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

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Believer’s Prayer

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Overview of Spiritual Disciplines

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Spiritual disciplines help us answer the question: How do we know? Because we can neither build a physical tower nor a metaphorical tower to God, especially since Pentecost (Gen 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-4), God himself in His Holy Spirit has worked with us in the spiritual disciplines to answer this question. This is sometimes referred to as the process of sanctification (Phil 3:7-11).

Spiritual disciplines may serve at least three objectives. One objective is to help remove impediments that affect our relationship with God—things like sin. Another objective is to respond to a special path of grace that God has uniquely given us. A further objective is to facilitate the process of reconciliation with those we have sinned against.

For example, contemplative prayer focuses on reducing impediments to our relationship with God. Foster (1992, 161–164) sees three steps in contemplative prayer: recollection (concentrating our minds to become fully present), quieting our spirits, and spiritual ecstasy—God’s response.

By contrast, Thomas (2010, 7, 83, 211) sees nine spiritual personality types that lead us to God’s grace. These are: naturalists, sensates, traditionalists, ascetics, activists, caregivers, enthusiasts, contemplatives, and intellectuals. For example, the traditionalist experiences God through three main elements: ritual, symbol, and sacrifice. By contrast, for intellectuals, the sermon is not just part of worship—it is worship.

The process of reconciliation is seldom addressed as a separate spiritual discipline, but needs to factor into many disciplines and may even be part of church governance. We see it addressed, in part, in Christian service, in work relationships, our marriages, our small groups, and our worship. If the spiritual disciplines are ranked in order of need, reconciliation would clearly rank near the top of the list.

For Presbyterians, church governance stresses reconciliation through group decision-making. Almost every decision in church life requires committee approval and oversight. By building reconciliation into basic decision-making processes, the need to practice a specific spiritual discipline is, accordingly, minimized. However, when special problems arise, reconciliation may be a separately highlighted process, sometimes referred to as peacemaking  (Rom 12:18; Sande 2004, 22).

References

Foster, Richard J., 1992. Prayer: Find the Heat’s True Home. New York: HarperOne.

Sande, Ken. 2004. The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks.

Thomas, Gary. 2010. Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Overview of Spiritual Disciplines

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Forgiveness of Sins

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why is forgiveness a sign of God’s presence?

Scripture attests to God’s overwhelming love for us and willingness to forgive our sins. Even after God discovers the sin of Adam and Eve, he does not immediately impose a death sentence on them, as previously warned; instead, he outfits them with clothes like a mother preparing her first grader for school Gen 2:17; Gen 3:21. God imposed a consequence for sin on Adam and Eve, but also left them with a “positive conclusion” so that they might learn from their mistake and not be embittered (Turansky and Miller (2013, 130–131).. Similarly after Cain murders Abel, God offers Cain grace, protecting him from revenge (Gen 4:15).

The link between God’s love and forgiveness allows the psalmist to write:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. (Ps 103:2-4)

So if God’s forgiveness was already well-attested in the Old Testament, why did Jesus need to die on the cross?

Part of the answer is to observe that God’s forgiveness of Adam, Eve, and Cain was providentially incomplete. All three were still cursed; all three still left the presence of God. Christ’s work on the cross was comprehensive, a re-creation event, as the Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:17-19)

Christ reconciled us with God so we should reconcile with one another. With Adam, Eve, and Cain, none of this happens.

Some psychologists look at forgiveness as a reframing event. Reframing occurs when new meaning is attached to a negative experience. For example, psychoanalyst Victor Frankl, when confined to a concentration camp during the Second World War, focused his mind on preparing the lectures that he would give after the war on his camp experience. In reframing his persecution, Frankl was able to survive the camp when others gave up hope and died (Rosen 1982, 141). Reframing falls short of forgiveness because it focuses solely on the individual, neglecting the relationship among individuals and with God.

When God forgives our sin, in a sense we reframe our self-image from rebel to child of God. The greater the sin forgiven, the deeper the transformation enabled. Forgiveness releases us from death row condemnation and allows us to be reconciled with God, those we sin against, and all of creation. When we then forgive others, we become ambassadors for Christ in this magnificent reconciliation project (2 Cor 5:20).

References

Rosen, Sidney [Editor]. 1982. My Voice will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

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.

Forgiveness of Sins

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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

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Prince of Peace

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101

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

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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G328 Prayer

Diane's Painting

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Spirit of Truth,

All honor and glory are yours

light of our world

in whose image we were created.

Thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ,

into the world to reconcile us to you

that we might be reconciled to one another.

Forgive our divisions, our ruminations about the past hurts and

our speed in blaming each other for what we ourselves failed to do.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

bring us together

help us to find unity in your community

where there is no ethnicity, no male or female, no class

to divide us any longer.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

G328 Prayer

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Prayer for Shalom

cherry_tree_04202016

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6 ESV):

We praise you for your example of shalom in the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

in communion, in relationship, working together in love to sustain and empower and protect our world.

We thank you that you are ever-present and enabling us to become your sons and daughters in your family, which is the church.

We thank you for the gift of salvation and the hope of resurrection available to us through the death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ.

Forgive us for our indifference to the suffering of the people of Syria; open our hearts and to mend our ways.

Forgive us for the intolerance of our society, eager to find fault and oblivious to the truth; open our eyes to our own faults and self-deception.

Forgive us for our injustice of poverty and illness among us in a land of plenty;  soften our hearts and open our hands.

Help us to live into our salvation, live into our sonship and live into  peace that passes all understanding knowing you and knowing that you will come in glory to bring us  even closer to you.

Teach our leaders humility; teach us to follow their leadership; help us to make room for you in our lives and share your peace with those around us.

Grant us peace in our hearts, peace in our relationships, and peace with you that made possible by the forgiveness secured by Jesus on the cross.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Shalom

Also see:

Prayer for Peace 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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2 Corinthians 5: Be Reconciled with God and with One Another

Maryam_with_flowers_07292014Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)[1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you long more for heaven or for something else?

When I was a foreign exchange student in Germany, I never missed home more than during Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday when families converge and spend time together.  The foreign student office arranged a dinner party for the Americans on campus, but goose is not a perfect substitute for turkey. So between my incomplete comprehension of German at that point and my absence from the family, my homesickness reached a peak.

As Christians, we experience sin as a similar kind of homesickness.  We groan feeling the particular pain of knowing our sinfulness and separation from God (v 4).  It is much like the point in a fight with your spouse when you know that you screwed up but still have not reconciled.  Or, like Adam and Eve as they are being sent out of the garden (Genesis 3:23).  Or, like the prodigal son as he woke up finding himself slopping pigs in a foreign country (Luke 15:15-17).  And even as we groan, all of creation groans with us (Romans 8:18-23).

But as Christians we are not without hope.  We know the source of our problem.  Our holy fear of God’s judgment marshals us to admit our guilt and reconcile with God.  And not only that.  As the Apostle Paul writes:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (vv 10-11).

Absent our knowledge of God, our groaning might lead us deeper into sin. The alcoholic, for example, does not have simply a bodily ailment.  The problem of addiction is inherently a spiritual problem—it is groaning without knowledge of God and of the need for reconciliation.  The bottle is not substitute for knowing the ultimate object of our groaning.  We are homesick for Eden and intimacy with God; yet as addicts, we are unaware.

Paul lived this reality.  He wrote:  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you (v 13).  We evangelize, not just to save others; we evangelize to save ourselves.  Our holy fear of God means that we feel God’s heart for the fallen and pine for the other objects of God’s holy love—our neighbors.

So in Christ, God gives us new clothes and a new job description—the ministry of reconciliation (v 18). Not only are we marked as God’s chosen as with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), but also commissioned into His service.

[1] Also: 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

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2 Corinthians 2: The Path from Discipline to Reconciliation

Artwork by Narsis Hiemstra
Artwork by Narsis Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notes of the true Kirk [church], therefore, we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the Word of God … secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus … and lastly, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished (Scots Confession, 3.18) [1].

Did you know that the church is not a club, it has its own court system?

In principle, members and church officers of the Presbyterian Church (USA) can be brought up on charges and tried by a church for disobeying church law, as articulated in the Book of Order [2].  In practice, charges are seldom brought.

Two kinds of justice exist in the legal system in the United States:  punitive and restorative justice.  Punitive justice serves to punish the lawbreaker; restorative justice serves to restore the lawbreaker to full community.  The adult justice system focuses on punitive justice while the juvenile justice system focuses on restorative justice.  The Book of Order makes it clear that the purpose of justice within the Presbyterian system is restoration, not punishment.  This is also the lesson that the Apostle Paul gives in chapter 2 of his second letter to the church at Corinth.

Chapter 2 focuses on Paul’s instructions to the church in dealing with a particular person who has caused a problem in the church.   We are not told who the person is or what the problem was—scholars still debate both issues (v 5).  Instead, Paul focuses on how to move forward in restoring this person to full fellowship.

Interestingly, Paul seems to be giving the church in Corinth a “timeout”, giving the church time to work things out themselves.  Paul writes:  For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you (v 1).  Basically, he says that the punishment leveled against the offender is enough (v 6). The offense was against the church and the church dealt with it through, among other things, public shaming (v 7).  Paul refuses to take personal offense (v 5).  Therefore, the punishment was sufficient for the offense and no more punishment is needed.  Instead, Paul writes:  so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (vv 7-8)  This is a biblical example of forgiveness and restoration.

Harris (2005, 234) sees a 6 step process involved here: offense, punishment, pain and sorrow, repentance, forgiveness, and affirmation [3].

Clearly, this is not the typical scenario in the church today.  What is typical is to hush up controversies and treat them as embarrassments.  Then, after some point the pot boils over and people split the church and leave.

Paul, by affirming the offense and the offender, allows punishment, forgiveness, and restoration.  The offender does not get off free; those offended are required to forgive.  In the end, the community is stronger.

 

[1]Office of the General Assembly.  The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA):  Part I:  Book of Confessions, Louisville, 1999.

[2]Office of the General Assembly.  The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA):  Part II:  Book of Order 2011/2013, Louisville, 2011.

[3] Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

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2 Corinthians: Lifting the Veil

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)

How can one be strong in weakness?

At the core of the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Church at Corinth is a paradox. Christ was crucified in weakness, but in his weakness displayed the power of God (13:4).  This same paradox was displayed in Paul’s private pain (12:7-9) and his very public humiliation as he writes:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (4:8-10)

This paradox manifests itself in that when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we abandon our private idolatries and turn to the living God who is our only real hope.  Paul writes: to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over [our] hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (3:15-17) Herein lies the paradox, that our own strength (for the Israelites, the law) veils the presence of God in our lives.

Second Corinthians is a very personal and complex letter. For example, Paul provides two separate lists (6:4-10 and 11:23-29) of own afflictions—who brags about being beaten and thrown in prison?  He is writing from Macedonia (9:2) around 56 AD just before his final journey to Jerusalem.  Theological topics addressed include:  the character of God, salvation, the Gospel, the church, the nature of apostleship, Christian ministry, the Christian life, suffering, stewardship, Satan, and eschatology (Harris 2005, 105, 114-125).

The importance of Second Corinthians in the life of the church is underscored by the attention given to even small portions of this letter.  For example, The Confession of 1967 [1] adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) emphasizes these verses:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (5:18-20)

Paul’s emphasis is on reconciling the world to Christ; the Confession expands on this idea to speak about reconciling the church to divergent groups in society.

References

Garland, David E. 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary.  Nashville:  Holman Publishing.

Hafemann, Scott J.  2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

[1] www.pcusa.org/resource/book-of-confessions

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