More Prayer

theosis

I wanna keep talking about prayer.

Actually, I want to help move you to pray more.

I am convinced that prayer is the single most important practice we can perform.

Why?

Because the point of it all–of life, salvation, resurrection–is to be one with God through Jesus Christ animated by the Holy Spirit. It is union. It is oneness. This theme is pervasive throughout all Scripture, and ridiculously obvious once you’ve opened up your attention for it.

And you cannot be “unioned” with someone without talking, without communicating, without deeply knowing the other. You don’t get to know someone by merely working for them, without talking. Like the boss who’s always down at the end of the hall and you never see.

But this is what we push in many of our churches and ministries isn’t it? “Do these things for God. Good job. Now do more.” In my experience I see little talk of “Be with God. Sit with Him. Listen to Him. Talk with Him. Then do what He tells you.”

I resonate with something I read this week in The Way of a Pilgrim on seeking to learn to pray:

I heard a number of very fine sermons on prayer–what prayer is, how much we need it, and what its fruits are–but no one said how one could succeed in prayer. I heard a sermon on spiritual prayer, and unceasing prayer, but how it was to be done was not pointed out.

Thus listening to sermons failed to give me what I wanted, and having had my fill of them without gaining understanding, I gave up going to hear public sermons.

You can start with the Lord’s Prayer or the breath prayers we talked about yesterday.

If you’re attending a church gathering that is not spurring you on to deeper prayer and union with God, then I would get the hell out of there and quit wasting your time.

Perhaps that’s going overboard.

Or is it?

Pray Without Ceasing

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I Thessalonians 5:17

Pray without Ceasing

I am convinced there is no higher calling than prayer.

Than a life saturated in prayer.

To converse with our Maker at all times.

Above all, pray.

For this is the way to union with God, more than anything else.

How can we pray constantly?

What does that look like?

One way, which has been tried and found true for more than sixteen centuries now, is what some refer to as “Repetitive Prayer” or “Breath Prayer.”

You pray a word or phrase from Scripture over and over, forming a habit and making it part of your very breathing, your very being.

Here are two of the earliest and most common:

“O God, come to my assistance. Make haste to help me.”

and

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

You can very easily pray these 500 times a day (I’ve done the math-not difficult at all) to start forming and reforming your mind to be one with God.

You’ll be amazed at what praying these from the heart every moment you think of it will do to you and the world around you.


There’s also a great prayer in the new Star Wars movie Rogue One.

Nicene Creed History

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I’d like to spend one more day on the Nicene Creed and give its history very briefly.

Why?

Because it is one of the critical turning points in the history of Christianity. Much was at stake, and Christianity could have taken a seismic turn, resulting in a vastly different-looking religion than the way we know it today.

In AD 324, Emperor Constantine reunited the Roman Empire under a single throne. He was a recent convert to Christianity himself and had ended the persecution of Christians by decree in AD 313. There’s a wide range of opinions on Constantine himself, but he was the one who convened the first ecumenical, fully representative, universally recognized council of the Christian church (in AD 325).

The council was summoned to resolve a problem that had sprung up seven years earlier and had fiercely divided the church. There was this elder in Alexandria, Arius, who started proclaiming in AD 318 that Jesus was not God at all, only a celestial servant of the true Most High God. He said that only the Father could be considered uncreated and “timelessly self-subsistent.”

This was a big deal, with huge implications for the church, thus an issue that needed to be resolved. For one, among many, how can Christians worship the Father and Jesus and still claim to be monotheists worshiping the one true God? The ecumenical council was called to resolve this issue once and for all. (Ecumenical means worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application.)

It expands on the Apostles’ Creed of AD 140 much more on the life and work of Christ. It has a new section on the relationship between Jesus and the Father, since the chief concern of the council was to defend the true divinity of the Son against Arius (Arianism). That’s why there’s so much explicitness on Jesus being “only-begotten,” “God of God,” “of the same substance as the Father.” It was traditional in early Christian writings to use the example of light, for it cannot be separated, like a ray of light from the sun, thus stating that Jesus is “Light of Light.”.

[Because the council was primarily concerned with discussing Jesus, the original form did not state much about the Holy Spirit. But it was updated at the first Council of Constantinople in AD 381 to include and reflect the deity of the Holy Spirit.]

RELEVANCE

This creed encapsulates the entire good news of the gospel into a short and rich summary. It is enriching for us to remember where we came from down through the centuries. The fact that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are just as much God as the Father is a nonnegotiable part of Christianity. We don’t need to perfectly articulate an accurate trinitarian theology necessarily, but questions will inevitable arise on the relationship between God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they need to be answered well. This is what separates Christianity from so much else in the world.

Recall Jesus’ question to each of us:

“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

What was at stake if the early Christians had given in to Arianism was the work of God in Christ for our salvation being rendered meaningless. No mere man or half-god can intervene to restore fallen humanity, let alone all of creation. Only the Creator can “step into” creation to fix its brokenness and restore its original purpose. Athanasius explore this truth in his amazing work On the Incarnation if you want to read more on this cosmic work that only God can accomplish. He basically said that only the Creator can recreate. Only the Maker can remake. Only God can save us from our sins.

Since the Father and the Son are the same substance, we can know that we can actually know God through Jesus Christ. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). So when we look on Jesus, we look at God. Without confidence that Jesus is God, we could not be sure that Jesus can speak for God, forgive sins for God, declare righteousness for God, or do anything to make us children of the Father.

Amen and amen.

Creeds-a bit more

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OK, I just wanted to say a little more about creeds today before moving on. I want to be clear on what they are and what they are good for.

As we said earlier, creed come from the Latin credo which means “I believe.” Church historian J.N.D. Kelly says that a creed is “a fixed formula summarizing the essential articles of the Christian religion and enjoying the sanction of ecclesiastical [church] authority.”

Or we may say that creeds set forth the basic beliefs of the church that have been handed down from the earliest times, what the New Testament calls “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3).

These are the essentials. In bite-size forms.

The earliest creeds are arguably found in Scripture itself with the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4–“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” Many scholars believe Paul recites an early creed when he summarizes the facts “of first importance” in his letter to the Corinthians: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to the apostles and many others.” And in early baptisms and eucharists, the simple creed of “Jesus is Lord” was recited (1 Corinthians 12:3), which in the original language people knew to mean that Jesus is in fact God.

After the age of the apostles, the church possessed what is called “the rule of faith” or “the tradition” which was simply brief summaries of essential Christian truths, or “an unwritten set of beliefs passed down from the apostles and taught to Christian converts.”

Creeds were used back in the day to publicly confess belief in Jesus Christ, especially at baptism. It was a helpful summarizing of what you were really agreeing to in solidarity with many others before. I like how Justin Holcomb sums up that creeds are not in opposition to Scripture:

“Creeds aren’t dogmas that are imposed on Scripture but are themselves drawn from the Bible and provide a touchstone to the faith for Christians of all times and places.

Creeds

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So why study or know or even look at creeds? Well I’m glad you asked. I’m going to defer to Thomas C. Oden, a scholarly scholartan who has studied extensively early church history:

“We learn something important from them: how the teachings of the prophets and apostles were consensually received by comparing Scripture to Scripture to grasp the meaning of the whole narrative of the history of salvation…They reassure us that we can trust the understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture that has been held to be true by the whole worldwide church throughout changing cultures of all times and places…We learn from them those teachings that the ancient Christian consensus has conformed as true apostolic teaching.”

As with any teaching, it is always good to regularly go back to the founder and those closest to the founder historically. It is insightful to see how the earliest members and believers interpreted Scripture and interpreted Jesus Himself, to see what has stood the test of time, different cultures, and geography. What is core.

Christianity did not start in December of AD 1972 when I was born. Therefore, I do not decide myself what is core Christianity. It is foolish to ignore the rich tradition of those saints who wrestled with the mysteries of Christianity like the incarnation, the trinity, the Holy Spirit, and more. To ignore the insights of the past is to attempt to reinvent the wheel and to risk reinventing it very badly.

Creeds.

Creeds represent “a tool that the church has used to speak about God clearly and faithfully, to guide its members closer to God, and sometimes to distinguish authentic Christianity from the innovations, heresies, and false teachings that the New Testament warns of.” They “try to communicate complex theological ideas to people who don’t have sophisticated theological backgrounds.”*


*Quotes taken from Know The Creeds And Councils by Justin S. Holcomb 

 

The Nicene Creed

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My 9 year old daughter is memorizing the Nicene Creed for her fourth grade class, so I thought I would memorize it along with her, since I am in like thirty-eighth grade now. And it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  I cannot explain how good this has been for me, to massage into my soul what I believe alongside Christ’s church of 2,000 years. It is important and helpful to be able to formulate and state what you believe so as to be encouraged with others who believe, as well as to have enough awareness so that you do not to fall prey to false teachings which may easily lead you away from the true God.

There is a very rich history in this creed which we will just touch on briefly here before stating its content. By the way, the word creed comes from the Latin credo which means “I believe.” What we call the Nicene Creed is actually the product of two ecumenical councils–one in Nicaea (present-day Iznik, Turkey) in AD 325, and one in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in AD 381–and a century of debate over the nature of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed is perhaps the most famous and influential creed in the history of the church, because it settled the question of how Christians can worship one God and also claim that this God is three persons. It was the first creed to obtain universal authority in the church, and it improved the language of the Apostles’ Creed (AD 140) by including more specific statements about the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Many many people died over this creed because they would not recant.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Perhaps we will look at some of this history and language over the next few days so that we may be able to better appreciate what this is and where it came from, and therefore, its immense significance to our faith which we call Christianity.

Blessings upon you this day!

Reputation Protection

There are many disciples of Christ who can justly claim that they are indifferent to material possessions. They happily live in simple huts, wear rough woolen clothes, eat frugally, and give away the bulk of their fortunes. These same people can justly claim that they are indifferent to worldly power. They happily work in the most humble capacities, performing menial tasks, with no desire for high rank. But there may still be one earthly attribute to which they cling: reputation. They may wish to be regarded by others as virtuous. They may want to be admired for their charity, their honesty, their integrity, their self-denial. They may not actually draw people’s attention to these qualities, but they are pleased to know that others respect them. Thus when someone falsely accuses them of some wrongdoing, they react with furious indignation. They protect their reputation with the same ferocity as the rich people protect their gold. Giving up material possessions and worldly power is easy compared with giving up reputation. To be falsely accused and remain spiritually serene is the ultimate test of faith.

-John Chrysostom

Holiness

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One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace. By this I understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him. I include under this heading private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self examination. The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow. Here are the roots of true Christianity. Wrong here, a man is wrong all the way through! Here is the whole reason that many professing Christians never seem to get on. They are careless and slovenly about their private prayers. They read their Bibles but little, and with very little heartiness of spirit. They give themselves no time for self inquiry and quiet thought about the state of their souls.

-J.C. Ryle