Prayer Day 50

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loving Father,

Thank you for forgiving us and accepting us back as sons and daughters.

Grant us teachable hearts, discerning minds, and strength for each new day.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, reveal to us the stumbling blocks that impede our progress as faithful servants.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Prayer Day 50

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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How Do We Nurture our Walk with the Lord?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col 3:12–13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

We must nurture our walk with the Lord, but control is not in our hands. “Discipleship means adherence to Christ” (Bonhoeffer 1995, 59).

Jesus tells the story of a man with two sons. The younger son came to him one day and asked for his inheritance in cash. He then took the money, left town, and began living in style. This reckless lifestyle did not last long and soon the young man had to get a job. Not being a planner, he had to accept degrading work. As the son’s mind began to wander, he remembered his good life at home and resolved to beg his father to take him back as a household servant. When the father saw that his son was coming, he went out to meet him and wrapped his arms around him. As the son began to apologize for his horrible behavior, his father would hear none of it. He took his son; cleaned him up; got him some new clothes [1]; and threw a party. Later, when his older brother came home and discovered the party, he became jealous and started behaving badly. But his father reminded him: “celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)

The story of the Prodigal Son shows a young man going through a series of challenges—transitions—that enabled him to see his father with new eyes and to accept his father’s help [2]. Without these challenges, he would not have been able to bridge the gap between him and his father.

For us, hospital visits often pose such transitions. Hospital visits normally start with a health problem; lead to a confusing period of medical treatment; and end with a return to life outside. The twist is that the health problem itself is often a symptom, not the real cause, of the visit. The real problem may be grief over the death of a family member, unresolved trauma from the past, or a bad lifestyle choice. Because a solution to the real problem remains clouded by denial, many people needlessly die of preventable diseases and treatable ailments.

Clouds also cover our journey of faith. We all deny the need for God’s grace and have nasty stumbling blocks—especially pride, other sins, and our own mortality—that must be removed in order to deliver us from our focus on ourselves. It is only through accepting God’s grace that we are able to take the necessary steps of obedience.

The story of the Prodigal Son assures us that our heavenly Father is anxious to forgive, anxious for us to take steps of obedience, and anxious to bridge the gap that we cannot bridge ourselves.

Footnotes

[1]  As Christians, we share mostly just one thing in common: we are forgiven. It is our heavenly Father who clothes us with: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Col 3:12) But the clothes are a gift, we did not earn them!

[2] Turansky and Miller (2013, 4) observe: “Even in Old Testament times, God knew that kids learn best through life experiences.”

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turansky, Scott and Joanne Miller. 2013. The Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

How Do We Nurture our Walk with the Lord?

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

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What Are the Big Questions of the Faith?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

How does the Christian answer the four big questions of faith? [1] The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments offer real insights.

Who is God? In the Apostle’s Creed, God is one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who we can know through the story of Jesus as revealed in scripture. In the Lord’s Prayer, God, through His sovereign rule over all creation, shapes us in his image day by day as we walk in obedience to Him. In the Ten Commandments, God is the supreme covenant maker who expresses his love for us through concrete guidance. The Triune God is alive and works in the world to form the church, forgive sin, and grant us re-created life.

Who are we? In the Apostle’s Creed, we are invited into relationship with the Triune God and to participate in the story of Jesus. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are seen as created in God’s image which then offers us dignity and intrinsic value. However, our reflection of God’s image is imperfect because of the influence of sin. In the Ten Commandments, God initiates a covenant relationship with us, which provides us clear guidance for living in a way that pleases Him.

What is good to do? In the Apostle’s Creed, a detailed picture of God is presented, especially in the life and work of Jesus Christ, in whom we are exhorted to believe and emulate in life, death, and resurrection (Phil 3:9–11). In the Lord’s Prayer, we are enabled to commune directly with God in prayer and in bearing God’s image in the world. In the Ten Commandments, law guides us in daily living through concrete action.

How do we know? The Apostle’s Creed reminds us that we stand together with the church throughout the ages before a holy and loving God. Scripture records the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors and illuminates our reading. Christ’s divinity anchors scripture because Jesus expressed confidence in it (Matt 5:18Matt 5:18). As Jesus prophesied—”if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”—archaeological research has confirmed the validity of many events and places in scripture (Luke 19:40) [2].

Our faith in God is paradoxical [3]. Like the child who is able to play with abandon because of the watchful eye of a parent, we are free in Christ to live within God’s will for our lives. In Christ, the gap of time, space, and holiness between us and God is bridged. Freedom in Christ accordingly brings rest for our souls [4].

Footnotes

[1] As mentioned earlier, the four big questions in philosophy are: metaphysics (Who is God?), epistemology (How do we know?), and anthropology (Who are we?), and ethics (What is good to do?) (Kreeft 2007, 6).

[2]  If you are unconvinced, read a few of the stories in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005).

[3] The Apostle Paul wrote: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” (Cor 13:4).

[4] Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29)

References

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine’s Press.

Zondervan. 2005. NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

What Are the Big Questions of the Faith?

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Prayer Day 48

 

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

We praise you for who you are and for being worthy of our praise.

Draw us to yourself. Reconcile us with our neighbors.

May we lay our crowns before you and rest only with you.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.

In the Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 48

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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What is worship?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev 4:10–11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If a spiritual discipline points us to God, then worship is the prince of the spiritual disciplines. In fact, we were made for worship (Calhoun 2005, 25).

Unfortunately, the Bible’s first picture of worship also pictures improper worship. Cain brought God some fruit; Abel slaughtered the first born of his flock and brought God the fat portions. God honored Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s (Gen 4:3–5). Improper worship is like inviting your supervisor to your house and serving leftovers at dinner—you may not get fired, but it degrades the relationship.

One of the first deacons of the church, Stephen, was arrested in Jerusalem and was arraigned before the Sanhedrin. There, he accused them of limiting the access to God at the temple, of killing the prophets, of betraying and murdering Christ, and, therefore, of not keeping the law. Improper worship—limiting access to God—was Stephen’s first charge. For this and other things, they took Stephen out and stoned him (Acts 7:48–58).

Stephen’s complaint was not about altar sacrifices. When the Israelite people lived in Egypt, they needed to go into the wilderness to offer sacrifices, in part, because they sacrificed animals that were sacred to the Egyptians (Exod 8:26). The point of the sacrifice was to demonstrate loyalty to God by forsaking the typical idols of the day (Lev 17:7) [1]. However, over time the sacrifices lost their meaning, became routine, or, worse, started to look like divine bribes—improper worship [2]. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 1:16), King David writes: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17) The content of worship, not its form, is what makes worship proper or improver.

An important picture of proper worship is given in Revelation 4:10-11 where the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne of God. In heaven, the elders are casting down crowns given them by God, yet they still humbly lay them down (e.g. Rev 2:10). On earth, a crown is a symbol (an idol) of our vanity—a conspicuous display of personal wealth, power, and authority; it does not have to be a golden tiara! When I cast my crowns at the feet of the king of kings, I am surrendering all my idols—money, power, and authority—to God. On earth as it is in heaven this is the ultimate act of worship.

How do we then properly lay our crowns before the Lord?

Proper worship is an idol crashing event [3]. In worship we demonstrate our loyalty to God by surrendering to God the idols that most typically capture our hearts—our money, our power, and our authority. For some, it will mean writing checks; for others it may be donating time; for still others it may be simply to show up at worship clean and sober. For most of us, it means bringing along our families. For all of us, it means joining in God’s praises. Worship is a smorgasbord of praise.

When we look beyond our pride and idols to God, we cast down our crowns and truly worship.

[1] For more discussion, see: (Hahn 2009, 150).

[2] For example, the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 1:13) writes: “bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” Likewise, the prophet Malachi writes: “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?” (Mal 1:8)

[3] The prophet Mohammed (1934, 21.51–.66) wrote that Abraham’s father was an idol-maker. One day when his father was away, Abraham smashed all but the biggest idol in his shop. When his father returned and confronted him, Abraham told his father to ask the remaining idol what happened. His father replied—you know that idols cannot speak. To which Abraham responded—then why do you worship anything but the living God?

References

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. 2005. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

What is worship?

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Prayer Day 47

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples
A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gracious Father,

Rest with us. Grant us the energy to care.

Let us focus a day each week on being your people and modeling your love to those around us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 47

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Why Sabbath Rest?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:8)

What is the first sin in the Bible?

The typical response is that the first sin occurred when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:6). An alternative interpretation points out that although Adam and Eve were created in Genesis 1, when God rests on the first Sabbath in Genesis 2 they are not mentioned (Feinberg 1998, 16). The first sin in scripture is then argued to be a sin of omission (not doing good). It occurred when of Adam and Eve refused to participate in Sabbath rest. It was as if God threw a party and they refused to come.

After that, the sin in Genesis escalated from disrespect into open rebellion. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve commit their first sin of commission (doing evil). In Genesis 4, Cain kills Abel and Lamech takes revenge. In Genesis 5, Noah—the man who rested in Hebrew—is born (Feinberg 1998, 28).  In Genesis 6, God tells Noah to build an ark because he planned to send a flood in response to the depth of human corruption and sin. After the flood, only Noah and his family remained, a re-creation event (Kline 2006, 221–27). 

This interpretation is echoed in the New Testament where the kingdom of God is compared to a wedding. Jesus tells an enigmatic parable of a king who held a wedding banquet for his son. When the banquet was ready, the king sent his servants to inform his guests. But, instead of responding to the reminder, many of the intended guests ignored the invitation while others committed acts of violence, even murder, against the king’s servants. The climax to this story comes in verse 7: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matt 22:7)

If we treat Sabbath rest as a foretaste of the kingdom of God, this parable can be an allegory to the first sin, in which Adam and Eve refused God’s invitation to join him in the first Sabbath. The original sin, according to this interpretation, was the contemptuous rejection of God’s generous invitation on the seventh day. The fact that the parable of the wedding feast is a parable of judgment is an emphatic reminder that God really wants us to rest with Him.

Sabbath rest is important enough to God that it is the fourth and the longest of the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Exod 20:8–11). Why was it important to the Jewish people? Free people rest; slaves work. The experience of slavery in Egypt and later in Babylon was a reminder that rest is a privilege not always enjoyed.

Are we a free people? Do we rest? Do we rest with God?

Jesus described himself as the Lord of the Sabbath, not to do away with it, but to refocus it on God’s desire for our lives. Sabbath rest is a gateway to the other spiritual disciplines because it makes the other disciplines easier to pursue. Rested people have the energy to care. Exhausted people struggle to care for God and for their neighbors.

Confusion about Sabbath arises, in part, because the Jewish Sabbath was the last day of the week, while Christians celebrated Sabbath on the first day of the week (Chan 2006, 81). Pastors and others who  must work Sundays often designate another day as their Sabbath and inform their family and friends. The point is to consecrate a day each week to honor and rest with God.

Why Sabbath Rest?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prayer Day 46

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples
A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Father,

We praise you for your divine example of life in community.

Shelter us through life’s transitions.

Grant us spiritual guides for the journey who help us ask the right questions and persevere with us until we do.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach us to accept guidance and how to offer it in grace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 46

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Why Participate in a Small Group?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46–47)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The early church was a small group. Many churches today remain small by choice.

My first small group experience occurred in high school when our senior pastor retired and the youth director left. Overnight our active youth program fell apart. The associate pastor stepped in to fill the gap, but only two of us stuck with the group: my best friend and I. Throughout my senior year in high school, our time together focused on two things: the Book of Romans and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Cost of Discipleship. Interestingly, my best friend and I are now both pastors.

The original small group is the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because our identities are formed by who we are in relationship with [1], our relationship with the Triune God provides an important example of what a loving, well-functioning community looks like [2].

Another foundational small group is the family. Families talk about every important matter in life. In the family, we learn to talk, pray, and to read scripture. Our families also teach us to joke, to love, to fight, and to reconcile. My first ministry as an adult was to my family.

Jesus did not write a book; he established a small group. This simple observation is remarkable because Jesus drew large crowds—therefore, his focus on disciplining the twelve appeared counter-intuitive. Jesus called the twelve disciples after spending an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12). The Gospels record how very difficult the journey of faith was for Jesus’ disciples. Not all of them made it (John 6:66).

Small groups provide us the security to make difficult transitions (Icenogle 1994, 126–37) [3]. Most tragedies in life are involuntary transitions. During such transitions, we often cry: Lord—why me? Transitions become growth opportunities when we pray: Lord—why did you bring me to this time and place? Small groups provide a safe place to ask this question while inviting members to wait upon the Lord’s response together.

Footnotes

[1] Maureen Miner (2007, 116) asks an important question: “Can we have a separate and distinct relationship with each member of the Trinity?” If so, striking the right balance requires a community effort which is a mandate for small groups.

[2] This relationship has a name: perichoresis, which means divine dance. It defines the special and intimate relationship we see in the Trinity (Keller 2008, 213–26).

[3] Consultant William Bridges (2003, 43) makes the point that it took Moses maybe 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but it took about 40 years to get the Egypt out of the people (Num 11:5). The point is that transitions begin with people looking backwards; proceed through a long period of uncertainty; and end as people began to adapt to the new environment (Bridges 2003, 100). After 40 years in the wilderness, it took new leadership, Joshua, to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. El Precio de la Gracia [The Cost of Discipleship] (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Bridges, William. 2003. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Icenogle, Gareth Weldon. 1994. Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: An Integrational Approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Keller, Timothy. 2008. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton.

Miner, Maureen. 2007. “Back to the basics in attachment to God: Revisiting theory in light of theology.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 35(2), 112–22.

Why Participate in a Small Group?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Prayer Day 45

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples
 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty and loving God.

We praise you for instituting and blessing our marriages.

We thank you for the gift of children and for the way you transform us through and with our families.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and strength to care for our spouses and our children day by day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer Day 45

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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