New City Catechism – Week 42

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Q42: How is the Word of God to be read and heard?

A42: With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Men have a “funny” way of not utilizing the owners manual for a newly acquired device, piece of furniture, or pretty much anything that comes with a manual. Admittedly, I sometimes fall in this category. Unless something goes wrong or I can’t figure something out, I’m not looking at the manual. Most things are pretty self-explanatory. At my age, I can either figure it out based on past experience, or I’ll just muscle my way and figure it out through using the product.

This approach has some obvious flaws. The biggest one being that I never truly understand the intricacies of the product. How many times has someone showed you something about a product in your house which you’ve had for a while and you never knew it was able to do that?

I think we approach the Bible at times like that. Either we’ve read it and don’t feel compelled to review what we’ve already read. Or we assume we know what it already means. This isn’t a new issue. People have felt this way about the Bible throughout the years. I imagine that’s one of the reasons Paul wrote of the Bible’s power to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:16,17.

I had a professor in college who used to say, “The Bible is like any other book [in that it tells history and is a great read], but it’s also unlike any other book [it’s life-changing].” Have we lost a little of that life-changing power of God’s words to us? Do we prepare ourselves when we read it personally or when we are worshipping corporately on Sundays?

I can be guilty of this. My heart isn’t always in the right place when I spend time in the Word. I don’t always set aside distractions as I read and often miss some important concepts. I had a friend post a question on social media the other day: what movie did you not like/understand the first time you watched it but developed a liking for it the next time you watched it? Such a great question to ask about the Bible.

What are we missing out on by not approaching our time with the Bible “With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives”?

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 41

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“Let Your Kingdom Come” View question on
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Q41: What is the Lord’s Prayer?

A41: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

This model prayer, given by Jesus to teach his disciples how to pray, has been repeated by Christians for centuries. Found in Matthew 6:9-13, the Lord’s Prayer is indeed a rich storehouse of instruction for Christians on the topic of prayer.

Unfortunately, some have turned this model prayer into something of a magical formula, to simply be repeated word-for-word. While using Jesus’ exact words in our prayers may sometimes be helpful, we will experience a greater benefit by looking at the structure and substance of his model prayer and applying it to our own prayer life.

Volumes of commentary have been written on the Lord’s prayer. I do not have time or space to examine each section of the prayer, but I would like to make three observations.

First of all, when we come to God in prayer we are coming to him as a Father. We can trust his intentions for us, even when he leads us through difficult circumstances that we would not choose for ourselves. Charles Spurgeon once wrote we should remember that “had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”

Next, notice that praise and submission to God take the primary location in the prayer. Immediately the Lord’s prayer begins with three requests: that God’s name be hallowed (that is, honored and revered), his kingdom come, and his will be done. Again, these requests are putting our requests and our will in their proper place of submission to God. We acknowledge that our perspective is limited, and that our ultimate desire is for all things to come under God’s good rule.

A final observation is that it is right to come to God with our needs. It recognizes the fact of our dependence on him. Our needs are not met by our own toil or accomplishment, but out of God’s gracious provision.

Let’s come to God with thankfulness, submission and humble expectation. Those attitudes in prayer will conform us to his will, just as Jesus taught us to pray.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 40

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“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”
(Hymn #80 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q40: What should we pray?

A40: The whole Word of God directs and inspires us in what we should pray, including the prayer Jesus himself taught us.

When we first read the question as written, we would be tempted to start listing all the kinds of prayers, supplications, and examples of prayer provided in the scripture. We would want to go immediately to the Lord’s Prayer, and look at each part.

But the question is intended to be even more basic than that. (We will look at the Lord’s Prayer next week.) The question, “what should we pray” is asking, what is it that should regulate, inform, direct and inspire how we pray.  The Word of God should direct us.

If prayer is simply asking God for whatever we desire, our prayers could be so selfishly motivated or even sinfully motivated that God would not hear us. (James 4:3) The content of such prayers, the attitude, and motives could be completely contrary to God’s design.

Instead, we look to God’s revelation to us, the Bible, to understand the one to whom we’re praying, how He ought to be addressed, what requests He encourages, and to understand His will. We let God by His Word conform even our praying to His understanding and not our own.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Praying in this way does not remove the humanity of our prayers, nor turn them into a vain repetition. Our prayers will still flow freely from our hearts. They will, however, hew to the scripture and be more likely to conform us to Him in the process of praying.

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 39

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“Have Thine Own Way” View question on
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Q39: With what attitude should we pray?

A39: With love, perseverance, and gratefulness; in humble submission to God’s will, knowing that, for the sake of Christ, he always hears our prayers.

It’s easy to narrow people down to two groups. Those who like “ABC” and those who don’t. You can substitute almost anything for “ABC”. People who like to read and those who don’t. People who like jazz music and those who don’t. There are endless examples.

When it comes to kids, it’s no different. For example: those who ask the right way and those who don’t. Some kids have learned how to ask or have been taught how to ask. They approach the request carefully, making sure they don’t do it at a wrong time, or more importantly, ask for something which they know isn’t possibly going to happen (too much money, etc.). Then you have the other kind of child. They either haven’t been taught or simply don’t care about the timing or the request itself. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an entreaty. It’s more of a demand. There’s no tact, humility, or even gratitude.

Sometimes, I find myself praying like the second child. I don’t do it intentionally. I forget who I’m talking to. Paul tells us to pray with some guidelines in Philippians 4:6. The overall idea is four-fold.

First, we pray in love. We love God for who he is, not just for what he’s capable of doing for us. We lovingly turn to him because we know he is the ultimate Provider. Second, we pray with perseverance. I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told about the woman who was insistent before the judge (Luke 18). She wasn’t rude. There’s a difference between persistent and annoying.

Third, we pray with gratefulness. Whether we receive the answer we hoped for or not, we pray to a God who always listens and is always in control. It’s never easy to see prayer answered in a way we might not agree with. But there is a comfort in knowing he’s still in control. Sometimes, the loving parent doesn’t say “yes” to a child’s request because there’s something the child is unaware of.

Finally, we pray according to his will. Jesus gave a great example of this in the garden the night he was betrayed. He was honest with the Father. He wasn’t looking forward to the cross, but he was obedient and wanted to accomplish the Father’s will above all.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 38

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“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul”
(Hymn #52 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q38: What is prayer?

A38: Prayer is pouring out our hearts to God in praise, petition, confession of sin, and thanksgiving.

On one hand, prayer seems like it would be simple. And it can be: we are talking to God, “pouring out our hearts,” as Psalm 62:8 says. However, sometimes what should be a simple and natural activity can become difficult and strained. Our minds wander. We struggle to know what to say. Or we fall into prayer “ruts” where we are praying the same phrases over and over.

Our catechism this week can help with the content of our prayers. It gives four main categories, or components of prayer. I have often seen these same four categories represented with an easy-to-remember acronym: ACTS. These letters stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

A – Adoration. It is a good habit to begin our prayers with intentional worship of God. It helps us to remember that he is the focus of our prayers, not us, and that in prayer we have an audience with the glorious, powerful, majestic God of the universe. Sometimes I try to think of one specific attribute of God (eternal, all-powerful, wise, loving, just) and use that as the focus of my prayers of adoration.

C – Confession. Our worship of God exposes the vast difference between his holiness and our sinful hearts. It is appropriate to spend regular time in prayer searching our hearts to confess sin before God. Don’t move too quickly through this portion of prayer, ask God to reveal subtle attitudes or thoughts that are not pleasing to him (Psalm 139:23-24).

T – Thanksgiving. It’s not just for the fourth Thursday of November. C.J. Mahaney reminds us that we are always “better than we deserve.” This aspect of prayer is important not just to acknowledge God’s many blessings, but also to remind ourselves of them (Psalm 103:1-5). In fact, by spending deliberate time thanking God, we may find a different perspective on the things we will ask him for.

S – Supplication. This simply means that point in prayer where we bring requests to God. Pray for things that are heavy on your heart. Pray for the sick and the hurting. Pray for your lost friends, neighbors and co-workers. Pray for the persecuted church and the global advance of the gospel.

There is nothing magical about any formula for prayer, and if you find the ACTS model helpful, don’t feel like you must include every element every single time you pray. However, it can be a help to make sure our prayers don’t just become a laundry list of requests, or meaningless repetition. God delights in the prayers of his people (Proverbs 15:8), let’s enjoy the wonderful privilege we have to speak to him.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 37

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“Spirit of God”
(Sovereign Grace Music)
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Q37: How does the Holy Spirit help us?

A37: The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, comforts us, guides us, gives us spiritual gifts and the desire to obey God; and he enables us to pray and to understand God’s Word.

The question, “how does the Holy Spirit help us”, is worded in a very biblical way. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever”  (John 14:16). A few verses later we realize that our helper is the Holy Spirit, But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Yes, as the helper, sent by Christ, he helps. But how?

The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin. This is stated in John 16:8. This was evident on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came with power upon the church and then Peter preached to the crowds. They were cut to the heart and repented under the preached word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit works in us as we battle sin. Paul says that we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit (Romans 8:13).

The Holy Spirit is a comforter. The word “helper” is sometimes translated “comforter.” The word literally speaks of one who comes along side of another to help, aid, advocate for and comfort.  When we are exhausted and do not know how to pray, he helps us by praying for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

By the Spirit we are fashioned into the image of Christ. The fruits of our faith in Christ are called the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness are all those good things that he works out in us. By Him we grow in Christlikeness, holiness and obedience.

As the one who moved men to write the very words of scripture, (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21) the Holy Spirit is the one who illuminates those words to our hearts and minds. They are words and they are life but they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Holy Spirit is our helper. He is not an impersonal force, but the third person of the Deity and our constant helper and friend.

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 36

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“Wonderful, Merciful Savior”
(Hymn #162 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q36: What do we believe about the Holy Spirit?

A36: That he is God, coeternal with the Father and the Son, and that God grants him irrevocably to all who believe.

Two basic questions arise concerning the Holy Spirit.  Who is he and what is he all about? This week we focus on who he is. What do we believe about him?

Simply put, “he is God.” He is God, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. In the book of Acts, when Peter is speaking to Ananias, he says, “…why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)

Peter puts the word “God” in apposition to the person of the “Holy Spirit.” This tells us that the Holy Spirit is God. There are many such scriptures that put the Holy Spirit alongside the names of the Father and the Son.  Jesus commands us for instance to baptize in the name of The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

By saying that he is “coeternal” with the Father, we are affirming that He has always been in the unity of the three. He is not a created being or he would not be God. Just as the scripture says of Christ, the word, that he was in the beginning with God (John 1:2), so we affirm that the Spirit was with the Father and the Son in the beginning as well (Genesis 1:2)

God gives the Spirit to indwell all those who are in Christ. Every believer can be assured that the Spirit dwells within him or her, because God has made this a promise. In Ephesians, Paul writes, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

This gift of His Spirit is irrevocable, which means He will not be taken from us.  His presence is a guarantee that takes us into eternity. Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,” (John 14:16).

-Pastor Jay

New City Catechism – Week 35

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“O Great God”
(Hymn #35 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q35:  Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through faith alone, where does this faith come from?

A35:  All the gifts we receive from Christ we receive through the Holy Spirit, including faith itself.

One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride, which has a classic scene where people must determine the status of Westley, a main character who has died. The question is whether Westley is only “mostly dead” (with some hope he can be brought back to life) or “all dead” (no chance). Even though the movie is 30 years old, I won’t give away the answer to spoil it for you.

There is a parallel as we think about salvation. The question is: what was the status of our souls before we were saved? Or you could think of it this way: how much did the Fall corrupt our nature? In our fallen state, are we only “mostly dead,” with a spark of spiritual life inside us that we needed to nurture and fan into flame, to bring about our salvation?

The Bible is emphatically clear on the answer. Ephesians 2:1 says “you were dead” (and that means all dead). There is nothing a dead man can do towards his own salvation. Without a powerful outside force, one that is powerful enough to overcome even death, that man is without hope.

Bob Kauflin’s hymn “O Great God” says it well:

I was blinded by my sin
Had no ears to hear Your voice
Did not know Your love within
Had no taste for heaven’s joys

It was out of that state that we were saved. Titus 3:5 gives a clear statement that the “washing of regeneration” and renewal of our hearts comes only by the Holy Spirit. At one level, this truth can be offensive to our pride (1 Cor 1:18, Gal 5:11). We don’t want to admit that we are unable to please God, because it means we must humble ourselves. Coming to the cross means we must lay down all of our pride, whether it be in status or in achievements.

However, this truth should also cause us to worship. As we look at our salvation in retrospect we come to marvel that God would choose to save us. We do not look down on others because we remember that we were not saved through our own goodness, but through God’s mercy.

And then we conclude with the hymn that God is “worthy to be praised with my every thought and deed.” Let’s bring him our grateful praises for the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit.

-Pastor Jonathan

New City Catechism – Week 34

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“Take My Life and Let it Be”
(Hymn #375 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q34: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word? 

A34: Yes, because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Spirit; so that our lives may show love and gratitude to God; so that we may be assured of our faith by the fruits; and so that by our godly behavior others may be won to Christ.

I find a certain peace in a trustworthy mechanic. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve found one and utilized them. I’m not a car guy. I like cars, but working on them isn’t a skill I possess. So when I take the car to the mechanic, I enjoy not having to take it back the next day because something isn’t right. When the work is done, it’s done. No one wants to have to take it back because the job wasn’t finished.

In all of history, there has never been a more completed work than when Christ announced from the cross, “It is finished.” There was no more work to be done to conquer sin. Death would be overcome at the resurrection, but sin was completely defeated on that day. There is no need to return to the cross. Christ doesn’t need to die multiple times for sin to be vanquished. It is indeed finished.

It seems logical then to ask the question: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word? The work has been finished. We don’t need to keep sacrificing Christ. Our sins have been forgiven. So why are we still doing good works?

To continue the car example (which admittedly isn’t the best analogy!), not living Christ-like is comparable to intentionally ruining the work the mechanic just did. Granted, we’re not able to actually ruin anything that Christ has accomplished, but godly living shows to others our dedication to Christ and his completed work on the cross. We reveal our love for God when we live for him. Part of this is done through godly living displayed for others to see.

Show others your gratitude for Christ’s work by living for him each day!

-Pastor Jon

 

New City Catechism – Week 33

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“Not In Me”
(Hymn #405 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q33: Should those who have faith in Christ seek their salvation through their own works, or anywhere else?

A33: No, they should not, as everything necessary to salvation is found in Christ. To seek salvation through good works is a denial that Christ is the only Redeemer and Savior.

Most of us can probably guess the correct answer to this week’s catechism question. Of course, we shouldn’t seek our salvation in works. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). That is a basic tenant of Christianity, right?

However obvious that answer may seem, it’s one that is hard to grasp in practice. We must get to the point where we understand that we have nothing of value to add to our salvation. It’s not that Jesus contributes 50% and we contribute 50%. It’s not even that he contributes 99.999% and we have one little fraction of a percent. Unless our salvation is found completely, totally, in Christ, it is no salvation at all.

Tim Keller shares a helpful illustration:

Mr. A asked Mr. B to make him a wooden cabinet because Mr. B was a great cabinetmaker. Mr. B and Mr. A were friends, and therefore Mr. B said, “Well, I better make this really good . . . perfect.” So he worked and worked and worked on the cabinet till he got it to the place where it had been buffed and polished to perfection. He brought Mr. A into the workshop to see it, and Mr. A picked up a piece of sandpaper and said, “Let me just add one little stroke.” Mr. B said, “No! It is finished. It’s perfect. And there’s no way to add to it without subtracting from it.”

That’s how it is with our salvation. If we try to add something to it, we take away from the perfect nature of what Jesus Christ did, and it is no longer able to save us. We must come to him in a state of total helplessness.

And I must admit, that is difficult for me. I think it is difficult for many of us. Because we are taught to believe in ourselves, that we can do anything we want to do. Honestly, it’s offensive to my pride to say I don’t contribute to my salvation, and that I must humble myself and accept God’s free gift of salvation (Romans 3:24).

The Christian life is full of commands. We are told in the Bible to sing, pray, read, meditate, give, tell, and go. Yet we must remember that all these actions flow out of our status as children of God. They do not save us. Only Jesus does. And only Jesus keeps us saved by his sustaining grace (2 Tim 1:12, Jude 24). We obey because we are loved. The challenge is to kill the pride that sees our obedience and good works (necessary and expected elements of following Christ) as somehow making us more deserving of salvation. Instead, look to Christ alone, for “all other ground is sinking sand.”

-Pastor Jonathan