Discernment Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loving Father,

I praise you for your loving presence in my life during this year.

For you alone are holy and stand outside time and space,

and I cannot approach you on my own,

but only through your love, covered by the blood of Jesus and in your willingness to seek me out.

I confess that I have not been the perfect son–

my faith is weak; sins are many;  weaknesses seem limitless.

Forgive me; teach me to be a more perfect son.

Thank you for the many blessings of this year–

for work completed, relationships deepened, healings received,

and the opportunity for greater service.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, give me the mind of Christ,

that my heart will be opened, my mind touched, and my hands strengthened

that I may more perceive your will more fully and draw closer to you day by day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Discernment Prayer

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Prosecute Righteousness

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The eighth beatitude continues our look at tension with others. Persecution is probably the most obvious form of interpersonal tension. Yet, it is sometimes more obvious to third parties than it is to us because we are prone to practice intense denial about such things. Denial is a strong component here, in part, because we have trouble admitting to ourselves that we are being persecuted and, in part, because of our tendency as Christians to think aspirationally. If we truly have the mind of Christ, we see others as Christ sees them—the person that God created them to be, not as they actually are.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:4-7 ESV)

James also provides important insight into our attitude about persecution:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)

In effect, persecution for righteousness’ sake is part of our sanctification. So we are sometimes strangely blind to the persecution that we experience and even surprised to hear about it. For example, Billy Graham (1955, 98) poses a somewhat paradoxical question: “Why are good people persecuted?”

Here the word, persecution (διώκω), means: “to harass someone, esp. because of beliefs, persecute” (BDAG 2059(2)). Often persecute is used in the context of a military engagement vigorously pursued (e.g. Deut 11:4). Guelich (1982, 93) notes that the perfect participale form of the word is uniquely used here and no where else in the Bible and it suggests actual community experience, not a hypothetical possibility. The word, righteousness (δικαιοσύνη), means: “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness” (BDAG 2004 (3)). Where a would-be king might hunger and thirst to acquire a kingdom, we are to hunger and thirst for righteousness and expect to have others hunger and thirst to persecute us. The Bible reminds us that being called a Christian was often associated with suffering and not always considered an honor (1 Peter 4:16) [1].

Jesus’ association of persecution with righteousness was prophetic. Luke’s Gospel records these words from the cross:

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

Notice that each of the elements of the eighth beatitude are present in Luke’s pericope: the idea of righteous persecution followed by the reward of heaven.

Religious persecution is as old as the story of Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy for Abel’s sacrifice being accepted by God when his own was not. In effect, Abel was righteous while Cain was not so Cain persecuted his brother unto death (Gen 4:3-9). Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was similiarly stoned for, among other things, pointing out the persecution of the prophets (Acts 7:52-53)[2].The Apostle Paul admonishes us:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37 ESV)

Jesus reminds us that a student is not better than his teacher. He was persecuted; we will be persecuted (Matt 10:24-25). But Jesus did not stop there. He admonished us to: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44 ESV).

In doing so, we turn our enemies into our friends.

 

[1] “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16 ESV)

[2] “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:52-53 ESV)

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

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

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

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1 Corinthians 2: Boast in the Lord

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

We love to show off.  We boast about our strength, our intelligence, our courage, our beauty, our mojo, our spouses, our kids, our cool friends, our cars, our houses, our wealth, our power, our accomplishments—even our ability to speak foreign languages!  Is it any wonder that nations run over their neighbors doing the same thing?

So what does the Apostle Paul do?  Paul says to the Corinthians:  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthian 2:2 ESV).  Who could be weaker than a man publicly stripped, beaten, pierced, and hung out to dry in the hot sun?  In admitting our weaknesses—dealing with our issues—we make room for God and other people in our lives (Isaiah 29:13-14).  Why?  …In admitting our weaknesses, we vanquish pride.

The Prophet Jeremiah writes:  Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Theologian Richard Hays (36-39) [1] sees 6 implications of Paul’s teaching in our passage:

  1. Focus on the cross;
  2. Confront human boasting;
  3. Wisdom, in Paul’s context, is interpreted via the cross;
  4. Focusing on the cross creates a counter-cultural world;
  5. The social composition of the church should be a sign of God’s election of the foolish, the weak, the low, and the despised; and
  6. This passage directly applies Old Testament teachings (Isaiah 29:13-14, Jeremiah 9:23-24, and 1 Samuel 2:1-10) to the Corinthian (and our) church.

Do we worship with people that look just like us?  Do we focus on the music and pastoral performance?  Do we pat each other on the back constantly?  Do we search for the mysteries of the faith rather than the plain truth of Christ’s example?

Paul makes an interesting comparison (vv 14-15) between the natural person (ψυχικὸς)[2] and the spiritual person (πνευματικῶς). The natural person rejects Christ’s teaching in the cross as foolishness; the spiritual person judges all things (v 15) against this standard.

How?  Because we have the mind of Christ (νοῦν Χριστοῦ; v 16).  Taking up our cross to follow Christ (Matthew 16:24) grants us the ability to remove the speck from our eyes (Matthew 7:1-5) and judge without hypocrisy.

[1]Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] The word in the Greek is psycho!!!

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