The Church at Prayer (Part Two)

Acts 4:29-31

And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly (CSB).

Our subject is the church at prayer, specifically during a time of crisis. The church is in a crisis time now across the world. Western churches are just beginning to wake up to the attacks from the spiritual forces of evil and evil people. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to be ready for such times. In the report of Peter and John to their church about the threats made against them, we see the first response that Christ’s church ought to give.

After humbling themselves before God and praising him for his sovereignty, they made specific requests (4:29-30). They prayed for the spiritual strengthening of the church. Notice that they did not ask for God to act against their enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), and we ought to leave God’s acts to his sovereign will. In a time of crisis, we need to make sure that our hearts are in tune with God’s interests and ready to serve him and others.

Their primary concern, as expressed in this prayer, was the kingdom of God. We need to focus on the cause of God rather than our own ease. This is difficult for a people who live in a culture that constantly lusts for personal pleasure. They knew that their mission was to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah. So, they asked accordingly. We do well when we stop to consider what God wants us to do in situations, before we get revved up in our own desires. To put it this way, they kept focused on the vision for a great witness. Prayer for God’s help is an essential part of effective witness. We cannot be bold apart from his almighty power.

They prayed for a continued work of God’s power. What? One miracle provoked such antagonism (Acts 3:6-11; 4:7) and they ask for another? But they were interested first of all in God’s honor. The contemporary church wants to make it easier for people to believe, and in its wimpy ways it has abandoned the honor of God as God. Not so the early church. We should seek more of what the Lord is able to do. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV; cf. Ephesians 3:20).

What was the result of their prayer (4:31)? God manifested his power by a physical phenomenon. He shook the room in which they met. This cannot be explained psychologically. This was a miracle, a direct act of Almighty God to assure the early church of his power. Those who want to rid the Bible of the supernatural often misread the text or deliberately change it. The God who made the world and who controls history can easily shake a building. “It is nothing else than a token of the presence of God” (Calvin).

God gave spiritual benefits. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s think through what is meant by the filling of the Spirit?

  • What is the primary new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? The exaltation of Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
  • What is a Christian? He or she is a person who has experienced the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:8).
  • So then, what is it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It is to have the glory of God in Christ as the greatest reality in the world! Acts 7:55-56.

The filling of the Spirit produced boldness in witness. This is one of the great needs of the church in our time. As the world presses against us with mockery, threats, and persecution, we need to press back with bold witness. Let’s focus on the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit boldly tell all people of salvation and acceptance with God in him.

Grace and peace, David

Reunion

Genesis 46:28-30

Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time. Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive” (NIV).

We have seen God’s power at work many times in the life of Joseph. God spoke to Joseph through dreams, enabled him to interpret dreams, protected him from death a couple times, and helped him to endure terrible suffering and the near loss of hope. God also raised him from slavery and imprisonment to become the second in command in the kingdom of Egypt. In this section, we see God at work in a different way.

This incident is one of those times in the Scriptures when faith became sight, when hope received its fulfillment. Events of this type are recorded in the Bible for our encouragement, in order that we may have hope. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope (Romans 15:4 NIV). Another example would be when the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Let us remember that all Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. Instead of running to the Psalms automatically in your troubles, it might be to your profit to meditate on the historical parts of the Scriptures when you are depressed or discouraged. Think on what God has done for his people in the past and what he is able to do for you.

Jacob and the son he thought was dead had a happy reunion. Here is the mutual love of a godly father and his son for each other. The Holy Spirit shows the reality of these people. They were not wind-up, super-spiritual dolls. They had strong affections just as we do. God approves of such displays of love. Think of the reception of the lost son (cf. Luke 15:20). It is very manly and good to express love for one’s family like they did. There is a strange idea that has been circulating for many years: “Big boys don’t cry.” Perhaps boys don’t, for big boys often have mistaken notions of maturity. But godly men cry when it is appropriate (John 11:35; Philippians 3:18; Psalm 126:5-6).

Jacob acquiesced to what God had done: “Now I am ready to die….” He had seen the fulfillment of a dream. His dearly loved son is alive! God’s word has been proved true! Consider Simeon’s joy at seeing the infant Messiah (Luke 2:28-32).

Yet again, Jacob was mistaken in a way. He was ready to die, but it was not yet his time. In fact, Jacob still had 17 years to live (cf. 47:28). Over the years of being a pastor, I have seen many people live much longer than what the medical professionals thought possible. It is good to be ready to face the Lord, but we cannot determine that any particular event (except salvation) makes us ready. So then, don’t quit too soon! You don’t know what job the Lord might yet have for you to do for him. Old age brings a decline in strength, but it adds the benefit of vast life experience. Use what God gives you for his glory.

Grace and peace, David

The Glorious Acts of the Lord

dscn31252 Chronicles 20:22-25

As we think about the walk of faith, we want to see continual improvement in a person like Jehoshaphat. We expect people to have some struggles of faith early on in their spiritual life or during a time of crisis. We also expect them to finish well. When I think of finishing well, I seem to hear the voice of my high school cross-country coach yelling to us, “Kick it in! Kick it in!” However, like cross-country races, we do not always kick it in. We want to rest before the race is over. We want to think that because we have climbed one mountain, the journey is complete. The story of Jehoshaphat urges us to persevere in obedient faith to the end of our journey. When the cross-country race was occurring, the only thing our coach could do was to encourage us to run faster. In this section, we see that the Lord did much more than offer encouragement. He acted to provide clear evidence of his protection and provision for his people.

The Lord defeated the enemy (20:22-24). God used an unexplained method. Whatever to “set ambushes” means, it was some action by God to turn the invaders against themselves. The Lord has many weapons in his arsenal to use against his enemies. At times, he might use angels, and at other times, victory might come through environmental means. In this case, the Lord somehow threw them into a panic, and they began to kill each other until everyone was dead.

God doesn’t need our wisdom or strength for victory. He simply calls us to depend on him to bring the victory as he wills.

The Lord achieved total victory. He delivered the remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah when all seemed hopeless. This was part of his plan of salvation, leading up to the time that Jesus the Messiah would come. So, it was important in the history of salvation, just like the exodus from Egypt, the conquest of the Promised Land, and similar victories through Gideon, Samson, Samuel and David. God achieved our salvation in real history. Without acts like this, Jesus would not have come, because the line of the Messiah would have perished.

The victory serves a signpost, pointing from that time to other victories by the Lord. We can think of the victory at the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). We should also think of another future victory when King Jesus comes again (Revelation 19:11-21).

The Lord provided great riches. So Jehoshaphat and his men went to carry off their plunder, and they found among them a great amount of equipment and clothing and also articles of value—more than they could take away. There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it (20:25 NIV)

The plunder left by the defeated army was of three kinds: equipment, clothing, and valuables (gold, silver, copper and jewelry). Besides the loss of the enemy army, which crushed those other nations, Judah was strengthened by gaining the weapons of war, which are only produced at great cost. Think of the billions we spend yearly on our military. It would take years for those nations to overcome such economic loss. The clothing and the valuables would create a tremendous economic upturn for Judah. The Lord lifted them up above their neighbors. Used wisely, it would have made Judah dominant economically for a long time. They also should have remembered the underlying covenant relationship with the utterly wealthy God, who gives people wealth (Deuteronomy 18:11-20).

Has the Lord Jesus provided for us in his victory at the cross? Yes, he has (Ephesians 4:7-16). Then we should make wise investments of the gifts he has given to the church for its growth. The question is not, “Are you attending church?” Simply attending church and going your own merry way squanders the wealth of the cross. Are you involved with a group of believers, of gospel partners, to see others become worshipers of the Lord God? Please read the passage from Ephesians just referenced and think about the contributions you are supposed to make to the cause of God and truth. More on that Ephesians passage another time.

Grace and peace, David

Meeting God

IMG_0977Genesis 1:1-31

June traditionally has been the great month for weddings, which means it is also the time for anniversaries. This means it is a season when we see family members that we haven’t seen for a while. At these gatherings we also meet people that we’ve never met. I suppose everyone has had the experience of sitting at a table at a party where you didn’t know have the people. This means that we have the opportunity to expand our circle of friends, even if it is only for the afternoon or evening.

Usually, people share some general information about themselves: their names, where they live, their occupation, how they know those being honored, etc. However, when the exchanging of information is done and those who are adept at conversation have others participating, we know that we know little about the other people, except for a list of facts. We have not shared life with them, and so we don’t know who they really are.

In religious circles, people assume that they can know God by learning a list of facts about it. This happens in many ways: in Sunday school or catechism classes, in Vacation Bible School, or if one’s parents were especially devoted to God, by their parents’ kind instruction. When they mature, it is easy to continue the trend by reading books that give more lists of facts about God with philosophical discussion about those facts; namely, theology books.

The true and living God did not write a theology book when he spoke to introduce himself to us. Instead, he told his story. By telling his story, he explains his plans to us and invites us to share life with him. Sharing life with God is the experience of his glory, love, joy, and peace. We glorify him, and he promises a share in his glory forever. As we come to know his story, he uses its message, its good news, to bring us to new birth by the power of his Spirit.

Today, let us listen to the living God introduce himself. In this introduction we do learn facts about him, like in all introductions, but he does this to set the context in which we might really know him, and not merely a list of facts about him. How does he start his story?

  • God introduces himself as the Creator. We can meet him, because he created us and the world in which we live. God does more than tell us the fact; he tells us the story of how he brought us and everything else into existence. He gradually builds excitement as he talks about the creation of light, earth, and sky, to making a place suitable for human life, and on to the creation of mankind, intimating that we are an important part of the story he is telling.
  • God talks about how he created. I suppose that God might have created everything by simply thinking or by direct acts of power. But as he introduces himself, he tells us that he created by his word. Nine times he uses a phrase like “and God said” in this opening chapter of his story. God reveals that his word is powerful. He can speak and bring worlds into existence. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can speak together about how they will make mankind, both male and female.
  • God makes known his power in his story. Our world comes into being as the act of his will. We are made in his likeness to rule over the world by his sovereign will. God gives us significance by his will. And he gives us the power to procreate and to subdue the earth by that same will. He is the God who can give authority and power to others, while ruling over all by his word.
  • God points out his goodness. He tells us seven times that he makes what is good, including mankind. God gave us a good world and told us to care for it. He wants us to know that he is the source of what is good. We can receive it from him.

God does all this in a form of a story. Listen to his majestic revelation of who he is and how he wants us to know that he desires what is good for mankind. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

The Christian’s Greatest Resource (Part Three)

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Ephesians 6:10

Consider the power that God pledges to help us—“his almighty power”. Here is the vitality of our hope. When we seek to obey God, his omnipotence comes to our aid. The power he promises is awesome (Ephesians 1:19-20). By God’s power Christ was raised to life. By God’s power we were raised to life (Ephesians 2:5). You and I are living witnesses to the reality of the Almighty God. We live within the sphere of Christ’s resurrection.

However, we must guide our thoughts about this promise to conform to the Scriptures. We can err in various directions, but let us avoid them all. Do not imagine that resurrection power provides you from an escape from difficulties in this present age. A careful reading of Romans 8:18-39 should be enough to convince you that following Christ does not mean “your best life now” or other such silliness. Yet do not limit God’s power in your thoughts. “We are not… to limit and restrain it in our narrow and shallow thoughts, and to think in this, or in that, the power of God may help or secure us; but to believe that he is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think” (Flavel, Works, Vol. 3, p. 345). Compare Ephesians 3:20. However, understand that God’s power will help you to live godly as a partner with Christ in his mission. And do not bog yourself down with incomplete evaluations. “All things seem to be working contrary to my hope in Christ!” Every believer will struggle with incomplete evaluations, as Abraham did (Romans 4:18-22).

So then, rest and rejoice in God’s power. Act this way in the struggle with remaining sin. We may feel like a whole marine division of the spiritual forces of evil is coming against us and is about to overrun our position. We may feel powerless against the attack. But do we believe in the power of God (Genesis 18:14)? “Though sin be too hard for thee, yet not for him… Set his power to work, by faith and prayer.” (Watson). Recall that God is greater in the face of strong temptation (1 John 4:4).

As we strive to serve God, determine to go forward in his strength (Acts 18:9-11). How many people does God have in the area in which you live? Do you want to give up or go find them? “Oh pastor, we can’t do it!” But God can. “We can’t solve this family problem!” But God can. “I can’t defeat this sin I’m struggling with!” But God can. Some writer in earlier times said, “Assure thyself when thou art at the greatest pinch [that] strength shall come.” Remember Elijah beside the dried up brook (1 Kings 17:7-24). When the water dried up, God made a way. But it didn’t look like it at first, for the widow had very little food. But God supplied. Whew, that was a close call! But then the widow’s son dies anyway. What is God doing? Never had anyone been raised from the dead. But God gave life from the dead. How much strength do you need? How much strength does your local gathering of Christ followers need? God’s almighty power is sufficient. Therefore, let us rely on the Lord!

Grace and peace, David