Shepherd Group 8/26

Hello! My Shepherd Group started meeting again last night. I told them I’d post what we talked about here the day after. We read Matthew 3:13-4:2, and then I tried to address what I thought would be the inevitable consequence in a study on prayer. Here’s what I said.

I think there are three things to be gleaned from this passage. First, the Father’s pleasure in the Son (v. 17). Jesus is the Son of God’s love. This statement gives us a window into the Trinity before time, when there was nothing but Father, Son, and Spirit eternal existing in mutual and infinite joy, knowledge, and love. This reminds us that our God is inherently a happy God, not a miser. And it reminds us that as goes the Son, so go we ourselves. If God is pleased with Christ, then he is pleased with us, being in Christ. Second, the Son’s obedience in suffering (v. 1). Jesus obeyed the Spirit in difficult circumstances. He knew the Spirit was leading him into trial, and he went willingly. The Apostle’s Creed says that Jesus “descended into hell,” and this is partly what that meant. He was hungry. He was alone. He was tempted. Our great High Priest can sympathize with our weaknesses because he felt them himself. I think the third insight can only be observed in reading 3:17 and 4:1 together, without the chapter break. “And behold, a voice from heaven said ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The big observation here is that verse 1 follows verse 17. How often do I question the love and delight of God in me as his adopted son because of fierce trials? “God, why are you doing this? I thought you loved me!” I cry, and all the while God is saying “yes, I do love you, and this is how I prove my love” (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11). This is my point. For the next 16 or 17 weeks, we’ll be talking about prayer, and it is my earnest hope and prayer that we will be praying. And with the little life experience I have, I know that when Christians get serious about prayer, Satan attacks. We’ll be talking about the willingness of God to answer prayer, and daily experience may testify otherwise. It will be hard. And Jesus knows. He knows the gravity of wanting to hear from God and only hearing Satan instead. He knows our hardship, and he provided an example so we might know that the temptations of Satan cannot cancel out a Father’s love.


Last Bit


Here’s the last segment from the letter I wrote to a friend about a year and some ago on sovereignty. This bit is on sovereignty and prayer.

How does my belief in God’s sovereignty aid me in prayer? Because the God who decrees ends uses means to accomplish those ends. When God decrees rain, he decrees weather systems. When he decrees growth, he decrees industry. When he decrees healing, he decrees prayer (James 5:16).

God hears prayer (Psalm 65:2). He responds to it. He will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13). The prayer of a righteous man has great power (James 5:16), because there is none like God, “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10). If God, who governs, ordains, and rules all things, has decided that to accomplish his purposes, he will use prayer, then those ends will not be accomplished without prayer. Our prayers matter because God wrote this play, and he waits for his cues like the rest of us.
You and I, then, having been commanded to always pray and never lose heart (Luke 18:1), can do so in faith and boldness, knowing that many will be blessed through our prayers (2 Corinthians 1:11). Prayer is working in the fields with the Father as a little child who says “look Dad, there’s a weed” to watch his Father rip the offending plant out of the ground with everlasting arms. We have been given “dignity of causality” and we have the unimaginable privilege of pointing and watching God work.
What’s more, God is able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Let’s put that glorious claim to the test. Start asking big. Start imagining big. And watch the power of the prayer-answering God dwarf the edifices of your imagination with a deliverance that calls to mind Egyptian armor in the middle of the Red Sea.

Batter My Heart


Another poem for National Poetry month- this time from John Donne, amazing pastor-poet. This is Holy Sonnet XIV:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But I am bethroth’d  unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me,  never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Thank you John Donne. Make it so, Lord.


I Dare You To Try

Good morning!

A quick word on Christian imagination: In what is one of my favorite phrases in the Old Testament, Psalm 126 says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream” (emphasis mine). We were like those who dream.

Because of their disobedience, these slaves made a people were cast out of the land of promise, ravaged by their enemies, demeaned, humiliated, slaughtered. The temple- where the glory of God had dwelt- was destroyed, the holy items pillaged. Tossed aside and forsaken by the God they had made angry, Israel was destitute and beyond hope.

And then, after 70 years, God restored their fortunes. The people returned to the land. The temple rebuilt. A new Son of David on the throne. Jerusalem’s wall restored. Is this a dream? Even better- no one could have dreamt this.

In the New Testament it gets better still: God’s wrath taken away forever, a new covenant written on our hearts, inducted into the divine life, an heir of the glory of God, the promise of eternity in the presence of the Lord, etc. It seems like it never ends.

Paul gets this. After praying for the Ephesians, that they would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19), he closes with this number: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)- far more abundantly? What’s more abundant than knowing that which surpasses knowledge, or being filled with that which cannot be contained by heaven and earth? Now who’s dreaming? That’s quite an imagination you’ve got, Paul.

I think Christian imagination is good and necessary. After all, whatever God is going to do, it will surpass our wildest imagination, put our dreams to shame. God is in the habit of surprising his people like that. Moreover, exercising the imagination properly will teach us to expect big things of God, and to look for him to work. It will teach us to be amazed at what he does. And when God does something other than we expect, imagining will be taught by reality and become bigger yet- something on the scale of, Wow! I didn’t even know I could think that big!

So dream big dreams, pray impossible prayers, and think crazy thoughts. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what the Lord does.


Prayer (1)

Good morning,

I’ve recently been set onto George Herbert’s poetry, and if I knew what the word “sublime” meant, I would use it to describe some of these poems. Here’s my favorite, entitled, “Prayer (1).”

Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear,
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Oh, Just a Little Bean

Good morning!

I’m sitting here this morning drinking my coffee, and I just remembered something Sam Crabtree said a few years ago at a men’s retreat. I was new to Bethlehem and still wasn’t sure about this whole retreat. I remember not sleeping well, and first thing after my ablutions in the morning I found some coffee. I was still going at the coffee at breakfast time when Pastor Sam stood up to pray, and his prayer started  like this- “Dear Lord, we thank you for the coffee bean…”

Amen to that. Lord, thank you for this most precious of all beans, and the goodness you communicate to us through it.