Christ’s Ascension and Ours

 

 

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[Jesus] presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. . . . And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:3, 9-11

Do you remember back to April 5 when we celebrated Resurrection Sunday? Well, tomorrow will be the 40th day after Easter – 40 days, which Luke tells us in Acts 1.3 is the amount of time Jesus made resurrection appearances before ascending to the Father’s right hand. When I shared this with my wife this morning, she responded with surprise that Jesus had remained on earth so long before ascending.

It is very easy for us to forget about the historical dimension of the gospel and mainly think of it in terms of abstract theological truth (a potential pitfall of being so thoroughly grounded in the Apostles’ Creed?). But yes, all the time that has been spent since April 5 is the amount of time that Jesus revealed himself as the resurrected Lord and Savior. It is fun to think about what it must have been like to fellowship with Christ and to learn from him about his kingdom during that time.

But, as great as it is to do that, there is an even more important reason to keep history in the forefront of our faith when considering Christ’s ascension. We read of this in Ephesians:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus– Ephesians 2:1-6

In Christ, we participate in his ascension, but not only in the future when he returns, but right now, currently, within history. When we forget about the past historical dimension of Christ’s life and ministry, we tend to forget about the present historical reality of your ascension in him, today – if you are united to him by faith.

In in what is before you, today, what would your life look like if lived as one already “made alive together with Christ…and raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places”?

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ~ BCP

Advantages to Small Group Ministry

“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” ~ Acts 5.42

Ministering in homes was an important feature of the apostolic ministry. As I have recently accepted a call to Church Creek Presbyterian, I have been encouraged by the session to put together a “house to house” ministry that will afford our folks an opportunity to build community and encourage discipleship that complements our Lord’s Day ministry of the outward and ordinary means of grace.

In preparing for leadership training for the small group leaders, I have enjoyed reading Colin Marshall’s Growth Groups: A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups. In it, Marshall offers 9 major advantages that small group ministry provides a church.

  1. Learning how to read the Bible.
  2. Applying the Bible
  3. Educational Process
  4. Prayer
  5. Training and using people’s gifts to multiply ministry
  6. Communication of church vision and plans
  7. Shepherding
  8. Establishing new members and new Christians
  9. Reaching the world through Growth Groups

One of the things I have appreciated so far about the book is the emphasis on Christ-centered discipleship–constantly receiving Christ for who he is and what he has done for us and then trusting Christ by following only him as Lord in the midst of a world of alternatives. For Marshall, receiving and following Christ is not merely limited to an inward focus on the church, but also means looking outwardly to bring others into this reception of Christ and encouragement to follow him.

I am excited to put this together for this church. It is something I have desired to do for many years but was never able to do because of other things that required my attention. I came to know Christ through the ministry of Campus Outreach, which was a ministry that focused on the things Marshall talks about in his book. And one of the major reasons I wanted to go into ministry was to see these things done in the local church and not just on the college campus. I can’t wait to see what the Lord will do with this!

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy

I love the deep thoughts humor of Jack Handy, here are a couple real funny ones my wife, Christy, shared with me. The second one below has been her favorite for years.

“The next time I have meat and mashed potatoes, I think I’ll put a very large blob of potatoes on my plate with just a little piece of meat. And if someone asks me why I didn’t get more meat, I’ll just say, ‘Oh, you mean this?’ and pull out a big piece of meat from inside the blob of potatoes, where I’ve
hidden it. Good magic trick, huh?”

“To me, it’s a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, ‘Hey, can you give me a hand?’ You can say, ‘Sorry, got these sacks.'”

Weekly Prayer Meeting as Prayer Liturgy

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come . . .” (Lk 11:2).

The weekly, public prayer meeting of the church seems to be going the way of the Sunday evening service – they are disappearing.  Among churches that still advertise one, many of them end up being Bible studies instead of times of prayer. Now there are probably tons of reasons for this, but at the root, I think it comes down to the simple fact that public prayer is difficult and uncomfortable for many, if not most. As I mentioned last week, some have suggested there is a real problem in the church today with people approaching prayer self-centeredly and pragmatically, to which I agree. However, many are uncomfortable speaking publicly, let alone, praying publicly. Some have had tough days at home, school, or work and are distracted. Some come out of a sense of duty, instead of devotion and delight. Some have not been spending time in private devotion or practicing the presence of God throughout the day, which makes it difficult to come in the evening and suddenly enter into worshipful dependence on God. If there is a temptation to self-centered, pragmatic prayers in individuals, how much more when you get in a group?  If we can’t express our worshipful dependence on God in private, we probably won’t be able to do it in public either.

The result of all this? Many just don’t value the weekly prayer meeting and see it as a waste of time. As a pastor I long see myself and those in my congregation enjoy the blessing of praying to God as worshipful dependence, especially communally. So, to help this time be centered on God and not just ourselves, to help those who are shy and lack confidence to pray out loud, to promote our requests to be set in the context of worship, to help those quiet their hearts from a long day, to assist those who have not been praying throughout the day, to help those who are there more out of duty than devotion, the session of the church I pastor has changed the format of the weekly prayer meeting to a weekly prayer liturgy. The liturgy is arranged to help us worship, includes all the elements of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication, and has sections for corporate and private prayers. In addition to using it during the prayer service, it also provides families something to use at home to help their family worship.

Here is what we prayed last night (I have removed the specifics from the individual prayers of intercession): Continue reading

The Temptation of Professorial Ministry

This past Sunday morning during Sunday School, we spent time talking about the sermon text Romans 8:31-39. In the sermon I had talked about God’s commitment to conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ and the security that commitment gives us to follow our Savior. It is a security grounded in a divine marriage that we have with a loving husband who has given himself for us – and therefore – will not let us go. This love grants us the courage and freedom to give ourselves away to him, or as Isaac Watts has said,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The goal of ministry is for the pastor to believe this, and practice this, in order to help others embrace and practice it, as well. However, how do you embrace such an urgent message, let alone lead others to embrace it when things just don’t seem that urgent to us? Continue reading

Preparing Yourself for Sabbath Worship

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faint for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. ~ Psalm 84:1-2

The words of the psalmist personify the desires of his heart for God, especially the public the worship of God. But these words, let alone his desires for the public worship of God, are not to be the psalmist’s alone – God has provided them to be the substance of our prayers and desires as well. But these do not come naturally for most, especially because of the many struggles of the week that have gripped our emotions and attentions. So we need to quiet our hearts, and prepare ourselves for worship.

Psalm 116 is a great psalm to help us reflect on God’s love and mercy for us as he is present within our daily lives,  listening to our prayers and delivering us from our trouble. Psalm 116.1-8:

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;

Reflecting on God’s presence with us helps us put the work week in perspective, so that we can be reminded of the greater world that exists outside our personal lives and struggles. That greater world?  Continue reading

Dinesh D’Souza and Corinthian Christianity

Carl Trueman with a needed perspective concerning the Dinesh D’Souza (see here, here, and here) situation in specific, and the whole culture of celebrity christianity (yes, I left the “c” in lower case on purpose) in general. I have seen many posts on this situation, and it has saddened me to see so many Christians focusing on the political nature of the tragedy and the moral imperative for each of us to do our own house-cleaning – Trueman zero’s in on a deeper sin that this situation has revealed.

I have not spoken on the subject because I purposely stay away from political issues – but it doesn’t matter that I have not addressed it, for Jesus already has:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? ~ Mark 8:34-36

The Importance of Attidude in Confessional Subscription

Over at Reformation 21, Carl Trueman asks,

I wonder: do good churches go bad because they appoint closet liberals to the ministry? Or do they go bad because they appoint good people to the ministry who do not understand the nature and importance of confessional subscription and who will therefore, wittingly or unwittingly, help to water down the very mechanisms established by the church to preserve the gospel for the next generation?

Trueman highlights a very important detail concerning confessional subscription that is often left out of the discussion – the attitude with which one subscribes. Subscription should be a matter of conviction, not convenience.

Check out his essay here.

Praying God-Centered, Scriptural Prayers

Is your church committed to prayer? Are you committed to prayer? These can be difficult questions, as Robert Murray McCheyne noted, “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.” I do not wish to humble you about your prayer life, but to encourage you in your prayer life.

As I have been preaching through Romans 8, I have been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on prayer. In Romans 8, one of the ways the Apostle Paul describes the Spirit-filled life is as a life of prayer. “Living by the Spirit,” “being led by the Spirit,” and having “the Spirit of adoption” are expressed in our Christian pilgrimage as we cry out “Abba! Father!” (13-15). The Spirit leads us to glory by uniting us to Christ so that we follow his path of suffering that leads to glory (17), a suffering that leads us to “groan inwardly” as we endure and wait for our redemption (23). Throughout the struggle of our pilgrimage, the Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding for us when we are so confounded that we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves (26).

As Iraneaus once said, “We live in a veil of tears that is an engine of soul-making. In this life, we Christians are being made into saints, and it takes suffering to make saints.” The life of faith – the Spirit filled life- is a life of prayer. And a life of prayer is a Spirit empowered, persevering, patient, engagement with the world, the flesh and the devil, that is encouraged by the knowledge of God’s purposes for his people. If we are going to find any aid, if we are going to find any help, if we are going to find any comfort, we must look outside ourselves – we must look to Christ. And one way to do that is through prayer. Continue reading