Elijah: A Man of Courage (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:1

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (NIV).

We have looked at Israel’s horrible spiritual condition, and the way the Lord responded to it by sending a prophet, Elijah, who would point the people back to God. We have seen that Elijah was fully convinced of the Lord’s existence and power to bring about change. That was a crucial starting point. Two other qualities were necessary for an effective ministry in a very troubled time.

Elijah was conscious of being God’s messenger. He knew his position in God’s work. This helped in two ways:

  • It kept him focused on the work at hand. He did not have to bother with building his own little kingdom, but the kingdom of God. The apostle is another example of this kingdom focus. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:15-16 ESV).
  • It directed him to live for the one who would judge his work, and not to be concerned with what people thought. We must see ourselves as God’s servants. To use a common illustration, we serve for “an audience of one.” This must be kept within the boundaries that Scripture sets for our actions. No one has the right to pretend, “I am God’s servant and can do whatever I desire.” Such an attitude reveals a heart in which one’s own desires and God’s written will are in conflict. We speak of boldness to do exactly what God desires.

Elijah knew his authority. He spoke and acted for God, as God’s prophet. He had a mission that the Lord wanted him to do. He was compelled to do it, like Jeremiah was. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (Jeremiah 20:8-9 ESV). This sense of authority encouraged him to act boldly. He had the courage to personally confront Ahab with his message. He had the courage to announce a great judgment.  Consider how unpopular the doctrine of hell is today, even in supposedly evangelical churches. And not only is the Biblical teaching about hell despised, but also the reality of sin. If you attend a so-called church where sin, condemnation, and God’s wrath are not preached and believed, you are not in a church but a religious social club. Leave it.

Elijah was confident of God’s faithfulness. His confidence was Bible-based. Be careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land the Lord is giving you (Deuteronomy (11:16-17 CSB). The world cannot understand the godly man or woman because it does not share its view of God’s word as truth. Elijah did, he took God’s word seriously. He knew that God meant what he said. He also was confident that God would judge sin. Elijah’s prayer to withhold rain and dew from the land must be seen in this light. It had its foundation in the “curses of the law covenant” (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

For this reason, Elijah prayed in conformity with God’s revealed word. Making requests in true prayer involves having faith to claim the promises in the word of God, and then asking him to do as he has said. This was the motivation behind his fervent prayer (James 5:17.)

Pink in his writings about Elijah made the following three points:

  • “He prayed because he was assured that the Lord God lived and ruled over all.”
  • “He prayed because he realized that God is almighty and that with Him all things are possible.”
  • “He prayed because he felt his own weakness and insufficiency and therefore turned to One who is clothed with might and is infinitely self-sufficient.”

Do we have the same world view that Elijah had? Do we pray like Elijah did? Say what you want, but Christians no longer gather to pray because God is not in control in their world and life view. May we pray together as the early church and the church in times of revival prayed!

Grace and peace, David

God, Jonah, and the City (Part Four)

Jonah 1:5-10

And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV).

Our Sovereign Lord wants his people to reach out to the lost with the good news of salvation in Jesus the Messiah. He wants us to do this in love, compassion, and kindness. It is his way of bringing glory to his name and sharing his overflowing glory with his creatures. It is his mission, and it is the mission of us his people, regardless of our being engaged in it or not. The Lord Jesus tells us to make learners of him, to baptize (immerse) learners of him, and to teach learners of him to obey everything that he has commanded. He will always be with us in this mission (Matthew 28:19-20).

The difficult problem is that most professed learners of Jesus are not involved in the mission. Though we sincerely appreciate everything that people do in local gatherings of learners (a.k.a. local “churches”), doing tasks during a morning gathering is not making disciples and it is not a substitute for that. Certainly, in small groups we can work together in the mission, but too many substitute physical chores for involvement with people that need to know the Lord. As we read this section of Jonah, there is a miserable contrast between Jonah and his shipmates.

Jonah fell asleep during the storm; the others were filled with fear (1:5). I can understand their fear out on the sea, though I haven’t experienced it. I’m the first to put on a life vest, whether it’s a ride in a motorboat on a lake or a paddle boat on a shallow pond! I can’t relate to how Jonah could stay asleep in a violent storm. (Please don’t tell me he wanted to die. Chapter four disproves that thesis, even if he used the words.) Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Got it. But where was his love for his shipmates? He was unconcerned about them.

Jonah’s shipmates prayed, and he did not (1:5-6). Most people pray and/or seek someone to pray for them when they or their loved ones are in danger. During years as a pastor, people constantly asked me to pray for them. (I think some thought that I had a special line open to heaven that they lacked.) They cried out to false gods; Jonah failed to pray to the true and living God. The prayerlessness of professing learners of Jesus Christ is appalling. It out to make us sick and angry. Plan a church dinner and you will probably fill the room; plan a church prayer meeting, and you can probably count those who show up on your fingers. Lack of interest in prayer and praying together is a sign of spiritual coldness.

Jonah knew who he was, and they searched for answers (1:7-10). His shipmates felt the utter terror of a great storm at sea, but they didn’t know why it had come. People like to know reasons for their problems, for we suppose that knowledge will give us the key to fix them. People also like to blame someone for the problem they are in. That usually doesn’t fix anything, but it lets us vent our anger at someone. Those men chose to cast lots to discover the culprit. God’s hand controlled the outcome of the lots. So then, there was nothing Jonah could do but own up to his blameworthiness. But how he did that leaves you shaking your head. He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 CSB). How could he say this with a straight face? He had told them that he was running away from the Lord, and then he claimed to worship the Lord. This was a strange worshiper! He dared to take to the sea, which was always a risky endeavor in ancient times, when he was running away from the Maker of the sea? His shipmates would have thought this incredible, if they had not been in mortal danger. Jonah knew who he was and the power of the Lord, but it didn’t do him enough good to lead him to obey the Lord of all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has commanded us to make learners of Christ. Yet are we trying to run away from our responsibility? Let’s lose all the supposed reasons and outright excuses for failing to fish for people (Mark 1:17). Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord, ask for forgiveness, and then head in the direction of fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Three)

Psalm 18:4-6

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (NIV).

Next, David sang about the desperate situation from which the Lord had rescued him. We don’t know the tune to which these words were sung, but a minor key would have been a good choice. In this broken world there are many times that we will be melancholy and downcast. This is unpleasant. David was not ashamed to write about the dark times of his experience. He wanted his people to face cold, gloomy reality.

This is very unlike some of the songs I learned in Sunday School in my childhood. Here is a one: “I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time. I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin, I’m in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time.” I assume that the teachers wanted Sunday School to be a warm, welcoming place. And after World War II, the Korean War, and during the Cold War, they themselves probably wanted to escape from the horrors of life. However, the song did not present an accurate view of life or what the Lord promised his people in their walk with him. The point is not to fill the hearts of children with terror, but it is to say what is accurate.

Accuracy about life and God’s ability to deliver fill this psalm. David started the song on a positive note. Then, in the verses quoted above, he described the reason God’s might was needed to rescue. In the English of the NIV, depressing “D” words pile up to make his point: death… destruction… distress. The word translated grave is the Hebrew Sheol, the invisible realm of the dead, from which only the Lord can deliver. David piled up words to announce that he was totally dependent on God, apart from his mighty power, he was certain to die. Until we understand our desperate need, we will not cry out to the Lord to save. David wanted people to feel how bad his case was. Unless the living God had intervened, he was dead.

In this apparently hopeless situation, David did what people who believe in God do. He prayed. Notice again the personal relationship he claimed with God: I cried to my God for help. Because he knew God, he brought his requests to God. He knew that God heard him. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. God has compassion on us in our trials. He may not answer the way we want or expect, but he does act as we pray. David wrote to give God’s people words and ideas for us when we cry out to the Lord. He wanted them to know that in the bleakest times, God hears and cares and helps his people. Don’t give way to despair. God might well have closed one way for you. But he who will not lead you one way will lead you another, as you trust in him. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 CSB).

Grace and peace, David


Colossians 1:29

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (NIV).

My wife and I each have a car, which we need to get to the places God has called us to go. This is hardly an amazing fact, but the cars have different keys. My key will not start hers and vice versa. I carry both sets of keys on one ring, and this provides a time for contemplation, since when I’m in my car, I have a push button start. Her car requires the insertion of the key into the ignition switch. Since I drive my car more often, it is easy to reach for the button rather than inserting the key when I’m in her car. Habit is a good gift from God, but it doesn’t replace thinking.

We live in a world in which we are taught from infancy to do things for ourselves and to be self-reliant. This also is good, because Sharon and I expected our children to tie their own shoes, as soon as possible. But self-reliance can easily become twisted by sin to become reliance on ourselves, instead of trust in God. There is a “fine line” where this happens. You cannot draw it on a map or describe it in a book. We might talk about this a long time in a small group and not reach a definite conclusion. Life is not lived by acting in conformity with manuals for behavior. But that is not the topic of this post. Instead, it concerns more simply serving the Lord consistent with his glorious person.

It is far too easy to carry the “keys” of worldly self-reliance into service for the Lord. Programs, the performance of “worship teams”, form of “church government”, rituals, buildings, training for ministry leaders, and so on occupy center stage in the conversations and planning meetings of local churches. “If we would do what that successful church does, then we would enjoy the same success” is a widespread attitude, regardless of how it is nuanced. I am not arguing for untrained leaders, dirty and uncomfortable buildings, and woeful music. However, I am addressing an attitude that is far too pervasive and dominant.

Our Lord invested time in training the apostles for the work he called them to do. He gave instructions on how to do it. But part of his instruction concerned the need to rely on him for spiritual power. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV). We all need to return to “Christ-reliance”. We all need to… excuse me while I use a ‘four-letter-word’… We need to pray.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides examples of prayer to that church. He began that short letter with along section on thanksgiving and prayer (1:3-14). He asked for prayer (4:2-4). He pointed out how the founder of their church wrestled in prayer for them (4:12). What does prayer have to do with all this?

Prayer is a believer’s conversation with his or her God. We come as his adult children, friends, and coworkers. We acknowledge to accomplish spiritual good that we require his almighty power. We want to serve the Lord with all the energy Christ so powerfully works. There is simply no other way that we can accomplish anything of spiritual and eternal value. It brings great joy to see the Lord at work in the lives of many people. When a person begins to live according to Christ (cf. Col 2:8 ESV), it is an artwork of spiritual beauty. Godly ideas, attitudes, words, and actions flow out from him or her, as the Spirit forms Christ in them. This is what we long for, but it is beyond our ability. Only the power of God can produce godliness.

We must pray.

Grace and peace, David

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

The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Seven)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

The Lord directs us to grow up our desires among the fellowship of his followers. Notice the words along with those. We must eliminate the “lone ranger” approach to growth in grace. When Christ saved us, the Spirit put us into the Father’s family and Christ’s spiritual body. God wants us to walk the walk of faith with other followers of Jesus. Consider the many “one another” commands and exhortations in the New Testament Scriptures. (See a previous post on that subject.) Certainly, we need to walk with God personally, but that walk must include our spiritual partnership with other believers. Fellowship with other believers will helps us mature, because of what believers are by God’s powerful grace.

Observe how believers are described here. We are focused on the Lord; we are those who call upon the Lord. We are people known for prayer. A Christian prays. Two aspects of prayer to consider:

  • We worship God; we recognize his worthiness. God uses our words of praise and of confession of the benefits of walking in his ways and teaching about God’s significance to stir each other to live in conformity with his reality. There is something encouraging and convicting about hearing another Christian say in a small group, “The other day I experienced this in my walk with God.” We spur each other on when we share how the living God is presently at work among us.
  • We seek help from God; we make bold requests to our Father in heaven (cf. Luke 18:7). God uses the heart cries of others to draw our hearts together to him. In this day when local church prayer meetings have disappeared, we ought to join together in prayer in every small group meeting.

Believers are a pure people; we call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Our hearts were purified by faith in Christ and his saving work. See how the following verses make that plain.

  • He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9 NIV)
  • Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:14 NIV)
  • How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14 NIV)

We strive to maintain purity, because moral filthiness is disgusting to us, who form the pure bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27). This begins with a continuing reliance on Christ and his finished work. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9 CSB). The reality of Christ and his work in the gospel provide practical motivation to keep a pure heart. Consider Paul’s example: I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people (Acts 24:16 NLT). Are we maintaining pure hearts together?

Grace and peace, David

Intended for Good (Part One)

Genesis 50:15-21

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

We come to the climax of our study about God’s providence in the life of Joseph son of Jacob. Through many twists and turns, God planned the events of Joseph’s life for the Lord’s goals in the great story of his glory in Jesus Christ. It is this section that provides God’s viewpoint on all that has happened.

We should approach this with more than a casual interest. It is one thing to say that God intended good in the events of Joseph’s life. It is quite another to make that same affirmation about our own lives. The way to begin is not to hope for or to wait for some crisis in our lives, and then to hope that we will see that God is working for our good. Instead, we must see God involved in our lives today, and every day and night. Wise military commanders prepare their troops for battle before they ever enter into harm’s way. God’s instruction about his story prepares us to serve him in all circumstances of life.

The account begins with the brothers’ misinformed plan (50:15-18). People, especially men, have the tendency to approach problems as “the fixer”. We listen to someone’s difficult situation for a couple minutes, and then spout out solutions to fix the other person or their circumstances. We try this with ourselves constantly by seeking advice from supposed experts or reading self-help books or surfing the internet. This approach is a recipe for disaster, and it could have made things much worse between Joseph and his brothers. Let’s think through their proposed solution.

  • It arose from uncertainty in their hearts: “what if.” They were trapped in guilt producing fear sequence. Guilt so awakens fear that a person will not feel secure. Cain became ruled by guilt and fear after he murdered his brother (Genesis 4:13-14). Joseph’s brothers lacked insight about Joseph’s character. Godly people are often misunderstood. The Lord Jesus was misunderstood by his family, Paul by the Corinthians, and David by his wife Michal.
  • It showed a mixture of worldly-wisdom and spiritual wisdom. They hid behind their father’s coat tails. They told a doubtful scenario from our perspective, but it might have happened. Did Jacob know about the sin of the ten against Joseph? Did they mislead Joseph that Jacob did? Would Jacob doubt Joseph’s intentions? The brothers took advantage of the grieving process, when a tender heart would be even more sensitive to an appeal like this. They did ask for forgiveness. Perhaps they should have used a better approach, but they did attempt to correct their problem.
  • It was presented in an inexact way. We have the advantage of possessing the Scriptures, and so we should do better. They spoke through a messenger instead of personally. Fear, rather than love was controlling their hearts. The brothers appealed to Joseph with a legal attitude: “we are your slaves.” Compare the lost son in the parable (Luke 15). They wouldn’t claim the relationship that was theirs. How do you approach God after you have sinned? Do you attempt to pay your way back into his favor, or do you ask for cleansing because of Christ’s atonement? Christians don’t make light of their sin, but they exalt the preciousness of the blood of Christ. The brothers’ plan to fix their relationship caused Joseph more hurt. While he could be glad about their repentance, their distrust of him after years of kindness would hurt (50:17).

Are you in need of restoring a relationship with someone? Are you tempted to follow worldly wisdom to find a fix to the situation? Make a fresh start by seeking the Lord in prayer. Call upon him in your trouble. He can act in the hearts of all involved (you and the other person or people). Humble yourself in prayer, asking him to act by his powerful grace and love.

Grace and peace, David

Twice Spared

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength… (Psalm 65:3-6 NIV)

Today I am sixty-five. Now I’m halfway through the new middle age of fifty to eighty. It just seems like I turned fifty in a way, but so much has happened since then. I definitely would not want to walk through many days of that part of my journey. However, I praise God for his overflowing grace that he has shown me constantly. Truly, his mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is great. He has been with me through the dark days, refreshing me with the light of his joy. Now, I want to remember two of those times.

A couple weeks after I turned sixty, my wife Sharon and one of our friends went away to make cards with another friend. The next day, a Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a strange pressure in my back. I had read years before that if you have pain or pressure around your heart or stomach and if it doesn’t go away when you change positions to call for help immediately. Since Sharon wasn’t there, I did, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I called around six and the ambulance arrived at six ten. By seven ten, I was on a table in the hospital having a heart catherization. As I was lying there, I remember praying, “Lord, I know you could end my life now, but I trust you for your grace.” God was merciful, and a cardiologist put three stents an artery, nicknamed “the widow maker”. Yes, it had been a close call. Later, when I told my pre-heart attack symptoms to an ICU, nurse, he said, “It’s a wonder you’re here. Men never come in with mild pressure.” I thanked the Lord repeatedly for sparing my life.

My cardiologist ordered me to start walking in a couple weeks. I figured that if God had used the man to rescue me from death that I ought to listen to him. One bright October day, I crossed the street to walk in the Ellis Preserve. It is relatively flat (everything in Pennsylvania is on a hill!) and a good place to build up my strength. I had not walked far, when I remembered an article that I had read many years previously in the Sword & Trowel magazine, edited at that time by a friend of mine. It was about a pastor with inoperable heart problems. The pastors in his area had gathered around him and prayed that the Lord would grow a new artery for his heart. And the Lord did.

I stopped and prayed, “Lord, if I need new arteries, please grow some for me.” I resumed my walk, and perhaps I prayed that prayer the next day also. I did not make it a regular prayer request. About a year later, my cardiologist had me take a stress test, “just to be sure everything is all right.” I did, and a couple days later, while I was out on a file-mile walk with Sharon, he called. The news wasn’t good. He said that I should have another heart catherization. “Maybe you need another stent or roto-rooter,” he joked.

A heart catherization takes about two and a half hours: one hour to take pictures and the remainder of the time to do the work. He was done after one hour. “Why so fast?” I asked. He replied, “Do you want the good news first or the bad news?” I answered, “You know I’m a pastor. I always give people the bad news first, so that I can finish with the good news (the gospel).” He said very professionally, “The bad news is that you need a triple bypass.” I agreed that was bad news and questioned, “Then what’s the good news?”

He said, “The good news is that hasn’t been any damage to your heart, and that your heart grew three new arteries from the right side to the left. That’s the only reason you’re talking with me right now.” God had answered my prayer. My life had been spared twice!

God does answer prayer. While we ought to ask others to pray for us and we can pray in faith repeatedly (Matthew 7:7-8), God doesn’t require that. The prayer of one person declared right with God is sufficient to present a request to Almighty God. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV). God is holy, wise, sovereign, all-powerful, and good. Be encouraged to present your requests to him. The Lord answers prayer! You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior. Amen.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-five)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

This was Peter’s first sermon to a Gentile audience. Though he knew the Lord had sent him to Cornelius and his household, you can sense the emotions Peter felt by crossing this cultural boundary. He had left “the settlement and had become a pioneer.” He tentatively explored how to address people outside the people of Israel. We have to be ready to do this in our time, as people from many nations now live among us. Sharon and I see this every time we walk at Valley Forge Park. A number of times we feel like the ethnic minority! Peter started from what they knew. They knew that God had given his word to Israel. They knew John’s ministry of baptism. They knew the big events of Jesus’ life. So then, Peter explained God’s purpose of salvation from that starting point. What is written in this section is probably a synopsis of Peter’s remarks. He would have needed to explain anointing and the Holy Spirit. But Peter used those words to tell them the truth about Jesus. We also need to explain words and ideas as we speak for God.

The Lord God anointed Jesus with Holy Spirit for his ministry. Jesus is the “Anointed One”, usually translated as Messiah or Christ (cf. Ac 4:26-27). This anointing occurred at his baptism. The anointing so defined who he is that the term or title “the Christ” functions as his name to most people.

The anointing by the Holy Spirit was part of the preparation for his ministry (Luke 3:21-23). Jesus received this anointing with the Spirit as he was praying. Dr. Luke is making a theological point early in his writing, which he later develops (Luke 11:13; Acts 1:4; 2:1-4; 4:23-31). The Spirit came “in response to prayer and in connection with the advance of the kingdom” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 45). How can your church, or any church, advance and make progress for God’s glory? We can only go forward with the help of the Holy Spirit! So then, we encourage you to gather for prayer with other believers to seek the Lord Jesus for the filling of the Spirit.

Jesus preached with the assistance of the Spirit (Matthew 12:18). Every preacher and teacher must teach and preach in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might rest in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Jesus did his mighty works by the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20).

The anointing proclaimed him as the Son of God (Luke 3:22). Later, the resurrection would proclaim him as the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4). God declared that Jesus received his love (John 17:24; Matthew 12:18; cf. Isaiah 42:1). What must it be like for One with infinitely great capacity to receive love to be loved by One with infinitely great capacity to give love? And this goes on and on eternally! That is except for one space of time as the Beloved cried out to the Lover, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you would know the depth of Calvary love, think on that!

God declared that Jesus received his approval (Matthew 17:5). Listen to John Piper’s concise summary of Jonathan Edwards. “In Jesus Christ, he says, meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p.27). As we see Christ is such glory, we can grasp the reason that God was well pleased with him!

Grace and peace, David