Monday, May 28, 2018

Understanding The Meaning Of The Angels At The Empty Tomb

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John 20:11-13 "But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she *saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”


When one reads the Gospel narratives of Christ's resurrection, the presence of angels are embedded in the testimony. Inasmuch as we are witnessing a sequence of historical, literal events that transpired in time and in space, we must include the reality of angelic beings. When it comes to what needs explanation concerning the events of Christ's resurrection requiring explanation, three main details are cited by the majority of New Testament historians:

1). The discovery of the empty tomb

2). Jesus' post-mortem appearances 

3). The cause for the disciple's belief in the resurrection.

New Testament historians of all stripes (evangelical and skeptical alike) list the above main points as objects of historical inquiry. Whatever explanation they assign to the events in question (whether naturalistic explanations or the proposal: "God raised Jesus from the dead") results in the wide spread opinions concerning the meaning of what took place that first Easter morning. This author has argued in other posts that the proposal: "God raising Jesus from the dead" is the best explanation of facts in question. For example, click here:

As a pastor, my responsibility is to expound on all the text. Angels are nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to interpreting the text of scripture. The majority of scholarship today ignores the presence of the angels. As much as some may cite that angels lie outside the task of the historian, such refusal to interpret the meaning of angels is not due to the constraints of historical investigation as it does to a philosophical bias against anything supernatural. Frankly, if we assert that Jesus' resurrection was indeed a Divine act, then explaining the significance of angelic intervention in those accounts ought not seem so far-fetched. 

Acquiring a fundamental grasp of the Bible's teaching on the angelic realm (called: "angelology") aids greatly in understanding why angelic activity is appropriate with respect to the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Once one traces an outline of the Biblical teaching on angels, the details of their activities relative to the empty-tomb doesn't appear as foreign as it does upon first glance. 

With these thoughts in mind, I'd like to offer some reasons why the Gospel writers included angels in their reporting of the events of Christ's resurrection. For those (like myself) who take the Gospel narratives as reliable historical documents which are inerrant and infallible written revelation from the hands of the Apostles, explaining the point of the angels at the resurrection is a pre-requisite if we're to arrive at a clearer understanding of the Gospel records. What were the angels achieving as they ministered the glory of Christ's resurrected power to the Apostles? Moreover, what can we learn and apply to our lives regarding Jesus' resurrection power for today? Please note the following thoughts:

1. Angels protected the message and messengers who proclaim Jesus' resurrection from the dead

We will first turn to Matthew's Gospel to observe the activity of angels at the empty tomb. Matthew 28:3-4 states: 

"And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men."  

When we look at these verses, we can note the following observations. 

1. First, the women were already on their way to finish the final stages of the interment of Jesus' body in Matthew 28:1. 

2. Second, the detail about the guards mentioned by Matthew in 28:3-4 reminds the reader of the manifest impossibility of anyone coming to steal the body of Jesus. The enemies of Jesus had arranged the tomb to be guarded in Matthew 27:62-66. 

3. Thirdly, when we realize that the presence of angels led to the collapse of the soldiers, it suggests that the angels were sent to protect the women and those who would be peering into the empty tomb. 

4. Fourthly, on a practical note, it was an angel that moved the stone of the tomb aside so that the disciples (and us) could see its vacancy (see Matthew 28:2). 

As we noted already, surveying additional Biblical teaching on angelic activity alongside God's people aids in arriving the suggestion of angelic protection afforded to the disciples at the empty tomb. Passages such as 2 Kings 6; Psalm 34:7; 91:11 and Hebrews 1:14 remind us of how angels defend or protect God's people. By protecting the disciples, and particularly the women, the angels were dispatched by God to protect the message they would communicate to the disciples. But now notice a second significant reason for the presence of angels in the events of the Risen and Ascended Christ...

2. Angels aided in the declaration and explanation of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

We read in Matthew 28:5-7 -

"The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 

The Hebrew and Greek words translated "angel" speak of "messengers" or "emissaries" of God. Angels are seen throughout scripture as God's emissaries announcing God's message to His people. We see angels functioning as God's messengers for instance in Acts 1:9-11  -

"And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” 

In Stephen's sermon to his Jewish opponents in Acts 7, we are reminded of how the angels assisted in the dispatching of God's Law on Mount Sinai in Acts 7:53 - "you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” The angels were doing what they were created to do: declare and explain the glory of God (Psalm 68:17). Moreover, angels are described as pointing people to the equal and shared glory of the Son (Luke 2:14). Since angels served to facilitate the revelation of God's Word and salvation in general, it makes much more sense as to why they would aid the women is grasping the true explanation of the empty tomb: "God raised Jesus from the dead". 

So in addition to protecting the messengers of God and  facilitating the clarity of God's message, observe a third significant reason as to why angels are included in the resurrection and ascension accounts of the Living Christ...

3. Angelic presence demonstrated the Deity and humanity of Christ in His resurrection from the dead

The Old Testament makes it abundantly clear that the angels function in the capacity of a royal court demonstrating the Deity of Yahweh. As we jog through the following Old Testament scriptures, we can apply our observations to understanding why angels appear in the resurrection narratives.

1. We see the angels, from the inception of their creation, exalting God for His creative power in Job 38:7 and Psalm 104:1-4. 

2. In Psalm 68:17, we see angels attending the giving of the law atop Mount Sinai, demonstrating before the newly redeemed Hebrew nation the uncontested royal deity of Yahweh. 

3. Daniel 7:10-13 portrays God by the title: "The Ancient of Days". In the wider circle of the Biblical teaching on the Trinity, we can reasonably assume that the figure of "The Son of Man" is non-other than the Pre-incarnate Son of Man in royal Deity (see Jesus' self-reference of Himself as the "Son of Man" in Matthew 26:64). If we take these thoughts to their full conclusion, one could propose the "Ancient of Days" as being the Person of the Father, and "the Son of Man" as the eternal Son sharing in the one Divine nature with the Father. Back-reading the New Testament truth of Christ's co-equality with the Father explains, for example, why Jesus used the title "Son of Man" to refer to Himself more often than any other self-designation (over 80 times in the four Gospels). Thus, we can see why Daniel 7:10-13 includes "the Ancient of Days" and "The Son of Man" attended by an innumerable angelic court. 

4. As a final example, Daniel 12:1-3 depicts Michael the archangel assisting in some fashion what will undoubtedly be the Divine power of God Himself raising believers from the dead in the resurrection of the righteous and unbelievers in the later resurrection of the wicked. To see angels present at Christ's resurrection reinforces the profound nature of the events in question.

Such associations between Yahweh's Deity and angelic presence aids greatly in how we approach the presence of angels at the empty tomb. The Living Christ who came out of the tomb on Sunday morning had angels attending to assert the fact that He is as much true Deity as He is truly glorified, resurrected humanity.

Closing thoughts
We attempted to offer reasons why angels are a part of the resurrection narratives found in the four gospels. By including the wider-biblical testimony on angelology or "doctrine of angels", one arrives at a clearer explanation of angelic presence at the empty tomb. We discovered three reasons for why angels were involved in the events of that first Easter morning:

1. Angels protected the message and messengers who proclaim Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

2. Angels aided in the declaration and explanation of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

3. The angels' presence demonstrated the Deity and humanity of Christ in His resurrection from the dead

Friday, May 18, 2018

God Only Wise - Meditations And Applications Of God's Wisdom

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Romans 16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.


This particular post aims to consider the phrase: "only wise God" in last verse of Paul's magisterial letter to the church at Rome. For the last year and a half, I have preached verse by verse through the book of Romans. I'm certain it won't be the last time, since preaching through such an extraordinary book causes the preacher to see details he never saw before. I was struck by how Paul began this massive exposition on the power of the Gospel by introducing it with God's grace (Romans 1:1-7) and concluding it with God's wisdom (Romans 16:27). 

God's grace and wisdom function as bookends, holding together all of the wondrous truths of the Gospel in both its theological and practical considerations. In closing out this series in Romans, one could go in many directions. 

As I was preparing this final message in the series, as well as this post, I asked God to minister to me His attribute of wisdom. I didn’t want to possess a theoretical knowledge, but, to arrive at a deeper level of acquaintance with it. The difficulties of life test the metal of one’s faith. The entirety of human emotion is tasted. It was this week I crossed from seeing God’s wisdom as something to read about to that of a reality in which I’m to live. His wisdom has been my food and drink of the soul, even though I don’t comprehend many of the details in our current life (more on this later). 

In today's post, we aim to grasp the importance of God’s wisdom for our lives. My hope is that through this post, you will discover why it is so vital to personally know this only wise God. 

Defining God's wisdom

The late author A.W. Tozer comments on wisdom in general:

“Wisdom, among other things, is the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means. It sees the end from the beginning, so there can be no need to guess or conjecture. Wisdom sees everything in focus, each in proper relation to all, and is thus able to work toward predestined goals with flawless precision.”

In a similar vein of thought, author J.I. Packer remarks about wisdom in his classic book: "Knowing God" - 

“Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” 

As aforementioned, God’s grace and wisdom function like bookends to hold together the details of the Gospel, life and eternity. Wisdom is one of the attributes or characteristics of God. Per the doctrine of Divine unity (also called by the older term, "Divine simplicity"), whenever we have one of God’s attributes, we have all of God, since He is the sum of all His attributes. 

God's essential attribute of wisdom comforts me. His attributes are as light through a prism, transfiguring the white light of the sun into the manifold colors of the rainbow. By analogy, wisdom is that most noblest of virtues in creatures. If we consider the 11th century thinker Anselm's classic definition of God as: 

The greatest Being that can be conceived, compared to which none greater can be conceived" (i.e. the greatest conceivable being), 

then Divine wisdom is a necessary quality of God's being. In God, wisdom isn't something that God possesses. Instead, wisdom is what God is. No other rational creature (angel or human) can claim this unique point with respect to wisdom. No creature "is" wisdom, however, all rational creatures "have" wisdom in varying measure. Angels are wiser than human beings, with angels and humans exhibiting varying levels of wisdom among themselves. God, on the other hand, has no variation of wisdom, since He "is" wisdom eternally, infinitely and immutably (see Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). 

The infinite nobility and skill with which the Triune God executes His infinite life as God spills over into how He directs the course of creation to His intended end. Therefore, it is more than appropriate for Paul to refer to God as "God only wise", since all other created beings derive their limited ability to exercise wisdom from God that is, by nature, wisdom. We've attempted to define and explore a definition of God's wisdom. The question now before us is: "so what"? Below are three observations one can glean about "God only wise" in consideration of Romans 16:27 and other passages.

Gracious strength of God’s Wisdom. Romans 1:1-7; 1:16; 16:25-27. 

Romans begins and ends with grace and wisdom.  Reflecting on God's wisdom leads to certain questions:

1. Does God know what He is doing?
2. Can I trust God, even though I don't understand?
3. Is God still good, even though everything seems so bad?

Paul begins Romans 16:27 with this phrase: "To the only wise God". Such questions are answered in scripture by considering God's wisdom as a source of strength. Proverbs 3:5-6 - 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

The prophet Daniel writes in Daniel 2:20-21 - 

“Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.” 

Thus we see in Daniel's prophecy how wisdom and God's strength are associated with one another (recall, whenever you have one of God's attributes, you have all of them). 

The gracious strength of God's wisdom aids us in those seasons wherein we don't grasp what God is doing. I'm reminded of an illustration I once read about the front and back of a clock or watch. If we were to take the back off of either, we would observe its inner workings. We would see gear works turning in opposite directions. We would note coiled springs, whirring wheels and dizzying motion. Unless we were the watchmaker, we might conclude the whole thing as a mess. However, once one turns the watch or clock over to the front, we see the hour, minute and second hands turning in the same direction. The wisdom of the watch maker is demonstrated in both the appropriated means of the design (the back) and the intended end (keeping time). 

God too is only wise. His gracious strength guides the believer's path and all things. Notice secondly, not only the gracious strength of God's wisdom, but also... 

Great Mediator of God’s Wisdom. Rom. 5:1,6-8; 8:1

In addition to what Paul writes about "To the only wise God" in Romans 16:27, we see the next phrase: "through Jesus Christ". God's wisdom, as experienced and expressed by his creatures, is a mediated wisdom. Another comfort I find about God's wisdom is that whatever God sends my way, it has went through the Son. An old saying I heard years ago states that nothing comes down to us that has not already first passed through the nail-scarred hands of the Son of God. Thus, since Divine wisdom is mediated by the Second person of the Trinity, who is truly God (touching His divine nature), then truly He has my best interest in mind. Furthermore, by remaining truly man, Jesus Christ is pleased to associate with His people as the decisive revelation of God in human flesh. To find out that God's wisdom is associated with and is the Divine nature of Christ Himself, as well as shared with His people via his true human nature, we can affirm that God does care. 

Even though Old Testament saints did not yet possess the fullness of revelation like New Testament believers have today, they associated God's wisdom with the fact that He cares. Job 2:10 

"But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips."

Job didn't grasp all that was happening in his life. He knew that all of it directly or indirectly came as a result of God's wise actions. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:30 -

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”

Here we see that Christ Himself came to reveal Divine wisdom, since as God, He is wise by nature. With respect to God's wisdom mediated to the Christian in time of need, we are reminded of James 1:3-5 - 

“knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

This second point of Christ mediating Divine wisdom to us means so much whenever facing the unknown. To illustrate, this past week my wife received news that she had experienced a heart attack in the recent past. To say the news shocked us would be an understatement. The questions concerning God's goodness and trustworthiness began flooding my heart. But then, in meditating on the fact that God is only wise, and that His Divine wisdom is mediated to me through the Son, I found the strength to cope with this shock (even though I don't comprehend the "why's" and "what's next" sort of questions).  Again, the comforting thought strikes me: as I experience God in His wisdom, I experience all of Him, since in God there is no variation nor shifting of shadow (Jas 1:17). 

So, we've observed the glorious strength of God's wisdom and the great mediator of such wisdom - the Lord Jesus Christ. Now let's lastly consider...

Glorious Purpose of God’s wisdom.  

As with each of God's attributes, Divine wisdom brings the believer to the point of switching from study to outright praise. Paul's doxology in the middle of Romans both summarizes the first eleven chapters of his exposition on the Gospel and prepares us for the practical sections of Romans 12-16. This doxology (i.e. a statement of praise to God), is found in Romans 11:33-36 

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” 

Whenever I see that last word, "Amen", the truth of whatever was written beforehand is affirmed. To put it another way, good or bad, God’s purpose to glorify Himself will prevail, thus, there are no pointless details of life. Whenever I read this doxology, it corresponds perfectly to the final phrase of Romans 16:27 - "be the glory forever and ever. Amen." These verses answer the question: does God still have a plan? with a resounding, yes! Romans 8:28-31 states:

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?"

This idea of God's wisdom corresponding to life's purposes is expressed in James 1:3-4

“knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

If trials didn’t come, I wouldn't acquire the sense to see where I lack. Moreover, I would not depend upon the God, who alone is wise.

Closing thoughts:

In today's post, we considered the significance of God's wisdom in the phrase: "To the only wise God". After defining God's wisdom, we noted three observations about how His wisdom applies to our lives:

1. Gracious strength of God’s Wisdom. Romans 1:1-7; 1:16; 16:25-27 

2. Great Mediator of God’s Wisdom. Romans 5:1,6-8; 8:1

3. Glorious Purpose of God’s wisdom.    Romans 11:33-36  

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Mother's Answered Prayer - Lessons About Prayer In 1 Samuel 1-2

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1 Samuel 1:26-28 "She said, 'Oh, my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. 27 For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. 28 So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.' And he worshiped the Lord there."


My most precious memory of my mother as a child was when I saw her kneeling with my sister while she prayed to trust in Jesus as her Savior and Lord. I was ten at the time. It had been months since I myself had converted to the Christian faith. The Spirit of God had moved upon my heart through a Sunday School teacher's lesson. In those tender months following my conversion, I was eager to see my then five-year old sister come to faith. That was decades ago. Time flies! That scene was a holy moment. I never said a word as I quietly went into the living room. Soon afterward, my sister and mother emerged. With tears streaming down their faces, they relayed to my dad what transpired. He wept with joy. Such memories remind me of how powerful the combination of a mother's love and prayers for her children are in the hands of God. 

In thinking on the memory above, I'm reminded that some of the greatest expressions of Biblical faith derive from observing mothers in the Bible. Today’s post aims to impart the essential elements for an effective prayer-life. If we were to translate of 1 Samuel 1:10-11a from its original language, we would discover the heart of prayer in a woman named Hannah:

“Hannah was bitter in soul. She prayed fervently. She sobbed and kept sobbing, vowing again and again this vow: ‘O Lord of Hosts, if you will regard the distress of your handmaid, remember me. Please don’t forget your servant. Please give your handmaid a baby, and I swear, I’ll give him to the Lord all the days of His life.”

We find much pathos in Hannah's prayer. Her desire for a son drove her to the throne of God. I've witnessed godly women over the years that desired children but could not have them. I recall once a couple coming to me for prayer. They so longed for a child. As we prayed, the both of them wept. The experiences of ministry lend to my imagination in picturing Hannah's anguish in prayer. I can picture the desperation of her petitions. We can learn quite a bit about prayer from noting the details we find in 1 Samuel 1-2. Hannah would eventually end up being the mother of the most important prophet since the days of Moses - Samuel.

1. Desperation. 1 Samuel 1:11,16

Times were desperate in Hannah's day. Even when young Samuel was barely a young lad, the Biblical text testifies to the spiritual famine plaguing Israel. 1 Samuel 3:1-3 

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. 2 It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), 3 and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was."

Just as the times were desperate, Hannah was too. She cried out to God. Gone were the niceties. Abandoned was the conventional prayer-talk. Hannah cast all safe-praying to the wind. Her cry was so deep that her voice was quenched. Have you ever experienced that level of anguish mixed with desperation. I'm sure that is part of what the Apostle Paul writes about in Romans 8:26-27 

"In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

David reflects this attitude of desperation in prayer in Psalm 63:1-3 

"O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. 3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You." 

Whenever we are desperate for God, the ability to rise above our situation is available. Take for instance Acts 16:25 

"But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them."

Paul and Silas were prisoners at Philippi, a Roman outpost in ancient Macedonia. They were beaten, bruised and battered. Yet, Paul and Silas were desperate for God. Their prayer-life overflowed into praise. All around them saw and heard the reality of their faith. Hannah exemplified this first crucial trait of effective prayer - desperation.

2. Discernment. 1 Samuel 1:20

What distinguishes "knowledge", "understanding" and "discernment"? Knowing = apprehending whatever is before us. Understanding = apprehending our relationship with whatever is before us. Discernment = apprehending the true nature of what is before us. Take flowers for example. A little child brings flowers from the yard. We know they are flowers. We understand that the flowers are for the child's mother. We discern the intention of love in their giving. For the Christian, discernment can only grow with prayer. 1 Chronicles 12:32 reminds us of a particular group of men in the nation of Israel:

"Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command."

Hannah discerned that her child was an answer to prayer. She and Elkanah conceived. Hannah carried the child and once it was born, named the child "Samuel". Why? Per 1 Samuel 1:20, Hannah discerned that the Lord heard her prayer. Imagine having a name that literally means: "I'm a walking answer to prayer"! This is why the Apostle Paul prayed like he did in Philippians 1:9 

"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment."

Paul prized discernment. Whenever we discern in prayer, we are recognizing God's hand in our lives. Hebrews 5:14 notes how such discernment marks spiritual maturity:

"But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."

Hannah prayed with desperation. God heard her prayer. She recognized such as a result of discernment delivered to her through prayer. Notice another trait of effective prayer learned from Hannah's prayer life.

3. Dedication. 1 Samuel 1:21-28

One thing about Hannah, she did not wait for grass to grow underneath the feet of obedience. For three years Hannah weaned young Samuel. As soon as the lad was weaned, she stayed good to her vow with which she promised God back earlier in the first chapter. She gave Samuel to the Lord for His service. Dedication is the fruit of the desperation and discernment born in prayer. James 5:16b-18 reminds us:

"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit."

Whenever we are consistent in prayer, we will find ourselves consistent in dedication to God. To illustrate, take my late grandmother. My grandmother had prayed for God to raise up preachers. When she heard I was called by God as a teenager, she dedicated herself to getting me brochures from different Bible colleges. She drove over 30 minutes out of her way to send them, so that none would recognize their origin. It was only a few years before her death that my grandmother had shared this detail. Dedication is immediate obedience done repeatedly until the task is done. When I look at Hannah's actions at the end of 1 Samuel 1 and into 1 Samuel 2, I find them flowing from her fervent prayer life. So what were the consequences of Hannah's desperation, discernment and dedication to God in prayer?

4. Delight in God. 1 Samuel 2:1-11

Space and time preclude a detailed breakdown of Hannah's extraordinary doxology in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. We can offer at least a basic outline that highlights the heart of God in Hannah:

I. God's Attributes. 2:1-3
II. God's Actions. 2:4-9
III. God's Names. 2:10 

A study of this prayer reveals no less than twelve attributes, four actions and three names of God. True theology leads to doxology. Hannah's heart for God displays a mind on God. This reminds one of David's words in Psalm 16:8-9 

"I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely."

Similarly, the Apostle Paul states in 2 Corinthians 12:9 

"And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

The depth and heights of Hannah's prayer are consequent of the breadth of her prayer life. I find it quite interesting to compare the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 to the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1:46-55. Both prayers express sheer delight in God. Both Hannah and Mary experienced extraordinary circumstances surrounding their pregnancies both tie their prayers to God's covenant promises. 

Closing thoughts:

Today we explored the elements of effective prayer by observing the answered prayer of Hannah for a child (i.e. Samuel, who would be a premier prophet in ancient Israel). We discovered the following elements in Hannah's prayer and praise:

1. Desperation for God
2. Discernment from God
3. Dedication of obedience to God
4. Delight in God 

Friday, May 4, 2018

"Connect-Four" Preaching - A Method For More Effective Sermon Preparation And Delivery

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1 Corinthians 1:21 "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."


One of my favorite games as a child was what was known as "Connect Four". The object of the game involved two players with black and red checkers attempting to line up their respective colors in a yellow upright game board. Each player would take turns, dropping their checkers into the upright board. The board was so designed to allow each player to see all the checkers. The first player to align four of their colored checkers either diagonally, vertically or horizontally resulted in "connected four". Consequently, once "connect four" was achieved, the game was won. Once the game ended, one of the players would then slide a small lever at the bottom of the game board to release the checkers for the next game.

Whenever it comes to preparing sermons, I think of the game "Connect Four". Each week I preach three messages. For the last 26 years I have had the honor of following God's call on my life to proclaim His word to whomever will give a hearing. As a pastor, I'm charged to give heed to myself, to doctrine and to preaching - since all three are enabled by God to save my soul and the souls of those hearing the sermons (see 1 Timothy 4:13-16). God has chosen by the Person of the Spirit to attend and empower preaching as His main vehicle for converting sinners and changing lives (see Romans 10:11-17). 

Whenever I have finished preaching the Sunday night message, my mind begins to consider the following week's messages. As I go through the spiritual and mental process of preparing sermons, I find four areas to which I must connect to preach more effective messages. I call this "connect four" preaching. So, what are those four areas necessary to have connection to prior to and during the preaching of any sermon?

1. Connect to God in prayer.

I once heard it stated that true, Spirit-filled preaching will manifest when the preacher has become thoroughly acquainted with the God of the book. Whenever we look at the greatest preacher of all - the Lord Jesus Christ - scarcely do we find any episode in His life untouched by prayer. He prioritized time with the Father in prayer (see for example Mark 1:35). To the degree the preacher spends time on their knees in prayer, only then will power in their preaching be witnessed on their feet. Acts 4:13 divulges the secret behind the Apostles' preaching and lives:

"Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus."

Theological training is important. Investing one's time for education in how to rightly expound the scriptures is an expression of devotion to the Divinely-called task (see for instance 2 Timothy 2:15). However, unless a man has given himself to a life of prayer - his sermons will have no life. So, connecting to God in prayer is the first point of contact towards effective sermon preparation and delivery. Now notice the second connecting point...

2. Connect to your audience.

How well do I as a pastor know the people to whom I preach every week? The pastor must not only invest himself in prayer, but also into the people for whom He prays. I have found that as I get to know the people and they in turn become more familiar with me - God begins to break down walls. Undoubtedly, the warfare waged by the kingdom of darkness against the church deals with matters of unity. Why? Unity in the church is the chief evidence the Christian has to a watching world that the Christian worldview is true and relevant. Pastors and their congregations need unified for the proper atmosphere in which the Spirit can work in their lives. 

Whenever I have spoken in conferences, nursing homes or other churches, there is a certain way I find myself preaching. The connection between myself and the audience is more general. However, when I am preaching at the church I call "home", my preaching is more specific and pointed. Why does this happen? 

In the ancient world, the Greeks (mainly from the writings of Aristotle) developed a method for determining what made for effective public speaking (i.e. "rhetoric"). The quality they assigned to this particular element that describes the connection between the speaker and their audience was termed "ethos". A speaker could possess eloquence of content (what they called "logos") and powers of persuasion (or what they called "pathos"). However, if the speaker lacked "ethos" or that quality of connecting his life and subject to the lives of his audience, the given message would have no impact. This criteria gleaned from the ancient world still has much bearing in how we evaluate effective sermons. 

Whenever you read Paul's letters in the New Testament, notice how often he references individuals. Paul was a people person. He knew his audiences in varying levels. The more "ethos" or "rapport" Paul had with the churches to whom he wrote, the more personal and specific his correspondence became (remember, Paul was Jewish and ministered in and among a predominately Greco-Roman world). 

So now whenever we consider these observations, how do they operate in the context of Biblical preaching? "Ethos" or "personal connection" between oneself and the congregation requires the Person of the Holy Spirit to complete the circuit. As preachers pray for their people and the people in turn pray for their pastors, the Spirit's work in making this connection is enhanced. Connecting to God in prayer and connecting to the given audience makes for even stronger preparation and preaching of sermons. Notice the third connecting point....

3. Connecting to the text.

Connecting to whatever Biblical text I'm looking to expound is essential if the sermon aims to be Biblical, Christ-centered and practical. Out of all the methods for preaching sermons, none connects the preacher to the text any more than expository preaching. Expository preaching takes seriously each word, phrase and turn of expression. The aim of expository preaching is to "expose" the people to the meaning of the text. Preparing expository sermons takes work. Effort. Much prayer. The time need to dig into the original languages (whether through the use of concordances or original language texts, if so equipped to do so) behind our English Bibles is well worth the time. Reading commentaries, understanding the historical backgrounds and various theological motifs are entailed in the sermon preparation process. Why? So as to connect oneself to the text. 

I have found in the process of preparing sermons, whenever the text makes its journey from the realm of mental analysis to heart-level emotion to gut-check conviction, only then do I find myself "connecting-to-the-text". Each preacher will have different methods of preparing sermons. Some will know the languages in which the scriptures were revealed (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) while other preachers will possess a great familiarity with the English text. Whatever other tools and resources lie at the preacher's fingertips, the goal is to connect to the text and to have that text connect to the preacher. Remember: God's word isn't just another book, its the Living Book! The Bible alone convicts sinners and changes lives (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). 

So in "connect-four" preaching, one needs to connect to God in prayer, connect to their audience and connect to the text. Now let's consider one last contact point for effective sermon preparation and deliver...

4. Connect the sermon to yourself

It is usually near the end of the week that I find myself reviewing sermon notes and whatever I'm aiming to preach. On average, I find that 90% of what I bring to the pulpit never gets said. Why is that? Admittedly, I prepare way more than I could ever preach in the allotted time I have. Moreover, in the delivery of the sermon, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind other details that were not "in the notes". As I pour over dozens of scriptures in preparing a given sermon, I will often ask myself: "am I living out this sermon?" My wife and I are convinced that whatever God is trying to teach or looking to teach us, it is usually indicated by the sermons I'm preaching. 

Connecting the sermon to one's life gives credibility to the sermon, since the preacher's ability to press his hearers to a decision is connected to whether he himself has pre-committed to whatever he is preaching. Put another way: although I may point a finger in the direction of the congregation, yet, there are three fingers point back at myself. To illustrate: consider the episode in 1 Samuel 17 of David and Goliath. King Saul offered David his own personal armor. David tried on the armor but chose to forego the King's enticing offer. Why? 1 Samuel 17:39 reports David's reasoning: "these have not yet been tested". David would not go into battle against the giant with untested armor. The preacher that has not applied his sermon to his life will find himself at a great disadvantage. David's sling and five stones were chosen because he had used them in previous experiences. Each point or key thought the expositor  delivers in the sermon must first had made personal contact in their lives. The river of God's word is chocked full of smooth stones. Sermon preparation is all about selecting which truths are needed to knock down the giants of unbelief. Before the sermon ever goes public, it must first find its application in the private life of the preacher.  

Whenever the preacher as effectively connected the sermon's application to his own life, it makes all the difference between preaching "at" the people versus preaching "to" the people. So often we hear accusations of hypocrites populating our churches. What is worse than hypocrites in the pews are hypocrites occupying God's sacred desk. If preachers will but make sure they are connecting God's truth, in God's book, into their life - only then will they have  the ability to connect the truth to others. 

Closing thoughts:

In today's post we considered a way towards more effective sermon preparation and delivery: i.e. "Connect-Four" preaching. We discovered four vital connections necessary for ensuring proper preparation and delivery of Biblical sermons:

1. Connect to God in prayer
2. Connect to one's audience
3. Connect to the Biblical text
4. Connect the sermon to one's life