The sermons of the apostles centered upon the Resurrection of Christ. This event was the single greatest historical event of human history and they witnessed with their own eyes. What effects did they see the resurrection of Christ to accomplish?
- They saw the resurrection of Christ as a the evidence of Christ’s Messiahship “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)
- They saw the resurrection of Christ as the provision for the remission of sins. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38)
- They saw the resurrection of Christ as the guarantee of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted and having received of the father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he had shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33)
- They saw the resurrection of Christ as the source of power to reverse the effects of darkness brokenness and sin. “And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong whom ye see and know. yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.” (Acts 3:16) “Be it known unto you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.” (Acts 4:10).
- They saw the resurrection of Christ as the motivation for bold testimony to Christ in the face of persecution. “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20)
- They saw the resurrection of Christ as the first fruit of our own bodily resurrection. “But now Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
This year I plan to preach more regularly on prayer, at least monthly. Todays posting addresses my first text on prayer for this year.
Matthew 7:7-10 and James 4:2 enjoin believers to ask God for the resolution of our needs. Jesus promised us that if we ask we will receive. His half-brother, James, explained that we don’t have because we don’t ask. If we believe Jesus’ promise what often holds us back from asking? Four reasons come to mind.
1. Pride We are often ashamed to admit our own neediness. Its my experience that this is especially true of American men. Admitting we have needs we can’t meet runs counter to the self-sufficient spirit that so defines our culture. But Jesus promises reward to the poor in spirit. While we should use common sense and take care of the needs we are able to satisfy, I’m finding I need God’s providential intervention much more than expected.
2. Apathy. We may lack a clear desire of what we want Christ to do for us through answered prayer. Jesus once asked a blind man “What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:51. While the blind man knew exactly what to say, I am seldom that desperate or ready with an answer. Do you know what you would ask for if Jesus posed that question to you? A second promise from the Savior is that whatever we desire when we ask we should believe and He will give it to us. Mark 11:24. This is a dangerous promise not intended for a selfish disciple. But once we identify what we are desperate for, are humble enough to ask, and believe for it, we can be sure the answer is within reach if we ask the Savior.
3. Unbelief. The larger the ask the harder the task to believe. I limit God’s work in me by failing to believe Him for the awesome changes only He can accomplish. Is there anything in my life that cannot be explained by human endeavor? Anything that I have to explain as a “God thing?” If I claim to have the supernatural gift of eternal life there ought to be something unexplainable, mysterious and, well, supernatural about it.
Herein lies the wonder and thrill of knowing Jesus! I should never become settled down in a comfortable existence without occasionally encountering something only God can do. His word to the doubter is found in Matthew 19:26 “all things are possible with God.”
4. Fear. Everyone has been disappointed by unfulfilled expectations. Afraid to hope and be disappointed, we shy away from asking God for His intervention, we learn to suck it up and tough it out. Behind this hopeless existence is the assumption that God is indifferent to our situation. But Jesus again rebukes this fear in Matthew 7:11, if you then being evil known how to give good gifts to you children how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?”
Imagine if God really did want to answer our prayers and provide for our needs! Imagine if He was more anxious to give us what we need or even want than we are to give gifts to our children! How much easier would it be to ask Him for His blessings. The good news is it’s not necessary to imagine such a good thing. We can believe it because Jesus said our Father is perfectly good. He does not give us what we want all the time, or even what we think we need. But He always gives us what is best for us.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18
These words were written by the sage and philosopher king, Solomon. They contradict the quote from Hannah Arndt and the spirit of the age. Whose words ring more real? My money is on Solomon.
But if his words are true, why are they true? Why does knowledge and wisdom increase sorrow. Isn’t it said that the solution for all human maladies is education?
Arndt’s statement assumes a good heart and that evil always redesides outside if me. Solomon knew that evil was innate in the human individual. (2 Chronicles 6:36). Just because we know does not mean we do. In fact knowledge has no power over the will. The human will, untouched by the divine influence of grace, is not naturally subject to the law of God. (Romans 7:13-25; 8:7). We see this illustrated on the daily news.
Therefore knowledge provides only a reason to do right. It requires the will, empowered by divine grace from the Holy Spirit alone, to make knowledge beneficial and practical and real.
The Dodgers are perhaps my second or third favorite major league basball team. I especially enjoyed watching them in the 1980s. (Maybe more because they beat Reggie Jackson and the Yankees when my KC Royals didn’t)
Two of the greatest Dodger personalities of all time were Vin Sculley and Tommy Lasorda. Sculley was the Shakespeare of Baseball commentary calling Dodger games for over 50 years. Lasorda, a hall of fame coach with multiple World Series wins. How do these two men relate to my blog today on preaching? Keep these two men in mind as I explain.
As a preacher I want to be open to discovery and improvement. Honestly if I don’t occasionally experience some improvement in my preaching my ministry becomes stale.
Today as I was studying for my Sunday morning message, I realized a weakness I have in sermon formatting and composition. I shy away from offending my hearers by presenting truth in a sterile format. I use the third person instead of the first or second person. This permits the listener to remain on the outside as an observer rather than forcing them to step inside the message as a participant.
It’s the difference between a Sculley and a Lasorda. Sculley sits in the booth and talks to the fans about the game, the players, the strategies, the rules, etc. He may be considered an expert but he is distant and removed from the game. He works to be objective and report on the game as a third person. Sculley uses words like “they and he.” “He was behind the pitch.” “They need to play harder.” The Sculley, as good as he is, is still outside the game.
But Lasorda was in the game. He cared more about the outcome of the game than Sculley. His job security and future negotiating leverage was at stake. So he addressed players directly. He used “you” more than the Scully did. “Here’s what YOU need to do.” Here’s how YOU can inprove.” Lasorda got personal. And sometimes offended players.
And that’s why I avoid the Lasorda approach and favor the Sculley approach. I want to explain truth without becoming offensive. But I’m learning that this approach creates fans who know the game, can discuss strategies, and watch victories; it does not develop players who are playing the game, living out the life, experiencing victory.
So in order to become more effective in my preaching, and develop players instead of just fans, I will need to change my pronouns, get more personal and think more like Tommy Lasorda.
For 6 years it appeared that God’s covenant with David had been broken. For Athaliah, daughter of Phoenician queen Jezebel was also the wife to Jehoram, King of Judah. When both her husband, Jehoram and her son, Ahaziah, were killed by Jehu, Athaliah seized upon her opportunity to be queen. She destroyed all the royal seed of David–her grandsons– and claimed the throne of David As a Gentile queen. Had God forsaken His promise to David?
But through the the secret intervention of his aunt Jehosheba, Joash was spared as the last surviving male member of David’s family. Jehosheba was King Ahaziah’s sister, Athaliah’s own daughter and wife of the high priest, Jehoiada.
Six years into this reign of Athaliah, Jehoida and Jehosheba, led a coup to overthrow the queen and re-establish the Davidic Kingdom with Joash serving as King. What courage and independence to defy your own mother to save and hide your nephew. Truly an act of sacrifice.
Joash’s story begins with promise and providence. 2 Chronicles 24 tells how Joash’s youthful zeal for the Lord was lost when his mentor, Jehoiada died. Joash allowed himself to be influenced by ungodly friends. His mentor’s son, Zechariah, tried to dissuade him from drifting but Joash had him killed for his rebuke.
A sad end to a promising and providential life.
My wife was nearly hit by a car this week. She loves to get up before dawn and go for a walk or jog. However we live on a two lane highway just outside of town. The highway is a main artery for poultry trucks. On the occasions when I’ve joined her on her jogs we have tried to face oncoming traffic. Occasionally due to oncoming traffic in both lanes we are prevented from choosing the safer side of the road.
But recently she was alone early in the morning, jogging along the side of the highway, with a flashlight, our dog and her Bluetooth headphones. Out of her peripheral vision she noticed headlights fast approaching. As she turned to her left she suddenly realized what was happening. A pickup truck was in the process of passing an 18 wheeler on her side of the road, most likely entirely unaware of her presence.
As the truck passed, she says there was only a two foot space of separation between her and the truck and even less between our dog and the truck. The experience has convinced her to utilize our fitness center membership for her exercise.
This experience has been added to our catalog of stories illustrating God’s providence and mercy over our lives. Needless to say, I am thankful that the Lord spared the life of my dear wife. I can’t imagine life without her.
For many years it seemed that my activities and experiences on Sunday were out of synch with my life the remainder of the week. Sunday life means attendance at church where we sing hymns, receive communion, give an offering and hear a sermon. Since these are strictly Sunday activities it felt as if my spiritial life didn’t fit with or was foreign to “normal” life. But is this accurate? I’ve begun to challenge that notion.
Just because Sunday activities are different than Monday thru Saturday activities doesn’t make Sunday life out of synch with the rest of our week. In fact, a very strong case can be made that worship activities on the Lord’s day contributes to a more synchronized life rhythm. Worship without labor becomes irrelevant or at least unproductive; but labor without worship deteriorates into a chasing of the wind. We need both work and worship to be balanced. In fact, a truly Christian worldview attaches spiritual value to every mundane task-even that of eating and drinking.
With that said, most days my heart prefers the rhythm of Sunday.
Anyone who takes time to read the Bible with an open and hungry heart will occasionally encounter verses that jump off the page, stand up and demand attention. This happemed to me this morning as I was reading Isaiah 8. A verse I had never noticed suddenly caught my attention. Today’s blog addresses this phenomenon.
Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 AMPC
The power and mystery of this phenomenon is explained by the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is full of verses waiting to be released upon our hearts. But my question for today is, “why does this phenomenon happen?”
The Holy Spirit, who applies truth to our minds knows exactly what we need at any given time. So when a verse I’ve never noticed before surprises me, I can be sure the Holy Spirit is communicating with me along a line of thought that I need to hear and apply. He knows my thoughts, my struggles, temptations and inner arguments. He uses the Word to awaken my heart to His truth. At that point it’s critical for me to stop reading and allow the truth to sink into my heart. If there is something for me to do differently, I need to obey. If it is a point of encouragement, I need to take heart.
The bottom line is we never know when the Holy Spirit will cause a passage to come alive to us suddenly. But when it happens, He is speaking His truth into a need we have at that moment and it would benefit us to pay attention.
Grace as a human quality is resiliency in trouble; it is kindness in response to criticism; gentleness returned for harshness. It is treating others well when they haven’t earned it.
Grace is not a natural human quality. Gracious living is only possible when we ourselves receive grace from God first. No grace coming in means no grace going out. Supernatural grace to respond in kindness, gentleness and resiliency comes by the disciplines of prayer, humility and servitude.
Oh how we need grace!