Learning to trust the guiding Spirit of God

One of the areas of maturity that we seek to foster in every member of King’s Cross Church is a humble yet growing confidence in coming to scripture as the rule of faith and life for every believer.

While we profess belief in the authority of the scripture for Christian living, the Word of God is often neglected in our lives. We hear sermon after sermon. We may even get commentary and insights from books, articles, and podcasts. But what of the Living Word itself? The Living Word desires to breathe life into our weary souls yet we, whether intentionally or not, have kept running away. We live at the pace of our world while the Spirit is inviting us to keep pace with him —  to walk in-step with the Spirit who lives and dwells with us.

In the coming months our Community Group Ministry will return to hearing from scripture directly. We will wrestle with the text as we are called to enter a world that is bigger than our own. We will ask questions of the text as the texts asks questions of us and our lives. We will grow together, learning how to read and how to listen to the voice of God alive in the scriptures.

I understand that there may be lots of fear and anxiety when we come to scripture.

What if we interpret it wrong?

What if I get stuck?

What if our group is unable to "get anything" from it?

If we're not used to doing this together, it will be hard. We will endure awkward silences. We will linger on questions that seem to have no answer. Yet if fear of such circumstances keeps us from engaging altogther, we will have lost out on a means by which we can grow in maturity. We will rob ourselves of an avenue where the grace of God can clearly be seen in our midst.

No one who has seriously studied and meditated on the scriptures comes out feeling like he has "mastered" God or his word. None of us. Not our pastors. Our elders. Our CG leaders. No one. At the same time we are called as his disciples to grow and learn. Studying scripture is an exercise that will humble us and bring us to worship.


In our community groups, we're hoping to practice and adapt a method of study called the "inductive method." It is a method utilized by many ministry organizations around the world but perhaps best championed by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This method is better detailed elsewhere but I'll just mention here that it involves three major phases:

  1. Observation
    In this initial phase we make observations of the text asking the 5 W's and an H: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? We look for repeated words and phrases, pay attention to seemingly awkwardly clauses, notice comparisons and contrasts. We're just interested in observations during this phase. Try to curb that desire to rush through with interpretation. We save that for the next phase.
  2. Interpretation
    After we have all shared our observations, we can start to make connections and ask questions of the text. We may not get answers to every one of our questions but here we foster a curiosity and openness to scripture with expectation that God is acting in our midst. Here we seek to understand what the text means in context and we learn from one another as the Spirit speaks to us through us.
  3. Application
    And lastly, we move to see how this text challenges our living. After all our questioning seeking to understand the meaning of the text, it would be foolish of us to ignore the call that scripture has on us. We practice knowing that this is not mere external knowledge to be gained, but a living word that wants to live in us and live through us. 

If you're new to this method, it may seem that this process seems very open-ended. It is. But we don't read in a vacuum. We are growing as part of the living body of the church where God's Spirit dwells and is at work in us, guiding us, teaching us.

If you're a member of our church, I implore you to have grace on your leaders who are growing in this method with you. We need encouragement as we are also learning to trust the Spirit at work in our midst. We sometimes hold ourselves to impossible standards; guide us back to the grace offered in Jesus. It is my hope that as we intentionally move into this new season as a church, we will cultivate a love for God through studying his word. I hope that we will learn the rhythms of his heart and learn to trust the guidance of his Spirit in our midst. Our God desires to reveal himself to his people. Let us seek him with all of who we are.

I leave you with this meditation from the English preacher Charles Spurgeon who opened one of his great sermons with this encouragement to the church:

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, "Behold I am wise." But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass's colt; and with the solemn exclamation, "I am but of yesterday, and know nothing." No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.
Charles Spurgeon


Rest

I’m tired.
I’m burnt out.
I need to take a break.

These are common refrains I hear every week as I live and serve in a busy city amongst people with even busier lives. Few of us can remember the last time we felt fully ourselves, constantly moving on to the next thing on our to-do list, endlessly multitasking and never being whole — never fully present. Maybe we’ve even defined ourselves by busyness or achievement, or prided ourselves in being informed and active about the world. Certainly much can be said about the busy pattern of our lives and hearts, but I’ll have to save that for another time.

Today I only want to address the specific concern of getting rest — real. deep. wholehearted. rest. Jesus promised such rest to his disciples in the presence of the Holy Spirit in John 14:27:

Peace [or wholehearted rest] I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give to you.

Why is the rest that Jesus promises so elusive to people in the church — especially among those who serve in the church? I believe the core of the problem, especially when it comes to living and practicing our faith or leading others in the faith, is that we confuse the rest that Christ offers with the rest the world offers. They are not the same and we sometimes fool ourselves thinking we can be wholly and spiritually rested and restored merely by getting physical rest.

I’m certainly not discounting physical rest. Some of us at least need physical rest because… well… we’re physically exhausted. I’m grateful that our church values rest enough to write it into the practices of our ministry philosophy, but sometimes we confuse sleep and not-having-anything-to-do with the wholehearted rest Jesus desires for us. If we are tired from serving in the church or find ourselves depleted from loving our friends and neighbors with the love of Christ, getting more sleep or freeing up our personal schedules and responsibilities will only get us part of the way toward restoration and renewal.

When I hear from tired people in the church, “I need a break,” my first reaction sounds like, “Of course! Rest is good and very much needed! But what are you going to do during this break?” In other words, “You currently feel spiritually exhausted and depleted. What will you do and practice to restore your spiritual strength?” We were not meant to live our Christian lives on a constant roller coaster of spiritual fullness and spiritual emptiness. We are not meant to serve with all our might until we feel dead inside then “take a break” only to start the cycle all over again. Yet that is what we often see in our lives! How can we live in such a way that gives us the endurance to live the life that Jesus calls us to live — one that fully practices love, service, and sacrifice yet also cultivating the shalom wholehearted rest he promises us through the Holy Spirit?

We can only live as God’s people if we remain tethered to the source of our spiritual strength. I know of two foundational practices that will root us in love: (1) being constant in prayer, and (2) meditating and engaging with scripture. Surely this is not everything; it seems so “basic”. But I know of no spiritual life apart from these life-giving practices.

If you are feeling empty, exhausted, tired — if you are “taking a break” — perhaps you will want to consider what kind of rest you really need. Don’t confuse the rest of this world for the rest that Christ gives us. Paul prayed for the church in the busy commercial center of Ephesus, saying,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

I extend that prayer for us in the church that having been running on the fumes of our last “break” to move us to drink from the fountain of life that flows with the riches of his glory. May his strength given to us through his spirit enable us to live lives that give the love of Christ physical dimensions — breadth and length and height and depth — in the way we embody his love to others in our life and service.


Today is Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday: the beginning of the Lenten season. We don't officially practice Lent at King's Cross but if you'd indulge me anyway with some thoughts on the season.

For those of you (like myself) who did not grow up practicing this because it was too formal/dry/dead or had the perspective, "Isn't Lent for Catholics?!"... Lent is a season of lament, intended to help the church posture herself in repentance to anticipate the cross (Good Friday) and the resurrection (Easter). Just as we prepare for anything in our lives (wedding, job interview, certification, exam, etc) with practices of anticipation, Lent helps the church prepare together... to form us together. So here is one reflection for us to consider as we anticipate the cross and resurrection:

You may have noticed people in your offices, or on the subway, or walking around carrying the ashen mark on their foreheads. There's a line from one of my favorite psalms that I love: "For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." (Psalm 103:14)

How often do we live or serve the church on our own strength, forgetting that we are dust, animated by the breath (Spirit) of God? (Gen 2:7) We forget; but David reminds us in the psalm that He knows our frame. God does not forget. The wise sage who authored Ecclesiastes reminds us: "All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return." (Ecc 3:20)

Being of dust reminds us that we live in a neighborhood that lives in brokenness, and we are part of that brokenness that needs restoration. We lament with the poor because we are also poor. We lament with the weak because we are also weak. We lament with immigrants because scripture reminds us we are foreigners who were invited to be natives of the Kingdom.

And in Christ coming, he who lived in perfect splendor came down to be dust with us. (John 1:14) So today, if you are so inclined, join your heart with me and many others all over the world (just as we recite the Apostle's Creed every Sunday), to remember who we are, and that this symbolic smear of ash on our foreheads remind us that we are dust. We lament the state of our lives and the state of our world. But it is being fully immersed in this lament (not trying to avoid it or fast forward it til we get to the "good part") that we can better see the beauty of the life we've been given through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we are exploring Gathered & Scattered, how can we lament well and join our hearts *with* and alongside our neighbors? Let us seek to understand and know our community, our church, and those who've been entrusted to our care and friendships.

Prayer:
Lord, remind us by whose power we live and move and have our being. Give us eyes to properly see ourselves and more clearly see the brokenness of our lives and community. And give us hearts of love that models after your heart: that you came and dwelt among people like us. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to show forth the Gospel in all areas of our lives. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.


Reflections on Psalm 8

On Sunday, July 20, 1969, the world was fixated on the idea of men landing on the moon in module “Eagle.” When astronaut Neil Armstrong’s set foot on the moon surface said these memorable words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” However, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the lunar surface put everything in a Biblical perspective. He quoted Psalm 8:3,4, “When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visited him?” Aldrin had a view of the universe and what our place was in that vastness of that universe.

One of the things one of many commentators has said is when David asks “What is man?” We’re the only ones in the world sitting around asking, “Who are we?” No one else is asking. Human beings are the only ones who ask, “What is a human being?” We’re the only ones who reflect. It is the question that haunts us and often our prayer life is focused on this question “Who am I?” How we answer this question has an underlying implication; it is pleading for our sense of meaning and value. We try to convince ourselves that we are valuable just by thinking we are valuable. You’re going to have to look to romance, to spouse, to love, to children, to acclaim, to achievement, to status, to money. So when we pray for our job situation to be better because we are looking to our supervisors to say, “you are ______” and this is your value. You pray for romance because we are looking for someone to say “you are_____.” We are all desperate for value and we are looking for somebody else to tell you. Take a moment to think about this. Something/someone outside has to give it to you. It’s your nature. You can’t generate it from within. So our prayer lives are filled with asking God for something outside to affirm this question of “Who am I?” The truth is that if you look to anything but God, for your self-image, your identity, it is always on the verge of failure because it can’t carry that kind of weight; you were made to image the glory of God.

Psalm 8 is giving us an answer to this question. It is saying, you’re going to have to look to someone to give you a sense of significance and worth, something and since you can’t generate it yourself there is one who has sealed that identity through His death and resurrection.

The answer is in Hebrews 2. Psalm 8 is quoted at length. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” The Hebrews writer saying? He’s saying Jesus Christ lived the human life we were supposed to live with all the love, all the compassion, all the truth, all the nobility, all the wisdom you and I were made to have. He came, and he lived the ultimate human life we were supposed to live. At the end of it, he died the death we were supposed to die. He paid for radical evil.

So what does God do? He sends a Messiah, a rescuer…but the most perplexing moment, He sends God through what? The Creator of the universe comes as King out of the sky with a scepter? A King out with a sword. Know he comes to us through a BABY! Emmanuel! God with us. He comes into our world through in the most helpless estate in the most humblest estate. God has shown us that His power comes from his surrender of worldly power.

When you see Jesus Christ losing everything for you, when you see Jesus foregoing his beauty for you, that’s the most glorious, that’s the most beautiful thing possible. The ultimate glory and the ultimate beauty is to see the Lord losing his beauty and love and his glory and honor for you, that you could have it.

Today, pray that you turn your heart to him. With the power of the Holy Spirit using the gospel, that will turn the mirror of your soul more and more to face him fully. In fact, everything that’s happening in your life is turning your soul’s mirror toward him, even the bad things that are happening to you right now. Everything is doing that.


Prayer Prompt from James Taylor’s, “Everyday Psalms”

My God, my God,
how wonderful you are!
There is nothing like you in the whole earth.

I look up to the skies, and I see you there;
Babies and infants open their mouths,
and I hear them cry your name.
Compared to you, our weapons, our bombs,
our power to destroy,
dwindle into insignificance.
On a starry night, with your glory splashed across the skies,
I gaze into your infinite universe, and I wonder:
Who am I?
Why do I matter?
Why do you care about mere mortals?

We humans are less than specks of dust in your universe.
We have existed less than a second in the great clock of creation.
Yet you choose us as your partners.
You share the secrets of the universe with us;
you give us a special place in your household;
you trust us to look after the earth, on your behalf—
not just the sheep and oxen,
but also the wolves that prey on our domestic animals;
the birds, the plants, and even creatures we have never seen
in the depths of the sea.

My God, my God! How amazing you are.


I pray you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends. It is my hope that you join us as we continue in our sermon series on prayer as we look at Psalm 27 entitled “Awaiting Beauty.” If there is anything that I can pray for you please don’t hesitate to write me at peter@kingscrossnyc.org.


Advent: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The Advent season is upon us! Some of you may be wondering, “What is Advent?” If you did not grow up in a church that practiced the liturgical year (a.k.a. the Christian calendar; we only observe parts of it at King’s Cross), the idea of the Advent Season may seem a bit foreign. The Advent Season is the first season of the Christian calendar and it begins four Sundays before Christmas.

It is characterized by a sense of joy (because it is the season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus) juxtaposed with a heart of deepdeep longing, hope, and anticipation. If you look closely at the words of the well-known Christmas lament, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” you can almost feel the desperation of Israel as they wait for God:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

The haunting melody that underscores these words of longing are then immediately followed by joyous refrain of hope:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

These two movements of deep longing and hopeful joy are weaved together in this season. But I suppose for many of us, “hopeful joy” is more familiar to our experience than “deep longing”; most of us do not experience life in fear of death and oppression.

When I consider the plight of God’s people and their longing for a Savior expressed in this hymn and in the Psalms, I immediately think about those who are fleeing war-torn Syria in search of safe refuge. Their longing must echo that of the Jewish people in exile awaiting the Messiah who will put all things right. I was reminded this week in conversation that as we identify with the church universal, we identify not merely on doctrine and practice, but we are also to identify in suffering–their pain is our pain as their hope is our hope. If there is anything that echoes the heart of God in the Advent season, it is this: that God himself hears the cries of his people and comes in their midst.

During Advent we remember that when Christ came into this world, he came among refugees, as a refugee–among a people under the heavy yoke of another power. He is not alien to the cries of this bleeding world, nor aloof to its grief, sorrow, and anger, but has come to bring hope to the nations.

In the backdrop of chaos, confusion, and calamity, we live in expectation for the arrival of Christ and can join with God’s people through the ages as they have practiced living in hopeful suspense of the coming King.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO7ySn-Swwc

Conquering Prayerlessness by Dr. Andrew Murray

Each Friday, our staff and occasional visitors come together to pray in the morning. It is something that I have learned to really look forward to because it engages another person as we come before God in praise and petition together. I think that often our meditation on God and His word, we often come to God through the activities of prayer and not seeing the source of that activity or the goal of that activity. I lead a time with this devotion and I wanted to share it with you as your “Pray Where You Are this week.” Please take your time to read it and please prepare your hearts to use this midweek time to consider our posture before God.


CONQUERING PRAYERLESSNESS

The greatest stumbling block in the way of victory over prayerlessness is the secret feeling that we shall never obtain the blessing of being delivered from it. Often have we put forth effort in this direction, but in vain. Old habit, and the power of the flesh, our surroundings with their attractions, have been too strong for us. What good is it to attempt that which our heart assures us is out of our reach?

The change needed in the entire life is too great and difficult. If the question is put: “Is a change possible? Our sighing heart says: “Alas, for me it is entirely impossible!” Do you know why that reply comes? It is simply because you have received the call to prayer as the voice of Moses and as a command of the law. Moses and his law have never yet given any one the power to obey.

Do you really long for the courage to believe that deliverance from a prayerless life is possible for you, and may become a reality? Then you must learn the great lesson that such a deliverance is included in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, that it is one of the blessings of the New Covenant which God Himself will impart to you through Christ Jesus.

As you begin to understand this, you will find that the exhortation, “Pray without ceasing,” conveys a new meaning. Hope begins to spring up in your heart, that the Spirit – who has been bestowed on you, to cry constantly, “Abba, Father” – will make a true life of prayer possible for you. Then you will hearken, not in the spirit of discouragement, but in the gladness of hope, to the voice that calls you to repentance.

Many a one has turned to his Inner Chamber, under bitter self-accusation that he has prayed so little, and has resolved for the future to live in a different manner. Yet no blessing has come – there was not the strength to continue faithful, and the call to repentance had no power, because his eyes had not been fixed on the Lord Jesus. If he had only understood, he would have said, “Lord, Thou seest how cold and dark my heart is. I know that I must pray, but I feel I cannot do so, I lack the urgency and desire to pray.”

He did not know that at that moment the Lord Jesus in His tender love was looking down upon Him and saying “You cannot pray; you feel that all is cold and dark; why not give yourself over into My hands? Only believe that I am ready to help you in prayer; I long greatly to shed abroad My love in your heart, so that you, in the consciousness of weakness, may confidently rely on Me to bestow the grace of prayer: Just as I will cleanse you from all other sins, so also will I deliver from the sin of prayerlessness – only do not seek the victory in your own strength. Bow before Me as one who expects everything from his Saviour. Let your soul keep silence before Me, however sad you feel your state to be. Be assured of this – I will teach you how to pray.”

Many a one will acknowledge: “I see my mistake; I had not thought that the Lord Jesus must deliver and cleanse me from this sin also. I had not understood that He was with me every day in the Inner Chamber, in His great love ready to keep and bless me, however sinful and guilty I felt myself to be. I had not supposed that just as He will give all other grace in answer to prayer, so, above all and before all, He will bestow the grace of a praying heart.

What folly to think that all other blessings must come from Him, but that prayer whereon everything else depends, must be obtained by personal effort! Thank God I begin to comprehend – the Lord Jesus is Himself in the Inner Chamber watching over me, and holding Himself responsible to teach me how to approach the Father. This only He demands – that I, with child-like confidence, wait upon Him and glorify Him.”
If fear and hesitation still remain, I pray you by the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, and by the unspeakable faithfulness of His tender love, dare to cast yourselves at His feet. Only believe with your whole heart –there is deliverance from the sin of prayerlessness. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In His blood and grace there is complete deliverance from all unrighteousness, and from all prayerlessness. Praised be His Name
forever!
Rev. Andrew Murray, in The Prayer-Life (1920)


Take a moment to understand what has gripped you about this and share it below in the comments.

Prayer Prompt
Lord, help us see that our prayerlessness is a sign of our lack of faith in you. We must repent of unbelief.So much of our growth is a process of growing towards trusting you as our Lord with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5).Remind us like you did with Thomas, that Jesus holds out to us his scarred hands to remind us that our unbelief is pathway to the invitation to each of us to your response; “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

I hope you can join us for service this Sunday as we celebrate Thanksgiving and continue our sermon series on prayer and we will take a look at Psalm 8, as I will be preaching on “The Lord, Majesty, Mindfulness and Messiah.” We will have a potluck for the community and we hope you can us as we worship together as a family.