Petition for Forgiveness

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,

Oh Lord, to be like you—strong and wise and patience and peace loving.

Oh, to be a covenant keeper, dependable and steady, a pillar against the wind.

Oh, to offer mercy and grace and patience and love and truth to all who come near: hospitality in the desert; peace amidst confusion; security when uncertainty tears at the soul.

Oh Lord, to be like you; to be like you.

Remember us, Lord, but forget the sin that depletes our strength, leaves us foolish, makes us impatient, and creates dissension.

Remember us, Lord, but forgive our transgressions.

Remember us, Lord, but wipe away our iniquity that leaves us judgmental and arrogant and at odds with all things good and true. 

Remember us, Lord, lest we forget ourselves. In the power of your Holy Spirit grant us a new day and the strength to live it in a new way following the example of your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Petition for Forgiveness

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Prince of Peace

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; 

and the government shall be upon his shoulder, 

and his name shall be called 

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, 

Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shalom, defined as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002), is a divine attribute mostly out of reach in the Books of the Law, where brotherly conflict, not brotherly love, was the norm.

In the Books of the Law, conflict between Cain and Abel over proper worship was followed by conflict between Jacob and Esau over the birthright and inheritance (Gen 25:26–34). Later, conflict between Joseph and his brothers over their father’s favoritism became so intense that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Gen 37:2-28).  In the ancient world, sibling conflict was considered an extreme form of treachery, much like spousal conflict would be perceived today (Hellerman 2001, 39–40). This brotherly conflict highlights the absence of shalom and the need for divine intervention.

This need for divine intervention appears even in the story of a young Moses, who attempted without success to reconcile two of his Hebrew brothers:

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, Why do you strike your companion? He answered, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? Then Moses was afraid, and thought, Surely the thing is known. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. (Exod 2:11-15)

Much like God attempted to reconcile Cain and Abel, Moses attempted to reconcile two of his Hebrew brothers, but his effort fails because his own sin—murder—got in the way.

In the Books of the Prophets, peace remains out of reach as two dominant types of conflict emerge.

The first type of conflict arose between the nation of Israel and God because they repeatedly disobeyed the Mosaic covenant, as anticipated in Deuteronomy:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. (Deut 30:1-3)

If the nation of Israel obeyed the covenant (practiced holiness), God promised to forgive and reunite them; however, if they ignored the covenant, God would destroy the nation and scatter the people. To remind the people of their covenantal obligations, God repeatedly sent prophets, such as Jeremiah, to warn them of their sins:

Their houses shall be turned over to others, their fields and wives together, for I will stretch out my hand against the inhabitants of the land, declares the LORD. For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. (Jer 6:12–14)

Here, greedy prophets and priests, who turn their backs on sin, lead the nation to conflict with God and judgment.

In our own times, Bonhoeffer wrote about the problem of cheap grace—false forgiveness for false confession, saying: “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God.” By contrast, costly grace requires personal confession of sin and real discipleship (Bonhoeffer 1995, 43–45).

The second type of conflict was internal to the nation of Israel, where kings more often than not behaved badly and wandered from faith in God.

For example, when King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was crowned king, he was asked to reduce the heavy tax burden imposed by his father. His father’s advisers counseled him to lower taxes, but his friends counseled even higher taxes. When he raised taxes, ten tribes rebelled, leaving Rehoboam only the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin. The other ten tribes formed a new kingdom (Israel), who crowned Jeroboam king of Israel. Jeroboam, who feared that people visiting Jerusalem for religious worship would eventually return to Rehoboam, set up alternative worship sites and recast new golden calf idols (1 Kgs 12), actions later referred to as the sins of Jeroboam (e.g.1 Kgs 14:16). Weakened by this split, both kingdoms were later destroyed and the people were exiled.

Not only did Rehoboam divide the nation of Israel through his greedy and foolish administration (1 Kgs 12:14), he later abandoned the Law of Moses and was forced, as a consequence, to become a vassal of Shishak, the king of Egypt (2 Chr 12:1-2). Animosity between the Northern and Southern kingdoms continued until New Testament times when Jews openly discriminated against Samaritans—part of the Northern Kingdom. Notice how conflict between the two nations quickly led to idolatry (Jer 1:15–16) and, by inference, tension with God. Increased tension with our neighbor naturally leads to tension with God and even with ourselves, as we strive to have our own way.

The hope of deliverance from conflict in the Old Testament came, in part, through texts, such as Isaiah 9:6-7, that link the Messiah and heaven to the idea of shalom: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Shalom is valuable because it is rare and because it offers a glimpse of heaven, as the Prophet Isaiah sees it:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isa 11:6)

In Isaiah’s vision, an end to animal predation and the picture of a little child playing without fear among dangerous animals, suggests a return to Eden and the outbreak of shalom, a sign of God’s mighty work among us.

References

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig Pub 1937).  Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth.  New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

Prince of Peace

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Autumn Prayer

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Compassionate Father,

I give thanks for the walks that we have shared through summer days of my youth: the forest trails that we journeyed together; the mountain peaks that you showed me; the sandy beaches that went on and on. You held my hand, but let me lead and comforted me throughout—I worried only about the getting too much sun or avoiding the rain or just how best to have fun—thank you. As the years went by, you never left me—thank you. Teach me now how to take walks again in the autumn of my days: to travel paths yet untraveled with young hands eager for the journey; to offer peace and security and comfort and hospitality at odds with my nature but not with yours.

Be ever near through the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Autumn Prayer

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Make Peace—Embody Shalom

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Honored are the peacemakers, 

for they shall be called sons of God. 

(Matt 5:9)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Garden of Eden begins as a picture of God’s shalom whose harmony was shattered when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve responded by eating from the tree, they displayed more trust in Satan than in God. This broken trust shattered their intimate relationship with God and God cursed Satan saying:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen 3:15)

God then expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden thus originated our tension with God—“enmity” sounds like a 50-cent word for tension.

The need for peacemaking followed in the first post-Eden generation, when we read:

So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Gen 4:5-7)

God saw Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and counseled Cain to avoid sin by controlling his anger (Gen 4:6–7). Unable to control his anger, Cain ignored God’s counsel and murdered Abel, displaying tension within himself, with God and with his brother. Jesus recounts this story in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger with murder (Matt 5:21–26).

In the story of Cain and Abel, God models peacemaking, a divine attribute and messianic title (Isa 9:6–7) by advising self-control, avoiding sin, and helping others. In doing so, God embodies shalom (Guelich 1982, 92). The Hebrew word, shalom,  means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom has a similar scope, but more often it focuses on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, “peace”, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and requires extension to encompass shalom, which mitigates all three dimensions of tension. For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

Peacemaking is a major motif in the Sermon on the Mount. Peacemaking anticipates the next two Beatitudes and provides a context for later teaching on love, where Jesus commands:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:44-48)

Note the parallel here between loving your enemy and peacemaking and that God models both activities. Other applications of shalom appear in Jesus’ teaching, as found in Matthew 10:

1. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (Matt 10:13)

2. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matt 10:34)

In Hebrew, “shalom” is used to say both hello and goodbye, but the idea of taking it with you suggests something more like hospitality. Divine hospitality, the idea of peace on earth, suggests a more political interpretation—peace as a the absence of conflict among nations—where peacemaking can be positive or negative depending on its object. In first century Israel, for example, Pax Romana (translated as Roman peace) promised tranquility but delivered via a brutal occupation, not what we normally associate with peace. The key is to ask what is the object of the peace: justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

The context of peacemaking is important in understanding the transformational potential of tension. Listen for the tension in Jesus’ words to the disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus comforted to his disciples following his crucifixion in the midst of fear and uncertainty by offering them shalom. But, he went even further. In Christ’s atoning death on the cross, he defeated sin and offered us peace with God.

References

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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

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Prayer of Many Confessions

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Eternal God,

We praise you for the beauty of the earth, the freshness of the wind, the crispness of the sea, and the warmth of dry earth. You have created heaven and earth for your glory and our benefit—thank you.

We confess that too often we say one thing and do another.  Save us from our own hypocrisy.

We confess that too often we have overlooked the needs of our neighbors and preached about their shortcomings. Convert our hearts to your truth that we might display your grace. 

We confess that too often we have acted too quickly out of prejudice and veiled your mercy. Grant us gracious hearts and open minds. We confess that too often we have focused on ourselves and sheltered ourselves from others. Teach us hospitality.

We confess that too often we have resisted change out of stubbornness and neglected the needs of our own youth. Give us eyes that see and ears that listen.

We confess that too often we have judged too quickly and judge imprudently. Grant us the mind of Christ.

Forgive us our many sins. Guide us in making recompense. Heal the wounds that separate us from one another and restore us to your kingdom. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer of Many Confessions

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Living Into Our Call

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The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,

the world and those who dwell therein, 

for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. 

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?

And who shall stand in his holy place? 

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul 

to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 

(Ps 24:1-4)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sometimes decreasing tension with a holy God means increasing our tension with the world. In David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ recent book, UnChristian, the six most common points of tension between Christians and non-Christians were:

1. Hypocritical. We say one thing and do another.

2. Christians are: “too focused on getting converts.”

3. Homophobic. “Christians are bigoted and show distain for gays and lesbians.”

4. Sheltered. Christians are: “old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality”.

5. Too political. Christians: “promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.”

6. Judgmental. People doubt that “we really love people as we say we do.” (Kinnaman 2007, 29–30).

Non-Christian doubts about Christian holiness lie behind each of these criticisms. For example, Christians who act like everyone else—especially in matters of sexuality—are rightly seen as hypocritical, not holy. By contrast, Christians who pursue holiness may make some others feel uncomfortably judged, eliciting unfair criticism and well-earned tension.

When holiness issues are raised within the church, discussion is often cut off with a question—where is the grace in your worldview? In view here is the presumed tension between grace and law in the Gospel of John: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16–17) Grace and law appear to oppose one another, but this interpretation is misleading for two reasons.

The first reason is that grace and truth are divine attributes revealed to Moses immediately after the giving of the law (Exod 34:6). If the law and grace appeared together from the beginning, how could they be in conflict? It is more helpful to interpret law and grace as complementary because the giving of the law was itself act of divine grace in that the law revealed God’s will for daily living. Consequently, Christ’s atoning sacrifice was not God’s first an act of grace.

The second reason is that grace and truth (law is a kind of prescriptive truth) go together in personal transformation. According to Calvin, because the law is concrete, it is useful for educating in righteousness, for law enforcement, and for outlining how to be holy every day (Haas 2006, 100). Everyone loves to receive grace, but not everyone likes to hear the truth because it often requires corrective action.

The commentary nature of law and grace is never more obvious than in the words of Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17) Attempts to abrogate the Law of Moses in favor of grace often arise because the law divides into two parts: the holiness code and ceremonial law. This distinction arose historically because the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 making it impossible to perform the ceremonial laws. However, the destruction of the temple had no such effect on the holiness code, whose prohibitions against sexual immorality were never abolished or abrogated, as confirmed in the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 (Acts 15:19-20).

The holiness code is not obsolete. Consider the cleanup in New York City that occurred in the 1980s. Two criminologists, James O. Wilson and George Kelling, started the clean-up with what they called the broken windows theory. They argued: 

Crime is inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and a sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street it faces, sending the signal that anything goes. The idea is that crime is contagious. 

So New York City waged a war on broken windows and graffiti in the neighborhoods and subway. Minor infractions of law were not tolerated. And crime throughout the city began to fall precipitously to everyone’s surprise (White, 2004, 158). 

The broken windows theory is to cities what the holiness code is to individuals. King Solomon famously wrote of the little sins: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song 2:15) The point is that little things matter—they form and reflect your attitude.

Our conduct matters. Our conduct matters to our families, for whom we model Christ and express our deepest commitments. It matters to our neighbors, for whom we witness and work for peace. It matters to God, who gave Moses the law, in whom we put our faith, and on whom we depend for our salvation. Our conduct matters.

References

Haas, Guenther H. 2004. “Calvin’s Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, 93–105. Edited by Donald K. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

White, James Emery. 2004. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Living Into Our Call

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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

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Soldier’s Prayer

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father.

Spare us, Lord, from a divided heart, an indecisive mind, and conniving spirit.

Prune the eye that sins, the hand that grasps, and the ears that itch to hear anything other than your word.

Intensify our love of your law and apply that love in gracious hearts and discerning minds.

Instill in us your Holy Spirit, holy affections, and sanctified thoughts that we might be truthful to ourselves, to others, and, most of all, to you.

Grant us your whole armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, and sword of your word (Eph 6:13–17).

That we might serve our entire lives as examples of your godliness.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Soldier’s Prayer

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Prune, Intensify, and Apply

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. 

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent 

has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. 

For it is better that you lose one of your members 

than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

 (Matt 5:27-29)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sixth Beatitude focuses on a clean heart—“Honored are the pure in heart”—but, how can I remove the impurities? Jesus provides three methods: pruning, intensifying, and applying.

Prune

Jesus gives us two metaphors of pruning—cutting away unnecessary or unwanted growth to make a plant stronger and more fruitful (John 15:2). The first metaphor involves eyes: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) The second metaphor involves hands: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:30) In both metaphors, we remove sin from our lives by pruning.

The eye gouging and hand chopping metaphors could also have been heard by Jesus’ audience as a messianic call to arms. When the Prophet Samuel anointed Saul messianic king of Israel, he said to him: “And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.” (1 Sam 10:1) Notice the hand metaphor in this blessing. Saul’s first act as king was to save the besieged city of Jabesh-gilead from an Amorite king whose condition for surrender was: “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” (1 Sam 11:2) Understanding the story of Saul, Jesus’ metaphors might be interpreted as saying: stand on your own two feet.

Jesus’ pruning metaphors imply that sanctification—casting off sin and taking on godliness—is serious business: eyes and hands are parts of the body—parts of us—that are not easily discarded. If the threat of sin were trivial, then a better analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair. But if sin threatens both our physical and spiritual lives, then amputation is an acceptable option and the analogy is not hyperbolic.

Intensify

Jesus widens the scope of commandments under the law by drilling into the motivation for breaking them, intensifying the scrutiny given to sin. For example, when Jesus talks about adultery, he focuses on the lustful look that corrupts the heart, not the sinful act that follows. As evangelist Billy Graham (1955, 78) reminds us:  “What does this word adultery mean? It is derived from the same Latin root from which we get our word adulterate which means corrupt; to make impure or to weaken.” If sin begins in the heart, then sanctification must strive for purity of heart, and not only avoiding sin, but pursuing godliness, as the Apostle Paul writes:

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:20-24)

The likeness of God, of course, refers to the divine image in creation, as implied in the word, godliness, used by Paul in admonishing Timothy: “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7).

Apply

In the Jewish mindset, it makes no sense to separate heart and mind or faith from action, as we read in James:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas 1:22-25)

As a devote Jew, James would almost certainly share Jesus’ conviction that unity of person (heart and mind) implies unity of faith and action (Dyrness 2001, 81). In fact, the gap between what we say and what we do is a good measure of the amount of sin in our lives. After all, Jesus was the first person in scripture to use the word, hypocrite, to mean two-faced—saying one thing and doing another (Matt 23:25). Prior to Jesus, an hypocrite was just an actor on a Greek stage.

Unity of faith and action is, of course, a divine attribute, as we see in the life and work of Jesus Christ. In life, Jesus modeled God’s sinless nature for us (Heb 4:15). In death, Jesus redeemed us from our sin (Gal 3:13). In resurrection, Jesus gave us the hope of salvation (1 Cor 15:20). And, in ascension, intercedes for us before Almighty God (Rev 22:3). Following the ascension at Pentecost, Jesus conferred on the church and on us the Holy Spirit to assist us in overcoming our sinful nature (John 16:7–8).

Because part of our sinful nature is to focus only on ourselves, it is helpful to distinguish self-help efforts from sanctification. Self-help focuses on us while sanctification focuses on modeling Christ.

So when we act in unity of faith and action, we echo the Trinity:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:4-5)

In this manner, we model God’s sinless nature to those around us. Modeling Christ, we must prune, intensify, and apply if we are to be pure in heart and see God.

References

Bridges, Jerry. 1996a. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996b. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Dyrness,William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Prune, Intensify, and Apply

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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

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Walk with Me Prayer

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Father of Creation, Beloved Son, Spirit of Truth,

Bind our wayward hearts with your law; sing to us of your love.

Gather our confused thoughts in your grace; center them on your truth.

Separate us from evil influences, harsh temptations, and trials we cannot bear.

Walk with us when the sun fails to shine, the rain draws near, and our paths become unclear.

Sit with us while storms rage, our strength weakens, and our health flees.

Guide us when our friends are distant and our troubles are ever near.

Grant us strength for the day; grace for those we meet; and peace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Walk with Me Prayer

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Believer’s Prayer

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A Right Spirit and Clean Heart

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Create in me a clean heart, O God, 

and renew a right spirit within me. 

Cast me not away from your presence, 

and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 

(Ps 51:10-11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we think of the word, “holy”, we usually think of moral purity, but another definition is: “pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to [set apart to] the service of God” (BDAG 61). The same word for holy in Greek also means saint, as well as morally pure and separate.

Moral purity and separation are fundamental ideas in the Old Testament understanding of God, as seen in Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) Two acts of separation occur in creation: non-being is separated from being (Gen 1:1a) and the heavens and the earth are separated from one another (Gen 1:1b). Other separations—darkness and light, morning and evening, dry land and water, male and female—follow in the creation account which God declares to be good.

Contemporary attacks on the goodness of God often start by declaring these separations arbitrary and capricious, especially as they pertain to gender. The argument goes that if these separations are arbitrary, they are also discriminatory, hence not good. Therefore, the Bible teaches discrimination and cannot be considered normative for postmodern Christians.

Good separations, often referred to today as boundaries, need to be clear and concrete. In the Ten Commandments (Exod 20), the law sets forth voluntary boundaries defining who is and is not part of the household of God. This covenant between the people of Israel and God begins with a reminder of the benefits of the covenant: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod 20:2) The point here is that you were once slaves, but I set you free—you owe me.

A Christian interpretation of this passage takes a different twist. The Apostle Paul talks about being a slave to sin (Rom 7:14). Today we talk about slaves to an addiction, being slaves to fear, or slaves to other passions. God offers us the freedom to escape such bondage, if we seek him. 

The covenantal benefits (blessings) and strictures (curses) were laid out in greater detail in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, which means the second book of the law, needed to repeat the covenant for a new generation because God cursed their parents (who had lived in Egypt) for their lack of faith to die in the desert (Deut 1:20–37). Here we first read about the benefits:

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field…. (Deut 28:1-3)

Later in parallel fashion, we read about the strictures:

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field… (Deut 28:15–16)

These blessings and curses are cited again in Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers… (Ps 1:1)

Reminding people, especially leaders, of these blessings and curses was the primary responsibility of an Old Testament prophet. Those that kept their covenantal obligations were considered righteous under the law (Phil 3:6).

If God considered Job righteous, then why did Job end up suffering? (Job 1:1)

One response to the question of suffering is that Job’s faithfulness was tested by evil circumstances (Job 1:9) and confirmed to be true (Job 42:1-7). Another response is that suffering is a consequence of foolishness (Prov 1:7). The best response is that sin brings suffering, is part of our nature, and God’s intervention is required to overcome it, as we read:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another… (Job 19:25-27)

This theodicy of Job reveals God’s glory and his love for us in providing us a redeemer.

The possibility of a redeemer is prophesied by Moses (Deut 18:15) and expresses God’s forgiveness (Exod 34:7). In praying for God’s forgiveness, King David expressed most clearly God’s intervention in our moral condition, cited above in Psalm 51. David recognized that divine intervention was required for a human relationship with a holy and transcendent God. To be human means to be unholy and mortal, not holy and immortal (transcendent), like God.

Later, God intervened through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to atone for our sin (1 Cor 15:3–10). In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we can live in obedience to God (set free from the law) and can come before God in prayer and worship.

A Right Spirit and Clean Heart

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

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

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

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/HangHome_2020

 

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