Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How to take the meaning of the Bible back then and relate it to today

Isaiah 9:1-3 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. 3 You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

It is amazing to think about how old some of the portions of the Bible really are. The above prophecy composed by Isaiah the prophet under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit dates back over 2700 years. When we read the above text, we are reminded of the truth conveyed by 2 Timothy 3:16 - "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness." All scripture is - in the words of 2 Timothy - profitable, useful, beneficial. Our responsibility as Christians is to grasp the meaning of the scripture and apply it to our lives. The question is: "how do I take a text written over 2700 years ago and apply it to my life today?"

Consider what is referred to as "The Fallen Condition Focus"
Dr. Bryan Chapell is a homiletics professor at Covenant Theological Seminary that teaches young men to preach the Word of God. In his book "Christ-Centered Preaching", Dr. Chapell uses a key idea that helps preachers and people in the pew in applying God's Word. His method involves what he has termed "The Fallen Condition Focus". The "Fallen Condition Focus" is defined by Chapell as follows: "The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God's glory in his people."

According to Dr. Chapell, we must ask three questions when approaching a given text of scripture: what is the meaning of this text? what particular problem or issue motivated the writing of this text? what over-arching concerns are shared between the audience of that day and us living in today's world? With these questions comes the awareness of the tension resident in the text in our lives. To put it another way, the people in Isaiah's time were under the threat of a foreign king ravaging their land. Moreover, they had become so compromised in their spiritual condition that they seemed beyond all remedy. I'm sure you and I have felt that way at one time or another - or perhaps that characterizes your circumstances today. 

This tension must be felt and experienced in order for us to appreciate the light of God's grace. The brokenness of the nation of Judah and the failure of her leadership to heed Isaiah's prophecies is nestled in between two great prophecies of Jesus' first coming. The first of these mighty prophecies speaks of His virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14. The second of these great prophecies concerns not only Messiah's birth and first coming, but also His future second coming and kingdom. The mighty grace of God was needed to shine light in an otherwise hopeless and dark situation. In Isaiah's day of 734 b.c, the failures of a nation and its leadership led to ruin, darkness and hopelessness. That was in Isaiah's day. 

How the New Testament takes Isaiah's prophecy and connects it with the beginning of Jesus' ministry
So with this "fallen condition focus", we are concerned with the mutual human condition shared by us and the people of the Bible that requires God's grace to intervene. Isaiah's prophecies were written in 734 b.c. The Gospel of Matthew (50's A.D) takes Isaiah 9:1-3 and applies it to the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Matthew 4:12-17 - "Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Taking the meaning of the Bible back then and applying it today
Now when we consider the similarities of circumstances facing the audience of the first century versus the audience of the seventh century b.c, we can easily take the following questions and apply them to our lives in the 21st century:

1. What is the meaning of the text? Isaiah's prophecy dealt with a people (Judah) who were frightened by a foreign power (Assyria) and who had experienced the spiritual failure of their leadership and themselves. Times were dark and only God could intervene. In Jesus' time we see the nation of Israel frightened by a foreign power (Rome) and whom were led by leadership who failed spiritually. 

2. What is the prevailing problem or circumstance? 
The people in the first century were in a state of desperation. No new word from God had shone in the land for 400 years. Then, suddenly, Jesus bursts on the scene as God-incarnate, preaching and doing miracles. Amazingly, the prophecy speaks of the general ministry location of Jesus. Think about those times when you and I have felt like we are between a rock and a hard place. Maybe the circumstance was of our own doing, maybe it wasn't. What we need to do in addressing a problem too big for men to handle is to get God involved.

3. What over-arching concerns are shared by the audiences of Isaiah, Matthew and our own?
All three contexts have this tension of being in an impossible situation wherein man can offer no remedy. Jesus is the only answer. We must make sure we're asking the right questions. Both Isaiah 9:1-7 and Matthew 4:12-17 guide us in asking those questions and pointing us to Jesus. Henceforth, when the tide has turned against us, and it seems as if we're going to drown, the circumstances are ripe for God to show up and for us to be ready for His arrival. 
This type of exercise is illustrated for us within the scripture. Thus, we have a method for application. I would urge the reader to get into their Bibles (begin with one of Paul's letters or the Epistle of James) and walk through the method of application we did here today. May the Lord richly bless you the reader.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thoughts on how your time in God's word and prayer-time relate to one another

Hebrews 4:12 the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


I thought we would begin today by meditating on how it is our time in God's Word and our prayer time are related to one another. Most of the following reflections will derive from considerations out of Hebrews 4:12-16 and other Biblical texts. May God be glorified in the following thoughts below on this subject.

Why the Bible and Prayer go hand-in-hand
As you look at the above two passages, they are only separated by four verses, the first being about God's Word and the second concerned with your prayer-life. Why do prayer and the study of God's Word go hand-in-hand? If we had included the verses in between, you would discover that the author is connecting prayer and God's Word together by way of Jesus' High-Priestly ministry. Jesus is the contact point between our prayers to God and our direction from Him. As the Father has sent the Spirit in His name to make clear the scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13), He also gives clarity in the realm of our prayer-lives (Romans 8:26-27).

Four types of Prayer
There are over 600 prayers recorded in the Bible, prayer by different sorts of people. In looking at those prayers, we can classify them under four main types and use the acrostic A.C.T.S to aid in our memory of them.

Adoration = This is when I praise and worship God in my prayer-time

Confession = This is when I confess, or fully admit of my sins to God in my prayer-time

Thanksgiving = This is when I thank God for Himself and other things in my prayer-time

Supplication = This refers to how I ask God for things in my prayer-time

Applying the types of prayer to the scriptures
By once again appealing to the little Bible book of 1 John, we can observe how you can combine your prayer life with God's word. I will use 1 John 1:9 as the example, since it is a wonderful promise for every Christian to claim. 1 John 1:9 states - "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Now as you look at that passage, you can plug in those four types of prayer, and pray through that passages in the following ways:

-Adoration = Lord, I praise you, I adore you for that fact that through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, I have the right to come to you by faith. I praise you Jesus that you are sufficient and just to forgive me of my sins.

-Confession = Lord, I confess to you my sin this day. I admit I have done wrong in this or that area. I confess Lord that may I should have done this or not done that. Lord, please forgive me.

-Thanksgiving = I'm thankful to you Lord that having confessed my sin to you, by the blood of Jesus Christ, I stand innocent before you. I am so thankful that you and I can walk in fellowship and friendship with one another. I thank you Lord that you cleanse.

-Supplication = I ask Lord that you would enable me to walk by the power of your Grace to embrace my Lord and Savior, and that by your grace I would hate sin. Enable me Lord to flee to your word when I am tempted, and to not rely on myself, but only on you - amen.

Closing thoughts
When you take a verse of scripture, and pray it, it is like adding high octane fuel into the tank of your prayer life. Prayer and scripture reading go hand-in-hand. Both together, combined with meditating on what I read and on what I hear in my prayer time form a three-braided rope that is not easily broken. May the Lord bless you today dear friend - as you live and walk for Jesus in prayer and in the scriptures.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Six reasons why Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the most important truth

1 Corinthians 15:19-20 "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."

Today's post aims to offer some reflections on the significance of the Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. The goal is to give the reader a sampling of the massive significance of this truth. Notice the follow reasons why the resurrection of Jesus is the most important truth of Christianity, life and existence...

1. The resurrection provides the basis for truth, meaning and life's purpose
To begin, the clearest statement found in the Bible on the significance of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is found in 1 Corinthians 15:19-20a “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most pitied. (20) But now Christ has been raised from the dead…” All Christianity, and life and the entirety of existence rises or falls with this doctrinal and historical reality. 

2. The resurrection is the only explanation for the beginnings and spread of Christianity
Christ’s empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, the sudden switch of the disciples’ skepticism to robust faith and the early church can only be explained by the historical, physical, supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

3. The resurrection of Jesus is the power-source behind the preaching of the Bible
Christian doctrine would be jeopardized (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) as well as Christian preaching and the church itself if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Moreover, any ability to derive hope in this present life must be abandoned if Jesus Christ had never risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). For finding the purpose of existence and hope for the future, such quests must be abandoned if indeed Jesus Christ’s resurrection never took place (1 Corinthians 15:29-58). 

4. Jesus' resurrection is the basis for worship and adoration of God
But praise be to God – Jesus has risen – and thus we serve a risen, exalted Savior! The existence, reality and identity of the true and living God of the Bible is verified chiefly by the fact that He is credited with raising Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4-11; Romans 8:11; 1 Peter 1:3). Jesus’ own Deity and true humanity are both verified by this event (John 10:17;Romans 1:1-3; Romans 9:5). Christ’s resurrection from the dead –deemed “firstfruits” in 1 Corinthians 15:20b, guarantees the Christian’s future glorified transformed resurrection body at His return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16; 1 Corinthians 15:42-58). 

5. Jesus' resurrection validates the truth of the Bible
Christ’s resurrection also has set in stone all of the prophecies and predictions pertaining to the rest of the Old Testament saints in the resurrection of the righteous, of which we will be a part (Job 14:14; Daniel 12). The Kingdom of darkness and Satan himself stand condemned and defeated as a result of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12; Hebrews 2:11-14; 1 Peter 3:18-20). 

6. The resurrection of Jesus is relevant for the power to live the Christian life today
To summarize – Jesus’ resurrection stands as the epicenter of Christian experience, doctrine, history, the present and future hope for all who believe.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

What Jesus Achieved on Good Friday and Holy Saturday: Reflections and Applications

1 Peter 3:18-20  For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Today is the Saturday that lies between "Good Friday" and "Easter Sunday". This day, simply called "Holy Saturday", considers what all was potentially taking place during the interment of Jesus' body in the tomb of Joseph of Arithmathea. In the book "Preaching through the Christian Year", a particular ancient practice of the early church is recounted: "In the ancient church, the tradition of the Easter Vigil played an important role. Catechumens (young converts to the Christian faith), after remaining awake and watchful throughout Saturday night, were baptized early on Easter morning and then joined the Christian community in Holy communion." Such practices fazed out. However, throughout church history, much effort was spent in taking the time to focus on Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. I'm sure some readers for instance can recall "Easter Sunrise Services" and other Christian traditions that help the church to be reminded of her central identity in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. 

In today's post I want us to consider what Jesus accomplished in these events. The aim is to consider Jesus' accomplishments on Good Friday and Holy Saturday in preparation for resurrection Saturday. 

The four Gospels detail the events of Christ's death, burial and resurrection.  The remainder of the New Testament (Acts, 21 Epistles and Revelation) unfold the meaning and implications of what He achieved.  The Apostle Peter in his first epistle aims to show how we as Christians ought to stand firm in God's grace (1 Peter 5:12). Peter's letter ties in our ability to stand in such grace to what Jesus Christ accomplished.  Thus, we will consider the following two main thoughts about Christ's accomplished work:

1. The Purpose of Christ's Accomplished Work - reconciliation.  1 Peter 3:18

2. The Proclamation of Christ's Accomplished Work - Victory.  1 Peter 3:19-20

1. Purpose of Christ’s Victorious Work – Reconciliation 3:18 

a. What did He do? He died 
 He died for sins.  As Dr. Danny Akin of South Western Baptist Theological Seminary once noted: "He lived the life I couldn't live and He died the death I should have died."

b. Whom did He die for? The unjust 
Romans 5:6-8 states - "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." 

Jesus' death on behalf of sinners accomplished two necessary effects required for reconciliation with God. The first necessary effect was expiation or the removal of the cause of God's wrath upon us - our sin (Romans 5:10). The second effect had to do with propitiation - that is to say, the satisfaction of God's wrath (1 John 2:2). Below in the next thought (point "c"), we see why expiation (taking away of sin) and propitiation (satisfying wrath) are necessary for reconciliation.

c. Why did he die? To bring us to God (reconciliation) 
Dr. Michael Horton notes: "The result of God's wrath being satisfied is reconciliation. Just as we are first of all passive subjects of God's wrath when God propitiates, we are passive subjects of God's reconciliation at the cross.  We do not reconcile ourselves to God; God reconciles Himself to us and us to Him."2

d. How did He do it? Death and resurrection
Christ's death, burial and resurrection are at the heart of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The New Testament mostly focuses upon Christ's death and resurrection.  However, what went on during the three days He was buried is not explained in near as much detail as the two book-ends of the Gospel: namely Christ's death and resurrection.  Death and Resurrection serve to explain how Christ accomplished what he accomplished. What He did in His burial (down below) reveals some of the behind (and under) the scenes work He did in insuring our ability to walk as believers in His Victorious work. 

2. Proclamation of Christ’s Victorious Work – Victory 3:19-20 
 a. What did he do between His death &    resurrection? Proclaimed victory 3:19 
John MacArthur has perhaps explained this text better than just about everyone I've read or heard: "He was announcing, proclaiming (and) heralding a triumph. About what? It must be pretty obvious, about His triumph over sin, about His triumph over death, about His triumph over hell, about His triumph over demons, about His triumph over Satan." 3

b. Whom did he proclaim His victory? The  demons reserved for judgment. 3:19-20 
If we were to attempt to offer a faint outline of what Jesus did between His death and resurrection, we could maybe understand why He went to proclaim His victory to the demonic realm.  First He went immediately into the presence of His Father by way of the Holy Spirit in his human spirit to present His once and for all sacrifice (Hebrew 9:15). 

Next He went down into those regions of hell where some of the demons (especially those who rebelled in Noah's day) are being reserved for judgment. 

Thirdly Christ's proclamation of victory insures that hell will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18) as well as fulfilling the fact of His triumph over the demonic realm (Colossians 2:14-15). 

Fourthly, Christ's resurrection from the dead meant He had completed His mission of proclamation and thus He arose as a victorious King, subduing all cosmic powers under Himself (Acts 2:24; 1 Peter 3:22).

c. Why did he proclaim His victory? To  guarantee Christian victory 3:19-20 
He did this to pave the way for what would be His ascension into Heaven 40 days after His resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 4:7-10). 

d. What was His victory over? Sin (1 Pet 3:18), hell 1 Pet 3:19-20; Col 2:11-12) grave (3:18,21b)
Revelation 1:4-5 states - "John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood".

Closing thoughts
As we draw this post to a close, let's remember our two main thoughts for today's post: 

1. The Purpose of Christ's Accomplished Work - reconciliation.  1 Peter 3:18

2. The Proclamation of Christ's Accomplished Work - Victory.  1 Peter 3:19-20 

What Jesus accomplished was proclaimed by Him both in heaven and to the defeated demonic realm. Such activities provided grounds for which future generations of Christian could stand who by grace through faith trusted in Jesus. The cross of Friday and the work of Saturday pointed to what would be the great victory of that early Sunday Morning: He has risen! As Christians, we rest in these works of Jesus. 

1. Fred B. Craddock; John H. Hayes; Carl R. Holladay and Gene M. Tucker. Preaching Through the Christian Year - Part A. Trinity Press International. Harrisburg, PA. 1992. Page 227

2. Michael Horton. The Christian Faith - A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Zondervan. 2011. Page 500

Friday, March 25, 2016

Three reasons why we can say "Good Friday" is good

Galatians 3:13-14 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

What is Good Friday? Many churches and Christians the world-over celebrate the Friday before Easter Sunday as a time to reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus. The book "Preaching through the Christian Year" (Edited by Fred Craddock; John H. Hayes; Carl R. Holladay and Gene M. Tucker) notes the following about how one ought to celebrate "Good Friday": "Good Friday services tend to focus on the suffering of Jesus as the servant of God. This is a corrrect and proper theme for the day. Good Friday also, however, looks forward, beyond itself, beyond suffering and humiliation, to exaltation, triumph and Easter." Henceforth we can see the "Good Friday" is indeed all about the "Good News" of Jesus' accomplishment on the cross and of course, what would ultimately be the confirmation of that accomplishment by His resurrection from the dead.

Such thoughts remind me of a question someone asked me a few years ago: Why is Good Friday Good? When that question was posed to me, I began to reflect on what the scriptures explain concerning Christ's accomplishments on the cross. As we endeavor to answer this question, we can find the answer by looking at Galatians 3:7-14. I want today's post to take a deeper look at what Jesus achieved on the cross, so as to understand why this day is indeed a day of triumph for the Christian (and how it can be yours if you're not one yet). The Apostle Paul lays out three reasons why the Friday that Jesus died on the cross was indeed Good Friday.

Salvation's Promise was completed
Let's consider the first "good" that was accomplished on "Good Friday": Salvation's promise was completed. Galatians 3:8 states - "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” Over 2,000 years before Christ came, the grace of God came to a man named Abram. God brought to Abram to a land that He promised to show him - Canaan. In Genesis 13 Abram is told to walk that land. Later on the "promise" to Abram regarding a physical descended would be fulfilled in the birth of his son Isaac in Genesis 21. This overall redemptive theme of "promise" runs from Genesis to Malachi.  It began with Eve and was re-articulated by God to Abraham, to his descendants, to Moses, the prophets, kings such as David and regular people like Ruth.

The Promises of salvation were carried out through the scarlet bloodline of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By the time we come to the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew lists 42 generations spanning from Abraham down to Jesus, wherein the "seed of promise" was culminated. The Promise turned out not to be abstract - but concrete. What had been an overarching principle of God's redemptive purposes in the Old Testament would turn out to culminate in the Person of the Son. God the Son, the Promiser, came to embody the Promise in true humanity as Jesus Christ. When Christ in His humanity breathed His last on that First Good Friday, over 100 prophecies were fulfilled. The Promise that pointed to the Person achieved the full payment of substitutionary death of the Savior in the place of sinners. So "Good Friday" is good because salvation's promise was fulfilled, but notice secondly...

Sin's Curse was Broken
Why did Jesus Christ go to the cross? Did it really matter how He shed His blood? Why didn't Jesus come down on a weekend, go to a doctor, have the doctor prick His finger, put blood in a vial, and catch the next chariot back to Heaven? It may very well had been easier, but not effective. He had to experience the virgin birth and grow through all the stages of humanity to experience what we experience - yet without sin. But there's something more.

You see, when Adam sinned - a curse was pronounced (Genesis 3:15-19).  Adam ate from the wrong tree, and was barred from gaining access to the tree of life. In order for man to ever gain access to the tree of life, a perfect man - that is to say, a "New Adam" - would have to be placed upon a tree of death. Galatians 3:13 quotes Deuteronomy 21:23, which tells us "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree".

The curse of Eden was broken at Calvary. Christ accomplished in His humanity what needed paid for by man and provided salvation that He as God alone could provide. The Promise of salvation was completed! Finished! Paid in full! Never to be repeated again!  But notice the third thing that makes Good Friday Good....

Saving benefits received by faith
Galatians 3:14 states - "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Now let's be clear - The Event of Good Friday must become an experience in your life. Salvation is not automatic. All that Christ accomplished on that First Good Friday was an objective event of History - which is to say - an event that is true and occurred apart from what you may or may not believe. With that said, unless you by grace through faith subjectively receive that event - its benefits won't be applied to you.  As the passage states - all this was done by Christ "so that the promise of the Spirit (could come) through faith."

That phrase "through faith" could be rendered "through the faith" - meaning the Divine Gifting of faith that operates in salvation becomes a free decision of faith wherein I freely believe and receive all who Christ is and all He has done (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18). When you by grace through faith freely and truly trust in Jesus - the benefits of Good Friday make everyday of your life a Resurrection Day (Romans 10:8-10). 

Closing thoughts:
So what three reasons can we offer in answer to the question: "why is Good Friday good?" 

1. Salvation's Promise was fulfilled
2. Sin's curse has been broken
3. Saving benefits are received by faith. 

It is for these reasons that "Good Friday" is good.

That phrase "through faith" is in reference to "The Faith", "the gift of faith", wherein I choose Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, Treasure.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Suggested ways to get people back into the Bible

Joshua 1:8 "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

Throughout our nation the overwhelming need of our churches is to "get back to the Bible". This writer would take it a step further: lets "get into the Bible" so that we can "get back to the Bible". So here are a few questions to open up today's post: how does one begin reading the Bible when they have never really read it?  where do you begin? what suggested books or sections of the Bible should you read?  I have been asked questions like these and believe there are some helpful ways to "jumpstart" getting back into consistent reading and study of God's Word. 

Scripture reading and study occupy the cornerstones of sustained growth in Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 2:15 urges the following: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."  Below are some methods that either I have used or have heard from others in cultivating a consistent, daily time in the scriptures.

1. Read a Proverb a day. There are 31 chapters or Proverbs in the book of Proverbs.  Are you looking for wisdom in life or a greater effectiveness in your walk with the Lord?  Read Proverbs.  By reading one chapter a day for five minutes, you should be able to cover Proverbs in one month.  Once you have read through Proverbs in that first month of reading, read it again the second month - a chapter a day.  Then do it again.  I have done this and discovered something new and insightful from the Lord everytime I read.

2. Read 1 John in one week.  1 John is all about the Christian life and assurance of salvation.  There are some seventy statements in 1 John that give you assurance of knowing who you are and Whose you are as a Christian.  There are five chapters, which means if you were to read a chapter a day, you could read 1 John six times in one month.  Make it your goal to read 1 John once a week, and watch your Christian life begin to soar as you discover more of who you are and Whose you are in Christ

3. Read five Psalms a day for a month.   As you read God's Word more, you'll find yourself wanting to read more of God's Word.  There are 150 Psalms.  Five a day for a month will get you through the book.  The Psalms speak to the personal and experiential side of your walk with God, and His thoughts toward you.

4. Read a chapter in each of the four Gospels per day.  The four Gospels introduce you to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The following four-month reading plan might be suggested: Matthew has 28 chapters, so read a chapter a day and you'll get through Matthew in the first month. In the second month read Mark twice, since it has 16 chapters. Luke would be your third month's reading, with the first 24 days spent reading each chapter and the last several days spent re-reading the crucifixion and resurrection accounts (Luke 19-24). Finally, John;s Gospel would round out your fourth month of reading. Imagine how well you would get to know Jesus in just four months - or even one? It is well worth the time! 

Closing thoughts
Whenever you and I intentionally read and think on God's Word every day, growth and strength in faith will be on the way.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Jesus' cursing of the fig tree - meanings and applications

Matthew 21:18-23 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. 20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Today's post deals with Jesus' cursing of the fig tree following His triumphal entry and prior to His final public sermon - the Olivet discourse. The events of the cursing of the fig tree and its withering would had happened on Monday and Tuesday of the week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. Every action that Jesus did conveyed a message to his opponents and followers regarding their own spiritual condition and the only remedy - His pending crucifixion.

I can recall living in Florida and watching orange trees develop their leaves and then anticipating ripe juicy oranges thereafter. Most fruit trees follow this pattern of leaves first - then fruit. However, fig trees are the opposite - producing their fruit early, followed by the emergence of leaves. The Zondervan Bible Encyclopedia notes: "Our Lord condemned a fig tree at Passover tie on Mount Olivet (Mark 11:13; Matt 21:19). The tree should have borne early ripe figs. The Lord would have known  whether the tree should have been cropping." The fact that the fig tree should have had fruit and didn't indicates a tree that looked good from a distance, but upon closer inspection indicated a fruitless tree that had nothing to offer anyone.

Jesus' cursing of the fig tree is a miracle performed by Jesus to communicate a point. With a little bit of the characteristics of fig trees before us, we can offer two basic meanings and a final application of this event for our lives today.

1. Outward spiritual behavior does not impress the Lord.
When Jesus was preparing to enter the temple precincts, His denouncement of the fig tree was really a judgment against the Jewish religious system of His day. They had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof (Compare predictions of what would be the church of our day in 2 Timothy 3:5). Fig trees were used in the Old Testament to signify spiritual and national prosperity. In 1 Kings 4:25 for instance we see this description of King Solomon's reign: "So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon." What should had been bearing spiritual fruit was found wanting by Jesus. His action of cursing the fig tree was in effect pronouncing a curse on outward attempts to perform religious behavior without a heart for God.

2. Salvation from the Lord received by faith, rather than man-made religion done by works, is what makes us pleasing in God's sight.
When we think of the fig tree, its history goes back even earlier - far earlier - before the days of Israel. In Genesis 3:7 we read of what Adam and his wife did after disobeying God: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings."

Throughout history mankind has attempted to sew together "fig-leaf" religions. That is to say, attempts have been made by fallen man to cover the nakedness of his shame and estrangement before God. When we consider Genesis 3 once more, we find that God had provided two coats of skin for our original parents. Their attempts to cover their sin failed. God revealed a covenant of grace to them by way of the first mention of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15 and the provision of skins. Their reception of God's revelation of grace by faith is apparent by the fact God clothed them in the innocence of a substitute on their behalf. Salvation's pattern has always been through the shedding of blood of an innocent substitute on behalf of the guilty; followed by the Spirit's working of the guilty to freely receive God's work by faith.

Sadly, the religion of Judaism had been ripped from its redemptive moorings by the establishment and for many, attempting to please God by performance of ritual precluded many from receiving what God had revealed about salvation in the Old Testament. Salvation in the Old Testament was based on God's promise of a Redeemer. Reception of that revelation by grace through faith was how one was brought into the covenant people of God.

When Jesus came on the scene, He was saying that He was the very Person upon which all the prophecies and pictures of the Old Testament revelation had pointed.

We could point out several more meanings, but for now these two will suffice. As a final point of application for today - have you, dear reader, found yourself appealing to outward behavior as a basis of standing before God? Unless you have confessed with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead - then you do not possess the inward reality of salvation (see Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:8-10). Jesus is the vine, and only those who have been attached to Him by the Holy Spirit in saving faith will bear the fruit of salvation (see John 15:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Let us not have a Christianity that only looks good from a distance. We are to be those who are ever depending upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit given at saving faith. Let us bear fruit for the Master (Galatians 5:22) and be those who are a blessing to others for Jesus' sake.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The importance of Palm Sunday to the Christian

Matthew 21:1-3 "When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them,“Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”

Yesterday many Christians the world over celebrated what has been called "Palm Sunday". I can recall as a child receiving little "palm branches" to take home after a Palm Sunday celebration in Sunday School and at church. I felt today it would benefit readers to consider some thoughts about the signficance of Palm Sunday. Please note the following points...

1. Preparation. Matthew 21:1-3
Jesus was preparing for what would be the week leading up to His crucifixion. In the cycle of Jewish fesitivals, Passover Week was getting underway. The day in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a Donkey was the day the passover lambs were officially chosen by each Jewish family to begin preparation for what would be their slaughter by Thursday night of that week. 

This particular day was part of the original liturgy of the first Passover week instituted by Yahweh to the people through Moses in Exodus 12:1-3  "Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. 4 Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb.5 Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight."

The lamb would be raised for an entire year and named by the family. When the lamb was "selected", that meant that the lamb was deemed "ready" for the Passover. Jesus came as "the Lamb of God" - i.e as the "Choice Lamb" Who was prepared from before the foundation of the world by the Father (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6). The Son came willingly and is described in passages such as 1 Corinthians 5:7 as the lamb of God. 

2. Prophetic Fulfillment Matthew 21:4-5
Matthew records that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, that his efforts were not just some random activity. The purpose for Jesus' riding into Jerusalem was to fulfill prophecy. Zechariah 9:9, composed by Divine inspiration some 520 years prior to this event, is quoted by Matthew in Matthew 21:4-5 - "This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 'Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, Gentle, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” Everything that Jesus did was not random nor accidental - but intentional. He was yielding Himself to His Father's willo as He made His way to Calvary.

3. Presentation Matthew 21:6-9
Just as those lambs were formally prepared, they were also presented. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a Donkey, He was presenting Himself as Israel's King. Many people in that scene were asking questions regarding Jesus' identity. One of the aims of Jesus' actions was to send a message to the Jewish leadership and to the nation - "here is your King". According to passages like Isaiah 53, He would be not only be the Lamb of God, but also a rejected Savior. This idea once again reminds us that when Jesus had rode through on that first "Palm Sunday", He was fulfilling prophecy. The people who were crying "Hosanna" would within a week's time shout "crucify Him." 

4. Passion Matthew 21:10-11
Matthew 21:10-11 records - "When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, fromNazareth in Galilee.”
Once Jesus had rode into Jerusalem, it was His way of officially concluding the public ministry phase of His first coming and entering into what many theologians call His "passion" (from a Latin root meaning "suffering"). Luke's version includes the following detail of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem following His triumphal entry in Luke 19:41-43  "When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it,42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side,44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, andthey will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Jesus' weeping was due to His foresight into what would be the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Readers can consult historic works such as Flavius Josephus (a first century Jewish Historian), who records the horrendous details of that sequence of events that were fulfilled as Jesus had predicted. Jesus' emotional anguish over the people rejecting God's plans and purposes through Him would get deeper by the end of the week. The emotional anguish would turn into physical agony on the cross and spiritual agony that He would endure in His humanity while at the same time experiencing the anguish of the pains of sinbearing as the Divine Son. As the God/man, Jesus would passionately face crucifixion. Praise be to God though, the true triumph of the pending "holy week" would not lie ultimately in His riding into Jersualem, but rather in His death on the the cross and triumphal resurrection three days later outside the Holy City!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The need for the Christian to listen to God

Isaiah 50:4 “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.”


At the time of the writing of this post, my family and I were preparing to attend an evening service at the church God has us serving. Although God has called me to pastor a wonderful church – I functioned in the role of listener that evening. The Associate Pastor delivering the message. My goal was to go with an eagerness to hear what God was going to say through him. Listening to God is the chief occupation of the interior life of the Christian. As a preacher, the assumption is that time will be spent in active communication of God’s Word – as it should be (see 1 Timothy 4:13-16). However, unless I as a preacher do not practice the act and art of listening to God – then the effectiveness to speak God's word will be hampered.  

I am sure some readers recall as children hearing their parents tell them: “Did you hear what I said?” If an immediate response was not forth-coming, the follow-up would come in a raised tone: “Are you listening to me!” Although the terms “hearing” and “listening” may have similar meanings; they nonetheless carry very important distinctions. Hearing entails acknowledgement of sound entering into the ear and given the appropriate response; whereas listening involves a deeper level of following through with every word communicated in the message.

Distinguishing “hearing” and “listening”

Hearing God’s Word includes the Spirit-given ability to discern the author of the message, the contents and the appropriate response (see Romans 10:9-10). Listening involves taking what has been heard and resolving oneself to follow-through in commitment to God with the result being action (see John 14:21-23). Hearing is but the beginning of the process of responding to God; whereas listening demonstrates continued adherence and commitment to what has been heard. Author Richard Blackaby has noted that: "whatever a man does next after claiming to hear God will demonstrate what he believes about God.”

What it takes to “listen” to God

Isaiah communicates in Isaiah 50:4 that he had been given the ability to not only hear God’s voice as a prophet and preacher of the Word, but also that he practiced the need to listen to God. In looking briefly at the entirety of Isaiah 50, we can pick out four components of listening. As my family and I went that recent Sunday night to hear God’s Word, we went to not only hear the voice of God through the song service and preaching; but also to listen and apply what was heard. What elements are necessary in listening to God?

1). Hold (onto what I hear about God). Isaiah 50:1-3

Isaiah hearkens back to when God had redeemed the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, as well as how He later on sent them away in exile as a result of their disobedience. Isaiah has before Him God’s love and justice. As he holds onto these two characteristics of God, it becomes clear that God desire to extend a second chance to an otherwise reluctant people. As God reaches out to us, He is ever more willing to know us than we are to know Him.

2). Hasten to obey what God is saying. Isaiah 50:4-10
As is often the case in Isaiah’s prophecies, we are under the impression that Isaiah is speaking of himself, only for the seamless transition to go from himself to the Lord as the speaker. The revelation of scripture entails the overseeing influence of the Holy Spirit carrying along Isaiah while all the while Isaiah is utilizing his language, culture, life-experience and ways of expression. The end result is God’s words draped in the garments of Isaiah’s human vocabulary – immune from error. The “Servant” who is speaking sounds like Isaiah, but it turns out that the “Servant of the Lord” is a figure representing and perhaps even being a pre-incarnate cameo introduction of the Divine Son in the Old Testament.

Matthew Henry, the great commentator, reminds us that Isaiah is “doing like David, he speaks of himself as a type of Christ, who is here prophesied and promised to be Savior”. When God is speaking – how willing and ready are you and I to do His bidding? The Divine Son expressed willingness to yield to the will of the Father in His Divine sharing with the Father and the Spirit in all eternity. New Testament passages such as Hebrews 10:4-5 express the Son’s words prior to his entry into history by the virgin’s womb as being: “I have come to do your will as it is written in the book”. When The Son incarnated in human flesh, He – ever remaining God – became flesh in the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth (see John 1:14; Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:15-16). Jesus was ever about doing His Father’s business and provided the example to all true followers of Him by faith of what is meant to heed God’s voice – no matter what.

3). Heed warnings concerning not listening to God. Isaiah 50:11
As the prophetic address seems to switch from the “Servant” to that of Isaiah once more, Isaiah rebukes those within the nation who derived their strength from idolatry or simple warming themselves by the light of man-made fire rather than the Divine fire of God’s glory. Natural man’s bent is to ignore God and trust in his five senses, opinions and un-illuminated human intellect – henceforth deeming the things of God as foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). The road of ignoring God is paved with regret and leads to disappointment, heartache and eternal condemnation. Whether as pastors or those in the pew, the people of God must never trust in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, His word and the power of the Holy Spirit (see Proverbs 3:5-6).

4). Have Christ as you focus to succeed in listening. Isaiah 50:6
So how can it be that we stay on track in listening to God. How is it that as Christians we can continue in cultivating the much needed skill of listening to the voice of Him who calls us to follow His lead (see Luke 9:23-24)? Christ must ever be before us. In Isaiah’s prophecy we find the Servant predicting what will be the moments leading up to and including His crucifixion. In history the crucifixion was seven centuries removed from Isaiah’s day; yet for the Servant (i.e the pre-incarnate Son in eternity), the events of Calvary were but around the corner.

Listening to God won’t be maintained by moralism and adherence to some man-made prescriptions, but rather the cross. Hebrews 12:3 reminds us to “consider Him who endured such contradiction by sinful men so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.” As we make our business to hear God and then continue on in listening to what we heard; Christ Jesus and Him crucified, risen and ascended must ever be at the center and circumference of our faith walk.  

As I reflect back once more on the evening service attended by my family and me, we certainly heard the Lord speak through His word that evening. The Associate Pastor spoke from Acts 8:22-39 on how Phillip’s willingness to listen to God and to “get up and go” resulted in God saving the soul of the Ethiopian Eunuch. I was struck at how unknown to me, God had laid upon the heart of this precious man of God a message that aimed at equipping all in attendance on how to listen to God and do His bidding. The one statement our Associate Pastor made makes clear the necessity of listening to God: “wherever there is a willing Christian and a prepared heart; the result will be  spiritual miracles.” The need for the Christian to listen to God can only happen when the following occurs: hold onto whatever I heard God say; hasten to obedience; heed warnings of not listening and have Christ as the focus.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The pastor's three grounds of confidence in ministry - third ground, the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:3-5 "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."

So far in the last two posts we have considered the grounds of confidence upon which a preacher stands when ministering in the local church. The preacher's grounds are ultimately every Christian's grounds of confidence. Paul outlines for us three grounds of confidence for doing ministry in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. He recalls the first time he came to the Corinthians - bringing to them the "testimony of God" in the scriptures and wanting them to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Today's post will conclude this study on the pastor's three grounds of confidence. We've looked already at the scriptures and the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's consider the third ground of confidence - namely the Holy Spirit.

The Pastor's third ground of confidence - the Holy Spirit
As was mentioned already, Paul remembers back to when he first came to the Corinthian church. In other letters to other churches, Paul hearkens back to their beginnings, noting how he came to them in the power of the Holy Spirit. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 we read - "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." Paul indicates to the Corinthian congregation that when he first came to them, he arrived and remained with them "in weakness and fear and much trembling". Matthew Henry's Concise commentary notes on 1 Corinthians 2:3 - 

"Few know the fear and trembling of faithful ministers, from a deep sense of their own weakness They know how insufficient they are, and are fearful for themselves. When nothing but Christ crucified is plainly preached, the success must be entirely from Divine power accompanying the word, and thus men are brought to believe, to the salvation of their souls." 

I recall years ago hearing the following advice from an older preacher: "if you enter the pulpit with your head hanging high, you will exit it with your head hanging low. However, if you enter behind the sacred desk with your head hanging low, you will descend it with your head hanging high". The point? Reliance on the Spirit's power, rather than my own. Paul goes on to state why the Holy Spirit's power and presence must needs be the preacher's source of confidence in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 - "and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."

What should any great preacher emphasize to his people? that their strength for living lies not in themselves but God. The power of God is what will draw people to the church house. John Wesley once noted that if you want to fill the pews, build a fire in the pulpit. The mark of the Spirit's anointing on a man's life makes all the difference. It is not an easy life, mind you, however it is well worth the price. The late great Baptist preacher Adrian Rogers warned about preaching in the flesh, noting that if the Devil can trick anyone to get in the flesh, it matters not whether it be carousing or preaching - the flesh, in the end, will profit nothing. 

Closing thoughts
(keep working)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The pastor's three grounds of confidence in ministry - second ground, the Lord Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."

Yesterday we began considering the three grounds of confidence upon which a pastor stands when ministering in the local church. The first one we considered was the word of God. Whenever I have walked up to the sacred desk, the pulpit, I have never approached the preaching task without a Bible. What will convert the soul of the sinner - save the scriptures (James 1:18)? 

Admittedly today's post, like yesterday's, is aimed mainly at ministers. I will broaden the post somewhat to remind Christians in general that the grounds of confidence spoken of in these posts apply to both pastor and parishioner. We saw the first ground of confidence for the pastoral ministry (and in reality, the church's ministry) - namely the Bible. Today we consider the second grounds of confidence - namely Christ Himself.

The preacher's second ground of confidence - The Lord Jesus Christ - 1 Corinthians 2:2
We read in 1 Corinthians 2:2 "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Paul had already mentioned about how he had made an entry into the Corinthian's lives. Acts 18:1-11 gives the historical background for Paul's initial visit to Corinth. For one and one-half years Paul would minister there and establish a church through the combined efforts of his ministry comrads - Priscilla and Aquilla. Acts 18:5 records  - "But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul begandevoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ."

When any minister first comes to a church or has been at a church for a while - what is the One Person to whom He points? Who is it that the preacher ought to present before his people? It mustn't be primarily himself. Unless Christ and His barren cross eclipses the preacher, no one will be saved nor sanctified. When Paul states in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he wanted his people to know nothing except "Jesus Christ and Him crucified", he was stating the anchoring point for his ministry. We know from the contents of Paul's letters to the Corinthian church that he spoke on more subjects, but never less than Christ and the cross. 

The great commentator Matthew Henry notes concerning this second ground of confidence in 1 Corinthians 2:2 - 

"As to the matter or subject he tell us (v. 2), He determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and him crucified—to make a show of no other knowledge than this, to preach nothing, to discover the knowledge of nothing, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Note, Christ, in his person and offices, is the sum and substance of the gospel, and ought to be the great subject of a gospel minister’s preaching. His business is to display the banner of the cross, and invite people under it."

The great 16th century preacher Martin Luther once noted: “If you want to interpret well and confidently, set Christ before you, for He is the man to whom it all applies, every bit of it.”

The wonderful preacher John Gill notes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:2 - "that which was the greatest offence to others was the most delightful to him, because salvation comes through and by the cross of Christ; and he dwelt upon this, and determined to do so; it being most for the glory of Christ, and what was owned for the conversion of sinners, the comfort of distressed minds, and is suitable food for faith, as he knew by his own experience."

Why Christ? Because the grounds of confidence upon which preaching stands is the same grounds upon which salvation is situated - Christ's righteousness. Unless the people in the pew despair of their own righteousness and flee to Christ and the cross, they will despair for eternity. As the old hymn states:

"My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand."

Closing thoughts
Today we considered the second ground for the preacher's confidence (and for that matter, the church's confidence in her ministry) - namely the Lord Jesus Christ. The written word of God is dominated by the Personality of the God man. In like-manner, Jesus Christ came to fulfill God's word, to preach it, teach it and equip his disciples to spread it throughout the world. These two foundations for confidence in ministry are as it were woven strands that form an unbreakable rope. Ecclesiastes 4:12 states - "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." We have considered two cords of confidence - the scriptures and Christ. Next time we will consider a third ground of confidence for the preacher - the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The pastor's three grounds of confidence in ministry - first ground, the scriptures

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 

I can recall years ago watching a documentary of a man building a house on some beach-front property. The area of the beach where he was building was known for its scenery and it excessive beach erosion. The owner knew that simply placing a home on a normal concrete foundation would prove to be disastrous. So what he decided to do was sink 9-12 telephone poles into the ground. Then the man poured a very think concrete foundation that was reinforced with tempered steel rods. The show spent most of its time highlighting the foundations this man had in place for his beach-side property.

What are the grounds for confidence that any preacher has when he stands before any people? The weight that a preacher carries into the pulpit is immense. Apart from the grace of God, the preacher's task is impossible. The task of converting sinners and feeding the saints flows not from the preacher's skill nor story-telling abilities - but rather from a three-fold foundation: the scriptures, Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Today's post will consider the first of these.

The preacher's first ground of confidence - the written words of God - 1 Corinthians 2:1
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1 "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God." Adam Clarke, the great commentator writes concerning this first verse: 

"I declared to you the testimony, the Gospel, of God, not with excellency of speech, not with arts of rhetoric, used by your own philosophers, where the excellence of the speech recommends the matter, and compensates for the want of solidity and truth: on the contrary, the testimony concerning Christ and his salvation is so supremely excellent, as to dignify any kind of language by which it may be conveyed."

The scriptures - i.e the testimonies of the Lord (Psalm 19:7b) - are God's words. The Bible is God's voice in pen, paper and ink. When Paul came to the Corinthian church, he knew that his audience had most likely heard it all and seen it all. Corinth, after all, was a cultural center of the ancient world. Like any typical Greco-Roman city, Corinth would have had its share of professional orators who could have a crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. For the Apostle, the change needing to take place at Corinth would occur through style - but rather the substance of the Word of God. 

When we trace back through redemptive history in the Bible, we discover several men of God who learned their ground of confidence to not be in themselves - but in God's words. Exodus 4:10-12 records the following conversation between Moses and God:

"Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”

Later on some 800 years later, the prophet Jeremiah and God have the following conversation in Jeremiah 1:4-9 - 

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. 8 “Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. 9 Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, 

“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth."

Then 600 years after Jeremiah, Jesus indicates that one of His chief tasks in His first coming was to preach the words of God in Mark 1:38 "He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”

Closing thoughts
I admit today that this post is written mainly to preachers (however, even those who don't preach behind church pulpits can glean general application). Paul recognizes - like Moses, Jeremiah and Jesus - that when he came to his appointed people, that the first ground of confidence had to be the scriptures. What else will change lives, save the Word of God? As preachers of the word, we bring the Bible, Jesus and the precious Holy Spirit. May we not neglect this first ground of confidence in Christian ministry - the scriptures. 

More tomorrow.....