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

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