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

The Attributes of God (Part Twelve)

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain (Psalm 139:1-6 NIV).

Each of the “omni” attributes can be very unsettling to humans, and it is good to be disturbed, if this disruption leads us to draw near to God and to worship and trust him. God’s omniscience means that the Lord knows everything. He knows all that has happened, is happening, and will ever happen (Genesis 15:13-16; Isaiah 42:9; Daniel 2:22; Matthew 6:8) in the whole universe. God knows what could happen, though it does not (Genesis 20:6). God does not acquire knowledge; he does not need to be taught; in fact, he cannot learn because he already knows. Such knowledge is far beyond human experience, since we know so little and are always learning new information.

The classic passage setting forth God’s omniscience is Psalm 139:1-6, but God tells us that he is all knowing in many ways (1 Samuel 2:3). God has perfect knowledge (Job 37:16; Romans 11:33; Hebrews 4:13), and it is beyond our feeble understanding (Isaiah 40:28). God knows the hearts (inner personal beings) of all people (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 7:9; 94:11; Proverbs 15:11; Jeremiah 17:10; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 1:24; 1 John 3:19-20; Revelation 2:23). He knows where we are (2 Kings 19:27; Job 23:10), what we do (Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:21; 15:3; Hosea 7:2), how we suffer (Exodus 3:7), and what we desire (Psalm 38:9). He fully understands what we do in secret (Psalm 90:8; Matthew 6:4, 18). He knows all about his creation (Matthew 6:8, 32; 10:29-30), including all that is beyond our discovery (Psalm 147:4-5). God’s has perfect knowledge of future events and so he can perfectly predict what will happen (Isaiah 44:7-8, 24-28). This all-knowledge is clearly related to God’s sovereign purpose (Isaiah 46:9-11)

“Neither the darkness of night, the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon can hide any sinner from the eyes of Omniscience. The trees of the garden were not able to conceal our first parents. No human eye beheld Cain murder his brother, but His Maker witnessed his crime. Sarah might laugh derisively in the seclusion of her tent, yet it was heard by Jehovah. Achan stole a wedge of gold and carefully hid it in the earth, but God brought it to light. David was at much pains to cover up his wickedness, but ere long the all-seeing God sent one of His servants to say to him, ‘Thou are the man!’ And to writer and reader is also said, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Numbers 32:23)” (Pink, Attributes of God, p. 14]

What about prayer? Should we pray if God knows everything? What reason do we have for prayer, if we are not informing God of our needs? To ask such questions is to misunderstand the nature of prayer. True prayer is a believer’s communication with God (Psalm 54:2; etc.). In prayer, we do not inform God, but we do express our needs and desires to him. Prayer is not an attempt to change the mind of the Omniscient One, but it is a true means through which God works his purposes.  In fact, “here is an encouragement to prayer. There is no cause for fearing that the petitions of the righteous will not be heard, or that their sighs and tears shall escape the notice of God since He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. There is no danger of the individual saint being overlooked amidst the multitude of supplicants who daily and hourly present their various petitions, for an infinite Mind is as capable of paying the same attention to millions as if only one individual were seeking its attention” (Pink, p. 15).

At this point, we should say something about God’s foreknowledge. This word occurs only five times in reference to God (Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 20). In each case, it does not mean simple foresight, but it expresses the love or purpose of God in choosing his people or planning the work of salvation in Christ.

The doctrine of God’s knowledge should produce reasons for joy in God’s people (Boice, The Sovereign God, pp. 178-182, his emphasis).

  • “First, because God knows all things, he knows the worst about us and yet he has loved and saved us…”
  • “Second… he also knows the best about us, even though that best may be unknown to any other person.”
  • “Third, God knows what he is going to make of us…”
  • “Finally, we can be encouraged in difficulties… All that is needed is that we take these truths down off the high shelf of theology and put them to work as we live our daily lives.”

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part Two)

Genesis 45:4-15

Yesterday, we viewed God’s good purpose (45:4-7). Next, we see God’s great action (45:8-11). So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute’” (NIV).

The Lord exalted Joseph as the governor of Egypt (45:8). Observe his repeated insistence that God had sent him to Egypt. Sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through to people.

We must reassert the truth of God’s sovereignty to a human-centered, naturalistic generation. God had the ability to place Joseph in a position of high authority (cf. Daniel 4:17), and he did.

“Are our leaders appointed by God?” Most surely. “But they’re so corrupt!” Then we ought to call on God to change their hearts or give us new leaders. There used to be a day when Christians would pray for those in authority over them. Listen to the apostle’s words. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV).

Joseph intended to use what God had given to him (45:9-11). He gave reassurance that he would care for them. Often the forgiver must reinforce that he or she loves those who are forgiven. This is what the Father has done through the new covenant ministry of the Spirit of adoption. Joseph knew this was necessary. God’s plan was to save their lives, and it included their relocation to Egypt. Observe how generous the Lord is. He paid for their moving expenses! God’s end includes God’s means to his end.

Lastly, Joseph conformed to God’s plan (45:12-15). He insisted that they bring his father down to Egypt. This also revealed his concern for his father’s well-being. And he wanted to be with his father again.

Joseph gave physical expression of his love for them. The repentant need to know that they are accepted again. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV). Sometimes a hug or even a handshake can go a long way. Joseph was a good picture of Christ. He is never weary of speaking peace to his brothers. “How He is ever striving, by His word and Spirit, to reveal Himself to you, and to get you to see Him! How does He raise you from the dust and set you on a rock that you may sound His praise!” (Candlish, Commentary on Genesis) “These kisses were seals of love, comparable to the witness of the Spirit in believing men” (Spurgeon).

Grace and peace, David

Jacob’s Trial of Faith (Part Two)

Genesis 43:1-14

Nobody likes to admit their mistakes, especially if it is a major issue and if we have been stubborn in holding to a position. Jacob had resisted his sons’ arguments about taking Benjamin to Egypt that they might be able to buy food. Some older men will never admit their wrongs, even if plainly shown to be in error. They’re like the captain wanting to go down with the ship. But Jacob made a wise turnabout (43:11-14). Two qualities stand out in his change.

Jacob exercised prudence (43:11-13). He thought through the possible consequences to the best of his ability.

  • He recognized that his sons were telling the truth, and so he changed his mind and acted decisively. He listened to reason, even from his own children. A wise man will alter his opinions when confronted with the truth. Previous statements he may have made do not matter. It is better to be correct than consistent. Learn to agree with the Scriptures instead of your own old opinions.
  • He did what he could to appease the governor and earn his favor. After all, his sons’ lives were at stake! A gift given in secret soothes anger (Prov 21:14a NIV). Here was a strange providence. The family had plenty of honey and spices, but they had no grain. American churches have fancy buildings and plenty of money, but what of the preaching of the word of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
  • He acted to make known their honesty. He sent the money back! Jacob had done this before with his brother Esau. Sometimes we must buy peace with others, and the cost may be very high. Faith in God also uses means.
  • He sent them at once. Having seen his error, immediately he set out on the proper course. Further delay was pointless.

Jacob acted in faith (43:14). He prayed. Having done what he could, he sought God’s blessing on the outcome. Perhaps the Lord will be merciful and all eleven sons will return.

Prayer is important. Recently he had complained, “Everything is against me” (42:36). Now he more wisely sought God’s blessing. He resigned the situation to God’s providence. The former schemer and wrestler bowed himself to wait for God’s will. Faced with a dangerous situation, godly people trust God. Remember what Esther said in a crisis moment. “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16 NIV). Do not be mistaken. This was a costly moment for Jacob. His enduring love for departed Rachel, which was expressed in his attachment to Benjamin, was finally sacrificed.

Having made his decision, Jacob had to wait for the outcome. That wait would last at least several weeks, perhaps a couple months. A believer must live by faith to the end of his days. Let us learn the patience of faith instead of striving with God.

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part Two)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

In our previous article on this text, we saw that the apostle Paul concluded the teaching part of the letter to the Romans with a prayer. He began the prayer with worship and then stated his request for his brothers and sisters in Christ in Rome. In this request, we discover what the Christian life should be like. Joy and peace are two substantial parts of God’s righteous kingdom. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval (Romans 14:17-18 NIV). Paul prayed that his readers would have a large amount of joy and peace. It would be a strange cake that lacked flour and sugar. It is even stranger to live as a follower of Christ and show only little peace and little joy.

Both joy in God and peace of conscience arise from a practical awareness of justification. (cf. Romans 5:1-2). Peace with God is the foundation for the peace of God in one’s life. There is still spiritual progress to be made from the time of justification, what Peter calls growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). We cannot become more right with God, but we can have a richer experience of his great joy and peace.

Paul did not neglect the importance of faith in the Christian life. It is good to pray, but there must be more than prayer. We must pray in faith. Prayer without faith is a dead, meaningless ritual. Prayer with faith is living and dynamic. Consider prayer for the sick. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5:15 NIV). Faith must have the correct object: as you trust in him. We live as Christians when we take our eyes off ourselves and look on Christ (Ephesian 3:12). We need to live according to what someone called “Pioneer theology”. For example, do you view Christ as the sheriff who is out to get the settlers in town if they break the rules, or as the scout whom you gladly want to follow on the journey to heaven?

In the third part of the prayer, Paul declared his purpose. He wanted them to reflect the character of God. This is the goal of the new creation. Cf. Ephesians 4:24: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (NIV). Let’s rid ourselves of small outlooks. Paul requested overflowing hope! Who would use an old, battered, sputtering push lawn mower if he had a new lawn tractor in the garage? Can you imagine the sweating fellow saying, “I console myself during my frustrations with the thoughts of the better one in the garage.” Silly guy! Use the new one!

The means is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All progress in likeness to God is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. As we by his grace become confident of treasures in heaven, we will become better witnesses of Christ. His divine power is required in our growth in grace. He makes the new self that we are in Christ advance against the remnants of sin and conquer them. Some view the work of the Holy Spirit in the wrong way. They think his job is to make them feel comfortable with the status quo. But his goal is to stir us up so that we overcome the world by grace that is found in Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this hope? It will serve as an anchor to the soul, to keep it safe and steady, during life’s storms and tempests. To the degree that this prayer is answered in reference to any individual Christian, to that degree he or she will be holy, happy, useful, and full of love and good works. The same is true for a local church. As it is made up of people who are overflowing with hope, so it will grow and multiply. It will then be pure, peaceful and energetic “for promoting the glory of God and the happiness of mankind” (Brown).

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part One)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

The letter to the Romans is a peerless explanation of the good news of justifying grace. Throughout its length, Paul opened gospel treasures. Our text is the concluding verse of the instructional part of Romans. How will the apostle sum up what he has said? He finishes with a prayer for his readers. Plainly, Paul wants his readers to experience the fullness of gospel grace. Therefore, he calls out to God Most High. His request can be prefaced this way. “Fill them, Lord. Fill them with the most wonderful of your blessings. Then they will be able to live properly for you.”

While I am thankful what the sound teaching I received as a new follower of Jesus Christ, I wish I would have known what is recorded here. It would have helped much during the early years of my walk with God. But none of us can change the past. Let us, then, go forward in the light of this truth!

The apostle worships the living God. Three general observations about this worship.

  • We are too brief in our prayers. We do not invest proper time in conversing with him. God is not a convenience store, where we rush in and rush out.
  • When we begin with worship, we show that it is our chief concern to honor God. If we’re not thinking this way, it shows a clear need for repentance in agreement with the first great commandment. We will then reflect the glory of the Holy One through how we pray.
  • Proper form. When we pray, it is good to address him with his characteristics that are most agreeable with errand we come upon. By so doing we confess his ability to provide what we ask. It is like getting in the correct lane on an interstate highway. In some places in our area, they have painted road markers on the lanes, so that drivers know ahead of time which lane to take. Learn the attributes of God and learn to get in the correct lanes.

Here we encounter a specific example of proper worship. To do this requires a Biblical view of God. A study of the prayers in the Bible can be a helpful refresher course on this subject. Learning from the prayers of the Bible is like having a professional instructor by your side. You not only do a better job, but you also know that you’re doing well.

Hope is confident expectation. Hope energizes every saint to endure in service to the Lord and others. Why is he called the God of hope? This is God’s essential character. He looks forward to the day of his appointed victory. Do you think that the Lord is in danger of losing? Perhaps this is what has happened to some people. They’ve counted heads and wrongly concluded that they were on the wrong team. They lack the zeal to pray with other believers. United prayer doesn’t excite them. They sit and stare at the news, which leads them into deeper depths of hopelessness. It is time to get out of that swamp of depression. Seek out prayer times with other believers. In the practice of prayer, you will experience that God gives hope. The apostle’s prayer depends on this fact. The Lord himself is the hope of his people. He is our portion, inheritance, and dwelling-place (cf. Psalms 73:24-26; 90:1; Revelation 21:3). Draw near to him this weekend. Lord, please fill your people!

Grace and peace, David

Not an Easy Path (Part Two)

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Acts 16:16-24

Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had severely flogged them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to guard them carefully (16:20-23 CSB).

True Christianity can expect evil people to oppose it (16:19-21). Often, the opponents, like the people in this account, are motivated by greed, which they think will provide them with happiness. They don’t like to hear about truly loving and caring for others, since they seek to get ahead of everyone else.

  • Apart from God’s common grace, the worldly-minded person runs by this formula: “cultural position or wealth equals power that yields happiness.” Many seem to succeed quite nicely by this formula, until you consider their eternal destiny (cf. Psalm 73:17).
  • Apart from God’s restraint, they will not hesitate to use their power to attack those who interfere with their desires.

Wicked people will use distortion and deceit to ruin their godly opponents (16:20-21). Error uses some truth to gain plausibility, but about the only truth they uttered was that Paul and Silas were Jews. Even that would have been used to arouse prejudice. Most public debate is carried out in this way. Name-calling to arouse fears and prejudice to incite hate are favorite tools. The rest of their charge was a lie. Without a belief in absolute truth, telling lies is a very easy activity. We must remember this as we face other religions, and especially people ruled in their thinking by Postmodernism, which denies the existence of truth and absolutes. In order to face strong opposition, we must pray for strength and our integrity.

True Christianity may lead to terrible suffering (16:22-24). This is impossible to accept, if you think that spiritual success is measured by personal ease and prosperity. Too often we see professing Christians mesmerized by worldly success: “A growing church is a successful church.” Christians fail to consider that growing attendance might only mean that their services are more comfortable to worldly-minded people. Paul performed a great miracle through Christ’s power, but church attendance at Philippi did not zoom to one thousand. “Wow! We’re going to have to start a second service!” By the way, let’s read all the New Testament Scriptures! Yes, sometimes churches might see thousands added to their numbers. But it is just as true that sincere, godly people of faith in God might have little to show for their labors.

This is impossible to accept if you listen to lies claiming that God doesn’t want people, especially his people, to suffer. Paul and Silas, two men of faith yet severely flogged and locked in prison, are a painful refutation of such lies. But the Lord Jesus predicted suffering, for the whole church (Matthew 10:16-39; 24:9), and for the apostle Paul (Acts 9:15-16). And the Lord blessed those who are persecuted because of righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:10-12).

True Christianity is not an easy path. Let us remember what Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). I really don’t know what God will do in our present situation. Hatred grows daily. As Christ’s ambassador, if you trust Him as your Lord and Savior, all I can offer you is a cross in this world—and eternal glory in the world to come! Should we quit? Never! What did Paul and Silas do as they suffered horribly? They prayed and worshiped (16:25)! We will be very wise to follow their good example.

Grace and peace, David

Not an Easy Path (Part One)

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Acts 16:16-24

Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the servants of the Most High God” (16:16-17 CSB).

A few years ago, my son Trevor and I planned to hike up North and South Bubble “mountains” in Acadia National Park during a vacation trip. As we reached the far end of Jordan Pond and started our ascent, we saw a trail marker for South Bubble. There I made a serious miscalculation. “It’s only four-tenths of a mile to the top!” Right, but it was also hot, steep, and the granite path was exposed to the sun. I also was not in good physical condition. It was not an easy path, and as a result, we only climbed South Bubble.

True Christianity is a good path, since it is a saving relationship with Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But it is not an easy path. Perhaps in the sheltered, Christianized west, it has seemed easy, but that was always more apparent than real. Had professing Christians been more zealous and faithful, we might not have wrongly assumed that it was easy.

Now we live in a rather twisted kind of intolerant pluralistic culture. We must face challenges from postmodernism, various eastern religions, and the pursuit of personal pleasure that tolerate anything except a truly Christian viewpoint. (If you doubt this, try to tell others the gospel, especially in public settings.) Christians must regain our balance and strength, so that we do not collapse on the trail. Since we are united to Christ, we will certainly follow the trail to the end in heaven, but we ought to want to be useful along the way. So, let’s look at this picture of the early church and learn from the experience of that great pathfinder, the apostle Paul.

True Christianity will always have to confront other religions and philosophies (16:16-18). In western civilization, this was not the case for many centuries, as institutional Christendom provided a Christian illusion as the dominant outlook. Under the protection of Christendom, true Christianity could influence western culture with little challenge from other religions or philosophies. This happened because of three events.

  • The “walling off” of Europe from Muslim expansionism
  • The elimination or total suppression of competing cultures in the Americas
  • The salvation of many people through great revivals, such as the Reformation and the First Great Awakening

Part of our present problem in this time of change is the need to retool our thinking. Years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song called, “The Times They Are a Changing.” He was right, as our culture changed very quickly, but Christians did not listen. We can’t waste our time looking back at supposed “good old days”, which weren’t as good as we imagine. (Most people never read history books!) The old ways are gone forever. We must live in the culture God has permitted to develop since World War II. Therefore, we need to pray.

Usually, the church must compete in a non-Christian world for survival or expansion. This was Paul’s situation at Philippi. In God’s providence, he was breaking a new trail into the utterly non-Christian continent of Europe. When Paul, Silas, Luke and a couple others went to Philippi, they were the only Christians anywhere in the west! They were entering a new world uninfluenced by God’s Word, the Bible, and the ideas that flow from being true followers of Jesus.

Christians must be aware of various aspects of life in a culture where true Christianity is challenged. We must know the reality of the spiritual forces of evil. The Philippian slave girl in our text was under the control of a demon, and so she could do what was beyond natural human ability. True Christianity acknowledges the existence of spiritual powers that are unholy and wicked. They have power—sometimes great power (Matthew 24:24).

We must realize that wickedness will misuse truth for evil goals. What the slave said (16:17) could be heard as true, if you don’t realize her context. Her intent was mockery and disruption of Paul’s evangelistic mission. Some in our day think, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” The Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul did not share that view. God’s work must be done in God’s way (Romans 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; Titus 2:7-8

Our great need is to comprehend and lay hold of the greater power of God the Holy Spirit (16:18; cf. 1 John 4:4). This requires love of God and truth and… prayer.

Grace and peace, David

A Prayer During Affliction (Part Two)

Psalm 25:16-22

The living God is deeply interested in our lives. Though the Lord knows us fully, he invites us to open our lives to him in personal friendship. In these verses, we see that David in faith presented his requests to God

David started with his great spiritual need. He wanted to be sure of God’s favor. He wanted his sins to be taken away. It is too easy in our troubles to forget our sins. But David was spiritually wise, even if he had offended God greatly. (We are unsure when he wrote this psalm.) We have the assurance that God takes our sins away, because Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29). We depend on Christ alone and our sins are gone!

Affliction can come on us for a number of reasons, including our union with Christ in his sufferings, the glory of God, the fact that we live in a world cursed because of sin, and getting attacked in spiritual warfare. In addition, we may suffer discipline because of our personal sin (cf. Heb 12:4-13). In this psalm, David displayed an ongoing awareness of his need for forgiveness of his sin (25:7, 11, 18). To cry to God for our sins to be taken away is “the cry of a soul that is more sick of sin than of pain, and would sooner be forgiven than healed” (Spurgeon). Perhaps this is the deeply piercing sliver that is festering in your heart? Do you want prosperity more than spiritual cleansing? God wants your heart, but do you want God’s gifts more than God alone? Are you God-centered or self-centered?

David wanted God to “turn to” him. Picture two lovers in a quarrel. Can you see how while they are upset, they turn their backs to each other? Now David desired to see God’s face again. In reality, the source of any quarrel with God is always in ourselves. When our sins are confessed, there is nothing to prevent full fellowship with God.

David prayed for grace in his affliction. He sought God’s friendship in his loneliness (25:16). Feeling abandoned and lonely in is no new experience in this world. Sometimes, our dearest friends desert us, or merely move away, or we lose them through death. So, we turn to others, expecting them to feel our pain, but they don’t! The disappointment is extreme. The ache in the soul is painful and not easily mended.  This is when we must dare to draw near to God in fresh, new ways.

David needed to be freed from the anguish ensnaring him because of multiplied troubles of heart. There are seasons in life when troubles do not seem to end. One follows another in apparent endless succession. It is like body surfing and being tossed by the waves when the sea is rough. You are smacked by one wave and struggle to catch your breath before the next one pummels you. The current won’t seem to let you go, and you start to despair of escape! Then you need the Almighty God to lift you up!

He asked to be rescued from his many enemies (25:19-20). We live in an evil world where some people are bent on destroying others. The godly do not have to do anything against the ungodly; the mere existence of Christ’s followers is excuse enough for all sorts of hatred and malice. Persecution of Christians grows daily in our world. We should not be shocked, but we should pray seriously for God to deliver his people.

David prayed for God’s people (25:22). He remembered that he was not the only one in a difficult situation. Many of God’s people are in equal or greater distress than you and I may be currently in. This does not make our affliction less! That is not the point! We are not talking about some kind of trite “misery loves company”. No, we are talking about unselfishly remembering our union with others in Christ. “Sorrow had taught the psalmist sympathy, and given him communion with the tried people of God; he therefore remembers them in his prayers” (Spurgeon). “We are never to become so immersed in our own problems as to forget the needs of all God’s saints.” [Leupold] Why should you pray for other believers? They are God’s friends, and shouldn’t you be concerned about the friends of your best friend?

Knowing Christ brings us into a spiritual family, in which we no longer live for ourselves, but for God and one another. Show the Father’s compassion and reach out to one another today! Pray for one another daily.

Grace and peace, David

Prayer One of a Struggler

Psalm 25:1-3

In a culture of fantasy, the people of God need to demonstrate the reality that people who do not know the Lord sadly lack. As the Holy Spirit tells us in the word of God, all people seek for happiness (Ecclesiastes). But our culture has passed that. In our culture, people pursue pleasure, do all possible to avoid pain and self-denial, and want immediate gratification. Generally speaking, people pursue anything that promises change by a single event or a very simplified process.

We need to think and act differently, to face life in the world that the Lord has ordered that we live in, and to live in the way that demonstrates God’s surpassing glory. One way we can start doing this is to admit, “Hello, my name is ________, and I’m a struggler. I struggle with life’s fears, troubles and uncertainties; I struggle with the many times I rebel against God; and yes, I even struggle with knowing God. But I also know that I don’t struggle alone. God is with me, and so are his people. Let me tell you about what God is doing in the struggles of my life.”

This psalm has evidence of being carefully put together in the form of an acrostic poem. So then, it is not a spontaneous composition, but the result of hard work and meditation. It has the structure of a “meditation sandwich”. The “bread” of the sandwich consists of three prayers. The first two are in verses 1-7, and the third is in verses 16-22. The “meat” of the sandwich is the meditation on God and his friendship with his people. Let us consider the first two prayers together.

David struggled with his hope in God. In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

(25:1-3 NIV). Clearly, he experienced the tension between confidence and disgrace that is part of hope in this world. Too often we idealize spiritual qualities like hope and faith, picturing either one as possessed only by the triumphant. But David, who saw many mercies of God for his benefit, struggled in this area. However, he did not wallow in self-pity. He reached out to the living God.

Next time in this psalm, we will listen to how David addressed the Lord. Now, we will concentrate on the fact that he did pray to the Lord. We ought to have God at the top of the list when we are in struggles. Brothers and sisters in Christ, family, friends, and counselors can play valuable roles in our lives. However, we ought first to turn to the Lord. I think most of us realize God’s priority in the life of faith. Yet, this can be a serious challenge. We can see people and find it more natural to seek them. It is also far too easy to use the forms of prayer, while avoiding direct, meaningful conversation with God our Father. We must concentrate on the great God to whom we pray. He has all-power and can make changes in us and our circumstances. Many times, (not every time), the change must first occur in us, before the Father will change other matters. If a child likes to scribble on the walls with crayons, it is wise to train the child not to do that before you repaint the walls. So then, we must approach the Father with a willingness for him to change us. “Lord, I’m struggling in this situation, but I need to refocus on you and stop obsessing about my problem. Give me grace to ‘drop the crayon’ because I’m doing a lot of ‘scribbling’.”

The ‘scribbling’ can take many forms, including the failure to interact with God in a personal manner. He is not a ‘vending machine’ and prayers are not ‘dollar bills and quarters’ to get power from him. David had the right approach. Listen to his opening words: In you, Lord my God…. Let us talk with the Lord as the Holy and Exalted Person that God is.

Grace and peace, David