The Glory of Prepositions

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God abides in us to perfect His purposes through us. This is an interesting and a comforting thought. This God of love lives in us, stays with us, and flows through us to accomplish His desires. But we are not passive partners in this process. We have our own role to play. And this role is primarily practiced through the act of obedience.

But, if you’re like me, obedience can sometimes be a slippery thing. For years I used to flounder in frustration when reading verses like Proverbs 3:5 (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding) or 1 Cor. 10:31 (Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God). These types of verses seemed to excel in telling me what to do but appeared to fail in explaining how. It felt as if God had wedged me between my desire to do the right thing and my ignorance of the process.

But God had done no such thing at all. In fact, when I looked at these types of verses more clearly, I realized that in every instance God had provided a hidden instruction so that my obedience could be carried out as He intended. The answer, though, came in those small connecting words we often overlook in scripture. Tiny words that race past our eyes and hide within the shadows of metaphors and expansive revelations. These are the words we imagine revolve around the center of a sentence’s solar system, while in reality, they are the stars whose gravity holds all of the other words together and maps the circuit of the ideas within.

What are they?

They are the prepositions. Words like “in” and “with” and “for.” And without them, no Christian can ever obey God.

Consider the following:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Php. 4:13

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:10

or

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5

Obedience can never be done without the prepositions. In fact, it is the prepositions that empower the obedience. If we are honest, we know we cannot do what God commands us to do in our abilities alone. But when we embrace the belief that it is Christ working in and through us, we can boldly step out and proclaim, “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (Ps. 108:13) This gives a whole new dimension to prayer and obedience. For once we have completed the process of following and have synced our heart and mind up to God’s so that we know His will, He command to go and do changes our requests from scavenger hunts to discover His will into requests to perform His will. We can step out in power and in confidence because it is He who is doing the work, not ourselves. Like an arrow shot from the archer’s bow, we do not set the aim or the trajectory or the target. Our objective is to only fly straight and true, piercing the bullseye according to His will.

Thus, obedience in Christ is not only praying in the name of Christ but it is also acting in the will and the power of Christ. The man who forfeits the opportunity to obey the calling of God because he is unable to accomplish the vision in his own strength is both missing and understanding the point all at the same time. He is so close to the adventure of God he teeters on the edge of understanding and faith, but he is so focused on himself that the distance between his usefulness and impotence in Christ has become immeasurable. If he would accept that God only wants him to be remembered as a useful tool and not a glorious building, then he would be able to yield himself to work in the strength and will of the Carpenter’s hand. But the one who does not empty himself of grandiose visions of glory or depressive visions of failure can only experience God’s desires for his life as an observer, not as a participant. His heart is focused too much on what he believes he can do in himself.

But God does not want us to obey within the the limitations of our abilities. He wants us to obey within the infinite realms that His prepositions provide “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2) For since we have been crucified with Christ, the only thing that should remain in the obedient servant is a willingness to be used and a hopeful expectation to see God do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:2).

Remember, when God calls us to obedience, He calls us to future action. Sometimes that action is milliseconds in the future (will you defend your faith or deny that you know me?) and sometimes it is months or years in the future (lead my people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land). Either way, our faith must rest in God’s future grace in order to propel our obedience. Too many times we want to focus on the now because that is the one aspect on life’s timeline we can control. But God is a god of tomorrow as much as He is a god of today. Our faith need not be in what we can control now but in what God is controlling next, whether it be seconds or eons to come. If we cannot trust that God is there (in the future) as well as here (in the present) we cannot believe the calling and vision He has placed on our lives will be fulfilled. Everything will be left up to random chance. But a God who lives in the future is a god who calls us forward.

He is a god who secures the outcome in the power of His might. He is a creating god, ensuring the chaos of today is ordered into the fulfilled promises of tomorrow. A god of the future is a trustworthy god. An unsurprised god. A victorious god. And an unchanging god. He has no need for variance because as a god of the future, He has no need to react.  He is always out in front of us, creating, planning, coordinating, and inviting exactly the right person(s) to accomplish His purposes, of which we are a part. As an elected member of this future god’s tribe, our job is not to worry about today (for He has planned this day and its events from long ago) nor is it to ask about the what-ifs of tomorrow (for He has already arranged those outcomes as well). Our job is to boldly follow this god into the future He has designed and to exchange our anxiety for security. When we work in Him and with Him and for Him we no longer need to question what will happen. We only need to seek the when.

In this way our obedience demonstrates that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Heb. 10:39) For we know that whether our obedience leads to another event that fulfills God’s plans or a death that glorifies His name, we will always be stepping into the future with God.

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Reflections on Psalm 145

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The one who extols and blesses and praises God’s name continuously is the one who maintains a high view of the holy standard God exemplifies in both His words and His actions. This helps a person remember that there is a standard above himself, an unflinching and unbreakable law that calls one to a higher code of conduct than anything we could imagine. Keeping God’s holiness constantly in view helps us remember that we are not the first cause to our morality, nor are we the end of the argument (i.e., the last person to whom we are accountable) for our choices. There is someone superior to us who holds us to a higher standard than we have ever held ourselves. Praise reinforces this knowledge and provides the kernel of submission we require to live a life rooted in the stability of this truth. To be a person full of integrity, whose actions and words align.

The continuous practice of praise allows us to conform our lives to God’s will and provides security even in the darkest times of life, for the truth of God does not change. His words and deeds are continuously consistent (He does not change like shifting shadows). Therefore, in verse 18 this is why it says, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” God is not nearby, like a player waiting to be called off the bench to enter the game.

God is near.

He is personal.

His words are hidden in our heart so that we might not sin against him. Those words define us. They construct our habits and thoughts. They provide a path of righteousness to walk in for His name’s sake. And when our actions and deeds match the holy standard of His actions and deeds it gives our prayers gravitas because this alignment is what it means to “call on Him in truth.” It is speaking out of an integrity and a righteousness that He has designed in us, based out of His perfect character, not out of an identity that our broken pathologies have defined. When we see God as superior and continually exalt and extol His name above all other names (especially our own), we then understand our position in relation to Him. We can respect and revere and love Him as we ought. And as a result, God fulfills the desire of those who fear Him and preserves those who love Him (v. 19-20). Not so that we may benefit materially, but so that our lives may proclaim the goodness of His name and be an eternal echo of that old hymn that says:

Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,

And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.

Why Pray?

man_in_prayeyrjpg-800x258God

Why do you pray?

Me

Because I have a problem and I either don’t know what to do

or need help with the solution.

 God

In other words, you require supernatural intervention, either in word or in deed?

Me

Yeah. I guess that sounds about right.

God

And what would you do if I immediately gave you the answer

or performed the miracle upon request?

 Me

What would I do?! I’d be happy! I’d praise you!

I’d tell everyone about what you did for me!

God

And after that?

Me

After what?

God

After the adrenaline and the joy wore off? What would you do then?

How would you be on Thursday of next week if your boss came in

and laid you off from your job?

Me

Wait! I’m losing my job next week?!

God

No. No. No. Hypothetically. What would you do?

Me

I guess I’d pray again.

(You promise I’m not losing my job?)

 God

Why?

Me

Because I need a job! I need to eat, pay off debt, have a place to live,

provide for my family, etc.

 God

Have I not been providing for you this whole time?

Have you ever gone without?

 Me

No.

God

Then why are you worried?

Me

Because I need money to survive in this world.

(Come on, God, don’t be coy with me. Am I really getting laid off?)

 God

My dear child, is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Me

Philosophically? Sure…I guess. But practically I’ve got to pay my bills, God.

My family has to eat.

God sighs heavily

Me

What?

God

Do you not know that the silver is mine and the gold is mine?

That the earth and all it contains belongs to me? Have you

not heard that if you honor me, I will shower you with so

much blessing you will not be able to handle it all?

 Me

Well….yeah.

God

My child, I AM the most practical answer to all of your concerns.

But if I am only a piece of philosophy to calm your anxious soul or

a rational argument that provides order for your worldview, then

what are we doing here?

 Me

What do you mean?

God

I mean, why are we talking?

Me

Because, God, You know all things! You can do all things!

God

But what good does any of my wisdom or help do for you if you value your personal security above your relationship with me? I do not want to be another method that you use to increase your happiness. I want to be the end that you are pursuing, not another means by which you seek yourself.

God places His hand on my shoulder and looks me in the eye.

God

Do you understand?

Me (sheepishly)

I’m trying, Lord.

God

Prayer is not about receiving more of what you want.

It never has been that way and it never will be.

Me

 You mean, it’s not about the answers, the healings, or the money?

God

No.

Me

 Then why pray?

God

Because every answer I grant your prayers, whether a “yes” or a “no,” is not done to make your life easier. It’s done to give you a newer, brighter, and cleaner revelation of who I am. I do not act on your behalf for any other reason than to help you receive the one thing that will never wear out or fade in value.

Me

And what would that be?

God

Me. Prayer is about receiving ALL of me.

Me

 Oh, God, I don’t know that I can do this on my own. Teach me how to pray.

God

Just start with the words “Our Father” and filter everything else, both your petition and my answer, through these two simple words. Everything else will flow from there.

Quick Thoughts: The Problem with -ed

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It happens to the best of us. At some point, we recognize the need for self-improvement. We make a plan, buy the clothes or equipment needed, and gin up as much passion and enthusiasm as we can muster.

At first, everything is fine. And the results, though small, are churning out baby endorphins for our brain’s enjoyment. But then one day when the alarm goes off, we take a deep breath, stretch, and sigh heavily.

“How much longer do I have to do this,” we wonder. Continue reading

Praying Psalm 95

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Below is a prayer that follows Psalm 95 verse by verse.

God, when you invite me to “Come” you order an injunction against my passivity and procrastination. You call me out of my excuses and you call me into the raucous, stadium-rocking joy that celebrates you as the solid foundation of our salvation. Forgive me, Lord. For I have not celebrated you as I ought. I have not treasured the intransigent nature of your character nor the insoluble gift of salvation that flows out of your person as I ought. I have pursued small pleasures instead, trading permanence for things that can rust or wither or die.

Give me a heart, O God, to come into your presence with a thanksgiving and a song of praise that equals the glorious nature of yourself. For you are not only a great God. You are a great King above all gods. You hold the depths of the earth in your hand so that in the pressured darkness where the monsters swim we may rest within the surrounding walls of your strength. The heights of the mountains are also yours, giving us new challenges to climb, peaks to stand upon, and a pure vision of the roads that lay before us. You have made the sea, O God so that we can satisfy the desire to explore, and you have formed the dry land to teach us the value of work and the mystery of life.

Oh come, let us all worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For none of these gifts are given to help us understand ourselves better. Rather, they point back to the nature and character of His being. God is deep, and sometimes He stands in thick darkness calling us to come forward and meet with Him (Ex. 20:21). God places our feet on high places (Ps. 18:33) but He also calls us to cast away from the shore of security and explore the whole expanse of Himself (Dt. 4:29; Mt. 4:19). To move towards a kingdom not built with human hands. To become citizens in a better country than the one we have abandoned where God is not ashamed to be called our God and has prepared it for us (Heb 11:16). He has shown us that work is necessary both in the doing and the persisting, so that in our successes we may celebrate that He does not passively wait for time to tick down. He, too, is a perennial worker, shaping all mysteries after His will and giving life where a desert once lived.

He is our God. But we are stubborn, stupid, wandering sheep. We need a shepherd to guide us with his hand.

Therefore, help us to hear Your voice today, and to not harden our hearts. People have done this many times in the past and have put You to the test. They have demanded miracles and proof of Your love, despite having seen You work in their lives. We know that such behavior angers You, Lord, not because of our limitations to understand Your greatness. But rather because we have evaluated the landscape of our lives and have chosen something small to replace the God of infinite worth. Keep us from being that person who goes astray in their heart. May we know God’s ways. And enter into His rest. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Cross-Reference Living

Have you ever felt like your enemies are oppressing you? Or that your situation is only getting worse, with no end in sight? David did. In Psalm 64 he makes a complaint against God, but as is often the case, the psalm that began hopeless ends with hope and joy!

How did David do that? How can we do this?

I think David had an intimate knowledge of God and the scriptures to help him on this journey, and we can do the same, if we will cross reference our situation and our thoughts with God’s words.

Below is a table. On the left are the verses from Psalm 64. On the right are corresponding verses to show how to use God’s word to combat these types of thoughts. To move us from hopeless to hopeful. Practice this type of thinking this week to help you through your problems and pains.

 

Psalm 64 Cross References
v.1a – Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; Mt. 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 

Heb. 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

 

1 Jn. 5:14-15  This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

v. 1b – protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Isa. 54:17 no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.

 

Jn. 10:27-29 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

 

Prov. 2:7-9 He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.

 

v. 2- Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
Gen. 15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

 

Ps. 34:16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

 

Rom 8: 37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

v. 3 – They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
James 3:6-12 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

 

Eph. 6:10-13 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

v. 4 – They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.

 

Eph. 6:14-17 – Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 

 

v. 5-6a – They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it?”
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Rom. 1:18-21, 28-32 – The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

 

v. 6b – Surely the human mind and heart are cunning. Jer. 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”

 

v. 7-8 But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
Ps. 108:13 With God we will gain the victory,
and he will trample down our enemies.

 

1 Jn. 5:4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

 

 

v. 9 –  All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.
Romans 14:11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

 

Php. 2:9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

v. 10 – The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
Php. 4:4-6 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

 

Lk. 10:20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

 

1 Thess. 5:16 Rejoice always.

 

Rev. 4:8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

 

 

Neuroscience and Jesus


This is my dog, Hobbes. And he barks.

A lot.

A car goes by. My dog barks. A neighbor walks past our house. My dog barks. The mailman drives past. My dog (cliché that he is) barks. And heaven help the little Girl Scout who rings the doorbell. The only threat she poses is to my wallet, and I am convinced that if dogs could understand the joy of chocolate, Hobbes would stand on his hind legs, put on a pair of reading glasses, and write her a check himself for a truckload of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties.

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