Monday, May 25, 2020
Driven to Our Knees by CCP COVID-19
Elmer Homrighausen, who retired as professor and dean of the seminary a few years before I dropped by, was guest lecturing in a homiletics class taught by my eventual dissertation advisor Donald Macleod.
Both were erudite scholars.
In other words, we knew they were smart but often didn’t have a clue about what they were saying.
Anyway, I’ll never forget when Dr. Homrighausen said, “When you preach, deliver the turkey. Don’t pluck it in front of them.”
Or as I also heard, “No one cares what Cyril of Jerusalem said. People want to know what you know from what you’ve learned about faith.”
I’m reminded of the preacher’s wife who left a note for him with one word: KISS. When he thanked her for being so romantic, she said, “No, it was an acrostic: ‘Keep it short, stupid!’”
Not long after finishing my dissertation, Dr. Macleod asked if I’d like to worship in a little church with him some Sunday evening. The church wasn’t far from one of the most iconic churches in American history – a church that had been served by some of the most erudite pastor-scholars.
I knew he had something on his mind a few minutes into the service when I finally got around to going with him.
Unlike the rather formal, traditional, high-brow, stuffy, snotty, snooty and socioeconomically elevated church that he attended on Sunday mornings, the evening service was marked by authenticity, diversity, energy, freedom and simplicity.
It seemed so ironic.
My professor, mentor and friend was known as one of the most exacting liturgists and homileticians in the history of Reformed Christendom; and here we were worshiping in a church with really passionate people about Jesus with no liturgy or litany or bulletin or vestments or antependia or fancy communion ware and silly looking little plastic cups or printed prayers or responsive readings or…
They sang praises, listened to a sermon that went for about an hour or so, prayed, went to the table and then left.
I was speechless.
Sensing I was having a hard time understanding what he was doing there, he looked at me almost sheepishly and confessed, “Do you remember when Elmer came to your class on Reformed Worship when I taught you? I’ve always thirsted for a simply saving experience of God. I find it/Him with those lovely believers on Sunday nights. I still go to old Nassau on Sunday mornings to pay my respects and because I’m expected to go as a professor. It’s iconic, you know. But I go on Sunday evenings to church to worship and get close to God.”
That’s every believer’s prayer.
Let’s read Matthew 6 and Romans 13:11-14.
Traditionally, I’ve always quoted the early 17th century definition of prayer in The Shorter Catechism: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.”
Practically/usefully, I’ve preferred my first pastoral mentor The Rev. Harold F. Mante’s definition: “Bobby, prayer is just talking to God about everything. Just talk to Him. He’s your Dad.”
“When Jesus was asked by His disciples how to pray,” Mother Teresa replied when asked how to pray, “He did not teach them any methods or techniques. He said that we should speak to God as our Father, a loving Father.”
God knows if we’ve ever needed our Dad, now’s the time.
What a mess!
You know what I’m talking about.
We’ve been driven to our knees by CCP COVID-19; and it’s exactly where where we need to be to survive, overcome and live happily ever after by grace through faith in Jesus.
Jesus said prayer that works is authentic: “It’s between you and God even if others are listening in…You don’t pray to show off for people - to impress them by how holy you are…Just pray…Just talk to God and He will take care of you…Don’t babble on and on with rotely and religiously repeated scripts…Pray…Talk to God…He just wants to talk with You…Besides, He knows what you need before you ask Him.”
A favorite illustration of prayer as part of our personal relationship with God comes from Tony. A woman complained about his prayers being too earthy and raw and, well, uh, real. He snapped, “Listen, lady, I wasn’t talking to you!”
Then Jesus provided a perfect pattern for prayer that we’ve called The Lord’s Prayer ever since.
Let’s take a quick look.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven” is our appeal to the only One capable of caring for all of us regardless of who, what, where, when or why because only He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
“Hallowed by Thy name” confesses God to be holy, holy, holy and deserving of our respect, reverence, trust and obedience.
“Thy Kingdom come” means we want God to be in charge right now! We are convinced Father knows best and wants the best for everyone and everyone experiences the best when He’s in charge.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” acknowledges there’s no guessing required when it comes to God’s will for our lives. It has been clearly, concisely and conclusively communicated to us in Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book. We want God honored on earth just like He’s honored in heaven.
“Give us this day our daily bread” is an appeal to God for what we need to keep on keepin’ on. We have belly and soul needs. We depend upon God for ‘em. He takes care of ‘em all as long as we ask Him with a desire to be for Him: “Seek God first and He will take care of everything else.”
“And forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us” is good news if we’re willing to pay attention to it/Him. We don’t have to remember who we were as long we don’t remember who they were! Cataloging sin is out! All of our past, present and future sins against God are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus as long as we offer the same mercy and grace to others. If not, not.
“And lead us not into temptation” recognizes bad things taste good. Because bad things that taste good lead to spiritual indigestion and disruption of holy communion and so much pain for others as well as ourselves, we beg God’s help to avoid anyone and anything that hurts us by hurting our relationships with Him and His.”
“But deliver us from the evil one” recognizes the liar behind the lies, deceiver behind the deceptions, manipulator behind the messy madness and energy fueling the Antichrist and its accomplices to undermine, attack and seek to destroy anything of/for God. We know God wins the war. We’re asking Him to help us win the battles in the meantime.
“For Thine is the Kingdom , and the power, and the glory, forever” declares victory in advance! The Author is the Owner! We can’t lose if we’re on God’s team/side by grace through faith in Jesus.
“Amen” is our praising punctuation. That’s right! So be it! Yes!
One of the most ridiculous claims of government, law enforcement, jurisprudence and Godless social engineers is prayer can be outlawed in public education and discourse.
They can’t because it can’t.
Nobody can stop us from praying anywhere at anytime with anybody.
I like how Robert Schuller put it: “Prayer is like a VW with an open sun roof.”
Paul’s prescription is the irrepressible opportunity: “Pray constantly! Pray without ceasing! Pray persistently! Pray passionately!”
Now let’s go deeper with help from Romans 13:11-14.
Paul was writing to Christians at a time much like ours.
The government’s control needs were out of control – unreasonable, hypocritical, overreaching, violating basic human rights, limiting worship, exercising state over church and setting a precedent for today’s abrogation of the 1st Amendment – and Christians wanted to know how they should respond.
Contextually, we know Paul expected Christians to respect and even obey government as long as government respects and obeys God. If so, so. If not, not. Again, never forget as a pattern for our lives that this same apostle who expected us to respect and obey Godly authority was jailed and beaten at least three times and ultimately martyred for disobeying laws made by Godless civil and religious governments.
It’s also eternally important to keep Paul’s eschatology in mind. Everything that we’re thinking, praying, saying and doing must be with the second coming of Jesus in mind.
Paul has an urgent message for us in times like ours to be covered in prayer with the expectation that Jesus is coming back.
He begins, “It’s time for you to wake up because now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The signs signaling that He’s coming are increasing in frequency and intensity. Get ready! Here He comes!”
Do yourself a favor and read the Olivet Discourse – Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21 - which is the clearest listing of the red letter words/signs of Jesus signaling His return to claim His own and commence graduation celebrations.
When he says “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed,” he’s saying just that!
When we look at the signs of the times concomitant to the Olivet Discourse and related prophecies in Ezekiel, Daniel and the writings of Paul and John with Revelation being the most explicit charting of the what is to come before history ends in His never-ending story of glory, we know He’s coming sooner than later.
Truly, we do not know the exact day and time.
Only Father God knows that.
But while we don’t know exactly when, it’s closer than it used to be!
With the imminence of His coming back to claim His own and conclude history as preface to eternity, Paul urges, “So let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency…Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Paul is telling us to be A.D. not B.C.
He is telling us to get ready for His return by discontinuing our B.C. or before Christ behaviors and be A.D. as living in the year of our Lord.
He is telling us to declare war on our old nature of bad behaviors without Him and walk the talk of being born again and from above with behaviors obedient to Him as God personified in Jesus and prescribed in the Bible.
A little poem comes to mind:
Two natures beat within my breast.
The one is foul. The one is blessed.
The one I love. The one I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.
Garbage in means garbage out.
Jesus in means we’re getting ready!
One more word.
We can’t have it both ways.
We can’t be B.C. and A.D. at the same time.
We can’t live before/without Jesus and after/with Jesus at the same time.
In times like these when we’re driven to our knees by circumstances and jolted into recognizing the end is really, really, really near which is the best news for Christians because it’s so heavenly, we no longer have the option of walking down the middle of the road or being moderate about faith or pretending to be innocent bystanders or postponing or tabling or distancing ourselves from God and the Body of Christ aka Church.
That’s all over.
God or not.
Heaven or hell.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce: “It is still either-or. If we insist on keeping hell, we shall not see heaven. If we accept heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of hell.”
There’s no such thing as just a little idolatry or adultery or stealing or gossiping or lying or..
Yes, we are saved by grace for works; pero God knows if we’re trying or mocking Him with a sin-now-repent-try-harder-later attitude.
God will not be mocked in the end.
Jesus was unmistakable about the most important decision that no one can avoid with eternal
consequences influencing existential realities: “No one can serve two masters…You are either for me or against Me.”
Either we esteem God by our behaviors emanating from our beliefs or we embarrass God by our behaviors emanating from our disbeliefs.
Let me put it another way.
Every day, we wake up and put on our clothes and wear those clothes throughout the day.
Christians wake up and put on Jesus and wear/communicate Jesus throughout the day.
We’re either esteeming or embarrassing Him.
Every day, we have a decision to make for or against Jesus.
When Jesus is our Lord and Savior, He is in our plans or we change our plans.
When Jesus is our Lord and Savior, He is in what say and do or we stop what we’re saying and doing.
We’ve been driven to our knees during this CCP COVID-19.
We’ve been there before and we’ll be there again.
It never changes because it never changes. It’s the nature of the beast. The inevitably of constant changes and challenges in life means we need God to save us over and over and over again.
That’s why our salvation is often mentioned in three tenses – past, present and future.
We have been saved.
It happened when we said yes to Jesus by inviting Him into our heads, hearts and guts as Lord and Savior and experienced existential relief in the assurance of eternal life in paradise après the last breath in time.
We are being saved.
It happens when we try harder to be “more better” or increasingly set apart aka holy in/through/for God. While heaven is guaranteed for all who believe in Jesus, the Bible is categorically and compellingly clear that our behaviors in time are related directly to being blessed in time. Again, we are saved by grace and for works that honor God.
We will be saved.
It will happen when Jesus comes back to claim us as His own forever.
So we’ve got a lot to talk about – pray about – with God.
As long as we keep Him as the foundation, focus and filter of our plans, creeds and deeds, we will be just fine.
Saved in all tenses.
Simply saved; and there’s nothing short about it.
Being saved by grace through faith in Jesus lasts forever.
Blessings and Love!