Archives For Greg Strand

I begin this post with a brief introductory comment, placing this specific issue in a larger context.

This is an attempt to connect our biblical and theological convictions with a current issue and to do so pastorally undergirded by prayer. Although it focuses on a specific issue for prayer, it is also an example of how we might consider a life of prayer, both personal and corporate, in the midst of the many other issues we face on an increasingly regular basis. For one example with multiple incidents, consider the many issues surrounding the racial tensions which face us daily, and the necessity of thinking biblically and theologically, engaging pastorally, and praying faithfully in a similar manner. God and the gospel are the ground, the guide and the goal, and our hope.

 

This past summer the EFCA conference (delegates from churches and other conference-approved roles, which makes up the highest authority in the EFCA, under the Lord Jesus Christ), unanimously approved the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and the Covenant of Marriage. It is a statement that articulates and lives out Jesus’ declaration of the great commandment – “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt. 22:37-39).

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

You may remember this is about Jack Phillips, a baker from Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012 he declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, since it conflicted with his religious beliefs, it went contrary to his conscience (think religious liberty, which also meant he had in the past refused to make cakes for any violation of his conscience, which included, for example, divorce, anti-American messages, profanities, disparagement of the LGBT community). The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against Jack, claiming he was in violation of Colorado’s antidiscrimination laws. If Jack bakes cakes at all, he must bake them for all, including same-sex weddings.

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the Commission’s ruling. When Jack appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, they refused to hear it. This ruling is being contested, which is why the case is now before SCOTUS. (Regarding the timeline, Colorado legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.)

In June 2015 SCOTUS determined, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that it is a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. That is now the law of the land, even though we as Christians believe that law of the land goes contrary to God’s law, which we affirmed this past summer (cf. Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).

The decision now before SCOTUS is whether or not a baker’s work is the same as an artist, a photographer, a singer, an actor a painter, and other creative professionals who create First-Amendment protected speech, and whether or not the baker has the right to decide which requests to accept and which to deny, and whether or not bakers will be be forced to comply or face prosecution, sanctions or legal coercion. Technically, here is how the issue is formally stated before SCOTUS: “Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.”

This is a major decision that will affect all of us. As SCOTUS hears these arguments, processes all the issues, and makes a decision, it is important for us to remember a number of key truths, and to pray.

Here is the context of our prayer: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

And this is what we affirm of God, his Word, his promises, and how we live life before him in the presence of others in this country, seeking to be faithful citizens of two cities.

First, God is sovereign and he has a providential plan, which unfolds in time, the time in which we now live (Ps. 115:1-3).

“Our Father who is in heaven . . .”

Second, God’s ultimate desire is for his name to be honored, his Word to be upheld as he alone is the absolute determiner of what is good and what is not good, which is reflected in our ethics and morality reflecting him as image bearers,  and his glory to extend to the ends of the earth as the water covers the sea (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14), which is also our desire.

“Hallowed by your name . . .”

Third, God’s good plan is being unfolded in a sinful and broken world, a broken world in which the kingdom of God has broken in through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13-14; 2:15; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:17-19). Through our union with Jesus Christ we are people of that kingdom, which reflects how we live life as kingdom-people in this world (Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 1 Jn. 3:2-3).

“Your kingdom come . . .”

Fourth, as our sovereign God unfolds this providential plan in the midst of this time and place, we know that he guides and governs the affairs of humanity, including kings, rulers and those in authority: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1).

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .”

Fourth, as Christians we live in the world, but we are not of the world (Jn. 17). We live as salt and light in this dark and decaying world (Matt. 5:13-16). We know that true transformation comes only from the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:9-10), and the ultimate enemy, the one who kills, steals and destroys (Jn. 10:10), seeks to prevent the progress of the gospel and the spread of the kingdom. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). This means we pray: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18).

“Our Father . . . give . . . forgive . . . deliver”

Finally, we trust God and his promises. All the promises of God find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), which means those who have been declared righteous by faith, they also live by faith. This reflects the Christmas story. God made a promise and even in the midst of 430 years of apparent silence, God was fulfilling his plan so that “at the right time” he sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4). And God’s promises are always fulfilled in God’s ways, which is impossible for humanity, whether it is Mary’s miraculous virgin conception or Elizabeth’s pregnancy, who was barren and too old, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37; cf. Gen. 18:14 and the birth of Isaac). We trust God and live in a way that manifests his promises are true. We are a transformed and being transformed people. We are living out the truth of the Christ of Christmas.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Advent Devotionals

Greg Strand – December 1, 2017 Leave a comment

This Sunday is the beginning of the season of the Christian year known as Advent.

Advent (from the Latin Adventus, meaning coming or arrival) is part of the larger season in the Christian year (think of the incarnation, which is celebrated at Christmas, and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is celebrated at Easter), an aspect of the church’s gathered worship leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

Although not a biblical mandate for the church, Advent has been and remains an important aspect for many churches for most of Christian history. In fact, according to the Christian year, Advent marks the beginning for the people of God in their annual calendar, not January 1. Our lives are not only lived between Christ’s first and second comings, they are also marked, formed and shaped by His two comings.

This year I offer two possible resources for your advent devotional reading, study and worship. It may be worthwhile to make both available so people have an option. I include the links below along with an explanation of each of the series. May the Lord use them in your preparation for and in your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, as you celebrate his first coming as a baby, and as you await his second coming as a King.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Christmas In the Storyline of the Bible: Peace In the Midst of Tribulation

The advent devotional theme for this series comes from Jesus’ words at the conclusion of his farewell discourse. Jesus says to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). If we are to understand these words of Jesus, it is important to understand who he is and what he has done. In the midst of sure and certain tribulation, Jesus promises peace and the peace comes from him. In this world we will have tribulation. That is certain. But for believers, it is also certain that we can take heart and be encouraged and hopeful, because we are in Christ in whom is peace, and he has overcome the world.

This is the truth of Christmas. In our devotional, we are going to go back to the beginning and follow the storyline of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption and consummation. What we celebrate at Christmas in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the culmination of this story. But this is not the end of the story, as we await the return of Christ, which is the key truth we celebrate during Advent. As we remember the first coming of Jesus in the incarnation, we await and prepare for the second coming of Jesus.

  1. Introduction: The Meaning and Significance of Advent
  2. Theme: The Peace Christ Promises
  3. Week One: From Very Good to Enmity, Pain, Cursed and Banishment: Creation and the Fall (Genesis 1-3)
  4. Week Two: From Tribulation to Peace – The Prince of Peace: Redemption Promised (Isaiah 9)
  5. Week Three: A Birth, Glory and Peace: Redemption Experienced (Luke 2)
  6. Week Four: A Cradle, A Cross, and A Crown: Consummation (John 20; Revelation 21)

Songs of Christmas: Advent Readings From the Gospel of Luke

This Advent Devotional focuses on The Gospel of Luke and the Songs of Christmas. We will highlight four songs “sung” by four key people surrounding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man, the truth we celebrate at Christmas, yet experience every day throughout the year. Over the next weeks we will study, mediate and ponder these Lucan songs.

The first we will look at is Mary’s Song, otherwise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Next we will hear the song of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, also known as the Benedictus. As you will recall, Zechariah was stricken mute because he did not believe the angel Gabriel who said that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son. After John’s birth, Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and he immediately praised God (Luke 1:68-79). Then we will celebrate with the angels as they sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14), the Gloria in Excelsis. After this we will worship with Simeon as he sings of salvation, the appearance of Christ (Luke 2:29-32), known as the Nunc Dimittis. We will conclude the series in the New Year when we sing “A New Song: The Song of Eternity” from Revelation 5 (cf. Psalms 96, 98).

  1. Introduction: Luke and the Songs of Christmas
  2. Week One: Mary’s Song, Part 1: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
  3. Week Two: Mary’s Song, Part 2: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
  4. Week Three: Zechariah’s Song: Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)
  5. Week Four: The Angels’ Song: Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:1-20, cf. v. 14)
  6. Christmas Day: Simeon’s Song: Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)
  7. Conclusion: A New Song: The Song of Eternity (Revelation 5)

Often our praying becomes rote. We pray the same things over and over. (Sadly, that is assuming we do pray regularly. As a short personal quiz: How often do you pray? How long do you generally commune with the Lord in and through prayer? If married, do you and your spouse pray together?)

Often our praying is general. “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care” or “Bless all the missionaries.” That is better than not praying at all, and at times we simply do not know what to pray so we pray more generally, and thankfully the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
This was the experience of John Piper. He found that his praying would fall into a rut (rote), and in order for him to get out of the rut, it required discipline. What helped him was compiling a list of that prayers prayed by the church as recorded in the Scriptures: What Should We Pray For?

Piper confesses his own personal rut in prayer.

If you are like me, you find that from time to time your prayer life needs a jolt out of the rut it has fallen into. We tend to use the same phrases over and over. We tend to default to worn out phrases (like the word default). We fall into patterns of mindless repetition.

The devil hates prayer. Our own flesh does not naturally love it. Therefore, it does not come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes ever renewed discipline.

In order to address this “default praying,” Piper searched the Scriptures to discern those matters for which the church prayed. He compiled them and used them to guide his praying (he also included this list in his book Let the Nations Be Glad):

So when I wrote that book, I gathered into one place all the things the early church prayed for. I printed this out for myself, and it has proven to be one of those “jolts” that I need. I thought you might find it helpful. You might want to print it out and keep it for a while in your Bible to guide you in your praying.

Piper highlights the great and glorious mystery of prayer, that the God of the universe, the all-sovereign one, would exercise his sovereignty and providence through the prayers of his people is amazing (Piper uses the expression “mind-boggling”), which means that even though one is not physically present, one can touch, influence and affect people, families, neighborhoods, churches, institutions through prayer:

Prayer remains one of the great and glorious mysteries of the universe — that the all-knowing, all-wise, all-sovereign God should ordain to run his world in response to our prayers is mind-boggling. But that is the uniform witness of Scripture. God hears and answers the prayers of his people. Oh, do not neglect this amazing way of influencing nations and movements and institutions and churches and people’s hearts, especially your own.

If you want to pray for what the early church prayed for . . .

Piper follows this by including 35 prayers directly from the Scriptures. I encourage you to read through the list. Better yet is to pray through the list. Best is to memorize these prayers and to make them a regular part of your prayers, applied to specific situations. In this way our default praying is praying “according to the Scriptures.”

Let me conclude with this challenge. For those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, often in our prayer lives we live more like practical atheists than we do children of the heavenly Father. Dear adopted child of God, what will you do to change that? God, our loving Father, will give you the grace not only to change that, but his grace is also sufficient to change your heart to desire to change it.

Johan Gustav Gudmundson (also known as Gummeson, and changed to Gunnerson after they arrived America) was born in Smaland, Sweden on September 18, 1845. Johan and his family emigrated to the United States arriving in New York on July 3, 1856. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Princeton, IL.

When Johan departed for further education in 1863 he changed his name to John Gustaf Princell, out of respect to the town that had become his home, Princeton. We know him as J. G. Princell, and consider him one of the “fathers” of the Evangelical Free Church (Swedish).

Often we hear or know the great accolades of an individual, or the many gifts a person possesses, or the numerous ways the work of a person’s hands prospered. All of these matters would be accurate for Princell. But what is often missing from such a recounting of a person’s history is the kind, wise, good providence of God in preparing a person for those tasks. Although the former is true, without the latter it can almost become historical hagiography. The result can be that we end up making more of a man and less of God.

In the recounting of the lives of those who have gone before, there are few, if any, who are exempt from learning and growing through pain, suffering and sorrow. In fact, it has been said those God uses greatly are those who have been tested deeply. And by faith, they have come forth as God’s refined gold, vessels in the redeemers hand.

This is true for our beloved J. G. Princell. God used him greatly in the Free Church movement, which is why he is considered one of the fathers. He had a giant of an intellect, was a gifted preacher, and a strong leader. But that did not happen apart from God’s gracious sanctifying work in his life. Here are three painful life experiences, which are little known, but which God used for good, evidenced in the spiritual fruit that remained in his life and ministry.

The Death of Princell’s Brother. Three days before they arrived in New York, John’s younger brother died and was buried at sea. As a boy of 11, John was overcome with grief. Through his tears he said, “It was so hard to see little brother sink into the depths of the ocean!”

The Death of Princell’s Wife. J. G. was married to Selma Ostergren in the Gustaf-Adolph church in April 1873. After two short years of marriage, Selma succumbed to death. Upon exchanging vows, J. G. did not think his commitment “till death do us part” would be only two years. Interestingly, prior to Selma’s departure to be with the Lord, she informed J. G. about his remarriage upon her death. “I know who will be my successor,” she said, “because I have already talked to the Lord about it. She is Josephine Lind, and you may remember that there is no one who I would rather see in my place than she.” J. G., once again, experienced the depth of grief in the loss of his wife. What transpired between them prior to Selma’s death also says something about their relationship. J. G. and Josephine were married in 1876 in Boston, and they remained married until J. G.s death in 1915.

The Joys and Sorrows of Revival. P. P. Waldenstrom’s ministry in Sweden was used greatly of the Lord in the renewal and revival of individuals. Waldenstrom’s influence was carried by and flourished among Swedish immigrants in the United States. These immigrants studied the Bible and experienced revival. Princell was also influenced by Waldenstrom and the revival. This resulted in a commitment to the Scriptures and to spiritual reform in the church with an emphasis on “believers’ church membership and believers’ communion.” (There were other emphases, such as his view of the atonement that were problematic, but that is for another time.) This offended some of the members which resulted in a split in the Gustaf-Adolph church. This painful split led to Princell’s resignation from the church in 1879, and a formal and official suspension by the Augustana Synod at their annual meeting in 1879. Princell personally experienced both the joys and pains of revival.

In the midst of trials and tribulations, we trust in God’s good providence as he “causes all things to work together for good.” We are also assured it is these kinds of life experiences God uses to form and shape who we become, and from this character created by God, we serve others with an “aroma of Christ.” This truth was manifested in the life of J. G. Princell, and we are thankful.

Today is the first of the month in which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses: October 31.

Desiring God is providing a month-long study of the Reformation leading up to the October 31, the actual day of the posting of the Theses: Here We Stand: A 31-Day Journey With Heroes of the Reformation Each of the studies focuses on an individual used of God in the Reformation.

This study is described as follows:

In one especially memorable scene, he stood before the emperor and declared courageously, risking his own life, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

But Luther did not stand alone. The Reformation was not about one or two big names — Luther, Calvin, Zwingli — but about a massive movement of Christian conviction, boldness, and joy that cost many men and women their lives — and scattered the seeds that are still bearing fruit in the twenty-first century. Not only was Luther surrounded by many Reformers in Germany, but lesser-known heroes of the faith rose up all over Europe. Heroes like Heinrich Bullinger, Hugh Latimer, Lady Jane Grey, Theodere Beza, and Johannes Oecolampadius. Luther was the battering ram, but he ignited, and stood with, a chorus of world changers.

And here we stand today, 500 years later. Luther wasn’t alone then, and he’s not alone now. To mark the 500th anniversary, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey of short biographies of the many heroes of the Reformation, just 5–7 minutes each day for the month of October.

The first one in the series was officially published today:

Jon Bloom, The First Tremor: Peter Waldo Died by 1218

One was published last week as a precursor to the series:

Stephen Nichols, The Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe c. 1330-1384

Here are a few that were published leading up to this 31-day journey of learning.

John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

Ryan Griffith, Luther Company Remember the Rest of the Reformers

Tony Reinke, The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts: Five Hundred Years of Fighting Idolatry

I encourage you to sign-up and join many others in learning about key individuals, known and lesser known, but all important as they were used of God, in the great work of God in reforming the church, and bringing God’s people back to affirm and embrace the solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).

As Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) wrote, which captured the heart of the solas and of the Reformation, “We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin.”