The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: January 2016 (page 2 of 3)

Letter from Birmingham Jail

P.AllanI want to think  racism in America has vanished.  Surely the vast majority have quit counting one race superior to another!

Racism.

But today I read this from presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson . . .

In 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he said, “I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.”

After fifty years of liberals making promises and the last seven years of false hope from President Obama, not much has changed.  African-Americans are still fighting for space on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

The high poverty rate in the black community continues because the very tools that should be used to promote economic opportunity instead keep low-income and minority communities in chains.

We have an education system that continues to penalize low-income and minority students by keeping them trapped in failing schools rather than giving them the choice to attend schools that best suit their academic needs.  The status quo rewards national teachers’ unions at the expense of what is best for our students.

I doubt that’s just campaign rhetoric.  Many African-Americans still suffer the residual (some would say “systemic”) effects of past widespread racism.  That’s one reason why I’m writing about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this commemoration of his birthday.

The Man.

King was a Baptist minister and a civil rights advocate.  The latter started almost “accidentally” when Pastor King was elected to lead a bus boycott in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama responding to Rosa Park’s being found guilty of violating the Montgomery City Code when she refused to surrender her seat to a white man on a crowded bus.

Dr. King played a pivotal part in ending legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and in creating both the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Perhaps he is best known for his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech (see above).

On Good Friday, 1963, King and his team ignored a court injunction that prohibited a peaceful march in Birmingham, Alabama.  Barricades were erected.  Shouting police arrested the kneeling King and his friend Ralph Abernathy and threw them in the Birmingham City Jail.  King was put in solitary confinement without a mattress, pillow or blanket.  A few days later a guard brought him a published letter signed by eight white clergymen condemning King for his actions.

The Letter.

King responded with a letter of his own (Letter from Birmingham Jail) that has been called “the most eloquent and learned expression of the goals and philosophy of the nonviolent movement ever written.” (Let the Trumpet Sound, p. 222).  It’s long but worth the investment of time ( http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf).

Below is what may be the most soul-stirring part of that response to the white clergy . . .

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she’s told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “Nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

The Word.

Every human being, regardless of skin color or economic standing or gender or anything else, has value and dignity having been created in God’s image . . .

When God created man,
he made him in the likeness of God.
He created them male and female and blessed them.
And when they were created, he called them “man”
(Genesis 5:1,2).

This is especially true for those who are “in Christ”.  For Paul, the issue was Jew–Gentile.  What he writes here applies to black–white as well . . .

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth
and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”
(that done in the body by the hands of men)–
remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,
excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
without hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross,
by which he put to death their hostility. 
He came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near. 
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 
In him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 
And in him you too are being built together t
o become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit
(Ephesians 2:11-22).

The Grace of Not Knowing.

In 1973 Lois and I moved to Montclair, N.J. to plant a church.  In contrast to where we had come from, Montclair had a significant African-American population.  So did, of course, the public schools.  We wondered how our children would respond.  After the first or second day we asked them, “How many black kids are in your class?”  They didn’t know.!

May God give us all grace not to know!

Image result for little kids holding hands black and white

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Chutzpah Prayer

P.Allan“Chutzpah” is a Yiddish word which American humorist Leo Rosten defined as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

“Chutzpah” has a negative connotation as the synonyms “brazenness” and “arrogance” suggest.  But it has a positive connotation too as the synonyms “boldness, confidence, gutsiness” suggest.  Positive “chutzpah” is the kind believers displayed in their prayer after Peter and John were released by the authorities having been arrested and tried for preaching in the name of the resurrected Christ (see http://theoldpreacher.com/interruption-malfunction/ ).

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:23-31).

Today we continue following the Acts narrative leading up to Acts 7:1-53, sermon #3 of “The Acts Eight”.  The narrative today is almost entirely a prayer.

Whom They Address. 

Sovereign Lord  (Greek despotays), you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them”   (4:24).  By addressing God this way they affirm God’s total authority over his servants, all of his creation, and even over the Sanhedrin opposing them. Thus they encourage themselves that the God they serve is in control of all things.

What They Remember the Sovereign Lord Said. 

You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One'” (4:25,26).  This God spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David.  As Francis Schaffer entitled one of his books:  “He Is There And He Is Not Silent.”  And what did God say?  The early believers quote from Psalm 2, a psalm of David considered by the Jews to be messianic.

How They Apply What the Sovereign Lord Said. 

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:27,28).  Knowing that the Lord is sovereign and remembering what he said in David’s psalm, they conclude that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the people of Israel “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen”.  Each of these anti-Lord people chose to “conspire against [God’s] holy servant Jesus”.  Yet their choice was what he had decided beforehand should take place.

What They Ask the Sovereign Lord For. 

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29,30).  Remarkably, they don’t pray for protection.  While they ask the Lord to pay attention to the threats of their enemies (implying how he may or may not act is up to him), their only concern is that the Lord enable them to carry out their mission “with great boldness.” 

The NIV incorrectly breaks 4:29 and 4:30 into two sentences.  The ESV translation captures the meaning of the Greek:  “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  In other words,  the believers assume Jesus will continue to do the miraculous works he started (as recorded in the Gospel—Acts 1:1) as they speak his word.

Here’s the heart of the “chutzpah” prayer.  No one thinks the cost of spreading the Gospel too great.  No one gives up the fight and goes home.  Jesus is alive.  He is Sovereign Lord.  They are his witnesses empowered by the Holy Spirit to make him known to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

How the Sovereign Lord Answered. 

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (4:31).  The Holy Spirit is the divine Enabler.  On Pentecost they had been filled (2:4).  Here they’re filled again.  This reminds us that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time “trophy” experience, as some Pentecostals seem to think.  It also tells us this filling isn’t the object of the prayer—empowerment for bearing witness of Christ is, especially in an environment officially hostile to their message.  But as church father Chrysostom observed about the place being shaken: “and that made them the more unshaken” (Homily on the Acts of the Apostles 11).  May the Lord’s answer to our praying also make us unshaken by whatever opposition or suffering we face!

* * * * *

Many of us who read this blog live in nations without overt opposition to the Gospel—though even in America and West European nations hostility is growing.  Some of us who read this live in nations where opposition is overt and dangerous, as it was for these early believers.

All of us, however, should see this prayer as a model.   All of us can be Yiddish in praying.  “Yiddish” was the language of Central and Eastern European Jews until the mid-20th century.  We could all do with a little Yiddish chuztpah, couldn’t we!

Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens, the earth, the sea,
and everything in them.
You own it all and you rule it all—even the people opposed to you.
As you spoke long ago,
what your Son endured was your will,
so today nothing happens outside your will.
You know the opposition we face to making
Jesus known,
some of it from outside, some from within ourselves.
Take note of those threats, Lord,
and enable us as your servants to speak your word with great boldness,
—with chutzpah, unmoved by resistance or rejection or dread—
while you heal and do miraculous signs and wonders
through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
In his name we pray.  Amen.”

 

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The (Little) Man Meets Jesus

O PreacherOne of the main section-titles of my blog post is “The Man”.  Not “man” as in macho; “man” as in ordinary.  From time to time I’ll write some of my story as an exhibit of God working in an ordinary life.

Sounds pretentious, no?  God at work in ordinary me?  The Bible is full of such miracles.  Remember the little boy Samuel (1 Samuel)?  How about the disciples (the Gospels)?  God—the Holy One, the Creator and Sustainer of everything, the eternal Master of all—really does reveal himself to, in and through ordinary, common, everyday people.  Perhaps the most touching example is this . . .

Little Children and Jesus.

People were bringing little children to [Jesus], for him to touch them. The disciples scolded them,  but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’  Then he embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing (Mark 10:13-16, NJB).

When the opportunity arose, Jewish parents typically brought their children to a rabbi (teacher) for his blessing.  That seems to be the case here.  Jesus uses the occasion to teach the necessity of welcoming God’s kingdom like a little child.  My point is simpler:  Jesus welcomed little children.  He “embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.”

When I think of this incident, I wonder what became of those little children?  We’re never told, of course.  Did this blessing merely make mothers feel happy and peaceful?  Or did it lead years later to these children believing the Gospel and becoming Jesus-followers themselves?  Were any of these children eventually instrumental in others giving their lives to Jesus?

“Little” Me and Jesus.

I received Jesus into my life when I was ten.  The year was 1953.  The place was “the 500 room” (that’s how many seats it had) in Bethany Church, Paterson, New Jersey.   All Sunday school classes were there to hear a visiting preacher.  At the end of his little sermon he said, “Now let’s have every head bowed and every eye closed.  If you want to ask Jesus into your heart, raise your hand.”  My parents had taken me to Sunday school and church from as early as I could remember.  But I had never made a public decision to follow Jesus.  After a minute, I tentatively raised my hand.

I should have known what was coming next.  “If you raised your hand, come down to the front and we’ll pray.”  My seat (center section, second or third row) seemed like center stage.  No escape.  I had to do it.  I got up from my chair and walked to the front of the platform with about 15 or 20 other kids.   The preacher prayed, then asked us to “repeat after me” some version of “the sinner’s prayer.”

When he sent us back to our seats, I was a bit dazed.  This public thing had driven shy me out of my comfort zone.  Or, was it something more?  Did I really meet Jesus?

I can’t remember now what the following days were like.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t become some sort of little saint.  Didn’t want the Bible more than dessert.  Didn’t count the days until next Sunday like I did for Christmas.  If I had to describe those days, I’d say “same as always.”  So maybe that episode was just socialization.  Or . . . had I really met Jesus?

Three years later I was baptized in water.  I suppose I did it because it was the next step.  This step was down into the water of the baptistery (we inelegantly called it the baptism tank).  I took my position next to our pastor and looked out at the Sunday evening crowd.  I gave my testimony (brief since I had no shady past to confess).  Promised I wanted to follow Jesus.  Was put under and raised.  I’d gone in dry, came out wet.  Did anything else happen?  Since ours was a Pentecostal church, if I had burst out in “other tongues”, the congregation would have erupted in praise.  But my tongue lay silent in my mouth.  Except for feeling wet and relieved, there was no change in me.  So maybe baptism was just a church “rite of passage.”  Or . . . had Jesus been there?

Looking back six decades later. I believe God was beginning to reveal Jesus to me and in me.  Those two events weren’t just socialization or rites of passage.  Jesus was there.  My experiences, though far less dramatic, were just as real as an alcoholic or a wife-abuser turning his life over to Jesus.

Small Beginnings.

Holy moments with Jesus often come in ordinary places.  And may even outwardly seem insignificant.  Take Sunday school, for example.  You know how it goes.  You’ve got a handful of youngsters who each drank a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew for breakfast.  They can’t sit still.  Can’t stop spouting off-the-subject stuff.  Can’t stop acting silly.  When the class ends, you fall into a chair and bemoan the wasted hour.  But it probably wasn’t wasted.  Sure, you didn’t plant your whole package of seeds, but a few fell threw that Mountain Dew.  And God the Holy Spirit will use them.

So when we think of our children, we’d be wise to remember God’s work in their lives often starts small, as it did in mine.  And we’d be especially wise to remember this prophetic admonition from a different situation but applicable to ours . . .

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin . . . ” (Zechariah 4:10a)

 

 

 

 

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Interruption Malfunction

P.AllanWant to know why “the One enthroned in heaven laughs” at rulers who gather against him (Psalm 2:4)?  Look no further than this “interruption malfunction.”

Sermon Interrupted.

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.  They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.  They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.  But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand (Acts 4:1-4).

The healing of a cripple (http://theoldpreacher.com/god-has-glorified-his-servant-jesus/had drawn a few thousand astonished spectators.  Peter and John are telling how God’s glorified servant Jesus had worked that miracle.  A commotion grows as a troop of Jewish authorities come stomping through the crowd.

They’re outraged that “the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.”  Getting Jesus crucified hadn’t made his name go away!  They throw Peter and John in the Jerusalem jail overnight.  Even so, about 2,000 men believe.  (Hear the Lord laughing?)

Court Crippled.

By the end of this next scene, it’s apparent that the powerful Jewish Court has been crippled by two “unschooled, ordinary” prisoners.

The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.  Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family.  They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed,  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.   He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:5-12).

Luke’s list of Court members indicates that this is the same body that less than two months ago decided Jesus deserved death.  From the start the Court has a big problem on its hands:  clearly a miracle had been performed (“By what power or what name did you do this?”  ” . . . since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them . . ., “) 

How is this common fisherman able to answer so boldly and wisely?  Peter was “filled with the Spirit.”  (Someone has suggested that The Acts of the Apostles should be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit!)

Peter says, “Are you kidding me?  Are you putting us on trial ‘for an act of kindness shown to the cripple”?  Here’s how it was done, he says.  “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” 

Luke begins Acts with these words:  “In the first book (the Gospel According to Luke), O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach . . . ” (1:1).  Implication:  in Acts Jesus continues to do and teach.  This is what Peter proclaims.  ” . . . Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead [did this]!”  . . . ”   In other words, “Jesus is alive!  And he healed this cripple when we called on his name!”

Peter’s defense turns prosecution.  He  quotes Psalm 188:22 and declares Jesus is the stone they rejected.  Jesus  is the cornerstone of the new “temple” God is building.  Jesus is the only name by whom salvation can be found.  It’s a powerful testimony that leaves the Court with its collective mouth hanging open and silent.

 Apostles Win.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.   So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.  “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”  Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.  For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old (Acts 4:13-26).

The Jerusalem jail, even for one night, was no luxury resort.  Knowing what this Court did to Jesus must have frightened the two apostles.  But above it all the Lord must have been laughing at the persecutors.   What can they do?  They can’t deny the miracle; everybody’s seen it.  But they can’t let this insidious conduct continue.  But when they command them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, the two refuse to obey; they must obey God and tell what they’ve seen and heard.  The Court’s clout is reduced to threats.

Meanwhile the people are praising God for the miracle they’ve seen.  And the Lord, I’m sure, is laughing.

Laughing Lord,
as the psalmist wrote, You have set your Anointed King on Your holy hill.
Rebellion against You and resistance to You are equally futile.
This “Interruption Malfunction” is only
one proof.
As it encouraged the early church, may it encourage
all Your people who are being opposed because they are Yours.
I pray especially for Your people facing abuse and persecution today.
Protect them, fill them with the Holy Spirit,
empower them to uphold Your name against those who hate it.
May they know—may we
all know—
that You lough mockingly at Your puny opposition.
And may Your hurting people be convinced
that even if they can’t laugh now
that in the end they—
and we—
will all laugh together with You forever.
In the name of the risen Lord of lords.  Amen.

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God Has Glorified His Servant Jesus

P.AllanI often hoped God would work a miracle.  A miracle would attract crowds.  And that would be a chance  to preach the Gospel to unbelievers.  That’s what happened in Acts 4:11, 12a

While the beggar held on to Peter and John,
all the people were astonished and came running to them
in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.
And when Peter saw it he addressed the people . . .

Peter’s address is the 2nd sermon in “The Acts Eight”—“God Has Glorified His Servant Jesus”.

Glorified and Guilty. 

When Peter saw this (all the people running to him), he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you (3:12-14).

Faith-healers are spiritual superstars.  They exude power beyond the ordinary.  And they eat it up.   However, when Peter saw starry eyes staring at him , he quickly re-aimed their focus to Jesus.

Speaking to Jews, Peter connected Jesus with “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.  Jesus was the servant of the God of their fathers.  In Jesus, God has continued (and consummated) his saving work begun with the patriarchs.  Jesus-crucified, God glorified.  Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand in the seat of the universe’s sovereign power.  The healed cripple proves it.

At the same time, Peter calls Jesus the servant of God, echoing Isaiah 52:13—“Behold, my servant (wounded for our transgressions—Isaiah 53:5) shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13). 

Despite  their ignorance and God’s fulfillment, Peter’s audience is guilty.  They rejected Jesus.  Cried, “Crucify him!”  Preferred a murderer to God’s Holy and Righteous One.

We don’t use this in-your-face language.  We’d rather talk about Jesus filling a void or making our lives better.  Jesus is like “Gumout”:  add him to your gasoline and your engine runs better.  Peter will have none of it.  Men and women are guilty sinners.

Jesus’ Name. 

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see (3:15,16).

Humans killed “the author (originator, source) of life”.  (Would we do differently today?) ” . . . but God raised him from the dead.”  Over and over the apostles heralded the news.

“The cripple had been healed because Jesus had been glorified.  From His place of exaltation He endowed His disciples with power to act in His name, to perform mighty works such as He had performed in the days of His bodily presence among them” (F.F Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 88).

Peter must have often passed that cripple at the gate and heard him beg.  But on this day he stopped and “directed his gaze at him” (3:4).  Perhaps in that moment “the faith that comes through Jesus” came to Peter.  And he knew. 

“It is Jesus’ name (all that Jesus is) . . . that has given this complete healing to him.”  Sadly today’s “faith healers”  preen themselves for the spotlight.  Peter redirected  it on Jesus.  The ultimate aim of all miracles is the fame of his great name.

Repent for Remission, Refreshment & Restoration.  

“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you– even Jesus.  He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets (3:17-21).

Even though the Jews “acted in ignorance” and even though “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold”, Peter calls them to “repent”.  That sounds like a word from great-grandmother’s generation, but it’s as crucial today as it was in Peter’s.   It means to change our mind about whom we thought Jesus was to who he really is.  (In this case, the glorified servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)  And we live that repentance out by living as he taught us to.

With repentance, Peter promises . . .

  • remission of sins (his audience can be forgiven for preferring a murderer to the Holy and Righteous One!),
  • refreshment from the Lord (the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in them, Acts 2:38), and
  • the restoration of all things when Jesus comes again with the new creation.

John Newton echoes this Gospel with his wondering words . . .

Alas!  I knew not what I did,
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I my Lord have slain.

A second look He gave, which said:
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom shed;
I die, that thou mayest live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue;
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy
My spirit now is filled,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live through Him I killed.

Ancient Prophecies Fulfilled.  

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.  Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’  “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.  And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’  When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (3:22-26).

Peter assures the Jewish crowd what they must know:  that Jesus doesn’t do away with the prophets they’ve trusted all their lives; Jesus fulfills their words.  The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t oppose God’s Old Testament revelation; the two are bound in holy unity.  What God promised through the prophets, he has fulfilled in Jesus—his now-glorified servant.

God, who raised your servant Jesus from the dead,
I don’t want to repeat the sin of that generation;
I don’t want to reject the Holy and Righteous One
for what will kill me in the end.
I confess my sins to you
and trust your servant to forgive, refresh and restore me.
I give my life to Jesus in whom all your prophecies are fulfilled.
I bow with humble and glad heart to your Servant whom you’ve glorified
and pray my life will give him glory too.
For the sake of the name above all names.  Amen.

 

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Many Miracles

O PreacherI’ve often longed for the heady days of the early church–permeated with God’s empowering presence (title of an excellent book by Dr. Gordon Fee–http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Empowering-Presence-Spirit-Letters/dp/0801046211/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452105365&sr=1-1&keywords=god%27s+empowering+presence).  In some circles today, however, the church is filled with practiced productions and unremarkable routines, but nothing remotely close to the miraculous.  With that in mind, here’s a brief look at the early church’s narrative that leads to Sermon 2 of “The Acts Eight”.

After Peter’s Pentecost sermon (http://theoldpreacher.com/not-drunk-like-you-think/), 3,000 were added to the 120 (2:41).  The first mega-church.  A sizable chunk of an estimated Jerusalem population of 50,000.

Wide-Angle View of the Early Church.

In Acts 2:42-47 author Luke writes a wide-angle view–a summary–of the 3,000-member church’s life in the days following Pentecost . .

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (2:42-47).

Here’s a closer look at Luke’s summary to give us a better picture of the church . . .

Devotion. The Greek word translated “devoted” (proskartereo) means they “occupied themselves diligently” with four things . . .

The apostle’s teaching.  They devotedly learned from the apostles Jesus’ teachings.  They learned in order to practice.  They were all disciples.

Fellowship.   They spent considerable time together.  If I catch the sense of text correctly, they didn’t squeeze fellowship into a busy schedule.  Rather, their days centered in their shared life together.  Daily they met in the temple courts.  “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”  This stuns me whenever I read it.  I imagine a family that loses everything due, let’s say, to illness.  Others learn of it.  They don’t give an offering of spare cash; they actually sell possessions, collect the cash and give it to the needy family.  Apparently this was common practice, not a one-time gift.  They devoted themselves to this kind of koinonia (fellowship).

The breaking of bread.  Luke explains in verses 46,47a–“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”  This bread-breaking included joyfully sharing meals together and almost certainly celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Prayer.  This devotion probably included “praising God” (2:47a) as well as praying for unbelievers and interceding for each other’s needs.  Whatever form their prayers took, they must have prayed anticipating answers because they knew they prayed to the living Lord.

Signs and wonders.  Not only devotion, but miracles marked the early church.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (2:43).   The miraculous wasn’t commonplace; nevertheless, many wonders and signs were done by the apostles evoking a reverent fear, a sense of awe before the miracle-working power of the Lord.

Close-Up View of the Early Church.

In 3:1-10 Luke gives us a close-up view of the early church–in particular the wonders and miraculous signs they experienced.  Here it is in my own words . . .

Peter and John were walking to the temple for 3 p.m. prayer time.  (Believers in Jesus Messiah still practiced some of the Jewish worship customs.)  At the gate called “Beautiful” a man crippled from birth was being carried and set down to beg from the temple-goers.  It was how he survived.  Coming toward him he saw his day’s first prospects.  He begged for money.  Instead of rushing past or dropping him a half-shekel, the two looked him straight in the eye and demanded he lift up his head and do the same to them.  He looked, expecting money.  Peter said, “I have no money, but I’ll give you what I do have.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth walk!”  Peter grabbed the cripple’s hand and helped him up.  Immediately the cripple felt strength in his feet and ankles.  Suddenly he jumped.  Then he began walking around (like we do in the store when trying out a new pair of shoes).  From that moment on, the three became a star attraction.  Peter and john walked toward the temple; but at their side the former life-time cripple kept jumping and praising God.  People couldn’t help but look.  And when they recognized who he was–they pointed at him with mouths hung open in amazement  (from 3:1-10).

The Church Today.

Except for few who may be fearful of being called “charismatic”, who wouldn’t want to see miracles in the church today?  Of course, we can’t make God make miracles. God distributes them according to his will (Hebrews 2:4).  But, humbly and needy, we can pray . . .

Miracle-working God who raised Jesus from the dead,
pour out your Spirit on your people today.
We ask for signs and wonders,
not to entertain us, but to heal our hurts and bind up our wounds.

We beg for your full-of-wonder power,
not to attract spectators but to cause the lost to give ear to your Gospel.
We long to know you, Lord,
not just as a quiet comforter but as a rushing wind of power.
We pray for miracles and gifts of the Spirit, Lord,
not to make a name for ourselves but for the glory of your great name.
We humbly pray in the name of the One
with whom nothing is impossible.  Amen.

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Open Heaven

P.AllanMy precious daughter, Meridith, occasionally sends me worship songs she thinks I’ll enjoy.  This is one she just sent.  It’s so timely for my last and upcoming blog post, I thought you might be blessed by it too.  Thank you, honey!

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Guns Are Us

O PreacherThe Rev. Franklin Graham slammed President Barack Obama’s gun actions Wednesday, saying that they “will do nothing to change this horrific problem.”  Graham is quoted in a “Newsmax” article today written by Todd Beamon ( http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/franklin-graham-sin-humans-kill/2016/01/06/id/708454/#ixzz3wZmAJe9V).

Graham went on to say, “you can take all the guns in America and put them in a pile on the Mall in  Washington, D.C—and those guns will stay there and will eventually rust and decay.  Not one gun will crawl out of that pile and shoot or harm anyone.

“It takes a human being, and a human heart bent on evil, to pick up a gun, load it, and pull the trigger.  The problem we have in this country is sin.”

Graham laid blame on the removal of God from society and a Hollywood industry that glorifies violence.  He proposed a heavy tax for manufacturers of any movie or game that graphically displays violence.

Tuesday President Obama had announced plans to tighten federal background checks for gun sales, require gun sellers to be licensed or face criminal prosecution, and to expand mental health treatment.  Most critics argue that these measures would have done little or nothing to prevent mass shootings the nation has suffered.

Graham lamented our nation collectively turning our backs on God and reaping horrible bloodshed.  “The only cure?” he asked.  “Jesus Christ.  That’s what will make a difference in our nation.”

I say “Amen” to that.  The question is, however, “What will we followers of Christ do about it?”

We are as guilty as anyone in expecting the government to fix whatever is broken—unless it impinges on our freedom.  And I’m as guilty as anyone.  Illegal immigrants?  Sluggish economy?  Threatened recession?  Terrorism?  Mideast firestorm?  Healthcare?  Government should solve it all.  If they don’t or won’t, we complain.

I’m not a politician-sympathizer.  Government has acerbated the country’s problems, not alleviated them.  It frightens me when I see this administration’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution.  For the president to declare we are a nation of laws, then ignore or break those laws is the height of hypocrisy and a genuine threat to America’s freedoms.

As long as they’re not the start of a slippery slope, the president’s announced gun control measures are not unreasonable.  But laws have limits.  When Graham diagnoses sin as the root of the nation’s problems, he’s pointing to the human heart—sinful human nature.  The Bible makes it blatantly clear that even God’s laws can only curb evil, never remove it.  For that we need a new heart, a new righteous human nature.  This is what God promised through the new covenant established in the blood of Jesus Christ . . .
“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying,
‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
(Hebrews 8:10–12).
Graham is right, of course.  The only cure for gun violence is Jesus Christ.  Only he can remove guilt that plagues us, turn us toward righteousness and justice and love, and give us rock-solid hope instead of artificial escape.
Typically we regard spreading the Gospel as good for the sinner or a means of building up the Body of Christ.  But we also must think of it in terms of societal good.  I’m reminded of the question, “If you were walking alone down a dark street one night and met a group of intimidating-looking guys coming toward you, would you feel better if you knew they were returning from Bible study?”
In Christ, we have the cure for the vicious curse of deadly violence.  The question now is . . .


. . . what will we do about it?

 

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Not Drunk Like You Think (Sermon 1)

P.Allan” . . . do not get drunk on wine . . . but be [drunk] with the Spirit.”  With tongue in cheek (I think), John Piper says that’s what Paul meant in Ephesians 5:18.  Drunk instead of filled.  Peter faces the same mix-up.  When they hear the believers ” . . .  speak in other tongues” (2:4),  some in the crowd mock, “They are filled with new wine” (2:13). Here’s Peter’s “sermon” response . . . 

Too Early to Be Drunk.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (2:14,15a).

An odd answer.  What would he have said if it was 6 p.m?  Whatever, Peter quickly moves on to his . . .

Sermon Text.

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (2:15b-21).

This “telling the mighty works of God” (2:11) in different languages, Peter explains, is God’s fulfillment of that prophecy.  There are four primary points to see . . .

First, since Peter was preaching around  30 A.D., “the last days” began at least about that time—and we are living in them today.  Chronologically divide history however you wish; these are the end of days.  I know, mockers scoff:  “Life goes on as always” (2 Peter 3:3).  But we’re in the closing chapter of this world’s time.

Second, these last days are marked by the pouring-out of the Holy Spirit.  The Lord is empowering his people to bear witness of him “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).  This is no time to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19, NRS) with doctrine that disallows the gifts of the Spirit!  This is time to “pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen [us] with power through his Spirit in [our] inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Third, these last days are marked by universal chaos.  Joel prophesied it (Joel 2:1-11).  And whatever else these signs may mean—“blood, fire, billows of smoke”, darkened sun, blood moon—they spell chaos on earth.  Sounds eerily like today’s news.

Fourth, these last days climax in “the day of the Lord”-a day of final judgment for unbelievers, but for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” a day of glorious, eternal salvation!

Jesus Lord and Christ.

The Spirit always points to Jesus. He does that through Peter here.  Note these highlights about Jesus as you read Peter’s sermon below.

  • God certified Jesus by miracles, wonders and signs
  • According to God’s purpose, they put Jesus to death
  • God raised Jesus from the dead according to David’s prophetic words
  • God exalted Jesus to his right hand in heaven
  • Jesus received the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him out
  • God has made Jesus both Lord (Yahweh) and Christ (Messiah, Anointed One).

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  David said about him:  ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,  because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’  Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact .  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.  For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand  until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’  Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:22-36).

What Every Preacher Would Love.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (2:37-41).

In four decades of preaching, never once did a congregation ask what this crowd did.  Yet even without the asking, this what we must do:  “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [our] sins.”  “Repent” means we change our mind about who we thought Jesus is to who he really is.  And we live that repentance out by being baptized in his name and by obeying his commands in this “corrupt generation.”

Peter promises that those who do “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  He will come to live in us.  There will be times when he sweeps us up and overwhelms us with his powerful and loving presence.  He will progressively transform us into Christ’s likeness. And he will make us his witnesses to this corrupt generation.

Exalted Lord Jesus Christ,
the believers that day weren’t drunk on wine as the crowd supposed.
They were drunk with the Holy Spirit.
You have received the Spirit from the Father.
Please pour him out again on us,
that we may be empowered to prophetically speak your Good News,
and that many may repent and be added to our number.
For the fame of your name I pray.  Amen.

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The Acts Eight

P.AllanIf I called this blog post “Acts Sermons” we’d all run to our just-remembered root canal appointment.   Sermons don’t get the juices flowing.  I preached for 44 years; I recognize that eyes-glazed-over look.  Hence the title, “The Acts Eight” (eight “sermons”).

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “sermon” as “a religious discourse delivered in public usually by a clergyman as part of a worship service.”  Not one of “The Acts Eight” fits that definition.  A “clergyman” didn’t deliver them.  (No such critters existed then.)  Nor were they delivered in a worship service.  Two were preached to a crowd thinking the believers were drunk, one ended when the crowd stoned the preacher, one was a prisoner’s defense before a king, and so on.

Why ponder Acts’ preaching?  The sermons  reveal what the early church considered central to the Gospel, often in times of conflict. Hopefully they will speak to us as they did then.

To reap benefits from these sermons we have to set them in context.  That means following the Acts narrative (because it’s long,  we’ll have to read with Bible in hand).

I’m calling the first sermon of The Acts Eight “Not Drunk Like You Think” (Acts 2:14-36).  Here’s the narrative that precedes it . . .

In the Last Episode (1:1-5).

Some suggest “Theophilus” may have supported Luke so he could write Luke and Acts.  Can’t be sure.  In any case, here Luke summarizes what he wrote at the end of the Gospel of Luke–namely, Jesus’ activity in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension.

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

” . . . many convincing proofs” certify Jesus’ resurrection.  The command and promise regarding the Holy Spirit introduce the central role of the Holy Spirit among those early believers and prepare us for what’s coming.

Holy Spirit Will Come Down, Jesus Ascends (1:6-11)

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Here Jesus  explains the purpose of the Spirit’s coming:  power to be Jesus’ witnesses until he returns.

Matthias Off the Bench (1:12-26).   (Due to its length, please read this text in your Bible.)

The apostles, and other Jesus followers (120 in all) obeyed Jesus.  Back they went to the city, to an upper room (where they’d celebrated Passover and the Lord’s Supper), where they “were devoting themselves to prayer” as they waited for the promise of the Spirit to be fulfilled.

The rest of this chapter is church-business-meeting minutes.  Maybe to fulfill Psalm 109:6-8; 69:24,25, they called Matthias “off the bench” to sub for Judas who’d hanged himself.

Powered (2:1-4)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (2:1-4).

Originally the Jewish Feast of Weeks, Pentecost  celebrated the harvest (Exodus 23:16) fifty days after Passover.  On this Pentecost “all” 120 were gathered.  Suddenly the sound of violent wind filled the house and tongues of fire rested on each one.  The Holy Spirit filled them and they spoke in other languages.  As Jesus had promised they were “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (1:5) and empowered to be his witnesses (1:8).

My Language or Wine-Talking (2:5-13)?  (Again, please read this text in your Bible.)

No wonder these devout Jews “from every nation under heaven” were astounded and perplexed!  More than a hundred Jerusalem Jews were praising God at the same time in languages that the “foreign” Jews recognized!   “What does this mean?” they wondered.  Others, though, dismissed them as drunks.

Overwhelmed by Our Lord’s Presence.

Next time we’ll ponder Peter’s “sermon” to the crowd.  For now, let’s consider one personally dynamic meaning of today’s text for us.  In his book, Joy Unspeakable, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a 20th century influential Welsh preacher, compares our day-to-day Christian life with what happens when the Holy Spirit “comes upon” us . . .

 It is like a child walking along holding his father’s hand. All is well. The child is happy. He feels secure. His father loves him. He believes that his father loves him but there is no unusual urge to talk about this or sing about it. It is true and it is pleasant.

Then suddenly the father startles the child by reaching down and sweeping him up into his arms and hugging him tightly and kissing him on the neck and whispering, “I love you so much!” And then holding the stunned child back so that he can look into his face and say with all his heart, “I am so glad you are mine.” Then hugging him once more with unspeakable warmth and affection. Then he puts the child down and they continue their walk.

This is what happens when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit. A pleasant and happy walk with God is swept up into an unspeakable new level of joy and love and assurance and reality that leaves the Christian so utterly certain of the immediate reality of Jesus that he is overflowing in praise and more free and bold in witness than he ever imagined he could be.

The child is simply stunned. He doesn’t know whether to cry or shout or fall down or run, he is so happy. The fuses of love are so overloaded they almost blow out. The subconscious doubts—that he wasn’t thinking about at the time, but that pop up every now and then—are gone! And in their place is utter and indestructible assurance, so that you know that you know that you know that God is real and that Jesus lives and that you are loved, and that to be saved is the greatest thing in the world. And as you walk on down the street you can scarcely contain yourself, and you want to cry out, “My father loves me! My father loves me! O, what a great father I have! What a father! What a father!”

Father, I pray for my readers and for myself.
I ask that in our routine daily lives
you might sweep us up and overwhelm us
with your empowering presence.
God the Holy Spirit, we need you
to renew us and refresh us and immerse us with yourself,
so we are assured Jesus lives and loves us,
so  joy overflows our heart,
and words about you
and love from you
stream uncontainably
to the people our lives touch.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

 

 

 

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