He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible , whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning , the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ( Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

And You Were Dead

The opening phrase for chapter 2 of Ephesians frames Paul’s theology for justification by grace alone through faith alone. That phrase describes something that should be impossible and remains impossible apart from a supernatural intervention. It holds in itself a contradiction of the natural order of creation we can observe. Sane people don’t normally write letters to people who “were” dead.

But that is exactly the state in which we are when the Holy Spirit comes to us. Paul leaves no room for doubt when he describes the work of salvation in verse 8-10. It is no work of our own goodness or will that makes us suitable for salvation. Only the gracious act of God can reveal to us the reality of who Jesus is by the work of the Holy Spirit.

This helps us to understand faith as a word and as and idea. James helps us to understand how real faith is evidenced by works, but it is not produced by works. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that righteousness comes only by faith, and it is always God who is the primary actor in giving faith and making righteous.

Scripture Readings

Ephesians 2:1-10 James 2:14-26 Hebrews 11:1-19 Colossians 1:15-20

Pray

Ask God to work to open the eyes of the lost people to faith in Christ and that he would open our mouths to tell them of his goodness and how they can be saved. They are dead. And we were dead. Only Jesus can make us alive together in him.

 

 

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”

Psalm 51:7-8 (ESV)

Hebrews 10:26-39 (Psalm 51)

Of Bleach and Broken Bones

The smell of bleach tells you something has been recently cleansed. You and I might wrinkle our nose at the smell, but we know what it means. If you had never smelled bleach, then you would have no idea that it is used to cleanse things. I am not familiar with hyssop, but I imagine the smell of it had a similar association for David when he was writing Psalm 51.

If you have never broken a bone, then you don’t know the deep throbbing ache that just doesn’t stop. It gets worse whenever you try to use the bone that is broken or whenever someone or something presses upon it. You can tell that something isn’t right, even if outward appearances don’t show you what is wrong. I think David must have known about broken bones. As a warrior and a king, I doubt he was a stranger to that type of injury.

 I think this is evidenced by the fact that he used broken bones to illustrate the sense of divine judgment the believer experiences when in rebellion against God. I have broken bones at least three times and perhaps a fourth. I have known the acute sense of being in rebellion toward God far too many times to count.

It is important to remember that David wrote this as someone who believed in God, was called by God, anointed by the prophet of God, kept by the promises of God, and still he committed grievous sins against God. As I began preparing for a sermon on the second section of Hebrews chapter 10, this Psalm came to my mind. It was a sermon from this Psalm that God used to call me back from a long period of rebellion. It remains one of my favorite chapters of Scripture.

  • Hebrews 10:26-31 serves as a dire warning, specifically to believers, against continuing in willful or deliberate sin against God’s clear commandments.
  • Hebrews 10:32-39 reveals to us the strategy for escaping such temptation is to remember what God has already done in delivering us. He must be the source of our confidence to continue in love and obedience.
  • Psalm 51 and the life of David show us a picture of how God does not excuse the sin of his people. He is faithful to keep us in accordance to his promises, but real faith means we respond to his discipline by learning obedience from it and teaching others to do likewise.

 

“Am I Not Free?”

Scriptures for this Week’s Sermon:

1 Corinthians 8:8-13

1 Corinthians 9:1a, 19-23

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Christian Liberty, Conscience, and the Coronavirus

If you had asked be three months ago what issues would be a possible source of division in worshiping together as a church, I would not have thought to list wearing masks in public.

I am thankful that the church that we read about in the New Testament was not free from cultural division and controversy.

As we come back together in worship, we need to be encouraged and strengthened for good works. That is one of the reasons we come together (Hebrews 10:23-25). Let us pray that we will use these instructions to the church on how to navigate present issues of conscience and be built up together.

 

Matthew 6:5-15

… “Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Let) your kingdom come, (let) your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from evil.

Revitalizing our Prayer Time

Teach us to pray…

We have recently begun live-streaming our worship services. This technology makes our prayer time together much more accessible but also more public. We want our prayers for the needs of people we care about to be specific, but we also want to honor the confidentiality of medical diagnoses and treatments and be otherwise sensitive to the concerns of family members.

Instead of the detailed requests being announced within the congregation, we want to encourage those conversations to be held first in smaller groups and then given in advance of the worship service unless they are personal and immediate. We have a digital prayer request form and prayer cards will be available in the worship service. We have a private prayer group on Facebook and we have weekly church prayer meetings with video conferencing available.

Our leaders will work to make sure that the person or family in need can be contacted before we share it from the pulpit. But we are still going to pray for every request as a church that we can bring to our minds during worship. The plan for how to do that is already given to us by Jesus. This is also how we can make sure that our prayers are focused mainly on God and our need for him during our worship. We can use the model of prayer given to us by Jesus to guide our prayer time in our worship service. Our prayers together can and should be interactive as we try to lead and bear one another’s burdens. We want you to have a chance to participate and write out or plan in advance how you will pray. 

  • Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. As a congregation, we want to recall just how holy God’s name is. We want to use scripture to shape how we honor his name, even as we are praying.
  • Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We want to think of how God is using our church to make the gospel of the kingdom known in our community and to all the earth. This includes praying for our lost friends, families and neighbors by name. Pray for disciples to be made here and in all nations. Be specific as to name and need as we pray together for lost people and unreached and under reached groups of people.
  • Give us this day our daily bread… This is where we need to mention the specific needs within our congregation. If we know of urgent needs in our larger community, pray for them now within the gathering. Pray out loud, pray quietly, or silently as the Holy Spirit leads each of us. 
  • …and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Now is when we examine ourselves. We have sins that we bring into worship unintentionally, and we may be harboring unforgiveness toward other people. This is where we repent publicly and safely. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in repentance. 
  • And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Even here in worship and praying in groups together, we are not exempt from temptation and we should remind ourselves and each other of the real dangers in temptations. We need to be able to recognize temptation as spiritual warfare. We don’t need to see other people as our enemy in prayer, we can all be deceived by the enemy of our souls. Remind each other out loud as the Spirit leads of the possible temptation we might face here and in the week ahead.
  • For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, AMEN. Return to meditations from scripture on God’s holiness, his authority, his sovereignty and his goodness in giving us what we need. 

 

Prayer Request Form

Facebook Prayer Group

 

…God will not withhold any good gift we ask of him and he will not give us anything harmful to his good purposes, even if we ask him.


 

Luke 11:1-13

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”  And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name, You’re kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, 
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. 
And lead us not into temptation.”

And He said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me, the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is is friend, yet because of his impudence (persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. Ad I tell you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Ask who, not what, we need.


How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

If you aren’t familiar with the life and writing of A.W. Tozer, then let me just begin by encouraging you to find one of his books and read it. Many of them are available free on the internet or at little cost to download. I will include a link to his work at the end of this letter. Most of his work is very quick and easy to read. The one that inspired me to write this reflection is called How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit. It’s just four short chapters and I highly recommend it.

I am also reflecting on news this week (Kentucky Today) that Lifeway plans to sell Ridgecrest Conference Center. This place was a big part of the life of our church for my entire adolescence. If I were to choose a period of time when I remember our church thriving, then my mind would go back to these years. As a church, it is important to remember the successes we have had in ministry and to learn from them. It is also important to recognize flaws in our strategies and correct them. 

Tozer, in the third chapter of his book that bears the same time title, uses Jesus’ teaching on prayer from the book of Luke to emphasize one of the keys to experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit in our churches and the lives of our church members. We are probably more familiar with Matthew’s account of our Lord’s prayer, but it is here that we see Jesus connect his familiar outline for faithful, God-centered prayer to the gift of his Holy Spirit. 

And so, for our prayer as a church right now, I think we do well to study this teaching very closely. The Holy Spirit, working through Luke, has preserved Jesus’ words condensing many of his teachings on prayer into a single passage. We shouldn’t waste this gift, no matter how difficult it is for us to accept or understand. I think the correct interpretation of this teaching is that God will not withhold any good gift we ask of him and he will not give us anything harmful to his good purposes, even if we ask him. If we keep asking for gifts that will harm our church, he won’t give us something bad, but he will give us something better. The difficulty lies in the truth that if we are asking for something and God isn’t giving it, then it must be somehow harmful for us.

This is especially true for and of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible reveals him as a unique person of the trinity, in that he is himself a gift that comes from the Father and from the Son. We should be careful to not confuse the gift of his person with the gifts that he gives us as a person. This is a hard difference for me to understand much less explain, but I realize that there needs to be distinction because it comes from Scripture. 

We might be tempted to ask God to return to us the gifts from the Holy Spirit and confuse them with the gift of the Holy Spirit himself. Whatever God is doing now in our church, it must be and will be different than what he has done in the past. He doesn’t need to bring back the good old days because his kingdom is still to come. 

We had some good weeks at Ridgecrest. I don’t question that they were a gift from God. God was able to work and move by his Holy Spirit. And yet, when I think of the dozens of children and teenagers our church took to those retreats, I see a need for something more. We saw many decisions made and many students were baptized as a result. But did our church make disciples? How many are now making disciples because of what they learned? 

Many of those students have moved away from our local church. More than a few are part of other local churches, and that is not to be discounted. Let’s not ask what could we have done better then. Then is gone and it doesn’t come back, but let’s be honest about how we need something better now. 

Are we ready to ask for him like it’s an emergency in the middle of the night? If we aren’t desiring him that much, then we are probably asking for selfish gifts instead of his holy presence with us. Let’s not ask the Holy Spirit to give us gifts we think will help our church. Let’s start by asking God to fill us with the gift of his Holy Spirit and trust that whatever gifts come from him will be perfect for our church and God’s good purposes in us.

 

A.W. TOZER kentucky today