say we have no sin, God can prove the debt.... 2] There is no shifting off the debt. Other debts may be shifted off. We may get friends to pay them, but neither man nor angel can pay this debt for us. If all the angels in heaven should make a purse, they cannot pay one of our debts. In other debts men may get a protection, so that none can touch their persons, or sue them for it; but who shall give us a protection from God's justice?
Indeed, who “shall give us a protection from God's justice”? We know that it is Jesus Christ alone who can pay the debt, “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14).

II. In what sense are our debts forgiven as we forgive our debtors?

At first glance, one might be tempted to think – as some have thought – that Jesus is teaching that we can somehow merit forgiveness from God through our forgiveness of others, especially given Jesus' explanation of this petition in verses 14-15:
NKJ Matthew 6:14-15 14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
But does Jesus really intend to say that we merit God's forgiveness through our our forgiveness of others? That our forgiving others is somehow the cause of God's forgiving us? Four considerations militate against such an an understanding of Jesus' teaching here:

First, the form of request the petition for forgiveness takes rules out merit, so that our forgiveness of others cannot be the cause of God's forgiveness of us.

When Jesus tells us to ask the father to "forgive us our debts," He uses the Greek verb aphíēmi, which means “to remit a debt” and also “to forgive a sin” (i.e. in the same manner as one would remit a debt). But to remit a debt is to show grace! No payment is required! If God were dealing with us in accordance with works righteousness, He would demand payment of the debt from us.

Thus, Jesus cannot be saying that God will cancel our debt while at the same time saying we must pay it bit by bit! Such a reading of the text would be absurd.

Second, we must distinguish between the initial forgiveness of our sins when we are justified and the ongoing need for confession and forgiveness in our daily lives.
1) Jesus clearly intends this prayer for those who are already believers and thus already justified and forgiven through Christ.

Recall the opening address of the prayer in verse 9, in which Jesus tells believers to address God as “our Father.”

2) Jesus clearly intends this as an ongoing, daily prayer (sanctification), not as a once for all prayer for salvation and forgiveness (justification).

Recall verse 11, in which Jesus clearly indicates this is to be a “daily” prayer (and see also Luke 11:3, "Give us day by day our daily bread").
This distinction between initial forgiveness and our ongoing need for forgiveness may be found elsewhere in scripture as well. For example:
Initial forgiveness: NKJ Romans 3:21-24 “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus....”

Ongoing forgiveness: NKJ 1 John 1:8-2:1 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Third, we must distinguish between our forgiveness of others as the cause of God's forgiveness of us versus our forgiveness of others as the evidence of our having been forgiven by God.
NKJ James 2:14-17 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
As many Reformed theologians have correctly asserted over the centuries, “We are saved by grace through faith alone, bu the faith that saves is never alone.” Genuine saving faith always results in a changed life that produces fruit in keeping with repentance (as John the Baptist would say it, Matt. 3:8), and one of those fruits will always be a forgiving heart.

Quote: John Stott gets it right when he says:
This certainly does not mean that our forgiveness of others earns us the right to be forgiven. It is rather that God forgives only the penitent and that one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit. Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offence against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offences of others, it proves that we have minimized our own. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.149-150)
Fourth, we must distinguish between deserts and capacity. Jesus is not saying that God's forgiveness of our sins is the just deserts of our having forgiven others. Rather, He is implying that our forgiveness of others affects our capacity to receive God's forgiveness. This is also consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture. For example:
NKJ Psalm 66:18 “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”
So also, when Jesus teaches us to pray daily, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” He is also giving us a daily reminder that we need to confess our sins to God and to be forgiven by Him. And He is giving us a daily reminder that our relationships with others always affect our relationship with God! We will be hindered in our fellowship with God and will not experience His forgiveness fully if we do not forgive others. But as we see a forgiving spirit within ourselves, then we will be all the more assured of God's forgiveness. For, if God can enable us to forgive those who harm us, then we know with certainly that God Himself can and does truly forgive us!

Conclusion: I will conclude simply by repeating the admonition of the Apostle Paul, one which I hope we will now see in a new light:
NKJ Ephesians 4:32 “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day Remembrance - Every War Has An End

As both a Christian and a veteran, I look forward to the time when all war will end. Isaiah foretold that the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would usher in such a time:
NKJ Isaiah 2:4 "He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
So on this day I am grateful for the sacrifice of my fellow veterans, and I honor their service. But I am infinitely more grateful for the sacrifice of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for He has won the victory that will one day be manifested in a New Heavens and a New Earth, where there will be no more death at all:
NKJ Revelation 21:1-4 "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John1, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.'"
Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Fourth Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: In our previous examination of the first three petitions of this prayer – that God's name be hallowed, that His Kingdom come, and that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven – we focused upon praying for the glory of God. Now we will begin to look at the last three petitions of the Lord's prayer, which are focused on praying for our good. And the first of these petitions is centered specifically upon our physical good.

NKJ Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Although this request seems very simple, it actually has more depth than many realize. So, we will take some time to examine each of the parts of this prayer in order to bring out its significance more clearly. We will focus our attention on four distinct emphases of the prayer.

First, when Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, He is referring to the basic necessities of life, not to luxuries.

Quote: As D.A. Carson puts it, “The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds” (EBC, Vol.8, p.171).

Application: Since we live in such an affluent society and possess so much more than just what we need, we can easily fall prey to the kind of materialism that mistakes wants for needs. For example, we can find ourselves praying for another car or for a bigger house or for better clothes because the culture we live in makes us think we need such things when we really don't.

Illustration: Paul demonstrates the attitude that Jesus wants to be in us when praying this prayer:
NKJ 1 Timothy 6:7-8 “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
To be sure, praying for our daily bread – our basic needs – and no more is a prayer of contentment!

However, there have been those who have felt that a plea for our daily bread – and thus for our basic physical needs – is too mundane a concern to be included in such a prayer. They have thus sought to spiritualize the meaning. For example, some of the early Church Fathers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, all interpreted our daily bread as meaning “the invisible bread of the Word of God” (John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 148). Some also interpreted it as a reference to the bread of the Lord's Supper, as did Jerome, when in his Latin Vulgate translation he rendered the meaning as “super-substantial bread – that is, as bread that is more than just physical bread" (Stott, p.148).

But there is no good reason in the context to think that Jesus is referring to either the Word of God or the Lord's Supper. These interpretations are simply examples of eisegesis rather than exegesis. That is, they read into the text a meaning that is not there rather than reading out of the text the meaning that is readily apparent to any without a preconceived agenda.

Application: Such misreadings of the passage also miss a very important point, namely that God truly cares about such things as our most basic physical needs. These are not mundane, trivial things to God! And they certainly aren't mundane or trivial to one who lacks food or clothing!

Quote: Kent Hughes drives home the same point when he writes in his commentary on this verse:
God wants us to bring our everyday needs to him, even if they seem trivial. He does not demand that we approach him only when we have raised ourselves to some kind of spiritual elevation above the everyday things of life. The greatness of our God lies in his descending to meet us where we are. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 183)
Second, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us this day our daily bread, He is giving us a daily reminder that we are a part of a family of believers who also have the same needs as we do.

Jesus does not want us to be selfish in seeking only our own needs from the Lord, but to be mindful of our brothers and sisters in Christ as well.

Remember also that Jesus also commends those who help provide for others who are less fortunate:
NKJ Matthew 25:31-36 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me....'”
Jesus identifies true believers as those who care not just about their own needs, but also about meeting the needs of others, and He wants us to remember this in prayer every day.

Quote: Kent Hughes offers a similar insight on this aspect of the prayer:
Every time we pray this prayer from our heart, we are affirming our solidarity with our brothers and sisters. When we pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” we are also making an implicit commitment to help provide bread for needy friends. The prayer is a stretching, broadening petition. We not only depend on God for practical provision – we commit ourselves to be part of God's answer for others in need. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 183)
Third, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us our daily bread, He wants us to remember that – although we may work to meet our basic needs – all we have ultimately comes as a gift from God.

Jesus does not want us to become self-dependent but to be mindful every day that we are dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything. Such humble dependence upon God runs directly counter to the so called “rugged individualism” and self-sufficiency that our culture prizes so highly!

Of course, the fact that we are to be dependent upon God in no way diminishes our responsibility to work to meet our own needs and the needs of others. For example, Paul admonishes us to work:
NKJ 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”
So, the way we can typically expect God to answer this prayer to meet our basic needs is through the provision of work.

Fourth, when Jesus teaches us to pray that God will give us this day our daily bread, He wants us to learn to trust God for each day without giving in to worry about the next one.

This becomes clear as we examine the meaning of the two Greek terms He uses in this context.

First, the Greek word sēmeron means “today,” “this day,” or “this very day.” It clearly focuses upon the very day one is praying the prayer.

Second, the Greek word epioúsios is a more difficult word, with only three undisputed occurrences in known ancient Greek literature, one here in Matthew 6:11, one in Luke 11:3 (recording another teaching of the Lord's Prayer by Jesus), and one in a late first century Christian writing called The Didache (which is quoting the Lord's Prayer, 8:2).

The two primary meanings proposed for this Greek word are 1) for the current day, which means that it refers to “today's bread,” or 2) for the coming day, which means that it refers to “tomorrow's bread.”

In my opinion, Jesus is referring to the food we need on the current day, given His emphasis on “this day” and His admonition later on in the same sermon:
NKJ Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Quote: Thus I agree with D.A. Carson, when he writes that the prayer “is for one day at a time ('today'), reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time and for whom a few days illness could spell tragedy” (EBC, Vol.8, p.171).

Application: Jesus wants us to live one day at a time rather than to let the concerns of tomorrow cause us to fail to trust God fully for today... and for each and every day. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with making plans for the future, there is something wrong with being so driven by such concerns that we begin to put our trust in our own plans rather than in God. And there is definitely also something wrong with giving in to worry about tomorrow.

Conclusion: I hope that this time spent thinking together about the meaning of this simple petition – “Give us this day our daily bread” – has been a helpful reminder to us all. May God grant us the grace to pray with such a heart every day!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Third Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: Quote: George W. Truett once taught that, “To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge! To do the will of God is the greatest achievement!” (Quoted in “Toolkit,” Cell Church, Winter, 1996, p. 10 []).

I would add to Truett's observation one of my own, namely that to pray for the will of God is, perhaps, the greatest prayer. Now, we have seen in earlier messages that one cannot pray “hallowed be Your name” without also praying “your kingdom come,” because God's name is hallowed where He is honored as King. But neither can one pray “Your kingdom come” without also praying “Your will be done,” because God is not honored as King where His will is not obeyed. And it this third petition – “Your will be done” – that will be the focus of our attention here.

NKJ Matthew 6:10b “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

When we pray this prayer, we are basically asking for two things: 1) that God's will be done on earth, and 2) that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I. We are Asking that God's Will Be Done on Earth

In earlier messages we have seen that praying “hallowed be Your name” and “Your kingdom come” is praying both for the whole world and for ourselves at one and the same time. Such is true of praying “Your will be done” as well.

1) We are praying that God's will be done in the whole world.

This prayer will ultimately be answered with the coming of God's Kingdom in the future, but it is also answered as others come to know Christ and submit to Him as Lord. For example:
NKJ Romans 1:5 “Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name....”
Or, as the ESV translates this verse: “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations....”

Application: When we pray that God's will be done on earth, we are praying that people will obey Him through acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For 'He has put all things under His feet.' But when He says 'all things are put under Him,' it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.”
Application: When we pray for God's will to be done on earth, we are praying for the ultimate victory of the Lord Jesus over all His enemies. We are longing for the day when all is clearly seen to be subject to His rule.
NKJ Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Application: When we pray for God's will to be done, we are praying for the day when all will bow the knee to Jesus and acknowledge Him as Lord.

2) We are praying that God's will be done in our own lives.

Jesus is, of course, the greatest example of this:
NKJ John 4:34 “Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.'”
Application: What about you and me? Can each of us honestly say that, just as our bodies hunger for and crave food, so we crave the will of God? For example, is the desire that God's will be done the first thing in our thoughts and in our prayers each day, or do we think of breakfast first?
NKJ Matthew 26:36-39 “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, 'Sit here while I go and pray over there.' 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.' 39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.'”
Application: There may be many times when praying for God's will to be done means that we must suffer for His sake. In such cases, can we pray, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will”? What kind of difficulties face you right now in your own life? Can you pray – after asking for God to take them away – “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will”? If not, then I submit to you that you haven't yet learned to pray "Your will be done" as Jesus would have you pray it.
NKJ Hebrews 5:5-8 “So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.' 6 As He also says in another place: 'You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek'; 7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”
Application: Are we servants greater than our Master? If He who was perfect learned obedience to the will of God by the things which He suffered, how can we think it should be any different for us?

Sadly, we may often plead with God for what we want first of all, as if we can somehow conform His will to our own. And we may often do this in order to avoid suffering. But instead of avoiding suffering, we may sometimes only delay it or make things even worse for ourselves by our refusal to accept His will ... like Jonah, who thought he could run away from God's will and ended up fish food.

Illustration: William Moses Tidwell offers the following illustration:
The carriage was being driven along the road. The mother sat on the front seat and the maid, caring for the spoiled baby, on the back seat. The child began screaming for something. The mother impatiently said, “Why don't you let him have what he wants?” The nurse let him have it. What he was crying for was a wasp on the window. Then he screamed vociferously when he felt the terrible sting of the wasp. The mother then called out to ask, “What is the matter with him now?” The maid quietly replied, “He got what he wanted.” How often have we seen this! It is better to seek the will of God first. (Pointed Illustrations [])
Illustration: On the other hand, we could learn the lesson of Jesus' life, as the missionary David Livingstone seems to have done:
David Livingstone tells how he was chased up a small tree and besieged by lions. He said the tree was so small that he was barely out of reach of the lions. He said they would stand on their back feet and roar and shake the little tree, and that he could feel the hot breath of the lions as they sought him. “But,” he states, “I had a good night and felt happier and safer in that little tree besieged by lions, in the jungles of Africa, in the will of God, than I would have been out of the will of God in England.” (William Moses Tidwell, Pointed Illustrations []).
I submit to you that this is the kind of attitude Jesus wants us to have when we pray to our heavenly Father “Your will be done.”
II. We are Asking that God's Will Be Done As It Is in Heaven

Here we must think about how God's will is done in heaven. David gives us some insight 
on the matter in a similar prayer:
NKJ Psalm 103:19-22 “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. 21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure. 22 Bless the LORD, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!”
David wanted everyone in all the places of God's dominion to praise Him and obey Him even as the angels in heaven do. But how do the angels in heaven obey God? Perhaps one example will suffice:
NKJ Luke 2:8-14 “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'”
These angels can't help but praise God when carrying out His commands! They are filled with joy at the unfolding of His plans as they see His will accomplished!

Application: Have you ever read in the Bible of one of God's holy angels in heaven disobeying him? Have you ever read about any of these angels complaining about the will of God rather than doing it immediately and with joy?

Quote: Wayne Grudem highlights this same point in his Systematic Theology:
In both their obedience and their worship angels provide helpful examples for us to imitate. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In heaven God’s will is done by angels, immediately, joyfully, and without question. We are to pray daily that our obedience and the obedience of others would be like that of the angels in heaven. Their delight is to be God’s humble servants, each faithfully and joyfully performing their assigned tasks, whether great or small. Our desire and prayer should be that we ourselves and all others on earth would do the same. (p. 404)
Conclusion: Jesus wants us to pray daily that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He knows that we need to align our wills with the Father's will every day, and He knows that we can best do this through prayer. What about each of us? Can we honestly say that we desire that God's will be done so earnestly that it takes precedence in our prayers even over our own needs? Does such a desire make us willing even to suffer so that His will may be done? And does such a desire show in our own immediate and joyful obedience to His will?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Second Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: Illustration: Many centuries ago, and many years after God had led the Israelites into the promised land, there came a time when they decided they wanted a king like all the other nations had (1 Sam. 8:5). We are told in Scripture about the responses of both Samuel and God to this request:
NKJ 1 Samuel 8:6-8 “But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' So Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day -- with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods -- so they are doing to you also.'”
Perhaps even more sad than the fact that they had asked for another king in the first place is the fact that – even after Samuel went back to them and told them everything God had said – they still knowingly and willfully rejected the Lord as their King!

But a Christian is not such a person, is he!? Absolutely not! Among other things, a Christian is a person who has acknowledged God as His rightful King and submitted to Him as Sovereign Lord. This is why Jesus teaches His followers to pray for His Kingdom to come. But the question that arises in my mind is, What are we asking for when we pray:

NKJ Matthew 6:10a "Your kingdom come…."

What does Jesus mean when He says that we should pray that God's kingdom would come? Obviously Jesus does not take the time to answer this question when He gives the prayer as a model for us. So it would seem best to examine other passages in which Jesus and the Apostles taught about the Kingdom in order to answer it. After all, we do want to pray this prayer with understanding, don't we?

Now, as we have seen in previous messages, the Kingdom has both a present and a future aspect. It is present now and manifested through the Church and the preaching of the Gospel, but it has not yet come in its fullness. This awaits the return of Christ and ultimately the New Heavens and the New Earth. However, it does not seem that Jesus restricts this petition to only one of these two aspects of the Kingdom. So, keeping both the present and future aspects in mind, we will examine a number of passages this morning to see if we can't get a better idea about just what we are praying for when we pray, “Your kingdom come.”
We will examine 1) a number of Biblical passages that describe the Kingdom as not yet come, and then 2) a number of passages that describe the Kingdom as having already come.

I. The Kingdom Not Yet Come

Let's consider a number of passages which speak of the Kingdom as future:
NKJ Matthew 13:41-43 “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Application: So, when we are praying “Your kingdom come,” we are praying for Jesus to come in judgment, to manifest His just rule and to bring believers into the Kingdom of their Father.
NKJ Matthew 25:31-34 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world....'”
Application: So, we are praying that God's plan from before the foundation of the world will be accomplished, and we are aligning our hearts with His eternal purpose!
NKJ Acts 14:21-22 “And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'”
Application: We are praying with the understanding that the coming of His Kingdom may bring with it many sufferings. And we are putting His Kingdom before our own comfort.
NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 55 'O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?'”
Application: So, when we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are praying for our new resurrection bodies and for the last enemy – death – to be conquered.
NKJ 2 Timothy 4:18 “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Application: We are praying with confidence that the Lord will preserve us for His Kingdom for His own glory.
NKJ Revelation 5:9-10 “And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.'”

Or, as the ESV and NASB read, “have made a kingdom and priests to our God.”
Application: So, we are praying that people from every people group all over the world will come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.
NKJ Revelation 12:7-10 “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.'”
Application: We are praying for the ultimate defeat of Satan and his minions.

II. The Kingdom Already Come

Let's consider a number of passages which speak of the Kingdom as present:
NKJ Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
Application: So, when we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are praying for repentance, not only for ourselves but for all who hear the Gospel. For it is only through repentance and faith that we experience His Kingdom as already come.
NKJ Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Application: When we sincerely pray, “Your kingdom come,” we are praying from and for a deep sense of humility and utter dependence upon God, not only in ourselves but in all who hear the Gospel.
NKJ Matthew 6:31-33 “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Application: We are expressing in prayer a commitment to the Kingdom that comes first in our hearts and lives. This is no doubt why Jesus tells us to pray for God's Kingdom to come before we pray for our daily bread! His Kingdom is more important than our lives!
NKJ Matthew 12:28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Application: We are praying that the power of the Kingdom will be manifested through spiritual victory over Satan and his demonic legions now!
NKJ Luke 9:62 “But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”
Application: Again, when we pray “Your kingdom come” with understanding and sincerity, we are expressing our commitment to the Kingdom – a commitment that demands perseverance (and trusts God for it, as we earlier saw in Paul's example in 2 Timothy 4:18).
NKJ Luke 17:20-21 “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, 'The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.'” (My translation.)
Application: We are praying with the understanding that many will not see His Kingdom because they are constantly looking for the wrong thing and refuse to believe. But we are praying that His Kingdom will come despite such opposition and that many will be enabled to see His Kingdom is even now in their midst.
NKJ Romans 14:17 “...for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Application: So, we are praying for righteousness and peace and joy to be experienced and seen in the Church through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
NKJ Colossians 1:13 “[God] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love....”
Application: When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we should be recognizing that it is only by God's power and grace that we have come into His Kingdom, and that many others throughout the world will also experience this power and grace through faith in Christ.

Conclusion: I hope seen in Scripture that to be a Christian is to be a part of God's Kingdom now. It is to having a consuming desire that His Kingdom would advance in this world through the preaching of the Gospel and the salvation of others. And it is to be filled with a longing for the ultimate coming of His Kingdom in the future return of Christ and in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Wrap-around: But is this really true of us as it should be? What is it that we pray for most often? What is it that we communicate through our lives most clearly to others? Can others see through our lives who our King really is? Or would they think that we – like the ancient Israelites who rejected God as their King – want a king like the rest of the world has? That the master we desire is no different from the idols of personal peace and affluence that they themselves worship? Do we say that we want God as our King but live as though we wish He were not? Let us pray that such is not now the case and that it never will be the case! Let us pray passionately, “Your kingdom come!”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About the Reformed Baptist View of Baptism

Stan Reeves, an elder at Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, Alabama, has written a helpful paper entitled FAQ on the Reformed Baptist View of Baptism. He offers brief, clear answers to a number of common questions about how we understand baptism according to Scripture. Here is the list of commonly asked questions for which he seeks to provide answers:
1. What books present the Reformed Baptist view of baptism?

2. What readily available short works present the Reformed Baptist view of baptism?

3. Considering that Old Testament believers were commanded to place the sign of the covenant upon their infant children, why do we not have clear explanations in the New Testament that this pattern of infant inclusion has been abrogated?

4. Doesn't Acts 2:39 indicate a continuation of the principle of including children under the new covenant?

5. Does the Reformed Baptist view prevent us from embracing God's promise to be a God to our children?

6. Is the sacrament of baptism a means of grace according to Reformed Baptist theology?

7. How can baptism be a means of grace in Baptist theology when Baptists assert that a person must already be saved to be eligible for baptism?

8. Doesn't I Cor. 7:14 teach that children of believers are covenantally set apart and thus eligible for baptism?
If you have ever had some of these same questions, you may want to check out Stan's paper here.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Free Audio Download of J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism is offering a free audio download of J. Gresham Machen's important, classic work Christianity and Liberalism. You have the option of either listening online or downloading the file for each chapter to your computer.

You may also want to check out other free downloads from the site, which include selections from such works as John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, J. C. Ryle's The Duties of Christian Parents, and John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

e-Sword Updated From 9.6 to 9.7

e-Sword, what I recommend as the best free Bible study software program, has been updated from version 9.6 to version 9.7. Here is the description of the update from the e-Sword website:
The editors have been broken out into their own view and are no longer located in the Commentary view. Also, a new Journal Notes editor has been added to the Editor view to join the Study Notes and Topic Notes!

You can now Search the Bibles and other modules using Regular Expressions (REGEX). While a bit complicated for typical use, this functionality adds powerful searching capabilities when that might be needed.

Inline notes and cross-references are now possible in Bible modules. The NASB Study Set has been updated to take advantage of this new functionality.
If you haven't already tried e-Sword, I suggest you check it out.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The First Petition

In this post I am continuing a series on the Lord's Prayer. What follows are my teaching notes on the text in Matthew. I hope the blog's readers will find it helpful.

Introduction: Quote: William Shakespeare once wrote:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
("Othello", Act 3 scene 3).
Shakespeare hit upon something that is regarded as virtually universally true, namely that a person's name and his reputation are intertwined. What one thinks when he hears or uses a man's name, he thinks of the man himself. This is true also of God, and this is why Jesus teaches us to pray:

NKJ Matthew 6:9b "Hallowed be Your name."

In attempting to better understand this petition, we will seek to answer two questions: 1) What does it mean to hallow His name? and 2) Who do we pray shall hallow His name?

I. What Does it Mean to Hallow His Name?

[1] Hallowed be – Greek hagiázō = “make holy, consecrate, sanctify; (1) of things set apart for sacred purposes consecrate, dedicate (MT 23.19); (2) of God's name treat as holy, revere (MT6.9)” (Friberg Greek Lexicon #212, BibleWorks).

So, the point isn't that we make God's name holy, but that we revere it as holy, that we acknowledge it as the holy name that it already is. His name is holy because He is holy, and we properly acknowledge His holiness when we desire every day to see His name acknowledged as holy. so then, this is just another way of saying that we should acknowledge Him for who He really is. When we want to see God's name honored and sanctified before others, it is because we want Him to be so honored. This is why the Apostle Peter tells us that we need to be ready to give a defense for our faith in God:
NKJ 1 Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear....” (Italics mine.)
To sanctify God in our hearts is simply to recognize who He truly is as a holy and sovereign God and to honor Him as such in our hearts. For, if we do not honor Him this way in our hearts, we will never do so before others. This is assumed by Peter, and it is something that even the most mature and godly believers can sometimes fail to do. Consider, for example, the case of Moses when the people of Israel complained that they had no water:
NKJ Numbers 20:7-12 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8 'Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.' 9 So Moses took the rod from before the LORD as He commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, 'Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?' 11 Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. 12 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'” (Italics mine.)
I submit to you that if Moses could fail to hallow God before the people of Israel, then we too can fail to hallow God before others! No wonder Jesus wants our first petition – our first thought in prayer – to be that God's name be hallowed. He knows that we need to make this the focus of our hearts first thing every day. And He knows that we are not ready to call out to God in prayer unless this is our primary aim.

[2] Your name – In this context the only way Jesus has told us to address God is as “our Father” (vs.9a), so we can assume that we definitely want Him to be hallowed as such. But when God's name – or one of His many names – is referred to in Scripture, it is a way of revealing something about who He is. For example:
1) NKJ Exodus 3:14 “And God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”'”

Here God tells Moses the meaning of His proper name, Yahweh, although there are a number of other names by which He also revealed Himself. This name reveals that He is the self-existent One. He is thus sovereign creator of all else that exists. So, when we pray that His name will be hallowed, we are praying that He will be acknowledged as such.

2) NKJ Exodus 33:19 “Then He said, 'I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.'”

God's name identifies Him as the gracious and compassionate One. So, again, when we pray that His name will be hallowed, we are praying that He will be acknowledged as such.

3) NKJ Exodus 34:14 “...for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God....”

God's name reveals that He will not share His glory with another and that He is justly angered when we give to another the honor and worship that is due to Him alone. When we pray that His name will be hallowed, then, we are praying that He will be worshiped as the only true God, aren't we?
Quote: John Stott has done a good job of summarizing the matter (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.147):
The name of God is not a combination of the letters G, O, and D. The name stands for the person who bears it, for his character and activity. So God's 'name' is God himself as he is in himself and has revealed himself. His name is already 'holy' in that it is separate from and exalted over every other name. But we pray that it might be hallowed, 'treated as holy', because we ardently desire that due honour may be given to it, that is to him whose name it is, in our own lives, in the church and in the world.
Quote: Chip Bell has also given a good, brief explanation of Jesus' meaning here (“The Paternoster - A Model Prayer Matthew 6:9-15,”
When we speak of God’s name, what we really mean is God himself. So this first request is a longing to see God treated as special, to see him recognized as God and treated as only God deserves to be treated.

There are two separate aspects to this request: one in the present and one in the future. There will be a time when God is finally treated as holy by all of creation. That’s way in the future. Partly this prayer is longing for that day to come when everyone in the world recognizes and honors God. But there is also a present aspect. This is a prayer that right now, among us, more and more people would recognize who God is and begin to treat him the way only God deserves to be treated.
This leads us to our next question ….

II. Who Do We Pray Shall Hallow His Name?

Notice that when Jesus teaches us to pray, “hallowed be Your name,” He does not restrict this in any way. For example, He does not limit the request to “hallowed be your name in me,” or “hallowed be Your name in the Church.”

In addition to the general nature of the petition, the following petitions also indicate that we are to desire that God's name be hallowed by all people everywhere, for Jesus says immediately following this that we should pray that His kingdom would come and His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

I would suggest to you that we simply cannot desire that God's name be hallowed in our own lives without wanting this to be true of everyone else as well. How, after all, can we sincerely desire that God be honored and yet not be bothered at all that so many dishonor Him!?

Let's consider some Scriptural examples that demonstrate what hallowing God's name looks like. We will focus our attention upon the Psalms. As we do so, we will see how the people of God associated worshiping Him with praising and honoring His name. These examples will also demonstrate not only a desire that God be hallowed in the life of the individual believer, but also in the lives of others and throughout the earth:
NKJ Psalm 7:17 “I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.”

NKJ Psalm 18:49 “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles [nations], and sing praises to Your name.”

NKJ Psalm 22:22 “I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.”

NKJ Psalm 23:3 “He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.”

NKJ Psalm 25:11 “For Your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”

NKJ Psalm 31:3 “For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name's sake, lead me and guide me.”

NKJ Psalm 63:3-5 “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. 4 Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. 5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.”

NKJ Psalm 66:1-2 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! 2 Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.”

NKJ Psalm 72:18-19 “Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things! 19 And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.”

NKJ Psalm 79:9 “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins, for Your name's sake!”

NKJ Psalm 80:17-19 “Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. 18 Then we will not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name. 19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved!”
We should also remember that Jesus Himself demonstrated a consuming desire that the Father's name be glorified:
NKJ John 12:27-28 “'Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, saying, 'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.'”
Conclusion: Many examples could be given, but I hope we have all seen that Jesus is not really teaching a new concept. He is teaching us to pray as all true believers have always prayed. And He expects us to have the same desire for God's glory that all true believers have always had. Indeed, he wants us to have the same all-consuming desire that He has for the Lord's name to be hallowed among the nations.

Application Question: Does this desire express itself in your prayer life? Does a desire for His glory eclipse all other desires so that it is the first petition of your prayers? If not, then you should definitely begin to follow Jesus' direction for payer in this passage.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jesus' Model Prayer: The Opening Address

Back in February I posted a teaching outline on Jesus' model prayer contained in Matthew 6:9-13. In it I presented an overview of the Lord's Prayer and examined some lessons we could learn from the context and overall content and structure of the prayer. This outline was well received and the post has consistently been in the top ten posts read by visitors to the blog. So I have decided to offer a series of teaching outlines that take a closer look the prayer. I will follow the original overall outline point by point for each post in the series. In this post, we will focus our attention upon the opening address of the prayer.


Illustration: We often address others in a way that demonstrates respect for them. For example, when I was in the U.S. Navy, I and my fellow sailors were always required to address officers as “Sir.” But we discovered that it was sometimes difficult to call certain officers “Sir” if they were not very easy to respect because of their actions or attitudes.

Another example would be the way most parents expect their children to address them with respect and thus do not allow them to call them by their first names. They do not think that such a collegial manner of address would properly express the kind of respect children should have for parents.

This is because the way we address someone often indicates what we think of them. So it is with God. How we address Him, and what is in our hearts when we address Him, reflects what we think of Him. This is why it is appropriate for us to spend some time here focusing our attention upon how Jesus taught us to address God in prayer.

NKJ Matthew 6:9b "Our Father in heaven ...."

There are three observations to be made about this opening address, namely 1) that God is our Father, 2) that God is Our Father, and 3) that God is our Father in Heaven.

I. God is our Father

Addressing God as our Father in this way is definitely a new emphasis that came with Jesus' teaching.

Quote: As D.A. Carson correctly notes (EBC, Vol.8. p.169):

The fatherhood of God is not a central theme in the OT. Where "father" does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, not direct address (Deut 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10).... [N]ot till Jesus is it characteristic to address God as "Father" (Jeremias, Prayers, pp. 11ff.). This can only be understood against the background of customary patterns for addressing God.

The overwhelming tendency in Jewish circles was to multiply titles ascribing sovereignty, lordship, glory, grace, and the like to God (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty pp. 45ff.). Against such a background, Jesus' habit of addressing God as his own Father (Mark 14:36) and teaching his disciples to do the same could only appear familiar and presumptuous to opponents, personal and gracious to followers.
 So, Jesus brought a new emphasis upon God as our Father, but it is also noteworthy that He did so using a particular word for father that stressed the intimacy of our relationship with Him as such.

Quote: From the NET Bible notes:

13sn God is addressed in terms of intimacy (Father). The original Semitic term here was probably Abba. The term is a little unusual in a personal prayer, especially as it lacks qualification. It is not the exact equivalent of “daddy” (as is sometimes popularly suggested), but it does suggest a close, familial relationship.
I agree that the term most often used by Jesus with respect to our heavenly Father would have been the Aramaic word abba. I think this is a certainty given Mark 14:36 and the later teaching of the Apostles, who derived great comfort and confidence from this term of affection for God and its implications for our relationship with Him. For example, Paul wrote:

NKJ Romans 8:14-16 “14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God....”
Illustration: From 2000+ Bible Illustrations (e-Sword):
A missionary was teaching a Hindu woman the Lord's Prayer. When he got to the end of the first clause, "Our Father which art in heaven," she stopped him. "If God is our Father," she said, "that is enough. There is nothing now to fear."
Application: When we feel the strong desire to call out to God as our Father, and to love Him as His children, it is evidence that we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and truly are His children by adoption. Sometimes we may struggle to obey the Father's will and to follow the Spirit's leading, but if we still possess a deep desire in our hearts to call out to Him as our dear Father in Christ, then that is the Spirit's witness to us that casts out fear. This is an important way in which the Holy Spirit brings us comfort.

NKJ Galatians 4:6-7 “6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
Application: So the fact that we may cry out to God as “Abba, Father” also reminds us that we are His heirs, and that a great inheritance awaits us in Heaven!

But the fact that God is our Father also reminds us of His love for us:
NKJ 1 John 3:1a “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
Because God loves us as a father, His love for us precedes our love for Him.

Illustration: For example, when my own children were born, I already loved them. And their love for me has always been a response to my love for them. So it is with our Father's love for us:
NKJ 1 John 4:19 “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Now, getting back to the use of the term abba, I have already stated my agreement with the NET Bible translators that it is the word that Jesus would have commonly used. But I also agree that our word “daddy” may be a bit too familiar a term to adequately capture the nuance of the Aramaic word abba – even if it is a similar word in the kind of affection it denotes. You see, it does communicate the kind of affection that our word daddy denotes, but it also carries with it a note of great respect that may sometimes be lost in our use of the word daddy. So, we are to remember that we can and should approach Him just as a little child affectionately approaches his Father, calling him “daddy,” but we are never to forget that He is a holy Father (more on this below), as Jesus also demonstrates through His own example:

NKJ John 17:11 “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (Italics mine.)
II. God is Our Father

When Jesus says that we should address God as our Father, He is not just giving us a model prayer for corporate praying. He is also reminding us that we must always remember as we pray that we are a part of a family that includes many brothers and sisters in Christ, all of whom address the Lord as their Father.

Application: 1) We must avoid both the rampant individualism and the selfishness of our culture, in which one's own personal peace and affluence have become the primary concern. 2) We must remember that our relationship with God breaks down the barriers that we so often have with others, including ethnic barriers:
NKJ Galatians 3:26-28 “26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

NKJ Revelation 5:9-10 “9 And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.'”
Daily calling out to God as our Father should remind us of this important aspect of our lives as Christians.

III. God is our Father in Heaven

This phrase reminds us of at least two things:

1) That God is transcendent.

Quote: William Hendriksen is insightful here (Baker New Testament Commentary, e-Sword):
Note also the combination of immanence and transcendence, of condescension and majesty. “Our Father” indicates his nearness. He is near to all his children, infinitely near. Therefore with confidence they approach the Father’s throne, to make all their wants and wishes known to him, that is, all those that are in harmony with his revealed will. They need not be afraid, for God is their Father who loves them. Yet, he is the Father in heaven (literally “in the heavens”). Therefore, he should be approached in the spirit of devout and humble reverence.... Also, whereas the words “Our Father” indicate God’s willingness and eagerness to lend his ear to the praises and petitions of his children, the addition “who art in heaven” shows his power and sovereign right to answer their requests, disposing of them according to his infinite wisdom.
2) That Heaven is our real home.

Recall the words of the Apostle Paul:
NKJ Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ....”
I think Jesus wants us to think of the same thing when He teaches us address God daily as our Father in Heaven.


Application: In closing, I want to suggest a couple of ways that it seems Christians today may struggle with addressing God as Father:

1) Some may have allowed themselves to become too familiar in addressing God. They are so used to addressing God as Father that they have lost their sense of wonder that it is the all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, sovereign God of the universe that they are addressing!

Quote: William Hendriksen is again helpful here (BNTC, e-Sword):

The chumminess or easy familiarity that marks a certain type of present day “religion” is definitely antiscriptural. Those who indulge in this bad habit seem never to have read Exod. 3:5; Isa. 6:1–5; or Acts 4:24!

Quote: Or as D.A. Carson correctly notes (EBC, Vol.8. p.169):

Unfortunately, many modern Christians find it very difficult to delight in the privilege of addressing the Sovereign of the universe as "Father" because they have lost the heritage that emphasizes God's transcendence.
2) On the other hand, some may struggle to call God their Father because they have been so disappointed by their earthly fathers. Many who have come from broken homes or who have had abusive or unloving fathers may experience difficulty here.

Illustration: In my my own experience of having come from a broken home, I found it difficult as I grew up to believe that my own earthly father truly loved me. Since then, however, I have learned much about what the love of a father is by experiencing it in my own heart toward my children. But most importantly – before I ever had any children of my own – I learned what a father's love is like from my heavenly Father's love for me! And I can assure you that, if we struggle to understand a father's love because we have never really experienced it from our earthly fathers, then we need to learn from our heavenly Father what such love is really like, because He can show it to us as no other ever could! Let us begin by calling out to Him daily as Jesus teaches us to do, as "our Father in heaven."