Posts tagged #Andy Styer

The Book of Revelation: Closing Remarks

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This past Sunday, I concluded at 14 week adult Sunday School class (Listen Here) on the book of Revelation. Prior to teaching this class, I did 13 weeks on the book of Revelation in the Sr High Sunday School class. That means that for the past 6 months (give or take a few weeks), I have been swimming head deep in the Apocalypse.  In all actuality, 14 weeks to teach Revelation is simply not enough time. I found myself thinking “I wish I had more time to go back and touch on this passage” more than once. I pray that in the future, the Lord will grant me another opportunity to teach and/or preach through this book, and if that happens, I’ll get the chance to touch on many things that got breezed over for the sake of time.  For now, however, I do want to offer up some “closing thoughts” about the book of Revelation; some reflections and final remarks. 

Teaching Revelation to the Youth vs teaching Revelation to the Adults:
I expect that teaching youth is a very different experience than teaching adults. But what I did not expect with Revelation was just how dramatically different this experience would be. First, in teaching the youth, it became very clear to me that we are in a post-dispensationalist era of the Church. The first week of both the youth and adult classes I asked, “What comes to mind when you think of the book of Revelation?” The adults were more than eager to offer up their thoughts. I would say an overwhelming amount of our adults were raised in Dispensationalism, knew that the Reformed Tradition is drastically different in that regard, and were eager to hear a Reformed/Historical perspective on the book.

The youth on the other hand? Nothing. They had no thoughts on the book at all other than some comments about how it seems very confusing with all the symbolism. In fact, when I brought up what were once “common thought” in Evangelicalism, ideas such as the rapture, a 7 year tribulation, even the entire “Left Behind” series, most students looked at me with puzzled looks. No one is truly a blank slate of course, but these kids were working with as close to a “tabula rasa” as one could get. On the one hand, this made my job very easy! The students simply accepted the things I was saying (for better or worse…) and the class ended up having a lot more discussion around application of the texts than interpretation. On the other hand, this left me very unprepared for what was ahead of me in teaching the adults. Sure, the first few weeks with the adults went off pretty easily. Then we got to Revelation 7 and the sealing of the 144,000. The next thing I knew, we were spending 3 weeks examining and discussing this passage. I learned after this that if I were to get through the material in the time I was given, I was going to have to do a better job at anticipating questions from folks who not only have been taught Dispensationalism their whole lives, but folks who were taught it very well! 

Dispensationalism takes the Scriptures seriously:
I always knew that Dispensationalists were an ally in the “battle for the Bible”, but this class really helped give me a new appreciation for this reality. Whatever else I might say about Dispensationalism as an interpretive approach to the Bible, I will say that I find its proponents to be very serious about the Bible, and for that, I give thanks. As Dispensationalism slowly begins to fall out of favor in the West, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll be losing a powerful ally. I may disagree strongly with men like Charles Ryrie, but he believed that the Bible was the very Word of God, saw the doctrine of inspiration as a “close handed” issue, and was willing to die on that hill. We need men and women like that in the Church today, maybe now more than ever. 

We don’t need to figure it all out:
As my teaching time with adults progressed, I found that I was being asked questions about portions of Revelation for which I simply didn’t have answers. To be fair, I did warn the class this would happen! But many of these questions arose from people being taught one thing about these portions of the text from a Dispensationalist perspective, wondering how they fit into a Reformed/Covenantal interpretation. Many times I could find answers. G.K. Beale’s 1500 page commentary on Revelation is extremely thorough! But, I did come to a point where I realized that if I didn’t have an exact answer concerning a certain portion of Revelation, that’s okay! It doesn’t uproot or shatter the interpretive approach to the book that I was teaching. Our understanding of Revelation is contingent upon how we read the whole of Scripture. We don’t interpret the Bible in light of Revelation, we interpret Revelation in light of the Bible. And there are certain things that we’d have to abandon to make a premillennial/Dispensational interpretation to Revelation work. Namely, our entire understanding of the history of redemption, the nature of covenants in the Scriptures, and the identity of the people of God.  The only way a dispensationalist interpretation of Revelation works is by believing that the Church and Israel are not one, that they’re two separate peoples with their own sets of promises and covenants, and that ultimately, its all about the Jews. This is an idea that is not only foreign to the Reformed tradition, it’s foreign to the entire history of the Church until J Nelson Darby arrives on the scene in the 1800s. And this is why I say, “We don’t need to have it all figured out!” If a portion of Revelation perplexes us or confuses us, it doesn’t shatter our overall understanding of the book because our understanding of the book is built upon the sure foundation of the entire biblical narrative of Redemption. 

The Bible is remarkably unified:
It was no mistake-although it was not planned by human minds-that as I began teaching Revelation to the youth, we began a new sermon series on the book of Genesis. And I can honestly say that almost every week throughout both the youth and adult class, whatever we were talking about in Revelation somehow connected with the sermon series. It was uncanny, to be honest! One of our elders commented to me after one class, “I appreciate how you and Pastor Troy are coordinating your Revelation class and the Sunday sermons”. I just had to laugh and admit that Troy and I weren’t coordinating at all! All this overlap was due 100% to the providential work of God. And for myself and many, it was an amazing testimony to the fact that the Scriptures truly are one great and grand story of redemption. How can we explain the idea that two books of the Bible that were written by two men, living thousands of years apart, one wandering in a desert outside of modern day Israel, the other imprisoned on a Greek Island in the Aegan sea, some 1300 miles away (as a man walks), are so connected with one another, so interwoven, so consistent with each other? No human mind could pull this off. The Scriptures truly are “breathed out by God”! 

The main point is the same:
Whether you hold to Covenant theology, to Dispensationalism, whether you’re Pre-mil, Post-mil, Amil, whether you’re a Futurist, a Preterits, whatever your interpretive approach is, ultimately we all end up with the same conclusion to the book of Revelation: Christ wins. And that’s really the great hope for us all, isn’t it? Christ wins. All the enemies of Christ, all the enemies of God’s people-the beast, the false prophet, those who follow the beast, the harlot of Babylon, and ultimately, the Great Dragon are all defeated. Their fate is the same. Meanwhile, whether you believe that Israel and the Church are one people, or two separate brides, either way our fate is also the same-eternity with Christ in the New Creation, enjoying perfect, full and true communion with Christ and with one another, where God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes, death shall be more more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. And that leads us all to join in the Apostolic proclamation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Posted on May 8, 2018 and filed under Teaching.

Communion with God Chapters 23&24

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Here we are in the last two chapters of "Communion with God". I hope you enjoyed reading along this summer through both the book and this blog. It's always a privilege to read and blog on these books!
Chapter 23 continues Owen's discussion on communion with the Holy Spirit. The title of the chapter is "The Behaviour of the Saints towards the Holy Spirit", but really, the chapter is about what we strive to not do towards the Holy Spirit. Owen lists three things.

1-We strive to not grieve the Holy Spirit. Now, Owen is careful here. We have to speak of grieving the Holy Spirit carefully, lest we come away with the impression that the Spirit is manipulated emotionally. This is not true. The Westminster Confession states this clearly by saying that God is without passion. That does not mean God is without emotion or passions, but it means that he is not controlled emotionally by external forces. And yet, there is a very real sense where the Spirit does indeed grieve when we, as the blood-bought people of God, do not pursue holiness in our life. Owen offers up a meditation on this topic:


The Holy Spirit is infinite love and kindness to me. He has wonderfully chosen to be my Comforter. He does this work willingly, freely and powerfully. What great things I have received from him! How often has he comforted my soul! Can I live one day without him? Shall I not care what he wants to do in me? Shall I grieve him by my negligence, sin, and foolishness? Shall not his love constrain me to walk before him in such a way that brings him great pleasure?

2-We strive to not quench the Spirit. Drawing off of Old Testament imagery where the Holy Spirit was typified by the fire that was always burning on the altar in the tabernacle and temple, Owen here is speaking specifically about not suppressing the works of the Spirit. If we resist the Spirit's work, it would be as if we're throwing wet wood on a fire to smother it. 

Now when we want to resist fire, we quench it. So the opposition made to the Holy Spirit working in us is called 'quenching the Spirit', as wet wood will do when it is cast into the fire. So we are said by the same picture to 'stir up with new fire' the gifts that are in us. The Holy Spirit is striving with us, working in us, encouraging growth in grace and the production of his holy fruit in us. 'Take heed,' says Paul, 'lest by the power of your lusts and temptations, you do not pay attention to him, but quench his works of good will in you.'

3-We do not resist the Holy Spirit. Owen's point is so good here. Stephen accused the Jews of "resisting the Spirit" by rejecting and killing the prophets of God. How might we resist the Spirit? By holding the preaching of the Word of God up with contempt. 

When the Word of God is preached, the authority, wisdom and goodness of the Holy Spirit in setting up this ordinance is to be recognized and respected. For this reason, obedience is to be given to the Word when it is preached, because the Holy Spirit and he alone gives gifts fro the Word to be preached. When this truth keeps us humble and dependent on the Holy Spirit, then we have holy fellowship with him in this ordinance.

Chapter 24, the last chapter of the book, really focuses in on worshiping the Holy Spirit as God. We'll close this blog with these words:

Our fellowship or communion with the Holy Spirit should stir us to give him praise, thanks glory, honour and blessing for the mercies and privileges we receive from him, as we do the Son for his work of Redemption (Rev. 1:5-6). Are not the same praises and blessings due to him who makes Christ's work of redemption effectual to us? The Holy Spirit undertook to be our Comforter with no less infinite love than the Son who took it on himself to be our Redeemer. When we feel our hearts warmed with joy, strengthened in peace and established in obedience, let us give him the praise that is due to him. Let us bless his name and rejoice in him.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God Chapters 21-22

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Chapter 21 continues to look at the fellowship and communion of believers with the Holy Spirit, and in this chapter Owen turns his attention towards the futile attempts of Satan to undermine this communion. And Owen frames Satan's main attempts to undermine the Spirit within the context of gathered worship. This is a fascinating insight from Owen. He is exactly right to begin here, for no doubt, the Enemy wants nothing more than to pervert God's people in this way. He knows that we were created to glorify and enjoy God, and so it makes sense that the Enemy would create and spread lies among mankind concerning the nature of worship!

The first attack against the Spirit from Satan is by setting up ministers and gathered worship services which are completely independent of the Holy Spirit. They have the right liturgy, the minister guides the congregation through the service effortlessly, and by all outward appearances, these gatherings seem to be gatherings of Christian worship. Yet, apart from the Holy Spirit, they are nothing of the sort.

The second attack against the Spirit is that Satan attempts to do the exact opposite of his first attack by deceiving Christians into thinking that you can have the Holy Spirit apart from a structured, gathered worship service. All you need is the Spirit, and you can him without biblical worship and the ministry of Word and Sacrament that happens in a worship service!

Owen's words here speak into our context today just as strongly as they spoke into his in the 17th century. For Owen, this is not a choice between liturgical worship and the Holy Spirit. For Owen, the believer needs both, and if we would discard either one, then we are proving ourselves susceptible to the attacks of Satan.  We need the gathering of God's people in structured, liturgical services where the ministry of Word and Sacrament happen, and we need the Holy Spirit's  work, empowerment, and blessing in these services of worship, lest they become mere exercises of the flesh. 

Owen says that these attacks do two things. The first attack tries to get us to focus merely on the physical by having all the right outward (physical) things in place, but no Spirit. The second attack tries to get us to focus on merely the spiritual reality of Christ by discarding the importance of the physical things. But Owen reminds us that the true ministry of the Spirit concerns both the physical and spiritual, because Jesus Christ himself is both truly God and truly man. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ's words and work on our behalf. The Spirit glorifies Christ, the God-Man. The Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God. The Spirit guides and directs us in prayer. And while Owen doesn't state this conclusion, we can say that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit does when we gather together for worship that is both guided by the Scriptures and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Chapter 22 is focused upon the Spirit's work as our comforter. It's a difficult chapter on some level because Owen openly talks about afflictions as being something that the people of God should not despise. He reminds us that troubles and afflictions are part of our Father's chastisement and discipline. And God's discipline of his children is an essential part of our discipleship. So while men apart from God despise affliction and trouble, the children of God remember this is part of our Father's molding and shaping us, and we look to the Holy Spirit as a comforter and help during affliction. 

And the Spirit does bring us comfort and help. He brings us comfort when we are burdened with sin. While men apart from God are crushed by guilt, the Spirit reminds those who have union with Christ that we are, indeed, children of God and we have no need to fear God's wrath nor do we fear the accusations of Satan. The Spirit also brings strength and comfort in this life as we eagerly await the consummation of the resurrected life in the new creation. Apart from the Spirit, we would be crushed by the troubles and trials of this current life. But with the Spirit, we patiently await and endure until "the end". 

How does the Spirit comfort us? Very simply, he communicates to us the truth that God loves us. He comforts us by reminding us that the Father's love is eternal and unchangeable. He comforts us by communicating to us and making us more and more familiar with the grace of Jesus Christ, and brings to us the fruits that Christ as purchased for us. He comforts us by glorifying Christ in us, revealing his excellencies to us. He comforts us by reminding us that in Christ, we are justified and adopted into the everlasting family of God. 

And why? Why does the Spirit do this for us? Because of his infinite love for us, and his willingness to help us in our weakness and helplessness. 

He (the Holy Spirit) knew what we were, what we would do and how we would deal with him. He knew we would grieve him and provoke him. He knew we would quench his activities in us and defile his dwelling place, and still he becomes our Comforter. Lack of a due consideration of this great love of the Holy Spirit weakens all the principles of our obedience. Did this knowledge abide in our hearts, how highly we would value his work as Comforter. As we value the love of Christ in laying down his life for our salvation, so we must value the work of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Posted on September 7, 2017 and filed under Teaching.

Communion with God chapters 15-20

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If you have been reading along through "Communion with God" this summer, then of course, you realize I am massively behind on this blog! But today I seek to amend this, and cover chapters 15-20 in one blog post! 

Chapter 15
There is much about chapter 15 that could be said. Owen's main thrust is that communion with Christ leads to acceptance with the Father. And just like every other chapter of this work, it's steeped in Trinitarian theology. For the sake of this post, I just want to point out Owen's discussion on the doctrine of imputation, or "the great exchange" as some have called it. Imputation has poked its head up in several sermons over the past few months at Proclamation, and it's a core doctrine for Protestantism. And actually, imputation may be at the heart of the justification debates between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran/Reformed traditions. If you're interested in this, here is a fairly good overview from a Reformed perspective on this issue. 

Unfortunately today, it seems that imputation is now being attacked even in Protestant and Evangelical circles. The issue here, as it was for Rome as well, is not that our sin was put on (or imputed to) Christ. Generally, we all agree with that. The issue here is the other side of imputation, that is, Christ's righteousness put onto us. We see this attack on the imputation of Christ's righteousness from men like N.T. Wright who wrote,

It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him. …It is not the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer. It is his death and resurrection. (Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision)

Owen, in response to the Catholics of his day, and equally applicable to the deniers of imputation today, does a wonderful job at defending this doctrine. At the heart of his argument is a clear distinction between the role of Christ's righteousness, as the mediator and covenant representative of God's people, and our works of obedience-which even after justification are not meritorious. Christ's righteousness counted to us is vital to the Holy God declaring us righteous! Even after regeneration, unless we can achieve pure holiness in this life, our sins would make us unrighteous in God's sight. But if Christ's righteousness is counted as our own, then our hope is sure. It's on solid ground because our works are really the works of God the Son Jesus Christ.

Yes, we are regenerated to new life. And yes, we can now, because of new life in Christ, do righteous works that please God. But pleasing God and earning favor or merit with him are not the same thing. Owen points out that these new works of obedience don't contribute to the finished work of Christ, but rather, are products of the workmanship of God, works that we do out of love gratitude to him for the grace he has given us.

Chapter 16
We could do an entire blog series on the theology of imputation and justification, but we have much ground to cover! Chapter 16 deals with the issue of holiness. Namely, the holiness of God's people and it's role in our communion with God. 

Owen states that Christ does three things to bring his people into holiness.
1) His work of intercession. Namely, Christ is interceding with the Father so that we would receive the promised Holy Spirit, who does the work of sanctification.

2) The receiving of the Spirit from the Father and sending him into the hearts of his saints, there to dwell in his place, and to do all things for them and in them which he himself has to do in them. In other words, Christ is the one who sends the Spirit from the Father to dwell in us and do the work of sanctification. 

3) By his (Christ's) Spirit, he imparts a new, gracious, spiritual life. Owen explains what this means when he says that by the work of the Holy Spirit, "The soul is filled and enabled to obey, and to receive every divine truth presented to it according to the mind of God.

Chapter 17
The focus of Chapter 17 is the doctrine of adoption, which Owen defines as

the authoritative transfer of a believer, by Jesus Christ, from the family of the world and Satan into the family of God with his being admitted into all the privileges and advantages of that family.

And what are the privileges and advantages we receive? Owen lists several (if you have not yet, read chapter 17 for a description of many of these):

We receive liberty
We receive a title (or a privilege)
Boldness with God by Christ
Affliction coming from love and leading to our spiritual good
The privilege of being called sons of God
Being heirs and joint-heirs with Christ
Being predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's Son
Being called Christ's brethren
Fellowship in Christ's suffering
Fatherly discipline
Fellowship in God's kingdom
We shall reign with Christ

Chapter 18
Owen now shifts from focusing on our fellowship with the Son to our communion and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. And here, he wants to examine the foundation of our fellowship with the Spirit, namely that our foundation with him is grounded upon the reality that it is Jesus Christ who has sent the Spirit to be our Comforter and helper. This is based on the promise of Christ in John 16:1-7 when after warning the disciples of many trials and persecutions, he gives the promise to send a helper, the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is more than willing to come and be the Comforter and helper of God's people. Owen states about our communion with God in light of the Spirit's work that it is a

special communion with the Father in love, the Son in grace, and the Holy Spirit in his work as comforter and helper. This is the way into fellowship with the Holy Spirit to which we are called. His gracious and blessed will, his infinite and wonderful willingness to come down to us, all the works he enables us to do and all the privileges he brings to us, of which we are made partakers, is what our souls by faith receive from him. And our response is to pour out on him all our gratitude and thanksgiving.

Chapter 19
And what is the work of the Holy Spirit in communion with the believer? Owen answers this in chapter 19, reminding us of the Spirit's continual work in our lives. 
1) The Spirit brings to mind the words and promises of Christ
2)The Spirit glorifies Christ
3)The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts

4)The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God
5)The Spirit seals us, or is the evidence to our soul, that we have been accepted by God
6)The Spirit is our deposit or guarantee of our eternal inheritance
7)The Spirit anoints believers


Let me remind you of Owen's closing paragraph in this chapter:

Here, then, is the wisdom of faith. Faith looks for and meets with the Comforter in all these works of his. Let us not, then, lose their sweetness by remaining in the dark about them, nor fall short of the response required of us in gratitude.

Chapter 20
Well, we come now at last to the final chapter in this "Catch-Up" blog post. Short and sweet, yet so essential to the lives of God's children, this chapter deals with the Holy Spirit and the hearts of believers. What are the works of the Spirit in the hearts of those who belong to Christ?
1) The Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens the hearts of believers
Owen calls this the "chief work" of the Spirit in our lives. He brings our souls, which are often troubled, to rest and contentment not in some temporal earthly way, but rather, by focusing us on the eternal truths of God. This is an everlasting comfort, a strong comfort, and a precious comfort. 

2) The Holy Spirit brings joy to the hearts of believers. 
Reminding us that the Spirit is called the "oil of gladness", Owen states that true joy is produced by the Spirit pouring God's love into our hearts, which carries us through every kind of trial. The Spirit does this directly. He needs no other means, no other tools, no other help. This is HIS work, and it's a work that, just like John the Baptist in his mother's womb, causes us to leap for joy in knowing Jesus. This joy flows from the assurance that the Spirit gives; assurance of God's love for us and our adoption into his family. 

3) The Holy Spirit brings hope to the hearts of the believers.
What is our great hope? Owen says it's to "be like Christ and to enjoy God in Christ for ever". The Spirit, by showing us 'the things of Christ', and by glorifying Christ in our hearts, "arouses", as Owen puts it, our desires to be like Jesus. And this leads to our growth and increase in hope. This, Owen says, is one way that the Spirit sanctifies us. By arousing our hopes, which leads us to a desire to be more like Christ, the Spirit is actually making us more and more holy.

These are the general works of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, which, if we consider them and all that they produce, will bring joy, assurance, boldness, confidence, expectation and glorying. We shall then see how much our whole communion with God is enriched and influenced by them.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

 

Communion with God chapters 13-14

Chapter 13 is a very weighty chapter, and yet so essential to the Christian life. What is Owen talking about here in this chapter when he writes about "Communion with Christ Purchased in Grace"? Simply, he is speaking about the reality of the Christian being united to Jesus Christ. Owen writes, 

there is almost nothing that Christ has done, but we are said to have done it with him (Gal. 2:20, 2 Tim. 2:11, Col.3:3, Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12; 3:1, Eph. 2:5-6)

If you want to know what he is speaking about, check out the verse references. 

Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

2 Timothy 2:11-12: The saying is trustworthy; for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;

Colossians 3:3: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Romans 6:4: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.

Colossians 2:12, 3:1: having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead...If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Ephesians 2:5-6: even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Do we now understand what Owen means when he says that there is almost nothing Christ has done that we are not said to have done with him? This is union with Christ, and union with Christ is at the heart of our salvation. We are united to Christ in his life of perfect obedience (read chapter 15 if you haven't yet for a wonderful explanation on why Christ's life, not just his death and resurrection, is so essential for the Christian). We are united to Christ in his death. We are united to him in his resurrection. We are united to him in his ascension into heaven. We are united to him in his glorification. And we will be united to him in his future reign in the new heaven and new earth. This is amazing! This should just floor us. It should bring tears to our eyes to think that we, who were once enemies of God, objects of wrath, infinitely guilty before his infinite holiness, worthy of nothing but damnation, that we would be brought into such a rich inheritance because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. This is the reality of union with Christ and communion with the Triune God. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 11&12

There's a lot in these two chapters to reflect upon, but I really want to focus the theme of prayer that Owen hits on in chapter 11. 

Owen begins his exhortation on prayer with this simple statement: 

Christ delights to reveal his kingdom to his saints...Christ enables his saints to reveal their minds and souls to him that they might walk together in intimate love and friendship...But to know this truth will not avail us if we do not know how to open our hearts to him. this we do in prayer. To Christ, the prayers of his saints are like incense...If we would open our hearts to Christ, we need help to pray.

Two things. First, notice here that Owen is saying that Christ makes himself and his Kingdom known to the saints, and the saints make their minds and souls known to him through prayer. Prayer is how we share in a deep, intimate love and friendship with Jesus Christ. But secondly, notice Owen fully recognizes that we are weak in prayer and that we need help. And here, Owen reminds us that the Holy Spirit, the "Helper" as Christ referred to him, is the one who helps us in our prayers. 

I'm encouraged by these two points. First, doesn't it make our hearts sing to know that Jesus Christ makes himself known to us, and delights in having us make ourselves known to him in an intimate friendship? The one who in and through whom all things were made, the eternal Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the very image of the invisible God delights in us. He delights in having an intimate friendship, a deep rooted love, and communion with us. That fact alone should give us great delight in the act of prayer! 

And yet, all of us still struggle with prayer, don't we? We are tempted to see prayer as a chore. We don't delight in prayer as we should. We may know that through prayer we are having sweet communion with God, and yet how many of us are eager to go before the Lord in prayer? How many of us struggle to even know what to say and how to say it? And here is the encouraging reminder from John Owen that Jesus, who knows our weaknesses first hand, has sent a Helper-the Holy Spirit of Christ. He writes:

...we need help to pray. This help we have by the Spirit of Jesus. All attempts at praying without the help of the Spirit working in us a prayerful spirit are of no avail and of no value. Christ greatly delights in the prayers of his saints when they truly open their hearts to him. When the soul is driven to hide from Christ, then Christ calls it out and enables it to pray by giving it the help of his Spirit."

If we (when we...) struggle to pray, let us all look to the power of the Holy Spirit, who is working in us. He is the one who will help us to pray! The Spirit gives us the help and power we need to pray, which leads to sweet communion and fellowship with Jesus Christ, through whom we are able to come into the presence of the Father who sits upon a throne of grace, to which we draw close with confidence!

This blog was written by Andy Styer
 

Communion with God chapters 9&10

In chapter 8 of "Communion with God", Owen began exploring the "excellencies of Christ", giving us glorious truths about Jesus in the hopes that by meditating on Christ's attributes, we would be encouraged to give ourselves up more fully to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Chapter 9 continues Owen's exploration of Christ's attributes, looking specifically at his wisdom and knowledge. But really, what Owen has in mind here is not so much an exploration of the wisdom and knowledge Christ showed in his earthly life, but rather, Owen speaks to the truth that in Christ we truly know God and that to know God is to be truly wise. It is in Christ that we get to see and know the attributes of the eternal God. For example, in Christ, we know God's righteousness and justice in punishing sin. We see this at the cross. Yet we also know his mercy and love and forgiveness for sinners. 

All this is hidden in Christ. The great and unspeakable riches of God's wisdom in pardoning sin, saving sinners, satisfying justice, fulfilling the law, regaining his own honour and providing for us a much greater weight of glory are all accomplished in Christ. And all this was accomplished out of an impossible state of affairs. It was impossible for angels or men to discover how God could possibly restore all things to his glory or ever save one sinful creature from everlasting ruin...

Nothing in God concerning our salvation can be known or received except by Christ. All that is necessary for our salvation is in Christ and is shown to us by Christ. All truth outside Christ does not lead to the knowledge of salvation. It only leads to further corruption.

Do we desire to be wise? Do we desire to truly know God, which is the heart of all wisdom? Then our desire should be to know Jesus Christ, because, "To know Christ and to be in Christ by faith is to know the wonder and excellence of the wisdom and knowledge of God in the salvation of sinners."

Chapter 10 marks a turn in Owen's thought. If we are to have a saving knowledge of God in Christ, we must also know ourselves. And what are we to know about ourselves? We are to know just how desperately we need Jesus Christ. We are to know that we are sinners. We are rebellious. We are breakers of God's holy law. We are worthy of eternal punishment for our sin. And most terrifying of all, we are to know that all mankind will face a day of judgment, carried out by Jesus Christ himself. 

And yet...this thought should bring us hope and comfort as well, because this means that we will be judged by the one who loves us and gave himself up for us. We are to be judged by the one who has taken away enmity between us and God. If we are putting our faith in Christ, if we have communion and fellowship with him, if we are "walking with him", (and Owen gives several examples of what walking with Christ means), then we can rejoice in knowing that Jesus has indeed reconciled us to the Father. And while for some the day of judgment will be a terrible day, for us, it will be a day of unspeakable joy. All of this is an encouragement to us to continue to pursue communion with Christ, aiming for the day when he comes again, restores all things, and we have perfect and eternal communion with him, unhindered by our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 7&8

One of my favorite "pastimes" is chatting with one of our ruling elders at Proclamation, Matt Henny. We talk about many things dealing with the church both locally and globally, and we talk about what we're reading. Recently, Matt was sharing some thoughts after reading these chapters in "Communion with God". He said to me:

A really important word to meditate upon in Owen's "Communion with God" is the word "receive." Have you received the love, fellowship, and communion with the Eternal Trinity--Father, Son and Spirt by faith? This is the essence of communion: receiving love and then loving back out of adoration.

If you've read these two chapters, then you know that Matt is right. The word "receive" is so essential to Owen's thoughts on communing with God. And you know Matt is right about how communion works. We receive love from the Triune God, and in return, we love back out of adoration. This is what Owen is saying in his closing statements in chapter 7 when he writes:

Let us, then, receive Christ in all his excellencies and glories as he gives himself to us. Frequently think of him by faith, comparing him with other beloveds, such as sin, the world and legal righteousness. Then you will more and more prefer him above them all, and you will count them all as rubbish in comparison to him. And let your soul be persuaded of Christ's sincerity and willingness to give himself to you, in all that he is, to be yours forever. And let us give up ourselves wholeheartedly to him. Let us tell Jesus that we will be for him and not for another. Let him hear this from us. He delights to hear it from our lips. Christ says, 'Your voice is sweet to my ears, and your face is beautiful to my eyes'. Are we going to disappoint Christ by neglecting this communion with him?

Isn't it astonishing that Christ would be disappointed because we would neglect communion with him? It is absolutely remarkable that the eternal Son of God, the one whom through all things were created, the one who holds all things together, the one who is reigning and ruling over all creation would want and desire to have communion with us. And when you read chapter 8, when you see how excellent and glorious Christ is, the truth that Jesus would desire communion with us should become all the more remarkable to us. Let us not disappoint our dear Savior by neglecting communion with him!

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Communion with God chapters 3&4

If you're reading along with us this Summer, then you should, in theory, be done reading through chapter 6. The blog is a week behind due to both Troy and my absence last week. I'm sure we'll catch up at some point.

Very few chapters throughout "Communion with God" have made such a lasting impression on me than chapters 3-4. Here, Owen begins looking more deeply at the communion we have with each person of the Trinity, these two chapters specifically focusing in on our communion with the Father. 

Throughout these two chapters, Owen hits on a major issue within the Christian mindset, and that is the idea that we, even as God's children, struggle to think of God the Father as loving. We tend to see the Son as being full of love, and yet, when it comes to the Father who sent the Son for us, we fall into the trap of seeing him as full of wrath and anger. Owen is right to point out that this is exactly how unrepentant sinners should see the Father, but this is not how his children should see him! We need to remember that for those who are in Christ, we have communion and fellowship with the Father, and the bond of that communion and fellowship is love. The Father has an eternal, never-ending love for us, his people, and we in turn love him because he first loved us. 

Owen says the Father's love is like the Father himself in that it is unchangeable. Just as the Father never changes, his love for us never changes. It is never less, and it is never more. He loves us as much as he possible could ever love us, and that never changes. While our love for him, Owen says, is like the moon in that it waxes and wanes, the Father's love for us is like the sun in that it is always there! It may be hidden by a cloud from time to time, but it is no less radiant. It is no less intense. He says:

Whom God loves he loves to the end, and he loves them all alike. On whom he sets his love, it is set for ever. God's love is an eternal love that had no beginning and that shall have no end. It is a love that cannot be increased by anything we do and that cannot be lessened by anything in us.

Remembering this truth about the Father will have a great impact on the lives of God's people. When we remember how much the Father loves us, Owen says it will lead us to run towards him, to cherish our fellowship with him, to not see him as only in his "terrible majesty, severity and greatness", but also to see him as one who is "most kind and gentle...as one who from eternity has always had kind thoughts towards us."

Owen says that it is the greatest desire of God the Father that we should have loving fellowship with him. And yet, how often is our mindset the one Owen describes when he writes:

Flesh and blood is apt to think hard thoughts of God, to think that he is always angry and incapable of being pleased with his sinful creatures, that is is not for them to draw near to him, and that there is nothing in the world more to be desired than never to come into his presence.

But these thoughts grieve our Lord and delight our enemy! Let us therefore be intentional about how we think of our Father in heaven, and remember the truth Owen reminds us of when he writes, 

"The saints have close communion and fellowship with the Father. Their relationship with the Father is a relationship is a relationship of love. Men are generally esteemed by the company they keep. It is an honour to stand in the presence of princes, even if it be as a servant. What honour, then, have all the saints, to stand with boldness in the presence of the Father and there enjoy his love!"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

"Communion With God" Chapter 1&2

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Last week began this blog series on John Owen's book, "Communion with God". If you missed last week's post, please read it to see our plans and hopes for reading and blogging through the book this summer. 

Chapter 1

The greatest joy for any created being is to have fellowship with his Creator. But John Owen points out that we have a major problem. 

Because of sin, no man in his natural state has fellowship with God. God is light, and we are darkness. What communion has light with darkness? God is life; we are dead. God is love; we are enmity. So what agreement can there be between God and man?

Our hope, however, is in Jesus Christ. Owen calls Christ "our way back into fellowship with God". Sinners would be terrified to approach a Holy God, but in Christ, we can approach him without fear. 

We have a tendency to think of our salvation as being saved from something. And that's true. In Christ, we're saved from God's wrath. We're saved from spiritual death. We're saved from an eternity cut off from God's favor. But Owen's work helps us to think in terms of what we've been saved to.  We're saved to have communion with God. And Owen defines that communion as:

the mutual sharing of those good things which delight all those in that fellowship. This was so with David and Jonathan. Their souls were bound together in love. Their love for one another was shown in various ways. But their love was nothing in comparison to the love that is between God and his people. This fellowship of love is far more wonderful. Those who enjoy this communion are gloriously united to God through Christ and share in all the glorious and excellent fruits of such communion.

And this communion is an unbreakable communion because it flows out of our union with Christ, and that is a union that will never be broken!

Chapter 2

Owen turns our attention to what it means to have communion with each person of the God-Head. That is, what it means for Christians to have communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian emphasis is one that runs the whole way through the book, and the rich Trinitarian theology of the Puritan writers like Owen is one of the huge benefits to reading the Puritans! 

Communion with the Father
"To believe on the Son of God is to receive the Lord Christ as the Son, the Son given to us to fulfill in us the purposes of the Father's love". Owen reminds us that the Son is the Father's gift to us. Could there be a greater gift? And to receive this gift, to believe in the Son and put our faith in him, it is not only putting our hope and trust in the Son, but also our hope and trust in the Father who sent him. And so, communion with the Father is to receive his love, it is to receive his favor, it is to be tapped into "the fountain and the source of all good things which come to us in Christ".

Communion with the Son
Faith is the means through which we have communion with the Son.

Believing is putting our trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Son of God. The Son, whom the Father gave, is to be trusted as the one that gives us everlasting life and who will keep us from perishing.

Notice Owen's emphasis on the worship of Christ as the Son of God. He writes,

Love for the Lord Jesus Christ is love for him as God and it therefore includes love for him in religious worship. Only where there is such love does the apostolic benediction belong: 'Grace be with all those that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

For Owen, Jesus is to be the centerpiece of our worship together. Apart from Christ, there can be no true Christian worship. And, drawing from John's vision in the book of Revelation, it's clear to Owen that both the Father and the Son are worthy to receive the worship of God's people. 

Communion with the Holy Spirit
Not only is worship to the Father and Son necessary for Christian worship, but also worship of the Holy Spirit. And while Owen doesn't spend much time at all on how communion with the Spirit works, his point in this brief discussion is this. If we are called to worship all three persons of the God-Head, then we can be assured that we also have communion with each person in the God-head. A God who does not receive our worship and adoration, our "faith, hope, and love", as Owen stresses throughout the chapter, is not a God with whom we have fellowship. 

But this communion with God is expressed differently for each person of the Trinity. The Father, Owen says, communes with us, (here Owen speaks of him communicating his grace to us) by his own authoritative will. The Son communicates his grace to us out of a purchased treasury. That is to say, Christ, in whom the fulness of the Father was pleased to dwell, has the authority to communicate that fulness to us. And the Spirit communicates grace to us by directly working in us by his power. 

All of this bears testimony that Father, Son, and Spirit are all in agreement to raise us from death unto life. And as he wrote in chapter 1, the reason we could not have communion with God prior to his work in our lives is because "God is life; we are dead". Now, here, each person of the Trinity, through their communing with us, their communicating grace to us, has raised us to life. The Great and Holy Triune God has made it possible now for us to have sweet fellowship with him. 

Worth Reading

Ephesians 4:1-6

Do you come to our gathered worship service expecting God to speak to you through his Word? We encourage you to prayerfully read through the passage that will be preached prior to the service to help you prepare.

No Little People, No Little Places

Many people in our town know my youngest son, Tim. Often, Tim is recognizable because he has Down syndrome—and there aren’t that many people in Ephrata, PA who are recipients of that “noticeable extra little something” called the 47th chromosome...When I drop him off at work every evening, . . . he declares with gusto, “Let’s go get those customers!” or he says, “Customer service—to the glory of God!”
The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people.


TULIP and Reformed Theology: Total Depravity

The idea is that we are not sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners.


We’ve Lost Our Vocabulary of Wonder About Heaven

By losing our vocabulary of wonder, I mean that we’ve come to think of Heaven as utterly immaterial and non-physical, a home suited for body-less angels, not real people. Floating in clouds while strumming harps isn’t anybody's idea of a great time. But the Heaven God promises is for human beings, who aren't just spiritual but physical too. This is why the biblical teaching of the physical resurrection and eternal life together on the New (resurrected) Earth is so critical. . .
God tells us to set our minds not primarily on this life, but on the person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for: Heaven (Colossians 3:1-4).

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Worth Reading

Ephesians 4:1-3

Do you come to our gathered worship service expecting God to speak to you through his Word? We encourage you to prayerfully read through the passage that will be preached prior to the service to help you prepare.

 

My Father’s Anger

But here’s an important distinction. Though I felt Dad’s anger, I always knew what kind of anger it was. It was the anger of, “You, my son, have done something wrong, and I am angry that wrong has been done.” But there’s another kind of fatherly anger that I never felt. It’s the anger that says, “You have done something wrong, and I am angry to have such a son who would do this kind of thing.” The first kind of anger came and left. Even minutes after discipline I knew I was welcomed into the love of my father.

TULIP and Reformed Theology: An Introduction

The Local Church Is More Awkward Than Your Facebook Wall

We are not called to engage the local church with blind trust in the pastor or members. We can be realistic and admit that the local church only realizes the biblical model in fits and starts. But it remains the most beautiful hope we can imagine. We give ourselves to it because it is the community through which God will ultimately solve the problem of human loneliness and isolation, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10).

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Worth Reading

Ephesians 3:1-13 

Do you come to our gathered worship service expecting God to speak to you through his Word? We encourage you to prayerfully read through the passage that will be preached prior to the service to help you prepare.


(Im)Possible: One-on-One with Lon Allison about His New Book on Evangelism

Even if you are not attending the Sunday School class I am teaching I believe you will find this article helpful and encouraging:
We each have different roles to play in different people’s lives. Some sow, some water, some harvest. It’s incredibly freeing to know you are not alone in witnessing to a person. Others were there before. Others will follow. God is present and working in the whole journey.


Lottery Winner Says Winning “Has Ruined My Life”
 

Anything in your life that you would refuse to give up to follow Jesus has become an idol. Many make an idol out of material possessions and wealth, as the Rich Young Ruler did in Matthew 19:16-30, a passage I had the privilege of preaching on Wednesday night at Westminster PCA as part of their Lenten Series. What that man did not see is that Jesus calls us to treasure, not away from it. This article may help us see the deceitfulness of riches.


Wise Technological Parenting


It is the apex of foolishness for parents to allow their children to have free and unaccountable access to technology-- smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, etc…
There is a lot more that we could unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, "What should we do?" How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology?

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Posted on March 10, 2017 and filed under Devotions.

Worth Reading

Ephesians 2:1-10
 

Do you come to our gathered worship service expecting God to speak to you through his Word? We encourage you to prayerfully read through the passage that will be preached prior to the service to help you prepare.


Tom Martin Testimony


You’ll want to take six minutes to watch this God glorifying testimony. We watched this in our Glad News of Deliverance Sunday school class and Tom does an excellent job of sharing the story of God’s work in his life in a way that magnifies Christ and makes the gospel clear.


Satan Wants to Blackmail You


Satan is your accuser. He has all the dirt on you. He knows what you did. And what if he told your church or your friends what you’ve done? That little secret you try to keep hidden from everyone, even from God. Satan knows about it. Satan has a dirt-file on you, and he will not let you forget the fact.


We Can’t Handle It


God does not allow the suffering and trials that come our way based on what he thinks we can handle. Who among us can “handle” the death of a child? Who among us can “handle” an unfaithful spouse? Who among us can “handle” much of the suffering that permeates our broken world? None of us!

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 106 & 107

106:
Q: 
What do we pray for in the sixth petition? 
A: In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

107:
Q: 
What does the conclusion of the Lord's prayer teach us? 
A: The conclusion of the Lord's prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen, teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power and glory to him. And in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen. 
 1 Corinthians 14:16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 

This is it! This is the final blog post in our 2 year series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I hope it has been as helpful and edifying for you to read as it has been for me to write. 

Question 106 deals with the sixth petition in the Lord's prayer. This petition flows out of the fifth petition, where we ask God to both forgive us for our sins and to have the grace we need to forgive others. Here, we are recognizing before the holy God that while we have been delivered, in Jesus Christ, from the power of sin, we still struggle every day to walk in a way that is pleasing to God. The remnants of the old man, as John Owen called it, are strong within us! We are new creations in Christ, but we still feel the effects of the old man. And not only that, we are constantly being bombarded with arrows from the Enemy, arrows that tempt us to give in to sin and live as if we are not new creations. We ask God, who does not tempt us to sin, to lead us away from temptation. We ask God to deliver us from the temptations that we face, and when we do face temptation, which we surely will, we ask God to be our shelter, to "support us", give us the strength we need to flee from temptation. 

Finally, question 107 deals with the closing of the Lord's prayer. Now we realize there has been some controversy over the past several years concerning the use of the closing portion of the Lord's prayer, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen." While this phrase is found in older English translations, such as the King James version, it is not found in newer translations, and for good reason. As more early texts of the New Testament have been discovered, it became apparent that this portion of the prayer was, indeed, added to Matthew 6 later on and was more than likely not part of the original manuscript.

So why do we continue to use this portion of the prayer in our gathered worship services? Well, a big reason why is because this closing portion is indeed modeled after other biblical prayers that we find in Scripture. In fact, it follows very closely Old Testament Jewish doxological structures. We can see this in 1 Chronicles 29:11, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours." Given the liturgical structure of the Lord's prayer as given by Christ, we see no problem in "attaching" a doxology of praise modeled after Biblical liturgical prayers to the end of the prayer. More than likely, early Christians did the same thing (which is how it most likely was added into manuscripts of Matthew). It is fully appropriate, within the context of liturgical prayer, to close with such a doxology-a statement of praise-for us to say as one body, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, amen!"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #104-105

104 Q: What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A: In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God's free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them. 

105 Q: What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

The fourth petition of the Lord's prayer reminds us of several things. First, it reminds us that we are fully dependent upon God to sustain our lives. By asking for our daily bread, we are saying to him, "Father, we recognize that you alone hold our lives in your hands and you sustain us!" It also reminds us that all we have is, indeed, a gift from God. He is the giver of all good things! There is nothing good that we have that is truly a work of our own hands. Third, we are to enjoy his gifts to us and give praise to God because of his gifts. Not only do God's provisions sustain our lives, they remind us that we serve a loving God who is worthy of our praise and adoration, and we should overflow with thanksgiving for the good gifts God gives us each day. 

The fifth petition reminds us of our sin. It reminds us of our need for a savior. It reminds us of our need for Jesus Christ. And not only does it remind us of our sin, and our need for God's forgiveness for our sins, but it also reminds us of the call to forgive others, "as God in Christ forgave you". It's really teaching us a wonderful truth. If we can be forgiven by God, as we most certainly are when we are trusting in Jesus, then we can most definitely forgive anyone who may "sin" against us! Despite our offense to a thrice holy God, we rest in knowing our forgiveness is certain. Because our forgiveness is certain, then we can certainly forgive others. And we're not only, through this portion of the Lord's prayer, asking God to forgive us in Christ, but also asking for the grace to be gracious in forgiving others. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Worth Reading

James 5:13-20

Do you come to our gathered worship service expecting God to speak to you through his Word? We encourage you to prayerfully read through the passage that will be preached prior to the service to help you prepare.

 

Prayer and Predestination: A Conversation Between Prayerful and Prayerless

Prayerless: I understand that you believe in the providence of God. Is that right?

Prayerful: Yes.

Prayerless: Does that mean you believe, like the Heidelberg Catechism says, that nothing comes about by chance but only by God's design and plan?

Prayerful: Yes, I believe that’s what the Bible teaches.

Prayerless: Then why do you pray?

 

10 Ways to be Christian This Christmas

But whether you love every nook and cranny about the holidays–or consider most of it “noise, noise, noise!”–there is no excuse to be grinchy and scroogeish. Here are ten ways we can remember to be Christians this Christmas.

 

Christmas Through the Tears

Tears are not absent during the holidays. In fact, I’ve talked with enough friends and family to know that tears are likely prevalent during Christmas. There’s no doubt a lot of joy and happiness during this time— praise the Lord for the smiles and laughter— but there may also be sadness. And praise the Lord for tears.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 102-103

102 Q: What do we pray for in the second petition?
A: In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan's kingdom
may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and
others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

103 Q: What do we pray for in the third petition?
A: In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Moving forward in examining the Lord's prayer, this week we look at the 2nd and 3rd petitions of the prayer. The second petition deals with the coming of God's kingdom. Here, we are recognizing that by nature, mankind belongs to the "kingdom of Satan" because of our sin and rebellion against God. But we are also recognizing that when Christ came, he brought with him a "kingdom of grace" to which his people belong by faith. And when Christ came, lived a life of perfect obedience, died, rose, ascended, and was glorified, he "bound the strong man" (Satan), set his people free, and began undoing the ruinous effects that sin, death and the devil have had both on God's people and on God's good creation. We are praying here that God's kingdom of grace would continue to expand, that others would be drawn into it, that the effects of Satan's kingdom would continue to be undone, and that God would hasten the day when Christ would return again to complete his redemptive work, bring about the renewal and recreation of all things, and establish forever his "kingdom of glory". 

The third petition, "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", has to do with two things. The first is that we are asking God to help us be obedient to his will. We are asking God to continue to make us more like Jesus Christ, to continue sanctifying us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we will become joyfully submissive to his will. The second thing that we are asking is that God would work all things according to the counsel of his will. In other words, we are asking God to continue his work of providence! Of course, we know that God will, indeed, continue his works of providence. But by praying this petition, we are saying to God that we recognize God's sovereignty, we recognize that he is working all things according to the counsel of his will for his own glory and for the good of those who love him, and that we, as his people, are submitting to and trusting in the working of his providence.  

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #100-101

100:
Q: 
What does the preface of the Lord's prayer teach us?
A: The preface of the Lord's prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

101:
Q: 
What do we pray for in the first petition?
A: In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray that God would enable us and others to glorify him in all that whereby he makes himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory. 
"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

It's hard to believe, but we are coming now to the closing sections of the Westminster Shorter Catechism! I'm already thinking about what to blog through in 2017, but we'll get to that later. For now, we're moving into the sections of the catechism which break down and investigate the sections of the Lord's prayer. These blog posts won't be long, as I think the catechism here is pretty self-explanatory. 

Question 100 shows us a wonderful comfort. It echoes the words of Hebrews 4:16, "Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace". Why? Because this is, indeed, our heavenly Father that we are praying to. This is, for us his children, not a throne of judgment, but rather, a throne of grace upon which sits our Father. Our loving, caring, all powerful, all sovereign, all wise, all compassionate Father will withhold no good thing from his children! Our Father is the Father who created all things, who governs all things, and who will work all things for the good of those who love him. So we can, with confidence, draw near to his throne. 

On one final note, notice too, question 100 makes a point in emphasizing the corporate nature of this prayer. God is not "my Father" singular, he is "our Father", which reemphasizes the liturgical structure, by the way, that we talked about in the previous blog post. The implication of this plural language is exactly what the catechism says. We should pray both with and for others. Prayer is not only a means of grace for individuals, but one by which the people of God can and should participate in corporately. 

Question 101 looks at the first petition of the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name". What are we asking, or saying, to God when we pray this petition? We are asking him to glorify himself! We are asking God to receive all glory in all things. We are asking him to conform our wills to his-for his glory. We are asking him to make his glory known to us and to all of creation so that everyone and everything will bring him glory. We are asking God to bring about in our lives what the very first question in this catechism says is the goal of our entire existence-that we would glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #99

Q: What rule has God given for our direction in prayer?
A: The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called, the Lord’s prayer.

Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

I think it’s good that the catechism makes mention that the whole of Scripture is useful in instructing us to pray. I remember one time in college we were examining a prayer prayed by an Old Testament prophet (I believe it was Samuel). At the end of reading the passage I joked, “Man! Samuel prays like a Presbyterian!” My professor laughed and said, “Why do you think that is?” “Obviously”, I said, “because he was a Presbyterian!” All joking aside, examining the prayers in Scripture, one does begin to pick up certain patterns and formulas to what prayer should be. So when the Westminster Divines point to the whole of the Bible as a model and instruction for prayer, a “rule” for what prayer should be, they are right in doing so! But, of course, the Lord’s Prayer is given to us by Jesus Christ himself as the “ultimate” model of prayer. In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus really is giving us a framework and pattern for prayer that truly has been used throughout the whole of Scripture. There’s nothing new in the Lord’s prayer as far as the structure goes. What Jesus gives us is a model of prayer that is based on the biblical patterns and structures used throughout the Scriptures.

Now, as I said in the last blog post, the Lord’s Prayer can be used in two ways. The first is a model for prayer. The Lord’s prayer can and should give us a structure to our prayers. We see in the prayer elements of praise (hallowed be thy name), we see in it a submission to God's will (thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), supplication (give us this day our daily bread), repentance (forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us), and so on. Over the next several weeks, we'll discuss these elements of the prayer and see how they can shape our own prayer lives. 

The second way that the Lord's prayer can and should be used is as a prayer in and of itself. God's people should be praying the Lord's prayer as it was given. In fact, Jesus himself commands this in Luke 11, when as he's about to give the prayer he says, "When you pray, say..." And the prayer itself is, indeed, given in a liturgical structure, thus indicating that Jesus is saying, "Hey, this is a prayer you ought to be saying often!" The church has historically understood the prayer in these terms. So much so, in fact, that the ancient Didache, a first century treatise which contains supposed teachings of the Apostles, states that the prayer should be said by Christians at least three times a day!

It's for these reasons that the Reformed church, as well as Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and just about every other major branch of Christianity has, for centuries, included the Lord's prayer as a liturgical element in their weekly gathered worship services. This is the reason why I used Acts 2:42 as a Scripture reference for this question. It shows us that the early believers dedicated themselves to "the prayers". That little word, "the" before the word "prayers" indicates that these were structured, memorized prayers used for liturgical purposes. Quite likely, these prayers included the Lord's prayer. Going back to that college class I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, as we began discussing the Lord's prayer, the professor asked, "How many of you attend a church where the prayer is said every week?" Sadly, only two of us raised our hands (the other person who raised his hand attended a Reformed Baptist church). The professor then asked, "what are some of the objections to not saying the prayer every week?" The most common objection was, "well if you say it every week, it can become meaningless!" This is certainly a reason that many of us hear when it comes to using any repeated elements of worship, not just the Lord's prayer! But our professor had a great response to this. He said, "Isn't that an issue of the heart with the worshiper, not an issue of the Lord's prayer itself? Why is our solution to this problem simply to not use the prayer at all? Shouldn't our solution be, rather, to address the heart issues of our worshipers who find this prayer to be meaningless if we repeat it too much? This prayer was given to us by Jesus Christ himself! How could it ever become meaningless!?" 

It's a wonderful point, isn't it? This prayer was, indeed, given to us by Christ himself. There really could be no better way to pray than to pray the words of Christ! 

This blog was written by Andy Styer