Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Knowing God's Will For Your Life: Finding God's Will Through the Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

[In 2011 at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I led my Sunday school class in studying through Tim Challies' The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. In studying to teach that class, I made an outline of each chapter. The following blogpost is expanded from the outline I made for Chapter 6. Some of the thoughts below are paraphrased quotes from Challies. I certainly recommend reading his entire book.]

The Question Raised

When asking the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” the Christian must consider two ways in which we—as time-bound, dependent creatures—experience God’s will. We experience God’s will according to both His will of decree and His will of command. Distinguishing between these two aspects of God’s will is crucial.

God's Will of Decree

God’s will of decree is, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, His determination by which He has “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” for His own glory. As God has said, “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa 46:11b). God’s will of decree is sometimes called God’s secret will, as stated in Deuteronomy 29:29a, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God.” Except for prophecies found in Scripture, God has not—and will not—reveal specific details of what He will bring about in the future. Except for certain events discussed in Scripture, God has not—and will not—give an infallible interpretation of why He allowed specific events to take place in the past. We look to Scripture and see enough about God’s will of decree that we know He is in control and will bring His creation to a perfect end. Otherwise, God’s will of decree is—in a real sense—none of our business.

God's Will of Command

On the other hand, every person should have a keen interest in the specifics concerning God’s will of command. God’s will of command is defined by what God has told us to do in the Bible, and what He has written on our conscience, in order to direct us in how we should live for His glory. God gives us specific, over-arching commands concerning how to live in accordance with His will. These commands include: be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:17-18); be sanctified (1 Thess 4:3a); be thankful (1 Thess 5:18). God’s will of command is sometimes called God’s revealed will, as—unlike His secret will of decree—God has made the details concerning His will of command abundantly clear.

Living in God's Will of Command

As we seek to follow God’s revealed will, several principles come to light.
1. Where God’s commands are explicit, we must obey immediately, joyfully, and without question.
2. In general, where the Bible contains no explicit command, God gives us freedom and responsibility to choose what we will do, with prayer and reliance upon scriptural principles. In acting upon scriptural principles, we recognize that God gives us wisdom and discernment to choose what we will do.
3. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, as defined by commands and principles of Scripture, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good.

The Secret Things Belong to the LORD Our God

As we seek to understand and obey God’s will, we must realize that understanding and obedience will require dedicated effort: we must be diligent in seeking to know and apply God’s revealed will. On the other hand, understanding and obedience do NOT require discovering God’s secret will of decree in advance of making decisions. When we must make a choice, and there is no direct scriptural command that clearly dictates which option we should choose, then understanding and obedience require acting in a way that is consistent with general principles God’s revealed will. In this, we must NOT pray for a glimpse into God’s secret will; instead, we must pray for wisdom (Jas 1:5).

Foundations for Discerning God's Will

In writing about discerning God's will, Tim Challies recommends viewing discernment of God's will according to the following "stages". It is important to note, when considering these "stages":
1. This process presupposes that the person who seeks to know God's will is a believer, who has been given a new heart (Eze 36:26); it is only through being born again that a faithful person can honestly pray to God, "Your will be done" (Matt 6:10);
2. This process presupposes that the person who seeks to know God's will is regularly studying Scripture, therefore becoming well-acquainted with God's revealed will;
3. This process is not a a strict step-by-step sequence, as these "stages" often take place simultaneously.

Stages for Understanding and Obeying God's Will:

1. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2);
2. Apply truths from Scripture to situations and decisions you encounter in life, by:
a. Obeying God's commands;
b. Seeking to act according to biblical principles;
3. Renew your emotions so that you love what God loves and hate what God hates.

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Saturday, March 02, 2019

Knowing God's Will For Your Life: Being Filled With the Spirit

[The following was originally posted on 5/9/12.]

What is God's will for my life? I believe that God's will can be summed up in one statement: God wants me to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that this is the teaching of Ephesians 5:17-18. The filling of the Holy Spirit is indicative of God's active, indwelling presence in my life: granting me spiritual gifts, growing spiritual fruit within me, and bringing me into blessed fellowship with Him.

Quenching the Spirit

I can fail (and often do fail) to be filled by the Holy Spirit as I "quench" the Holy Spirit in my life (1 Thess 5:19). This 'quenching' occurs through engaging in sins: either sins of commission or sins of omission. Sins of commission can occur through the instrumentality of a foreign substance (Eph 5:17-18 mentions "wine") or through my own flesh (1 Thess 4:3 mentions "sexual immorality;" cf. 1 Cor 6:18). In either case, in committing sins of commission, I am giving myself over to the control of something other than the Holy Spirit. The chief sin of omission is the failure to prayerfully study God's Word.

Filled With the Word

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is directly tied to being filled with God's Word. This is seen in the close parallel between Ephesians 5:17-33 and Colossians 3:15-25. (Notice that whereas Eph 5:18 says, "be filled with the Spirit," Col 3:16 says, in the same basic position of the argument being presented, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.") Holy Scripturethe Word of God, presenting the message of Christis the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes (initially) by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). Faith grows through being nourished on the Word of God (Matt 4:4; 1 Pet 2:2). Faith is the instrument by which disciples take hold of Christ and receive all spiritual blessings found in Him.

Prayer, Wisdom, and the Word in Action

My study of God's Word must be prayerful, because I am commanded to "let the Word of Christ dwell within you richly in all wisdom" (Col 3:16), and because the way to obtain wisdom is through asking God (Jas 1:5). Wisdom is needed so that I may put God's Word into action in how I deal with others, as outlined in Ephesians 5:17-33 and Colossians 3:15-25.

Thankfulness and Evangelism

If I am filled with the Holy Spirit—if I am thus pursuing God's will for my life—it will be evident in my attitude and actions. Correct attitude and correct actions will primarily be characterized by thankfulness and evangelism. I will have an attitude of thankfulness toward God in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18-19). My actions—in addition to being characterized by the love, submission, and justice described in Ephesians 5:17-33 and Colossians 3:15-25—will also be characterized by active evangelism. In performing God's will for my life, I must be active in evangelism because it is God's will that all be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4) and the Lord is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet 2:9).

Conclusion

God's will for my life is that I be filled with the Holy Spirit. The chief ways to be filled with the Holy Spirit are by simultaneously: abstaining from sin, prayerfully studying God's Word (seeking to put what I find in His Word into practice in my life), having an attitude of thankfulness to God in all circumstances, and engaging in evangelism.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Knowing God's Will For Your Life: Lessons from 1 Thessalonians

[The following was originally posted on 3/11/14.]

What is God's will for my life?

If you believe in God, then I am certain that you have asked this question in your heart, at least occasionally, if not daily.

I have good news for you, dear reader. God Himself has spoken to me. He has given me an inerrant, infallible word concerning His will for your life (and mine).

This is what God told me:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.

and

in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

You may be tempted to be disappointed with these words, found in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18. You may think: 'what I want to know is the specifics of my circumstances, where I will go and what I will do/should do in the future.' But God is not in the business of fortune-telling. The Apostle Paul, through whom this letter came to the Thessalonians, himself did not know his own future. For example: he desired to see the Thessalonians, but he was not sure he would get the opportunity to do so. On other occasions he wanted to travel east, to minister the gospel in Asia, and he intended to do so, but he was prevented from going there. God does not reveal our personal future paths to us in this life. He withholds this information in order to increase our faith and dependence on Him.

Background for 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18

Paul's basic reason for writing 1 Thessalonians was simply to encourage the church, letting them know that he greatly desires to see them and that he constantly prays for them. The Thessalonians were doing many things right: they were active in evangelism (1 Thess 1:8), and they were active in giving to the poor (1 Thess 4:10).

Paul was concerned that the Thessalonians, while engaged in noble activities, may neglect basic matters of sanctification. For this reason, Paul ended 1 Thessalonians with an unusually long (relative to the shortness of the book) section of exhortation, beginning in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, in which the actual word "exhort" occurs.

Connection Between the Thessalonians and Us

The pagan culture in which the Thessalonians dwelt was not so different from the culture in which we live today, especially in the following way: the culture is/was rife with sexual immorality. The Apostle Paul (himself a single man), under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was keenly aware of the powerful pull of sexual sin. The Thessalonians lived in a culture in which orgiastic feasts and temple prostitutes were the norm. We live in a culture in which certain kinds of sexual immorality are even more all-pervasive. Television and computers make all forms of sexual images instantly available. Even movies that are not considered pornographic may sometimes contain nudity. Modesty is virtually an unknown term in current American culture. For these reasons and others, you and I must be vigilant so that we do not leave ourselves open to temptation. We must flee sexual immorality in all forms. We must pray for wisdom that we would guard the sexual aspect of our lives in order that all areas of our lives will manifest the holiness and glory of God. Love for God and love for others must compel us to properly confine and channel all of our sexual energies to the marriage bed, that our union with our spouses (or future spouses, for those yet unmarried) would be sweet, joyous, and undefiled.

Sanctification is expressed negatively in mortification. Specifically, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 highlights the fact that God's will for our lives is that we put to death lustful passions by abstaining from sexual immorality. Sanctification is also expressed positively in vivification. Specifically, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 highlights strengthening our spiritual life by gratitude, as we engage in constant thankfulness.

The command concerning thankfulness comes in a section of 1 Thessalonians in which the Apostle had been giving an exhortation concerning life within the church. While patiently ministering to people with problems (and problematic people), the Thessalonian Christians might have been tempted to become disappointed, bitter, and complaining.

We live in a culture in which complaining is all-pervasive. Obviously, there are situations in which criticism is legitimate or even necessary. Yet even in those situations, there is often occasion for thanksgiving due to God's common grace. A bitter attitude is always inappropriate. You and I must be vigilant concerning our thoughts and speech in order to make sure that we are not fostering a complaining spirit, but that we are instead looking for opportunities to express thankfulness to God and others.

God's Will for Unbelievers

1 Thessalonians was written to Christians in Thessalonica. The words from 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18 to the Thessalonian Christians are directly applicable to Christians today. But for those who are outside of Christ, there is a more basic answer to the question: what is God's will for my life?

If you are not a Christian, then God's will is that you become one by turning from your sins and trusting in Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life that we have not: He never committed any sins of commission (He never broke God's law through wrong actions such as sexual immorality); He never committed any sins of omission (He never failed to do what He ought through inaction such as a lack of thankfulness). Jesus died on the Cross, paying the penalty for the sins—sins both of commission and omission—that we have committed. Jesus rose from the grave, conquering sin, death, and Hell. Jesus now lives, offering forgiveness and eternal life to all who trust in Him. Trust in Him and live for Him today.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

The Apostle Paul as a Pharisee and a Christian's Use of Labels

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’” (Acts 23:6)

A Christian student of Scripture would not be surprised to read that Paul had been a Pharisee before he came to trust in Jesus (see Acts 26:5; Phil 3:5). However, if someone had not considered Acts 23:6 before, it might be striking to read of the Apostle Paul, on trial before the Sanhedrin, still declaring, “I am a Pharisee” (using the present tense). That Paul, as a Christian leader, would continue to refer to himself a Pharisee (at least on this occasion) may surprise a Christian reader, as we are so used to seeing the Pharisees as villains in the Gospel accounts. Indeed Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, had previously recorded Jesus pronouncing woes [prophetic judgments of God’s wrath] upon the Pharisees as hypocrites (Luke 11:42-44; cf. Matt 23:13-36). So why would the Apostle Paul identify himself as a Pharisee?

Wise as a Serpent, Innocent as a Dove

First, we must observe that there is no hint in the text that the Apostle Paul was sinning in identifying himself as a Pharisee. Rather, it seems that this is an instance where he was putting into effect Jesus’ instruction to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16; notice that, in the context of this verse, Jesus was specifically referring to a trial setting). Paul was, obviously, as wise as a serpent, because he was able to understand the situation and get those who were persecuting him to begin contending against each other instead. However, we should also see Paul, on this occasion, as also being innocent as a dove. Paul was not lying when he declared, “I am a Pharisee.”

What made a Pharisee a Pharisee? Given the attitudes and actions of most Pharisees in the Gospel accounts, the term “Pharisee” is now understandably associated with hypocrisy and legalism. However, in terms of formal, stated beliefs, Acts 23:8 informs us that Pharisees were those who believed angels and spirits, and who hoped in the resurrection (extra-biblical sources inform us that the Pharisees also accepted the entire Hebrew Bible, whereas the Sadducees held that only the Pentateuch was authoritative). Paul’s agreement with these crucial points of doctrine (points of doctrine that were directly relevant to his testimony before the Sanhedrin), in contrast with the Sadducees’ skepticism, is what allowed him to identify with the Pharisees in good conscience.

Some Applications from Paul’s Identifying as a Pharisee

Paul, as a Christian, was able (in good conscience) to identify as a Pharisee when the situation called for it. We, as Christians, should not necessarily disavow all other labels; rather, we may be in certain situations where specific theological labels (other than merely "Christian") are useful. To give one example: in the religious context of the Sanhedrin, Paul believed that the Pharisees (at least formally) held to doctrines that were in line with the Bible; therefore, he called himself a Pharisee. Likewise, in a theological debate, if we are convinced that the Doctrines of Grace, commonly called Calvinism, are in line with the Bible, we should not be ashamed to use the label “Calvinist,” if it seems to be a clarifying term in a specific setting.

Another application for Paul using the term “Pharisee” may be seen in the American political landscape. In His earthly ministry, Jesus rebuked both Pharisees and Sadducees for their attitudes and actions. Yet, doctrinally speaking, the two groups were not equally far from the truth. In their official defining beliefs, the Pharisees were right and the Sadducees were wrong. Paul could say “I am a Pharisee;” he could NOT say “I am a Sadducee.” Likewise in America, there are two major groups in terms of social-political philosophy: the conservatives and the progressives. The conscientious Christian, seeking to keep in step with the Spirit, will certainly have occasion to rebuke both conservatives and progressives for their attitudes and actions. However, conservative and progressive social-political philosophies are not equally far from the truth. In their official, defining beliefs, conservatives hold to objective truth as revealed by the Creator, with truth and justice needing to be conserved; progressives hold to relative truth as discovered by people, saying that society needs to progressively attain into greater and greater truth and justice. The conservatives are basically right and the progressives are basically wrong. The faithful Christian, seeking to stand on the revelation of God, can say “I am a conservative;” he CANNOT say (with any degree of consistency) “I am a progressive.”

Warning Against Pride in Labels

But note the following illegitimate use of labels:

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or, ‘I follow Apollos,’ or, ‘I follow Cephas,’ or, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:11-13).

Paul wrote the words above to a church in which Christians had become obsessed with taking pride in labels and group affiliations.

When the occasion called for it, Paul could declare “I am a Pharisee.” However, Paul did not take pride in being a Pharisee, as he wrote, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world had been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). And in another place, after mentioning his background as a Pharisee, Paul wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss for the sake on knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, the by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:7-11).

Though (at least on occasion) Paul took on a label and identified himself with a group that was enthusiastic about the idea of the resurrection, this was NOT what motivated Paul. Rather, Paul was motivated by personal knowledge of the resurrected Jesus, with hope of actually joining Christ in the resurrection. Likewise, though we may employ the term “evangelical” if it makes sense in a given religious discussion, it should not be the label, but the gospel itself that motivates us. Though we may employ the term “Calvinist” if it makes sense in a given theological debate, it should not be the label, but grace itself that motivates us. Though we may employ the term “conservative” if it makes sense in a given political debate, it should not be the label, but commitment to objective truth that motivates us. Though we may be thankful that we can employ the term “American,” freedom should not just be a slogan, we should seek true spiritual freedom and use our nationally-recognized freedoms of speech, press, assembly, etc., to proclaim the freedom available in Christ.

In conclusion, labels can be good. They should be employed wisely. They must not be considered as ultimate.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cyprian of Carthage on "Your will be done" in the Lord's Prayer

Earlier this week, my family had the opportunity to visit Tim and Jennifer Scott and their family. [Tim was a former elder at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, where Abby and I are members; he is now a pastor of Salem Baptist Church outside of St. Louis, Missouri.] While we were visiting the Scotts, I just happened to pick up a book that he had about Cyprian, who was a bishop in Carthage in the late 3rd century, and who died as a martyr under the persecution instituted by Emperor Valerian. One fact about Cyprian, which I did not know until nearly the end of the book, is that he authored a commentary on the Lord's Prayer, and for centuries his commentary was the most influential examination of the Lord's Prayer in Western Christianity. This fact is especially interesting to me right now, since I'm teaching through the Lord's Prayer in the young adults' Sunday school class at Kosmosdale. The following is a section from Cyprian on Matthew 6:10b, "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven":

"Now [this] is the will of God which Christ both did and taught:


I. Humility in conversation;

II. Steadfastness in faith;
A. Modesty in words;
B. Justice in deeds;
C. Mercifulness in works;
III. Discipline in morals;
A. To be unable to do a wrong,
B. And to be able to bear a wrong when done;
C. To keep peace with the brethren;
IV. To love God with all one's heart;
A. To love Him in that He is a Father;
B. To fear Him in that He is God;
C. To prefer nothing whatever to Christ, because He did not prefer anything to us;
D. To adhere inseparably to His love;
E. To stand by His cross bravely and faithfully when there is any contest on behalf of His name and honor;
1. To exhibit in discourse [in trials] that constancy wherewith we make confession;
2. In torture that confidence wherewith we do battle,
3. In death, that patience whereby we are crowned—

"This is to do the commandment of God; this is to do the will of the Father."


[From Cyprian, On the Lord's Prayer, 15. Quoted in Brian J. Arnold, Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact, 124. The outline format for the text is my own.]

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Song of the Beloved's Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1b-7)

My Translation:
  
1b My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hillside,
2 And he weeded it and freed it from stones,
And he planted it with a fine kind of vine,
And he built a watchtower in its midst,
And he also hewed out a winepress in it,
And he looked eagerly for it to yield grapes,
But it yielded sour grapes.
3 And now, O residents of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Please judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do in my vineyard
that I didn’t do for it?
Why, when I looked eagerly for a yield of grapes,
did it yield sour grapes?
5 And now, let me make known to y’all what I am doing for my vineyard:
Remove its hedge and it will be open to grazing!
Tear down its wall and it will be open to trampling.
6 And I will lay it waste:
It will not be pruned nor weeded,
but thorns and weeds will come up:
And I will order the rain-clouds away from raining any rain upon it.
7 Because the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are the plantation
in which he took delight.
And he eagerly looked for justice
—but behold!—there was bloodshed;
for righteousness—but behold!—there was a cry of distress.

An Outline from Dr. Peter Gentry:

A. A Story of a Vineyard and Its Fruit (1-2)
B. The Listeners Asked for a Verdict (3-4)
C. The Decision of the Owner (5-6)
D. The Application to Judah (7)

[My translation of this passage is from some work I did for Dr. Gentry's Exegesis of Isaiah class at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Gentry's outline of this passage is an excerpt from an article he published in the Midwestern Journal of Theology.]

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bedtime Prayers With My Children

[The following originally appeared on this blog on 5/6/14: you might notice the out-of-date references to the ages of my children, and the reference to President Obama. As I've been teaching on the Lord's Prayer in Sunday school at Kosmosdale Baptist Church—also focusing on the Lord's Prayer section of the Baptist Catechism at home with my children—I've been re-visiting some past thoughts on prayer. I do hope what follows is an encouragement to others; it is a good reminder to me about asking intentional questions of my children when guiding them in prayer.]

The Rationale for Teaching My Children to Pray

There is a definite sense in which non-Christians—people who have not been "born again" (John 3:3), who do not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16—cannot pray. At least, they cannot pray in a way that pleases God, as they are by nature alienated from and hostile toward God (Col 1:21) and are constantly objects of His anger (Psa 7:11). And yet-just as faith is commanded (Isa 45:22) though no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44), making them spiritually alive (Eph 2:5), and granting them the gift of faith (Eph 2:8)-so also prayer is indiscriminately commanded. Prayer is a duty enjoined upon all people everywhere at all times by virtue of their having been given life from their Creator. If a non-Christian does not pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (Matt 6:9; John 14:13), then that person is simply adding sin to sin (Isa 43:22).

Due to these considerations, and because I am commanded to train up my children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4), I teach my children to pray even though I do not think that they have yet come to genuine saving faith as evidenced by "fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matt 3:8).

And so my children observe regular times of prayer throughout the day.

The Rationale for Bedtime Prayers

One of the times that I regularly lead my children in prayer each day is at their bedtime. I believe that there is biblical precedent for bedtime prayers: David prayed morning, noon, and night (Psa 55:17), and he remembered and meditated upon the LORD while he was in bed (Psa 63:6). It is appropriate to begin and end each day with prayer.

"Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep"?

Thinking about how to guide my children in prayer at bedtime has required a great deal of thought. It did seem wise to provide my children with some simple model of how to call out to God. But I'm not thrilled with the traditional "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer. Though that traditional prayer does remind children of eternity and the need to be safe in the Lord (both excellent features), it is not concluded in Jesus' name, and it is extremely limited in scope. In fact, I am not even sure that it is a prayer. By saying, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep," it seems more like it is describing a prayer than actually praying to God.  (I suppose it could be edited to "I pray You, Lord, my soul to keep," although that sounds like awkward phrasing.)

Bedtime Prayer: First Model

After much experimentation-always endeavoring to keep genuine, heartfelt calling out to God paramount when praying with my children-I arrived at this model bedtime prayer:

Thank You, Lord, for this day.
Help us get the sleep we need.
Keep us safe through the night.
Fill our hearts with love for Jesus.
Help us be kind to one another.
In Jesus' name,
—Amen.

Added to this basic formula, we pray for various occasional needs (ailing or hospitalized friends or family, etc.).

ACTS Model

In the past few months, however, when I pray at bedtime with Christian (6 years old), I have been transitioning to a different form of coaching him in prayer. (Georgia Grace, my 3 year old, cannot quite think in the terms outlined below at this stage, so when I pray with her, I still use the model prayer mentioned above.) My bedtime prayers with Christian now follow the ACTS model. ACTS stands for:
I've heard this model suggested by many Christian leaders I respect: from Kevin Pounds to R.C. Sproul. It is based on the principles found in the Lord's Prayer (and other prayers in Scripture) as well as the specific verses mentioned above.

Putting the ACTS Model into Practice for Bedtime Prayers

I now put the ACTS model into practice almost every night with Christian. After reading him a bedtime story and singing a spiritual song with him, I usually ask him a series of questions, drawing out responses in accordance with the ACTS model. These questions are:

1. What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for? [This is also a good opportunity to review some of his Baptist catechism questions concerning who God is.]

2. What sin or sins have you done today that you need to confess and ask God forgiveness for?

3. Who is one person you have seen or what is one thing you have done today that you can thank God for?

4. What is one thing that you or someone else needs that you can ask God for? [At this point I often remind Christian of specific needs his friends or family has.]

Lately, I have been reading from biographies of U.S. presidents (versions written for children) to Christian each day. (Yes, I am a former Political Science teacher!) In conjunction with this, and due to 1 Timothy 2:1-2, I also have Christian pray for President Obama each evening.

After Christian answers all of the questions listed above (so that he has thought through what he is about to say to God), I have him pray.

Bedtime Prayers as a Tool for Evaluating My Child's Spiritual State

One benefit of using the ACTS model for praying, along with the questions I've mentioned, is that the conversation that takes place before prayer allows me a window into Christian's spiritual condition. For example: I have learned that when the Apostle Paul mentioned people whose "god is their belly" (Phil 3:19), he must have had a prophetic vision of my son in his mind. Seriously, though the boy eats roughly his own body weight in food each day, his mind is still constantly focused on eating. (Once, when we were reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Christian told me that he wants to be Augustus Gloop!) If I do not direct him away from this tendency, our bedtime conversation will invariably take the following form:

1. Me: What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for? Christian: He makes food for us.

2. Me: What sin or sins have you done today that you need to confess and ask God forgiveness for? Christian: I don't know.

3. Me: Who is one person you have seen or what is one thing you have done today that you can thank God for?
Christian: I ate food.

4. Me: What is one thing that you or someone else needs that you can ask God for? Christian: More food!

[I now often have to include, "Besides food..." in the questions.]

Sometimes, however, the conversation can turn in a more profitable direction. Recently, when I asked, "What is one thing that you know about God that you should love Him for?" Christian thought for a minute, then answered, "I only love God because I'm supposed to, not because I want to." We talked about this for awhile, but-as it was bedtime-Christian was sleepy and lost focus on what we were discussing. However, the conversation was certainly informative, allowing me to pray for my son more consistently and to be mindful of future opportunities to discuss love for God with him.

Conclusion

I'm posting this here in hopes that someone might find it helpful. Please note that I don't believe the forms of praying that I mention above are the only way to pray; these methods have just proved useful in my family. Also, I will freely admit that the quality of nightly prayer in our home is not necessarily the same each evening; depending on how tired my children are, if they are in a complaining mood, or if I am in a bad mood due to different stresses during the day, the process of praying with them can feel like pulling teeth. But, overall, the prayers each night have been a blessing to our household, and I hope that readers will be blessed through focused family prayers as well.

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Thursday, February 07, 2019

Samuel Renihan on Moral Law and Positive Law

[The following is an excerpt from "The Consequences of Positive Law: The Particular Baptists’ Use of Inferential Reasoning in Theology," Samuel Renihan, Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (2016): 125-126. Understanding the distinction and relationship between moral law and positive law is crucial to understanding God's commands, and thus crucial to understanding both what the Bible means and how it applies to our lives today.]

"To define positive law, we must first define moral law. Moral law refers to the universal law of nature as expressed in the Decalogue, binding on all mankind at all times. Positive laws are specific laws given by God for a specific people for a specific time. For example, that Adam should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a positive law. Apart from a direct divine command, it was not morally wrong for Adam to eat of that tree. But God positively prohibited Adam from eating it. Since Adam had a moral obligation to obey God, eating from the tree became sinful. Similarly, circumcision, Passover, the sacrificial system, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are all positive ordinances. They are built on commands that must be obeyed, strictly and exactly. The observance of these ordinances was not the result of some inherent morality in such practices, but simply obedience to the God who issued the commands. Therefore, failure to obey these commands was disobedience to God and just as sinful as an inherently immoral act. Adam fell because of a violation of a positive command. Nadab and Abihu were consumed for violation of positive laws. Positive laws were no less binding, but they were of a different character than the moral law. Positive laws are given in the context of covenantal life and worship. Thus they rise and fall with their covenants. New Testament believers are not required to follow the positive laws of Israel beyond their general equity (2LCF 19.4). We are free to eat bacon with a clear conscience because it is perfectly moral to do so. Under the Old Covenant, it was forbidden by positive law."

[Emphasis added. HT:: Pastor Cali.]

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Something Jesus Didn't Know

[In his sermon from January 27, 2019, Pastor Mitch Chase of Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY spent some time helpfully and worshipfully exploring Jesus’ words from Mark 13:32, “But concerning that day or that hour [of the Son’s return and the Final Judgment] no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” A transcript of this portion of the sermon follows:]

“How can the Son say that He does not know something?

“We should see [Jesus’] claim that ‘the Son does not know, but only the Father’ as in the same category of other truths about Jesus in His humanity. Let’s follow a certain line of reasoning here by borrowing events from the other gospels. In His humanity, Jesus became truly hungry. He became truly thirsty. He became truly tired… In Luke 2:52, we’re told that Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, regarding His humanity. These are all things that we can affirm as part of His genuine humanity. Jesus was not pretending to be human. He did not just appear to be a man. He was truly Man, with a human mind, who said to the Father in Mark 14, ‘Not My will but Your will be done.’ His humanity, in His weakness and frailty, was on display again and again. He was born, He needed to grow, His brain had to develop… He had to learn to speak, learn to walk, learn to write: truly human. We must not be so eager to affirm His deity that we deny to Him a genuine humanity. That’s not helpful; it creates an imbalance that fails to make sense of a whole host of gospel passages.

“I think we can understand certain actions of Christ in His ministry as according to the divine nature or according to His human nature in different episodes. Such as: when Jesus walks on the water, when He forgives sins, when He claims, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ when He stills the storm, He’s doing these things according to His divine nature; these are not things that a mere man does. But when He is thirsty, when He is tempted, when He has to walk from one city to the next, when He sleeps because He is tired: all of these are a part of a category showing His humanity is on display as well in the Gospels. This is the paradox of the incarnation. And you [the reader] see these things going on, and yet it is one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, [who has] two natures on display in His ministry.

“Jesus knew, as a man, what the Father gave Him [to know]. As an obedient Son, He lived in submission to the Father, saying that He does what the Father gives Him to do, and all that the Father gave Him to say, He has said. And so, as a man, what He knows is what He has been given to know. So when He says, ‘The Son does not know,’ I think He is speaking about the same way in which we would see genuine tiredness or thirst; He’s saying, ‘It’s not given to Man to know the time of the [Final] Judgment; it’s not given to Man, and I am one too.’

“So in His claims, He is demonstrating and putting on display what elsewhere we see as His truly human nature. He lived in prayerful dependence upon the Father and Spirit. He walked in a manner that was pleasing and sinless, and also fully human.”

[Listen to the entire sermon HERE.]

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Monday, February 04, 2019

Prayer: ACTS Model, etc.

[This was originally posted on August 4, 2011. I post this in the hope that some reader will find it helpful in your own prayers.]

When I come before the LORD in prayer and am not sure what to say, I often follow the model prayer given by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13. Thinking through this specific passage, however, can sometimes lead to rather stilted prayers (kind of like taking note cards into a personal conversation: having to think to remember each phrase of the Lord's Prayer before speaking) or to rote prayers (in which I'm just repeating the phrases without thinking). So, on other occasions, I will follow the ACTS model for prayer. ACTS stands for:
I've heard this model suggested by many Christian leaders I respect: from Kevin Pounds to R.C. Sproul. It is based on the principles found in the Lord's Prayer (and other prayers in Scripture) as well as the specific verses mentioned above.

When I come to the "supplication" section, I often think through the areas of responsibility in which God has placed me, prioritizing those areas in my intercessions for their needs roughly as follows:


2. Children [Eph 6:4; 1 Tim 5:8]

3. Church [1 Sam 12:23; 1 Cor 1:2]

4. Extended family [Eph 6:1-3; 1 Tim 5:8]

5. Friends [Prov 18:24; Eccl 4:9-11]

6. Nation [2 Tim 1:1-2; 1 Pet 2:17]

7. Employers [Eph 6:5-8; 1 Pet 2:18]

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