Making Decisions to the Glory of God

April 3, 2009

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

Many people today want guidance. They want a word from God to know:

  • Whom to marry,
  • what job to take,
  • whether or not to buy a house,
  • whether to take money out of the stock market or leave it in.

There are also many decisions considered more “spiritual” in which we want God to lead us:

  • To attend one church or another;
  • to go into long-term missionary work or not;
  • to go into full time ministry or not;
  • to focus on one unreached people group or another;
  • to go on one short term mission trip or another.

Can you count on God’s guidance in making such decisions?

The Bible clearly teaches that God sovereignly calls and guides His people to carry out His plans. We saw a wonderful example of this last Sunday in Acts 15:36-16:15. Paul makes decision after decision about his second missionary journey, fulfilling God’s missionary mandate as best as he can determine; most of his decisions – to take Silas with him, to travel by land to Galatia, to circumcise Timothy, to stop in Philippi, to seek those worshiping God by the river, to stay with Lydia – are made without any noted supernatural direction. But then at times the Holy Spirit supernaturally guides Paul, redirecting him away from Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7) and towards Macedonia (Acts 16:9).

God does call and guide His people to carry out His plans.

Will He guide you? Read more

Thrusting Aside the Word of God

March 6, 2009

(This sermon on Acts 13:13-52 was preached February 22, 2009. The audio is available here.)

What is the Bible? What do you think of it? How do you approach it?

Many want nothing to do with it. They might respond to such questions by saying, “The Bible – that’s old and out of date. It’s not relevant for today. If I’m going to read something hundreds of pages long, I want it to be fresh, new, written for this time period, and informed by all the recent advances in knowledge. Why should I spend time looking at that old book?”

Others might see historical or sociological value in the Bible: “Oh, yes, the Bible is an interesting record of a number of the spiritual encounters of great men and (a very few) great women. Perhaps some of those encounters have a basis in a supernatural being intervening in this world. In addition, the Bible has been esteemed by millions of people over the years; it has had a major influence on this country’s history and literature. Indeed, we can’t understand the US today without understanding the Bible. So, yes, I read it, I have studied it – as history, as an important core document of several religious traditions.”

Yet others might say more: They value the Bible for personal spiritual benefits: “Yes, the Bible has had a profound influence on me. Jesus is an amazing figure, as are Moses, Elijah, Daniel, David, and others. Jesus surely was a great teacher who was closely in touch with God. He is my example; I try to live like him. There is much we must learn from the Bible. But today, we can’t even know what the Bible originally said. The church may well have massaged the text to make it say what it wanted. And, in any event, the Bible is a pre-scientific account of origins and human psychology. We’ve learned so many things that make the Bible’s worldview archaic and obsolete. So, yes, it’s very interesting, impressive, and helpful – but today we must pick and choose what topics, what passages still make sense.”

Do those attitudes sound familiar to you? Do you yourself agree with one of them?

Consider the difference between those three attitudes toward the Bible and the psalmist’s attitude, expressed in Psalm 119:169-174: Read more

Through Many Tribulations We Must Enter the Kingdom of God

March 2, 2009

(This sermon on Acts 14 was preached on March 1, 2009. The audio will be posted at this link.)

There is more suffering in the true Christian life than you ever thought you could handle.

There is more joy in the true Christian life than you ever thought possible.

Those are the two main points of Acts 14. We’ll come back to them. But now: Suppose you knew you were about to die. What would you say to those remaining behind?

When the Apostle Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he knew he was about to die by execution. Recall that Timothy grew up in Lystra (Acts 16); Paul met him there for the first time in the visit recorded in today’s passage (Acts 14). Near the end of his life, he wrote:

You . . . know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,  11 persecutions, sufferings– what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.  12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17

Paul says “Timothy: Follow me as I follow Christ – and following Christ means suffering. Everyone who lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And you know very well what happened to me in your hometown.”

As described in today’s text, Paul suffered horribly in Lystra – and he had the scars to prove it. Timothy too will suffer if he continues in the faith.

But Timothy is not to respond to this prediction of future suffering with fear! Instead, Timothy is to take encouragement from Paul’s own suffering. Paul says: ‘You will suffer – like I have suffered. So you must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus! – like I was strong in His grace. You must continue – because you know me and my faith (and the faith of your Mom and grandmother), and you know the Word – this Word that makes you wise to salvation, and thoroughly equips you to suffer and endure.”

As we saw last week:   We must continue in the WORD – we must learn it, lean on it, love it. THIS is God’s revelation to us – and we will never get through times of suffering without it

But 2 Timothy is a letter neither of sorrow in suffering, nor of simply endurance through suffering. Paul shows himself to be full of joy in suffering. He goes on to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.”

Suffering – yet joy.

Just so in Acts 14: Tremendous suffering. And tremendous joy. Read more

Salvation By No Other Name

March 2, 2009

(This sermon on Acts 4:1-22 was preached on 11/2/2008. The audio is available here.)

Can a person be saved apart from calling on the Name of Jesus?

Last week we looked at Acts 3. Peter and John go to the temple to pray. There they encounter a lame man, a beggar asking for money. God heals him through Peter. This man is more than 40 years old; he has been begging for a long time, and  thus is well known at the temple.  The people are astonished.

Peter takes the occasion to proclaim the Gospel, saying,

And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man- whom you see and know- strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16 NET

Peter makes four things clear:

1) Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises

2) His listeners are in the covenant!

3) They are murderers: They deserve to be cut off from God’s covenant people

4) They have a choice: If they call on the Name of Jesus, they will be saved.

So Peter is saying that this man was healed by the Name of Jesus, that this healing is a picture of spiritual salvation, and that there is spiritual salvation in that Name.

But could there be salvation through any other name or in any other way?

While Peter doesn’t directly answer that question in chapter 3, he does provide us with hints:

  • He calls Jesus the author of life in verse 15. Could there be another author?
  • He calls Jesus the promised Christ, the promised Messiah.
  • He says Jesus is the descendant of Abraham through whom all nations are to be blessed
  • He says Jesus is the prophesied Prophet like Moses – and that those who don’t listen to Him must be cut off from God’s people.

All these hints suggest that there is salvation through Jesus alone. But the question remains: Could there be some alternative way, some means perhaps for those who are not descendants of Abraham, who aren’t part of God’s covenant people?

In our day, as in the time of Peter, there are many who believe there is no existence past death, and thus no salvation. But the majority of people then and now believe in an existence after death; they even believe that there will be rewards and punishment meted out for what we do in this life. Many believe in a coming judgment (though most reserve that judgment for terrible people unlike themselves), and a coming salvation for all who are sincere, who try, who are regular participants in religious activities of any kind.

In this country today, a large number believe in this salvation by sincerity. They reject as repulsive the idea of a God who would condemn sincere adherents of any religion. They say, “I could never worship a God who would condemn such people!”

But the question is not: what you are willing or unwilling to believe. You are not the judge. You are not the authority.

The question is: Who is God? What has He revealed about Himself? Who are you? Where do you stand before Him? Is there any way you can be put right with Him?

In this passage, Peter gives one of Scriptures’ most powerful statements about the exclusive nature of salvation in Christ. There is one way of salvation, and one only. Salvation comes through believing in Jesus. That’s it. Those who don’t believe in Jesus are lost. But anyone may believe. And all who believe are saved. Read more

Sovereignty, Responsibility, and Boldness

March 2, 2009

(This sermon on Acts 4:23-31was preached 11/9/08. The audio is available here.)

Imagine that you are engaged in a personal ministry. You are confident that you are following God, and it seems that you are having some success. Then, suddenly, there’s a huge obstacle in your path,

  • It might be a failure on your part,
  • It might be a rejection or betrayal by former colleagues,
  • It might be a financial barrier,
  • It might be opposition, or threats from others.

How do you respond?

In Acts 4, that’s the situation Peter and John and all the apostles find themselves in.

Jesus was killed just a few months ago. That itself had seemed to be the end of their hopes. But God raised Him from dead. Jesus opened their eyes to Scripture and to His own prophecies to see that the crucifixion had to happen, to see the role of Christ’s suffering in God’s plan. The apostles now know that Jesus is living, active, still at work.

He then sent the Holy Spirit on them with power at Pentecost, baptizing them and filling them for their special task. These apostles saw three thousand saved that day – and they themselves baptized every one. They’ve seen more come to faith day by day.

Then God worked through Peter and John to heal a man who was lame from birth. A crowd gathered, and Peter preached; once again, thousands more were saved.

It would be understandable if, at this point, the apostles thought, “Wow! Look at God work! What success! Everything is just going to get better and better!”

But things didn’t get better and better.

As we saw last week, the Jewish authorities arrest Peter and John. They threaten them, warning them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus. Peter speaks boldly in their presence, saying there is no other name by which men must be saved, saying that they cannot but speak about what they have seen and heard, saying they must obey God rather than men. But the Jewish authorities just threaten all the more. They release Peter and John, but make their point absolutely clear: “If you continue to speak in the name of Jesus, watch out. We’re here. You know what happened to Jesus. If you love your families, if you want to see your children grow up, you had better keep quiet.”

This is the first serious challenge to the young church.

Put yourself in their shoes: These are not supermen. They have families, worries, and cares. If they are put to death, there are no food stamps, there is no welfare, there is no social security for their children. They must be facing a strong temptation to be quiet. Satan undoubtedly tempted them in these terms: “Think about how many are already saved! Let’s just teach them. Let’s just live together and enjoy each other, be family to each other. We can stop this proselytizing. For it’s this speaking in public that will get us in trouble. Indeed, maybe this is a sign from God –we’ve been spreading the Gospel, and we’ve had our success. Now maybe we’re supposed to stop and focus on deepening our joy in Christ.”

Imagine what would have happened if apostles had done that. That would have been the end of the church. Or, possibly, the church would have been a tiny enclave, a minor sect within Judaism. In other words, that would have been disastrous.

So how do the apostles fight this temptation? How can we, facing our own obstacles, fight the temptation to quit, to change, to adapt in ways that destroy our ministry?

Peter and John fight in four ways that are applicable to us:

  • Acknowledge your weakness
  • Know the truth
  • Trust the truth
  • Ask for God’s enabling Read more

The Promise of Power

October 15, 2008

This sermon on Acts 1:6-26 was preached 9/14/2008. For a version that is easier to print, click here. The audio is available here.)

Do you ever dream that you’re in school, sitting down to take a test, and realize, “I never studied! I never even went to class!”

Or perhaps you dream that you are about to begin an athletic event – and realize you never practiced.

How do those dreams make you feel? Do you feel that way when you are called upon to be a witness to Jesus? Do you think, “I don’t know enough! I need years of study to properly witness! I can’t possibly make these people listen!”

Last week we began our series in the book of Acts. We saw that this book is not really the Acts of the Apostles. Only two apostles are prominent, but it is not a synopsis of their lives either. Instead, Luke opens by saying that his first volume, his gospel “dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Acts then deals with what Jesus continued to do. Acts tells of the continuing work of Jesus. Read more

Continuing What Jesus Began to Do

October 15, 2008

(This sermon on Acts 1:1-5 was preached 9/7/2008. For a version that is easier to print, click here. The audio is available here.)

Think of an important historical figure. What was his or her greatest accomplishment?

  • For Thomas Jefferson, perhaps authoring the Declaration of Independence.
  • For Abraham Lincoln, keeping our country together.
  • For Martin Luther, taking his stand on the Word of God, and returning much of the church to biblical authority.

Some of you may be thinking of scientists, missionaries, authors, or explorers. Different men, different women, different fields of endeavor – but for all their varied accomplishments, the question makes sense.

Now: Consider Jesus: Can we ask the same question about Him? What was Jesus’ greatest accomplishment?

I hope when you hear that question you’re somewhat uneasy. For if we were to judge Jesus’ accomplishments on the same basis as the others we’ve mentioned – frankly, there’s not much there. For a period of time shorter than one US presidential term, he traveled around with a dozen men, in a backwater province of the Roman Empire; He taught publicly, and made some pretty outrageous claims. He healed people, a few rather dramatically. Perhaps during His lifetime as many as 200 people believed He was the promised Messiah. But one of his closest associates turned Him in to authorities for a few thousand dollars. The Roman governor executed Him.

That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment compared to Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, or Isaac Newton, does it?

But there’s a huge difference with Jesus: His death is not the end of the story.

We celebrate what Jefferson, Lincoln, Luther, and others accomplished prior to their deaths. For Jesus: We celebrate what He accomplished in His death, in His resurrection, and what He continues to do after death.

We begin today a series on the book of Acts. This is the second volume written by Luke, the traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. This volume was written about 30 years after the crucifixion. Each volume begins with a note to a man named Theophilus, who seems to be a prominent Roman official who has heard much about Jesus, but needs assurance of the truthfulness of the reports. So Luke says he writes: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).

Luke opens the book of Acts with these words.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,  2 until the day when he was taken up

This is a pretty strange statement. Imagine two-volume biographical study of Lincoln, written decades after his death, with the second volume beginning, “My first volume dealt with all that Lincoln began to do until his assassination.”

That makes no sense for Lincoln. Why does it make sense for Jesus?

To speak this way implies that Jesus is still at work.

John Wilkes Booth’s bullet ended Lincoln’s accomplishments. But the cross did not end Jesus’ accomplishments. The cross was only the beginning. Read more