One of my favorite (preachers is Charles Spurgeon (that’s why we named our dog Spurgeon!). He, Charles, was called “The Prince of Preachers” during his long ministry in London, England. Recently, I read a blog by Tony Reinke about a sermon Spurgeon preached to his congregation on December 21, 1856, when he was just twenty-two.
(You can go to: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-share-your-story-this-christmas to find the blog or go to: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/spurgeon_charles/sermons/0109.cfm to read the entire sermon).
Spurgeon, like pastors today, knew many would be spending Christmas with family and friends. What a great opportunity to share the gospel at those festive meals. Spurgeon said, “For my part, I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year”!
So, Spurgeon wanted to help his congregation take advantage of the season to share their faith in Christ. He took as his text Mark 5:19: “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.” This is the story of the demon-possessed man who lived in a graveyard. Jesus delivered him and sent the demons packing in the pigs which then ran to the edge of the cliff and threw themselves into the sea. The grateful man came to Jesus wanting to follow him, but instead, Jesus told him to “go home” and tell his family and friends what grace and mercy he experienced from Jesus.
Spurgeon’s insights from this story in Mark gave him the opportunity to give wise counsel to help his congregation when they interacted with family and friends. Here are five bits of helpful advice from the “Prince of Preachers.”
- Share the story of God’s grace at work in your life and how you have experienced it. “You are not to repair to your houses to preach. You are not to begin to take up doctrinal subjects and expatiate on them, and endeavor to bring persons to your peculiar views and sentiments . . . Go home, young man, and tell the poor sinner’s story; go home, young woman, and open your diary, and give your friends stories of grace. Tell them of the mighty works of God’s hand which he hath wrought in you from his own free, sovereign, undeserved love. Make it a free grace story around your family fire.”
- Tell your story to encourage the believers.
- Tell your story to unbelievers, but not in a group; tell your story one-on-one. In a group, you might lose the attention of your listeners. However, with a single individual, you are more likely to get a more serious hearing from them as they consider your manner of telling the story.
- How should you tell your story? Remember, you’re not in a doctrinal debate, it’s all about grace. So, tell your story humbly (you didn’t deserve grace and you’re no better than your hearers), truthfully (don’t embellish, it’s a good storytelling of God’s good work; nothing can improve that!), seriously (that is, earnestly) and with evident gratitude toward God.
- What to expect: it won’t be easy especially with those who have known you a long time. Expect some tension but pray for opportunities. Having prayed for opportunities, look for them and be ready. Overcome fear motivated by your love for Jesus.
Christmas is a great time to have gospel-conversations with our family and friends. Get prayed up, expectant and wait for the opportunity God gives you!
Maybe it’s me, but it seems that our society is growing in its arrogance – if that’s possible.
I’m no photographer, but I enjoy nature and people photography. At the top of Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I found myself standing next to a woman with a monster lens, the kind that NatGeo photogs use. I felt unworthy standing next to her with my 70 – 300 zoom lens. I said, “Now that’s a lens!” She rolled her eyes. Not worthy.
Later that afternoon, I read Ps 49. The short story of the Psalm is this: regardless of life’s circumstances – rich or poor, white or black, blue or white collar, the most important thing about a man or woman is that they have “understanding.”
I wondered: what is the “understanding” God has in mind that distinguishes a person. If a poor man with understanding is better off than a rich man without it, what does that mean?
A quick search limited to just the Psalms revealed ten benefits to the one who has understanding God’s way. The one who values understanding . . .
- Discerns his errors (Ps 19:12). How crucial is that? How many people do you know who are completely ignorant of their condition before God? How many of them think that God loves and accepts them just because they are? They haven’t got a clue about why God would be angry with them at all. By the way, how often do you discern your own errors?
- Values the works of God, including his rewards (Ps 28:5).
- Receives God’s instructions and counsel about how to live life to the fullest and most enjoyable (Ps 32:8-9). This one is important!
- Submits to God as the clay to the Potter (Ps 33:15). So it this one!
- Fears the Lord and hopes in his lovingkindness (Pss 33:18; 107:43). Ditto!
- Knows God’s eye is on him or her for good and refuses to be stubborn (Pss 33:17; 94:7). Help, anyone?
- Knows righteousness will triumph over evil and so patiently, prayerfully waits on God (Pss 37:10; 73:17; 96:6-8). Comforting!
- Walks in the light of Christ and hates the works of darkness (Ps 82:5).
- Is teachable, obedient (and prays for help) and meditates on God’s word (Ps 119:27, 34, 73, 95, 100, 104, 125, 130, 144, 169).
- Is known by God (139:2). Easily the best of the ten.
That day at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, I learned that understanding is better than a NatGeo camera lens any day.
Someone maliciously and publicly ruins your reputation. You are deeply hurt and pay a heavy price for something that isn’t true. Everything in you wants to pray like David:
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! (Ps 109:9-15)
Ouch! It hurts just to think of it. Your conscience cries out “No! Don’t go there! Trust the Lord. Don’t be a fool!”
Many have weighed in on the subject of a Christian’s relationship to the prayers of David that call down fire and hail stones on the heads of those who wound us. Sometimes they are unbelievers and we might be willing to let them off the hook. But sometimes they are sitting next to us in church Can we use David’s “imprecatory prayers” when we are deeply wounded by betrayal, lies or bullying of others? The answer is “yes” and “no.” The “no” part goes like this: remember that the substance of an imprecatory prayer contains wording that calls down curses on our enemies. You may feel like that will bring about the justice you deserve but it won’t. To this Jesus says us to love those who persecute us and to pray for them and even do good to them (Matt 5:44).
Can we use David’s “imprecatory prayers” when we are deeply wounded by betrayal, lies or bullying of others? The answer is “yes” and “no.” The “no” part goes like this: remember that the substance of an imprecatory prayer contains wording that calls down curses on our enemies. You may feel like that will bring about the justice you deserve but it won’t. To this Jesus says us to love those who persecute us and to pray for them and even do good to them (Matt 5:44).
The “yes” part is this: there is a legitimate way to pray about what’s happened to you. Here are seven things I’ve noticed about David’s approach to God in prayer about his enemies:
- It’s perfectly legitimate to pray for vindication from God.
- It’s perfectly legitimate to pray that my enemies are frustrated in their plans.
- It’s perfectly legitimate to plead my innocence with God (if I am!) and make the case for vindication.
- It’s perfectly legitimate to tell the Lord what I know and think about the characters and spiritual condition of my adversaries. (believe it – he already knows!)
- It’s perfectly legitimate to pray that my opponents become ashamed of their work. An awakened conscience might lead them to repentance.
- It’s perfectly legitimate to promise to rejoice in the ways God answers.
- It’s perfectly legitimate to tell others afterward of the marvelous thing God has done for you so they can join the chorus of praise. (Do this without trash talking your enemy in the process).
In contrast, here are five illegitimate things:
- It is illegitimate to go first to others and tell them about your enemy’s hurtful actions or words. First, to God and leave it with him.
- It is illegitimate to be disappointed in the way God answers.
- It is illegitimate to renege on the promise to praise God.
- It is illegitimate to get impatient with God; so, admit it and ask for help!
- It is illegitimate to gloat when the answer comes; be ready to pray for them the way God directed Job to pray for his “counselors.”
For your own further reflection check out Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140. Then pray for them the ways you would want others to pray for you.
Human Resource departments fill three necessary purposes for the workplace: compensation, staffing and designing work. The goal is to “maximize the productivity of an organization by optimizing the effectiveness of its employees.”
Heaven has the perfect HR Department.
Paul was on his way to strengthen the churches he and Barnabas had previously seen take root in Syria and Cilicia. From the familiar places, he and his teammate Silas wanted to press on to unfamiliar places: Asia, Bithynia and further, Lord willing. He wasn’t. In fact, the Holy Spirit forbade Paul to “speak the word in Asia.” Wow! Turning to Mysia with his target Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Again, wow!
What’s going on? Doesn’t the Lord love people in Asia and want to save them through the gospel? Are they not part of the Great Commission’s instruction to disciple the nations?
Yes, heaven’s HR Department, headed by the sovereign Spirit of Jesus, aims to maximize the work of the church in the Great Commission. The Spirit always directs the right resources to the right places at the right times. After being told “No” twice, I can imagine Paul planting himself on a park bench with Silas and saying, “OK, Lord. We’ll just wait for your next assignment to come to our In-box.” It came that night. In a vision. Paul saw a Macedonian man appealing to him with a special invitation: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul and Silas left immediately and made it to Philippi. And what an assignment it was! The Lord opened the heart of a business woman who immediately became a believer. A demon-possessed girl, a money-maker for her occult masters, followed Paul around like an annoying, yapping puppy: “These men are the bondservants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Paul was miffed; annoyed actually. A lot. So, he turned to the spirit in the girl and in Jesus’ name commanded the spirit to come out of her. He did! She was delivered. She became a believer. She quit her day job.
But her masters were even more annoyed because their money stream dried up as quickly as the demon took flight. They stirred up the chief leaders of the city. Paul was arrested, beaten with rods (punishment due for all but Roman citizens) and thrown into prison. Sitting in the bottom of a dank jail cell, singing hymns of praise to God with Silas, entertaining all the prisoners, God provides an earthquake to remove chains and doors and set the prisoners free.
The Roman guard knew what this meant: The Roman HR Department would dispatch him to Hades, the Roman underworld for losing his prisoners! He was about to fall on his sword when Paul stopped him assuring him they were all still present and accounted for. A quick word about how to be saved and another Christian was spiritually born.
The grateful guard took Paul and Silas to his house, cleaned their wounds, fed them and they had a baptism service for the whole household.
The membership of Philippi’s first Christian church was three unlikely people: a business woman, a formerly demon-possessed girl, and a near-retirement Roman soldier.
But here’s why the Spirit of Jesus blocked Paul and moved him to this city.
When the city fathers found out that Paul, a full-fledged Roman citizen, was illegally beaten with rods, a punishment reserved to all non-Romans as second-class citizens, they sheepishly and quietly asked him to leave town through the back door. Paul wouldn’t have it. He wanted a public apology from the Magistrate, not his intermediaries, and a Magistrate’s escort out of town in full view of the city population.
Pride? Revenge? Christian demands for justice? No. You see, Paul wanted public recognition that the new church was not a threat to the Empire. He used his Roman citizenship as personal proof that Christianity isn’t about breaking laws or making trouble for the city. Christianity saves lives and improves cultures. The public apology and escort by the magistrates calmed fears and put the church in a positive light.
Peter, John, James or the other apostles could not provide this legal cover for the fledgling church the way Paul could. Heaven’s HR Department knew that and sent the right man, at the right time, with the proper credentials and competencies to secure the future of the Philippian church.
The HR Department of heaven takes the long view of discipling the nations. Someone in their files would tackle Asia and Bithynia. China, Burma, and India had to wait for Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson and William Carey.
So, when you apply for that job in Texas and don’t get it but you get the one in Minnesota, it’s just Heaven’s HR Department doing what it does best. Sending the right man, or woman, with the right qualifications to fulfill heaven’s assignment.
Hurry sickness plagues us all. Read this remedy.
As a pastor I make it my aim to encourage people to live life, and especially church life, in a “keep apart two chevrons” manner. Let me explain.
If you’ve ever driven a UK motorway you’ll see the sign above as you hammer along at the usual twenty or thirty (miles) over the speed limit. Chevron are those arrow signs, and they’re painted on the motorway for a good reason.
They’re there because the speed you are travelling will, over time, lull you into thinking you are not going as fast as you are. It’s called speed intoxication. It’s that feeling you get when you go slow down to go through a country town in rural Australia after two hours at maximum speed limit on an open road. It feels like you’re crawling, until of course you hit something, or someone, and then you realise that 60kmh is just as…
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You may not think 1 Chronicles would be a place to find guidance for contemporary worship. After all, isn’t the book steeped in lots of language about rituals and rules and prescriptions?
Yes, but . . .
Let’s remember the first audience to read 1 Chronicles – the returned exiles. The Jews spent years in exile, away from their homeland and the temple where God dwelled and now many of them were home. The important point to be made is this: how they came to be exiled was not lost on them. It was as fresh in their minds as if it happened yesterday. The sting still smarted. They were guilty and they knew it. Now that God made the way for their return, what they wanted to know was how not or never have it happen again. They knew what went wrong, now they wanted to get it right.
That’s the all-important historic frameworkof the story about David returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. David did a few things wrong but lots of things right. It wasn’t just about the prescriptions for the transportation of the Ark, but about the prescriptions for the heart.
So, without unpacking all that goes into these two summary chapters (15 and 16), here’s eight things we can learn from the episode in Israel’s life that applies to contemporary Christian worship.
- Contemporary worship no longer requires Mosaic rules or regulations. David didn’t pay attention to the Law of Moses that proscribed that the Levites carry the Ark on their shoulders. David ordered a new cart drawn by oxen to transport the Ark. When the oxen stumbled, the Ark toppled, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark, God became angry and killed Uzzah. David was angry at God’s anger but later got the proscription right. All that to say, we are no longer obligated to Mosaic Law. Even though we know this, it’s important to know why – Jesus is the center of worship. He fulfilled all the rules and regulations of the temple because he replaces the temple. This must be stated up front even though there is no evidence in these two chapters. Jesus takes care of this in John 4.
- Reverence for God is still required. David knew that his anger at the Lord’s anger for “breaking out against Uzzah” was unwarranted and he replaced it with the proper response of the fear of the Lord. Our worship must rest on the same foundation of the fear of the Lord.
- Music! Music stirs the heart for worship and frees the lips to sing praises. The more musicians and singers the better! Luther was right: “I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In [summary] next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.”
- Worship declares the judgments of God. Christ is to be praised for being the covenant promise that saves through the power and efficacy of his shed blood. That plan was God’s judgment since before the foundation of the world.
- Worship declares the miraculous deeds of God. God is to be praised for healing the man at the pool in Bethsaida (I’ve been reading John’s Gospel at the same time) as well as for healing the young mother with four children of cancer down the street. All God’s deeds, old and contemporary, are praise worthy.
- Worship declares the works of God. He is the God and Governor of creation, the life-giver (natural and eternal), our ransom from sin, the Savior and Redeemer.
- In worship, we condemn all idols. Jesus is above all other gods, to be held in awe because splendor and majesty and strength and joy satisfy the needs of our souls. Worship rids the soul of disordered lovers that still linger in our hearts.
- God’s work of salvation in Jesus is for all peoples of all nations to give them strength and joy.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
We have friends that are going to be with family members that are not Christians this Christmas. Some of their comments lead me to believe that they expect to feel the pressure of being a Christian in an unwelcoming environment. You know the feeling: like lambs led to the slaughter.
The other day when I was reading my Bible, but not particularly thinking about the situations my friends would encounter, I read the story of Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples. He sent them ahead of him to the places where he intended to go. He told them this was a “harvest” situation and to pray earnestly “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:1-12). He gave them specific instructions about what to bring, where to stay, with whom to stay and what to do when they got there. When the disciples returned, they were filled with joy and stories about what happened. The most notable story was that they experienced the dark powers of demons “subject to [them] in [Christ’s] name!” Talk about thrilling! What could be better than knowing the powers of darkness were no match for the authority of Jesus in their service? Well, Jesus told them what was better: “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Lambs will always be weak and vulnerable and led to the slaughter, even when they are fully dependent on Jesus’ name for power to serve the kingdom of God. And no matter what happens, your name has a permanence of place.
As I read the rest of the chapter that tells the story of Jesus’ making his way to Jerusalem “to be taken up,” it occurred to me that the whole chapter was instructive for the prayer life of lambs who will go into hospitable and inhospitable places where Christ is to be magnified.
Here are ten things lambs can pray for as they go to those place:
- Pray to be a faithful laborer because there are never enough of us.
- Pray for direction to places where peaceful people live.
- Pray for the sick and those oppressed by the powers of darkness for healing and deliverance.
- Pray for personal protection – you’re a lamb after all in need of the Shepherd’s presence at all times. Wolves are everywhere!
- Pray that you keep the right perspective – it’s not about demons being subject to you, it’s about your name written in heaven. Rest in that.
- Pray for opportunities to be a lamb-like neighbor. Show mercy at all times – even when you don’t feel like it.
- Pray for time to experience the “good portion” of being a lamb at sitting at Jesus’ feet.
- Pray to be convinced about Satan’s defeat and that the Father has revealed to you his gracious will.
- Pray to bring the kingdom of God near wherever you are.
- Pray for the same determination that Jesus had to do the Father’s will.
Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat, taken from the first words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” How do we magnify God? Is it only with words? Luke portrays Mary as the model disciple who magnifies God with her life, too. In the simplest terms, to magnify the Lord means to “make much of Jesus,” as John Piper has defined it. We make Jesus big and attractive and admired by our words and actions and even in our thoughts.
Piper reminds us that there are two kinds of magnifying: microscope magnifying and telescope magnifying. The first makes small things look bigger than they are. The other makes big things that are far away look as big as they really are. “When David says ‘I will praise the name of God in song; I will magnify God with thanksgiving,’ he doesn’t mean, ‘I will make a small God look bigger than he is.’ He means, ‘I will make a big God look as big as he is with the ways I show and speak my gratitude,'” and I would add, bring him near so others can admire his value.
Piper uses this helpful analogy by calling Christians to become telescopes, not microscopes. Here is the idea for an application to our lives: our calling is to live in such a way that our lives make God look as great and as valuable as he really is and bring him near to others. What does that look like? According to Luke, Mary is our example.
In Mary, we see an example of someone who developed a life that does just that. As I reflected on Mary as a model of someone who makes much of God, I saw a pattern of five activities from her life that when combined have the power to transform us into telescopes of God’s worth.
- We make much of God by meditating on his word. Mary “steeped” herself in God’s word through the practice of meditation. Christian meditation is like a tea bag steeping in hot water. Two things happen to steeped tea bags: they transform the color and taste of the water. God’s word transforms the way we think, act, and “taste” to others. This is the only way to account for the content of Mary’s song which has nearly fifty direct references or allusions to the OT Scriptures. She let God’s word draw her in and rewrite the direction of her life. Mary let God’s word reshape her soul’s thinking and renew her affections for him. As a result, Mary had a mind and heart filled with a God-saturated theology.
- We make much of God by treasuring his promises. Mary understood that God’s grace is mined by treasuring his promises. She kept alive all the events of the birth of Jesus, the words of Gabriel, the visits of the shepherds and Magi, the words of Simeon, and Anna and no doubt the words of Scripture. She held onto all these as from the Lord to help her face the most challenging times of her life during the ministry and execution of her Son. When we face the disappointments and confusion of life, treasuring God’s promises makes much of God because others would tell us to give up on him.
- We make much of God by serving him at the risk of reputation. What motivation did Mary have in the face of the inevitable spiteful gossip and crushing judgments of others? It was not from arguments against those judgments but the joy of serving the Lord in that way. She found personal strength and relief from fears as she put her trust in the mercy of God. She was quick and eager to do it because she savored the holy God whom she knew would not give her anything evil or unloving or impossible to endure. She knew that a holy God never makes mistakes in orchestrating the providences he brings into the lives of those humble enough to receive it.
- We make much of God by expressing gratitude for his mercy. Gratitude marks the heart of the person who loves God’s mercy. Knowing God’s mercy the way she did enabled Mary to accept from God’s hands even his mysterious providences. When we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives, we make much of him by expressing gratitude for his mercies.
- We make much of God by encouraging others in the obedience of faith. This is a practice that she shared with Elizabeth. Both women were eager to visit, not so much for the confirmation of the work of God, but as a way of encouraging each other in their respective roles in God’s plans. Their praise for God and for each other’s faith gave mutual strength to continue in their obedience.
As we enter into this Christmas season that is sometimes more a distraction to magnifying the Lord than a help, reflecting on Mary’s life as an example for our own worship and praise will bring us back to center. Mary’s focus was centered on the God who sent his Son into the world to save sinners and praised him for his mercy.
Remember: the calling of the Christian is to become a telescope for the world to “look through” and see the infinite wealth and value of the glory of God.
1 Cor 10:31.
John Piper, “How to Magnify God” [on-line]; accessed 5 December 2016; available from http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-magnify-god; Internet.
Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51.
Verse 41 = Gen 25:22-28; Malachi 4:2; v. 42 = Judges 5:24; Deut 28:1, 4; v. 43 = Ps 110:1; 2 Samuel 6:9; vv. 46-47 = Ps 34:1-3; Isaiah 26:9; Job 12:10; Daniel 3:39; 1 Sam 2:1; Habakkuk 3:18; v. 48 = Deut 22:23-23; 26:7; 1 Sam 1:11; 2:1-10; 9:16; v. 49 = Zephaniah 3:17; Deut 10:21; Isaiah 47:4; 57:15; Ezekiel 36:22-25; Malachi 1:11; v. 50 = Ps 103:17; v. 51 = Exodus 6:1, 6; Deut 3:24; 7:19; Isa 51:5, 9; 53:1; Ps 88:1; v.52 = Ezk 12:26; Ps 107:9; 1 Sam 2:5; Job 15:29; Jer 17:11; v. 54-55; Isa 41:8-9; 42:1; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3; Pss 97:3; 98:3; Micah 7:20.
Such a good article!
…27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
…36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.37 Answer me, O Lord
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