Author Archives: debh

Returning to Holiness

(This article was published in the Dec. 2014 issue of Reach Out Columbia magazine.)

In repentance and rest you shall be saved,
in quietness and trust is your strength.
– Isaiah 30:15

When we were kids, my brothers and I loved building rafts. My oldest brother almost drowned because of the first one we made. It was a simple structure, and the raft’s foundation lacked integrity. You can guess the rest of the story. Without a good foundation, a structure won’t last. It was true of our rafts, and it’s true of our Christian faith. Without a good foundation, our spiritual lives will crumble.

The foundation of the Christian life is repentant faith. Our spiritual walk begins and continues by daily repenting of our sins and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ through the Gospel. As we pursue holiness (Heb 12:14), it is vital to understand the ongoing battle between our flesh that seeks our own glory story and the Holy Spirit, who seeks to apply the Gospel story to our lives.

The late theologian Gerhard Forde wrote extensively in On Being a Theologian of the Cross about Martin Luther’s concept of basing one’s life either on glory theology or on cross theology. Modern writers have relabeled it the glory story and Gospel story (see Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin and Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson, Counsel from the Cross). The essence of this concept says that living for our own glory story means living for our own self-esteem, agenda, reputation, flesh, and strength. It is bootstrap Christianity. It is all about us and what we can do for the Lord. At its core is self. Lives based on our glory story are all about us and all up to us.

Living based on the Gospel story is grasping the reality that we are bottom feeders—desperate sinners who need the power of the cross every day. It is admitting that we are far more sinful and flawed than we can imagine, and that we need a Rescuer every day of our lives. As Forde states, “a theologian of the cross (the Gospel story) sees the cross as the end where we die to our sin with Christ and are raised a new creation with Christ. The work is truly finished as Christ promised, and there is no moving on from His cross” (p 17).

A life of repentant faith keeps us coming back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It alone has the power to forgive and make us holy. So while we daily encounter the reality in our flesh that we are far more sinful and flawed than we could ever imagine, through simple faith in the righteous life, death, resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus Christ we find we are more loved, accepted, and welcomed than we could possibly hope (adapted from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Joshnson, Counsel From the Cross).

We see the contrast between the glory story and the Gospel story poignantly displayed in Luke 22 as our Lord celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples. The Lord Jesus’ focus is on the Gospel story as he reminds his disciples that within hours he will be headed for the Cross. While Jesus tells them of his upcoming horrific death, Peter and the other disciples discuss who is the greatest among them (v. 24). Pointing to the Gospel story, Jesus tells them they must die to themselves and serve one another (v. 25-27). Our Lord then “commends them and commissions them” in an incredible act of grace while they continue to focus on their glory story (v. 28-30; p.175, Fitzpatrick and Johnson).

The Lord Jesus then warns Peter, telling him that the devil has demanded to sift him like wheat. “But I have prayed for you,” Christ says. Peter’s own foundation—his commitment to his glory story—is exposed as he tells Jesus that he knows better than Jesus what he would do—he would die before he would forsake his Lord.

Jesus’ response is chilling, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (v. 34). This exchange contrasts how Jesus is centered fully on the cross and the Gospel, and Peter and the apostles are engrossed in their own glory story.

How does the glory story conclude? It always ends in depression, despair, and, ultimately, destruction. As Peter denies and betrays Jesus a third time, his eyes meet the bloodstained eyes of his Master, and he hears the rooster crow. Scripture records his despair: “He went out and wept bitterly (v. 62).

Living our lives for the glory story always results in despair (p.173, Fitzpatrick and Johnson). Its sinful presumption places us at the center of life instead of the Lord Jesus, who is Life.

Ultimately, in brokenness and repentance, Peter was restored in faith (John 21:15-23). His life demonstrates our own greatest need every day.

I am just like Peter. I think this life is about me and up to me. I constantly believe I can handle it on my own. I continually wonder, “How am I coming off? How is my name going to be honored?” I wonder what people are thinking of me. I am consumed with my own glory story.

I am also well aware that I daily, desperately need repentance and brokenness over my own glory story. I need to return to the cross through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. As I do, the power of the Gospel makes me more holy and more like Jesus.

As we pursue holiness, we must remember that we are no different than Peter and the other disciples. Our flesh commits to our own glory story and lives based on our own resources. We constantly seek our glory, our honor, and our reputation.

For self-focused, glory-focused mankind, the only acceptable response is to forsake daily our own glory story and return to the cross of Christ through the Gospel. Otherwise, we will drown in despair.

As we return to holiness through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit will set us free and move us forward into a life lived for his glory. This is a sure foundation.

The Lost Key Found for the New Year: Prevailing Prayer

A couple months ago I went to our local gym and as I was doing my sit-ups, my house key dropped out of my pocket and ended up under some equipment. After running home, panting and about to die, I dug into my pant pocket and found no key. I was flustered and locked out of my own house!

This is what has happened to the Church in America.  We have put our confidence in our programs, pulpits and personalities and lost the key to personal and corporate revival. What is that lost key?

Hebrews 7:24-25 tell us our Lord Jesus has an eternal priesthood and “He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” It is an amazing reality that our Lord Jesus forever lives to pray and intercede for us. As Dan Ratchford says, “You are at the top of Jesus’ prayer list.” That is true for every believer.  But there is another amazing truth the Church has lost. I believe it is the key for personal and corporate revival.

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 tells us that we once “dead in our trespasses and sins . . . sons of disobedience .  .  . by nature children of wrath.” But now because of God’s tender mercy and love toward us who were treasonous traitors, He has “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6). The reality for every true believer in Jesus is that we were crucified with Christ, risen with Christ, ascended with Christ and we are now spiritually present with Christ at the right hand of the Father. We have direct access to the Throne of God as we are seated with Christ at His right hand.  This is why we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16). Not only that, the Holy Spirit is not just praying for us, but interceding through us as we pray (Rom 8:26). Incredible!

We can change the courses of our own lives, others’ lives, and even nations and people groups as we pray. Jesus is praying right now for us. The Holy Spirit is praying right now for us and through us. We have direct access to the Throne of Grace where we are constantly seated.  It is our rightful place in Jesus. So let’s take hold of this long, lost key in 2014 and prevail in pray for spiritual revival in our lives, in the Bride of Christ and the transformation of nations for the glory of Jesus.

James 5:17-18 reminds us that we are no different than Elijah. He found the key to changing the course of his own nation and nations around him through prevailing prayer. Let’s join Elijah and change the course of history through prevailing prayer at the right hand of the Throne of Grace in 2014!

A great book I am currently reading is Mighty Prevailing Prayer by Wesley L. Duewel.

House of Prayer (Part 8): Praying in Holiness

Every church is to be “a house of prayer for the nations” (Mark 11:17). The four foundational pillars for that “house of prayer” are the glory of God, the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom, the Gospel, and divine desperation. The first four building stones for that house of prayer are praying the heart of Jesus, praying the name of Jesus, praying the Word of God, and praying in the Spirit. The fifth building stone is praying in holiness.

Often, we come to the Lord out of a desperate need to be cleansed from our sin. Though we are saved by grace through the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord, and we are children of God who have the Spirit of God, we still sin every day.

Yet, the only prayer God will hear is in holiness. God promises in Psalm 66:18 that “if I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear”. We have to pray with “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). This means praying in holiness.

To pray in holiness means to pray the Gospel every day. That is why prayer always begins with the Gospel. Paul Miller, commenting on his book, The Praying Life, writes,

In the gospel, because of Jesus’ death for us, we are accepted by grace. The only thing we bring to the table is our helplessness. In fact, if we try to bring our goodness, the gospel doesn’t work. Prayer works the same way. Jesus tells us to come helpless, “weary and heavy laden.” So prayer isn’t a discipline but learned desperation. It’s not so much a mountain to climb as a valley to fall into.

That is what it means to pray in holiness. 

Instead of thinking prayer is only for holy people, know this: prayer is for helpless and desperate people who need a Savior every day.  That is you and me!

House of Prayer (Part 7): Praying in the Spirit

Every church is to be a house of prayer for the nations (Mark 11:17). The four foundational pillars for that “house of prayer” are the glory of God, the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom, the Gospel, and the divine desperation. The first three building stones for that “house of prayer” are: praying the heart of Jesus, praying the name of Jesus, and praying the Word of God.

The next building stone is praying in the Spirit. A lot of ink through the centuries has been spilled on what it means to pray in the Spirit.

We are all commanded in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

Some believe this means praying in one’s own prayer language which is possible from 1 Corinthians 14:14-15. Others believe this is prayer that is fervent and intense.

Given the context, I believe it means praying prevailing prayer. As someone said, “pray until you have prayed, and God has heard your cry“. Let me give you an example. When I first start jogging, I just want to quit. I hate the first mile. I have to jog through that first mile, then I feel like I have gone for a run. Prayer is the same way. We have to persevere in prayer and pray through until we know we have the mind of the Spirit as we pray. Then we know we are praying God’s will.

This is what our Lord Jesus did as He prayed at Gethsemane. He prayed until He was fully surrendered and in agreement with His Heavenly Father. We must pray the same way. Pray through an issue until you know you have the mind of the Spirit. It may take ten minutes, or it may take hours, or perhaps days (see Daniel 10 for an example of 3 weeks of prayer).

Keep persevering in prayer and do not give up. That is what it means to Pray in the Spirit.

House of Prayer (Part 6): Praying the Word of God

The Lord Jesus calls every local church to be a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17). The foundational pillars for that “house of prayer” in any local church are: the glory of God, the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom, the Gospel and divine desperation.

The first two building stones to this house of prayer for all the nations are praying the heart of Jesus and praying the Name of Jesus.

The third building stone is praying the word of God. Our Lord Jesus said in John 15:7, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus ties intimacy with Him and answers to prayer to His Word.

How do you know you are praying the Lord’s will? You pray His Word. There is a tremendous promise related to God’s Word and answers to prayer in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” This promise is revolutionary, but very simple. God never promises to answer “YES” to any of our prayers unless they are according to His will. We know His will through His revealed Word. So pray His Word! That is always His will. He will answer that prayer every time.

Here are some prayers to pray for others and for yourself that God will answer: John 17:20-21; Ephesians 1:17-19; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11, and Colossians 1:9-12.

So pray the heart of Jesus and in the Name of Jesus, but always pray the Word of Jesus. That prayer He will answer as a big AMEN!