Tag Archives: preaching

Finding Comfort in God’s Sovereignty ~ Jeremiah 18:1-20:18

But if I say, “I will not mention His word or speak anymore in His name,” His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. ~ Jeremiah 20:9

God’s sovereignty is a touchy subject in the modern church. Many preachers these days don’t preach about it, and many believers don’t like to hear about it. That puzzles me, as I take great comfort in it.

In this passage, God directs Jeremiah to visit a potter and watch him work. As the potter forms his object, it becomes misshapen so the potter punches it down, destroys it, and begins again. The potter has complete control over that which he creates, and he shapes and reshapes it until it becomes exactly what he intends. God then directs Jeremiah to take a completed pot outside the city gates and smash it before the people, telling them that this is what God will do to Judah and Jerusalem for their disobedience.

For prophesying these things, Jeremiah is beaten and placed in a stockade overnight. After his release, he cries out to God in despair for the persecution he has endured for bringing God’s words to the people. But even through his despair, Jeremiah offers praises to God, knowing of course that God’s will is perfect.

Members of some modern-day churches might interpret my speaking of God’s wrath as a lack of “peace in Jesus”. They feel that way because they are not being taught the entirety of God’s truth. God, as preached in some churches, is our buddy. He’s not angry; He’s just a bit disappointed. He wants us to be happy and prosperous. He would never send anybody to Hell, and He has provided many ways to salvation; Jesus is just one of them. Blasphemy indeed! But sadly, I know many members of Christian churches who believe these things.

Here is the irony: I have peace in Jesus because I understand and appreciate God’s sovereignty over His creation, the righteousness of His wrath and the fact that it applies to me because of my sins. When I consider the love God has for me, that He sent His Son to take my punishment, I am awestruck. I don’t deserve it, but He did it anyway. Through Jesus, and only through Jesus, our Sovereign God has forgiven me and spared me of the eternal consequences I deserve. That, my friend, is the message of the Gospel. For the nonbeliever to come to Christ, we must make him aware of his need for Christ. We must share the whole truth.

Indeed, Christians are persecuted around the world for sharing God’s truth. Facing such persecution is sometimes extremely difficult. Let us lift these faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer as we seek to follow their example – boldly and honestly proclaiming God’s truths to a world that seems to be increasingly turning away from Him.

Ponder this: Does your church preach and teach the entirety of God’s truth? Are you equipped to share it?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, today I lift up Your church and all who share Your Gospel. Give me boldness to speak Your truth faithfully out of love for my fellow man. Let your Church be a beacon of truth in a land ensconced in darkness. Guard and protect me, and use me as You will to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. In His name I pray, AMEN.

Trivialized Faith ~ Jeremiah 7:1 – 8:3

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” ~ Jeremiah 7:3-4

English: The lake you see in the picture is no...

English: The lake you see in the picture is not real. It is an inferior mirage that sometimes are seen in deserts. Photographed by Mila Zinkova in Primm, Nevada on April 4, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this passage, God spells out His wrath against Israel for having abandoned His ways in exchange for worship of foreign Gods. Israel is living a fearless and carefree life, and feels safe doing so as long as the temple is standing. They think they can do what they want, as long as they have the temple to go to and offer trivial praise to God at their convenience. They have bought into deceptive teachings and serve foreign gods to the point of putting God in the background.

God reminds Israel that He has already destroyed His first dwelling place in Shiloh and tells them He will also destroy the temple in Jerusalem – removing their security blanket sewn with words of deception and foreign gods of no truth. He will leave their bones exposed to the elements to rot. Unless Israel returns to the true God, she will not enjoy the benefits of the covenant carved out so many years ago.

As I read the book of Jeremiah I become increasingly aware of the inconsistencies in my own life. Have I trivialized my faith to the point at which I am a different person on Sunday morning than I am the rest of the week? And what about the church at large – have we become so enamored with society’s ways of thinking that we are crafting our doctrine around humanist “wisdom” rather than God’s eternal truth? Is the church becoming nothing more than a security blanket – something to turn to when the inevitable happens after we’ve abandoned God’s truth?

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

As we Christians ponder these questions, take heart: God still raises up faithful preachers and teachers of the Word! We must seek them out and stand with them on the rock-solid foundation of God’s Word. Let us lift them up in prayer, but let us also lift up in prayer those that are preaching and teaching deception and those who sit in their pews.

Ponder this: Has my church succumbed to the whims of societal viewpoints? Do I live out my faith each and every day?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from the consequences of our sins. And thank you for faithful preachers and teachers of Your Word. Give us the gift of discernment, that we may recognize false and deceptive teachings when we hear them and instead seek preachers and teachers who stand firmly on Your good and perfect Word. We also pray for those who have succumbed to false teachings: show them their error and move them to seek Your truth as You’ve revealed it in Your Holy Word. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Gospel Impact ~ Acts 19:23-41

When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. ~ Acts 19:28-29a

The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century AD (Ephesu...

The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century AD (Ephesus Archaeological Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gospel’s impact on the people of Ephesus reaches a crescendo as local silversmith Demetrius raises concern among his fellow craftsmen that the Gospel message could damage their business. Demetrius made silver shrines of the Ephesian goddess Artemis and sold them to travelers coming to Ephesus on religious pilgrimage. If Paul’s message continues to spread, the silver trade could be hurt and Artemis’ credibility could be damaged thus having a negative impact on the Ephesians’ economy, Demetrius warns. Whipped into frenzy over this dire warning, the people seize two of Paul’s traveling companions (Gaius and Aristarchus) and drag them into the assembly hall.

The riot gains momentum. The Scripture tells us that there was mass confusion as people were shouting different things; “Most of the people did not even know why they were there,” we’re told in verse 32. Paul is kept from entering the hall, so Alexander, a fellow Jew attempts to address the crowd but they will not hear him. It is not until a civic leader, the city clerk, steps up to address the crowd that they quiet down and listen. The city clerk admonishes the crowd, telling them that these men have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed Artemis’ name. He tells them that this is not the proper way to handle this dispute. “The courts are open and there are proconsuls,” he says, “They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly” (verses 38-39). Upon hearing this, he dismisses the crowd, presumably peacefully.

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak, a Medieval Armenian scribe and miniaturist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over about two years’ time, Paul’s ministry made a significant impact on the people of Ephesus and surrounding areas. The Gospel has taken root and begun to grow into what would become one of the strongest churches in Asia.

If we plant ourselves firmly in the fertile soil of the Gospel and share the Truth out of sincere love, God can and will use us to change our corner of the world as well. We don’t need booming sound systems or kitschy sermon themes; all we need is the Gospel and the will of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s instruction to Timothy would be well heeded by us today: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Ponder this: What does an honest and straightforward presentation of the Gospel look and sound like? What impact could I have on my world for the Lord?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for the power of the spoken word. That power is misused and abused at times; forgive me, Lord, for my abuses of your gift of language. Father, help me to speak all that I speak to Your glory. And when you give me the opportunity to witness, let my words be Your words so that the Gospel is in clear focus. In Jesus’ name, AMEN

Encouraged to Witness ~ Acts 18:1-17

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” ~ Acts 18:9-10

Paul departs Athens and makes his way to Corinth. Following his familiar pattern, he preaches Jesus the Messiah in the synagogue. The Jews became abusive, frustrating Paul to the point of saying he would no longer preach to the Jews; from now on he was going to the Gentiles. That clearly was not aligned with God’s plan, for God spoke to Paul in a dream, encouraging Paul to continue speaking and reassuring Paul that no harm would come to him. With God’s reassurance Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, preaching the word of God.

Pilate Pontius and Christ before the Jews

Pilate Pontius and Christ before the Jews (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a parallel to Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate, some angry Jews brought Paul before Gallio the proconsul, accusing Paul of “persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law” (verse 13). Pilate tried to remove himself from Jesus’ situation without success; Gallio told the Jews that this was not a matter of law but of religion and that they should deal with Paul themselves. In response the crowd turned on Sosthenes, the synagogue leader and beat him.

This is an historically important exchange. By refusing to hear the Jews’ charges against Paul, Gallio in essence elevated Christianity to a “recognized religion” status – a status enjoyed by the Jews. With this status the Roman government would take no action on charges emanating from a religious dispute. But also, we once again see God true to His Word: although the Jews rose up against Paul, God protected him and preserved his ministry.

So why did the Jews beat Sosthenes? At every stop on the apostles’ missionary journeys, Scripture records the frustration and anger felt by many Jews concerning their message. Instead of seeing God’s promise fulfilled, they clearly perceived a threatened way of life. Paul’s witness to the Gospel was fed by the Holy Spirit, and with that nourishment, his witness was very effective. Sosthenes, the synagogue leader, responded to the Gospel by coming to faith in Christ. Since the angry Jews couldn’t touch Paul, they beat their leader. Faith in Christ sometimes comes with an earthly price; but that price is negligible in comparison to the eternal glory we will know when our Lord calls us home.

Persecution is evidence of a resonating message. In many parts of the world, Christians are beaten and killed because of their witness to Christ. When we stand firmly on God’s Word and speak His Truth in these United States we may be laughed at, scorned, ridiculed, or shunned. We may have falsehoods told about us, or we might even be dismissed from a Christian church. Such persecution will often come from other Christians, just as Paul experienced with fellow Jews. When we are persecuted for our faith and for our witness, let us be encouraged, knowing that God is working through us.

Ponder this: When have I been persecuted for standing on God’s Word? How did I respond?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for using me to further Your kingdom. Help me to always stand grounded in Your Word, and help me to always speak Your Truth, even in the face of persecution. Let me serve You according to Your good and perfect will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Spiritual Nourishment ~ Acts 16:1-5

So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.                         ~ Acts 16:5

Paul and Silas first met Timothy in Lystra. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek (Gentile) father. He had not been circumcised but Paul does so here “because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (vs 3). It appears that Paul came to Lystra, at least in part, to find Timothy as we are told that the disciples in Lystra and Iconium had spoken well of him. Paul wants to take Timothy along on the journey. Although not required, Timothy’s circumcision gave him credibility among Jewish Christians.

Paul also is delivering the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem recorded in chapter 15 regarding salvation for the Gentiles. The apostles and elders, in coming to consensus on the Gentiles, gave these directions to the Gentile Christians: “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (15:29).

English: Communion setting at an Evangelical L...

English: Communion setting at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America worship service: an open Bible, both unleavened bread and gluten-free wafers, a chalice of wine, and another containing grape juice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul’s mission, and that of all of the apostles traveling in ministry was twofold. First, they visited the churches to strengthen the faith of those already converted. Second, through the church they reached out to those who did not yet believe. By nurturing the flock of believers and equipping them to witness, the church grew. The modern church can take a lesson here. Many churches today have diluted Scripture’s message in an effort to not offend the non-believer who just might wander inside. They often focus more on style (entertainment) than substance (Word and Sacrament). They serve up milk, but little solid food.

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

This diluted approach to worship and preaching is of little value to the mature Christian, and hence he becomes malnourished; and a malnourished Christian is ill equipped for witness. Diluted preaching and teaching is of little value to the nonbeliever either. The lost need to hear the truth: We are dead in our sins and in need of the forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. They can go anywhere to be entertained or affirmed as individuals; the church must present the Gospel. If the church does not strengthen the believers and preach the entirety of God’s Word, neither the church nor its membership is equipped to reach the lost with the eternal truth of the Gospel.

Ponder this: Does my church present Law and Gospel? Do we celebrate Word and Sacrament? Am I being properly nourished for witness?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, today I lift all pastors, teachers, and leaders in Your church. I pray that you would guide their ministries so that they are effectively nourishing and nurturing Your flock. Equip us for ministry, Lord, according to Your will. In Jesus’ name. AMEN

Joy in Persecution ~ Acts 13:13-52

But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. ~ Acts 13:50

The Apostles preaching the Gospel

The Apostles preaching the Gospel (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Paul and Barnabas continue on their journey and the Holy Spirit leads them to Antioch. Here, Paul is invited to speak in the synagogue on the Sabbath, a common event (inviting a guest rabbi to speak) in those days. Paul beautifully presents the Gospel, and the response was so great that he was invited to speak the following week. This time, almost the entire town showed up, both Jews and Gentiles. Upon seeing the positive response from the crowd, the Jewish leaders became jealous and reprimanded Paul for his message. Sound familiar? Paul boldly tells them “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:46-47). Upon hearing this, the Gentiles were filled with joy and “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (13:48b).

Throughout the book of Acts, we see this pattern: As the Gospel spreads through Jewish and Gentile populations, persecution almost always follows. You see, the Gospel rightfully shifts the focus of the believer from the supposed greatness of human leaders to the power and might of Almighty God. In this passage, the Jewish leaders succumb to the siren call of their egos to the point of stirring up persecution against the very men they had invited to speak! As a result, many come to faith as the apostles are expelled from the region.

Even today we see this phenomenon. Believers who speak God’s Truth in America are often called unthinking, narrow-minded, old fashioned, and many other derogatory names – by believers and non-believers alike. In many parts of the world, Christians bold enough to share the Gospel are persecuted to the point of death. We humans want to be in charge, we want power and position; we want to be subordinate to nobody. When our testimony yields such persecution we should take heart and rejoice, just as the apostles did. For such persecution means our witness is having impact on our world. And with that, we should be encouraged and press on towards the goal of sharing the Gospel with all who so desperately need to hear it.

Ponder this: Have I ever been persecuted for sharing the Gospel? What is my response?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, strengthen me to share your Word with this dying world. Help me to rejoice and take encouragement when persecution comes my way. May I always serve You first. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

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