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Plans and Purposes | Discipleship Prayer Day 8

mountain covered snow under star

You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.    ― Jeremiah 2:11

         You don’t have to be in Christian circles for long before you hear first quoted or given to someone as a form of encouragement or promise. This verse, however, is a great example of the dangers of picking out a single verse from Scripture and then using it to teach something that it really isn’t intended to teach.  Jeremiah 29:11, for example, is being written to the nation of Israel (not to any individual) during a specific period in history (not specifically to our contemporary situation).  So, to begin with we need to realize that this verse was not written specifically to you or to me as a promise of success and prosperity.  We might wish this was the case, but it is not.  Not at all.

         When we read the verses prior to verse 11, we see something even more disturbing. First, these words were written to the survivors of Israel’s exile to Babylon, meaning that many had been “harmed” and would never experience prosperity of any kind.  Second, Jeremiah informs people that these promises will be fulfilled after seventy years in exile.  So, God has a plan for Israel as a people, and it will come to fruition after seventy years of difficulty! 

In other words, God has a plan for Israel…and it will come to be…but in the meantime some individuals will suffer harm, some will experience difficulties, and some will never experience any sort of prosperity.

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.     ― Psalm 33:11

         In the same way we await the return of Christ.  In the waiting there is a great promise of salvation, renewal, and restoration of all creation.  The promise of God is Jeremiah 29:11 can be applied to the church—God does have a plan and a purpose for God’s church. Much like the promise of God to Israel, however, as we wait some will endure difficult times filled with anything but prosperity and the absence of harm.  At various times and places believers will suffer persecution of all sorts.  Some individuals will suffer while others prosper.  Jesus confirmed that this would be the case:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”     ―  John 16:33

       And that is why Jesus, time and time again, commands us to love one another, to carry each other’s burdens, to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn, and so much more.  Life happens…and when it does we need each other.  We were never meant to walk alone.



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Perfect in Love | Discipleship Prayer Day 7

purple leaf

You are perfect in love and in all your plans and purposes — agape love

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.     ―  1 John 4:8

God is love—love is the defining, foundational, and central characteristic of God’s nature. The kind of love that is God, in Greek, is known as agape.  It is NOT a love based on attraction (romantic relationships), obligation (parental relationships, or shared interests (friendship relationships).  Instead, the agape love of God is:

  • selfless and sacrificial (Jn 15:13, Rom 5:8, 1 Cor 13:4-6)
  • holy and pure (Jn 4:7-11, Rom 5:5, 1 Cor 13:6)
  • overflowing (Ps 69:13, Joel 2:13)
  • unconditional (Eph 5:1, Ps 86:15, Rom 8:35)
  • unending (1 Chr 16:34, Ps 51; 52:8, 1 Cor 13:8)
  • reveling (Zeph 3:17)

The mark of Christ emblazoned on the life of a disciple is the outpouring of agape, which has been embedded into his or her heart by the Holy Spirit, to the people around them.

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.     ―  Romans 5:5b

When we are growing in Christlikeness we are growing in agape.  By contrast, all that is anti-agape (selfish, unholy, conditional, limited, etc) is anti-Christ; that is,  not according to the perfect plans and purposes of God.  What does this agape look like in the life of increasingly Christlike believer? Paul’s words to the Corinthian church (1 Cor 13:4-8) and to the Galatian church (Gal 5:22-23) give us some clues.  Agape love is—

  • patient and peaceful
  • kind and consistent
  • humble and hopeful
  • authentic and ready to serve
  • honoring and respectful to others
  • forgiving and faithful
  • truthful and trustworthy
  • joyful and persevering
  • nurturing and never-ending
  • persevering
  • good and gentle

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love…against such things there is no law.     ―  1 Corinthians 13:13 and Galatians 5:23



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Holy and Worthy | Discipleship Prayer Day 6

person walking between green forest trees

Your name is holy and worthy to be praised above all others.

Let them praise your great and awesome name.  Your name is holy!

―  Psalm 99:3 (NLT)

“Your name is holy…

For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

―  Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)

God is a God of “most” – most high, most holy, most loving, and most of a lot of other things, too – and it would be very easy to think that all of these “mosts” must put God on a very high pedestal; high up on the heavens where God watches us from a very far distance. This is how my Muslim friends view God and it’s how Bette Midler sings about God.  It’s also how many Christians live their lives—as if God if far, far away and not paying very close attention to how they live their lives.

Isaiah reminds us, though, that while God does dwell in a high and holy place (God is God after all), God also is very close to the contrite (crushed, repentant, remorseful) and the lowly in spirit (humble, poor, common, ordinary). In other words, God knows us, this world we live in, and the messiness of our lives. And God desires to be near us to…

  • revive what is dead,
  • restore what has been harmed,
  • repair what broken,
  • recover what has been lost,
  • restart what is stalled,
  • renew what has been ruined, and
  • rescue what is lost.

As such, the name of God is…

“worthy to be praised above all others.”

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

―  Psalm 99:3 (NIV)

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.

―  John 3:33 (NIV)



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Triune God | Discipleship Prayer Day 5

blue and green sky and mountain

Almighty, Triune God

If we take a look at the statements of faith regarding the triune nature of God, most Protestant denominations we likely see something like the following:

“The God who is holy love and light is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”    

Church of the Nazarene “Articles of Faith”

Nabeel Qureshi, in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells of his journey to Christ and the nearly insurmountable mountain of questions that stood in his way. It was impossible for a man to be God, he told himself, yet that is exactly what Christians taught… and with great enthusiasm! The idea of God being made up of three separate entities – God, Son, and Spirit – all existing as one was simply impossible.

Then, one day while sitting while sitting in a undergraduate chemistry class staring at a diagram of a nitrate, the professor ended her lesson by saying:

“These drawings are just the best way to represent resonance structures on paper, but it’s actually much more complicated. Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time…it’s all the structures all the time, never just one of them.”     

— Nabeel Qureshi, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”

Before that moment the very idea of a Trinitarian God—three persons simultaneously existing as one God—was a “ridiculous doctrine that merited divine retribution,” Qureshi told himself.  But now, having realized that such a things exists in nature—in the very building blocks of creation—suddenly made the whole notion of a triune God became a possibility, though the journey to a full embrace of the doctrine was still a long journey away.

It should be no surprise that the image of a Triune God is difficult to understand. When we live as though God sits far away on a heavenly throne, disconnected from our daily lives, all that can be seen from such a distance is a vague silhouette of oneness. But when God is Emmanuel—with us, connected, personal, unafraid to get his hands a feet dirty by walking with us in the scruffiness of our lives—we can begin to see more of God’s true identity as:

  • Father…and also Shepherd (Ps 23:1) and Daddy (Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6);
  • Son…and also Brother (Mt 12:48-50; Rom 8:29) and Friend (Jn 15:15; Mat 26:17-30);
  • Spirit…and also Bringer of New Life (Jn 3:8, Ez 37:1-14), Companion and Guide (Jn 16:13), Power-giver (Acts 1:4), and Fruit-bearer (Gal 5:16-26)

Father, Son, and Spirit.

Almighty, Triune God.



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Holy Spirit | Discipleship Prayer Day 4

Holy Spirit — Our Strength, our Comfort, our Helper and Guide.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

―  Romans 15:13 (NIV)

“Holy Spirit…Our Strength…”

By the power and strength of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we become new creatures (2 Cor 5:17)—a new kind of person—in Christ, We can overflow with hope as we walk through life with the Holy Spirit as our:

“Our Comfort”

 Who doesn’t need a little comfort and encouragement once in a while?

In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is parakletos – helper, comforter, and the one called to be by one’s side.  The God of all compassion and comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4) has sent this parakletos to us (Jn 14:26), to set us free (2 Cor 3:17) and fill our hearts with God’s perfect love (Rom 5:5) as we move through this life facing difficulties of many kinds.

“Our Helper”

Hey, can I get a little help over here?

The parakletos – also meaning advocate – has been sent to us from the Father by Christ (Jn 15:26) to help us in our weakness and intercede for us when we don’t know what to do or say (Rom 8:26-27), to give us the power and boldness we need to be faithful witnesses of Christ in word and deed (Ac 1:8), and to be by our side forever, helping us to know and understand truth (Jn 14:15-17)

“Our Guide”

I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. Anybody got a map?

The Holy Spirit is given as our teacher and guide, making known to us all that Christ has revealed (Jn 16:13).  The Spirit of God, sent by the Heavenly Father teach us from the Scriptures, the written word of God – rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16) – while also reminding us of all that we have seen, heard, and witnessed from the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit, working in us as comforter, helper, and guide, transforms us into powerful witnesses to God’s love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ac 1:8), taking us to places we might never have dreamed of going and overflowing with an unrelenting, optimistic hope that comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13).

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

―  Romans 8:15 (NLT)



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Faith over Fear?

white goat kid on grass

A lot is made about things like “faith over fear” or “faith greater than fear,” but a Christlike ethic is not defined by such a dichotomy.

The way, truth, and life as expressed, and lived out, by Christ and the apostles centered around faith expressing itself through love as the only thing that counts (Gal 5:6). Faith expressing itself through love:
  • lowers itself and puts the needs of others first (Gal 5:6, Phil 2:3, and many more);
  • gives respect and honor to those in authority (Rom 13, 1 Peter 2, and more);
  • surrenders ones rights for the sake of others (1 Cor 8-9 and more);
Most importantly, a Christlike ethic is centered around, and grounded deeply in, love of God and neighbor (Luke 12:30-31, 1 John 2:6, 1 Cor 16:13-14, and many, many, many more). All of these things, and more, are what is meant by carrying ones cross, washing people’s feet, and living a self-sacrificial lifestyle. (Luke 9:24, Matt 16:24-26, John 13, and more).

“What does love require of me?” is a question we need to ask ourselves constantly.

Faith over fear

It is interesting that so many Christian’s seem to demean others by calling them sheep. Jesus taught that sheep know the voice of their shepherd. If we recognize the voice of our Shepherd then we, as sheep, will follow that voice….we will live that kind of life…and grow in Christlikeness as we move through life.
The “do what is right in my own eyes” philosophy was the primary condemning attribute of the “bad” kings of Israel and, it seems clear, is an anti-Christlike mode of operation. It is NOT a Christlike way of living, because it:
  • exalts self and puts the need of other secondary, at best;
  • demands ones rights over and above the welfare of others;
  • resists the uncomfortableness of the cross and the wash basin;

Faith over Fear is not the fulcrum of our decision making. Love is.

Faith expressed through love, makes us free to love others without fear, because love drives out fear, allowing us the freedom to love openly, unapologetically, and without limit.
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Jesus Christ | Discipleship Prayer Day 3

Jesus ChristMessiah, Immanuel—The Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.     

–Acts 5:42

“Jesus—the Christ, Messiah, Immanuel”

In Southeast Asia is it not uncommon for children to be named simply with a number representing their order of birth. In some areas, many first born sons have the same name which, in their local language means “first” or “one.”  This name becomes and important identifier of ones place in the family, along with the rights, responsibilities, and tasks which will be required of them.

In Scripture names also carry much deeper importance than simply distinguishing one person from another. Names function as descriptions of ones personal nature (Barnabas—Son of Encouragement), physical characteristics (Esau—”hairy,” or perhaps “red”), family relationships (Jonah, Son of Amittai), calling, purpose, or identity (Jesus Christ, the Messiah). “Christ” was not a family like “Smith” or “Jones,” but rather the Greek (Kristos) version of “Messiah” which meant “anointed one.”

Children, of course are given names at birth (or at some point following birth):

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the  name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.     

–Matthew 1:21

The Savior’s given name at birth was “Jesus,” while the name “Christ” or “Messiah” describe his divine identity, his calling, and his purpose; similar to other names used to describe who Jesus was but not used as a personal moniker –

  • Immanuel (Matt 1:23) – “God with us”
  • Son of God (Mark 3:11)
  • Son of the Most High (Mark 5:7)
  • Son of Man (Luke 9:22)

Finally, as the time of Jesus’ earthy ministry is coming to an end, Jesus gives his followers three more names designed to help us know how to live following his departure:

Thomas said to him,

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, 

“I am the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE

~John 14:5-6a



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love… 

 

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Heavenly Father | Discipleship Prayer Day 2

Heavenly Father, God Most High, Most Holy, Most Loving

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

–James 1:17-18 (NIV)

“Heavenly Father…”

Everything good, right, perfect, and true comes to us by the divine initiative of our Heavenly Father, who is:

“God Most High”

The Creator of the heavens, the earth, and all that is contained in all the created world (Gen 14:2). There is no thing and no one greater or more powerful the Almighty God who is above all things (Isa 46:9).

“God Most Holy”

The greatness of God is grounded firmly in holiness (Lev 11:45).  God is wholly separate (different) than the created world (Jos 3:14); completely pure and free from contamination (Deut 32:4); entirely perfect, complete, and whole, lacking nothing; and defined from beginning to end by love—holy, perfect, cross-bearing love (Psalm 13:5).

“God Most Loving”

Self-sacrificial, cross-bearing, perfect love is the foundational, defining nature of God (1 John 4:16). This love is also the essence of holiness and the motivation behind every display of divine creativity and power.

As we come into God’s presence in prayer it is important to begin with praising God for who God is – most high, most holy, most loving, and much more – and remembering that it pleases God to love and be loved. As we come before the Lord, seeking to be renewed and re-created in the Imago Dei (image of God), it is God’s pleasure to give the gift of renewed goodness and re-created perfection (wholeness and purpose) to those who sincerely seek the face of God.



→ If I must err, let it be in the direction of love…