Last night, we gathered for worship and one of our pastors – David Crowe – preached from Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 as we’re nearing the end of our Sunday evening study. He admitted at the beginning that as most of America was preparing for a festive evening centered on the Super Bowl, the text we covered last night didn’t lend itself to much celebration.
As we read and examine the text, we see images of diminished strength, failing body, and the fear of growing old. These images are not exactly encouraging to say the least. However, Pastor David did a good job of demonstrating two important truths:
- Don’t neglect your youthfulness today, because it passes quickly.
- Don’t neglect your value as an older person, because you can still be used by the Lord even in a state of diminished strength.
For those of us who are still considered young(er) in life, the prospect of teeth falling out, eyes growing dim, the loss of strength, and all of this leading to shaking in fear of the end is not something to celebrate. In fact, if we consider the reality of last night, very few people were gathered together under the teaching of such a passage. Most of our nation was gathered in party atmospheres, eating and drinking, and celebrating the strength of their selected team or players in the big game.
The point is clear, even the most powerful runners, the most skilled passers, and the most intelligent coaches last night will go through this process of aging at some point. We were reminded of this reality as President George H. W. Bush (41) was pushed out to the 50 yard line in a wheel chair to flip the coin for the team captains at the beginning of the game.
As we consider the inevitable, we must not approach those days in fear. We have hope. Even in the state of diminished health when the dark days come—we have this blessed assurance in Christ who has gone before us and defeated death. One day, even death itself will pass away (Rev. 21:1-4). Until we pass over the precipice of this life into eternity, we will press on with our hope in Jesus Christ. Even the dark days of life are not vanity – there is hope in Jesus.
Yesterday morning, Conrad Mbewe preached to our local church after a long week at the G3 Conference. His text was Psalm 126, and as he preached, he asked two important questions. The questions emerged from the text, and in form of application, he asked them to our local church for the purpose of evaluation and examination.
Do You See Value in Studying Church History?
As the Psalmist writes in verse 2-3, “The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Israel needed to recall the “great things” that the LORD had done for them. Often, we forget how great our God is and how immeasurable the great things are that He has done for us. One way of doing this is by having a good understanding of church history.
As we consider the importance of the Reformation, it’s important for us to consider where we are in church history and the shoulders that we stand upon. This helps us to see how good God has been to us and it should lead to gladness of heart. The point is clear, if Israel studied redemptive history and was reminded of the works of God—we should do the same.
Is The Prayer Meeting — Just a Prayer Meeting?
As Pastor Conrad continued to preach, he placed the focus on prayer. In application to the local church, he asked a very important question. He asked, “Is it just a prayer meeting?” In other words, is the weekly prayer meeting an emphasis or something that we neglect and overlook?
As Israel was encouraged to “go out there” weeping, they would soon return with joy—bringing their sheaves with them. At this juncture, Pastor Conrad placed the emphasis on the weekly prayer meeting and asked some helpful questions worthy of consideration. Do we weep for souls? Is our prayer meeting focused on physical illnesses rather than spiritual needs? While physical problems are real, they should not outweigh the spiritual needs of the congregation and our community.
As he came to an end, he asked if we are “bruising our knees” in prayer. Are we? Are you? Why is prayer so neglected in our churches today? If we want true reformation and if we want to see our church reach our community, we don’t need more gimmicks to reach lost people and convince them to “join up” at the local church. We need serious minded, humble Christians to be on their knees pleading with God, weeping for souls, and trusting in God for the results.
Is your weekly prayer meeting just a prayer meeting?
Do you place any value in understanding church history?
Yesterday, I preached from Ephesians 2:11-22. There is much to learn and apply to our own divided world in our present church context. Our world is filled with walls of division. From divorce courts to racial divisions, we’re constantly bombarded with divisive attitudes and ideas. In recent days, Donald Trump has stirred up the political pot with his idea of a southern border wall along the Mexican border. In ancient days, walls and fences were a normal thing. You can still see old ruins of walls that separated royalty from the common people. Palaces and castles often had large walls that kept one class of people separated from others. You can still see that type of thing in our day in places like England where the royal family is kept secure behind large fences.
As Paul wrote Ephesians, his desire was to make it known to the Gentiles that they were not to be kept outside the dividing wall any longer. They were to be considered one with their Jewish brothers and sisters through the blood of Christ. This divisive mentality was thick among the Jews who considered the Gentiles to be savages and outcasts. Paul began in verses 11-12 by reminding the Gentiles of their past. One way to be filled with joy as a Christian is to be reminded of where you were when God came seeking you.
Paul explained that they were:
- Called the Uncircumcision
- Separated from Christ
- Alienated from the Commonwealth of Israel
- Separated from the Covenants of Promise
- Without hope
- Without God
What a gloomy picture. They could not understand God’s love and mercy to the Israelites. They were cut off from God and could not understand the language of grace. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained, unbelievers can’t understand the things of God:
They can read their Bible and it does not move them. They can look at these ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ and say: To whom does this apply, what is all this about? They are strangers; they are like people from another country; they do not understand the language. 
Then, as Paul continued, he turned to encourage them regarding their position in Christ. Before Christ saved them, they were lost and without hope. Now, as Paul explains, they have hope and in this hope comes access to God through the blood of Christ. It was through the blood of Christ that they who were far off were brought near to God.
In the Jewish temple, the centerpiece of worship life for Jews, there were specific courtyards designated as boundaries for certain people. At the top was the Court of the Priests. Only male Jews of the tribe of Levi were permitted to enter this courtyard. As one traveled away, he would come to the Court of Israel where only male Jews were permitted to enter. Further back was the Court of the Women where any Jew was permitted, including women, but the women could not go beyond this point.
At this point, moving down one would travel down a section of five stairs to a five foot high stone boundary. This boundary circled the entire temple. On it was written these words, “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”  Still moving down another set of stairs, fourteen to be precise, one would finally reach the Court of the Gentiles. This was the boundary for all Gentiles – set on a much lower place – and cut off from the rest of the Jewish temple and worship area.
Paul explains that this was the way the Gentiles were before Christ saved them, but now they have access to God and unity with the Jews. Although they were once strangers and aliens to the covenants of promise, now they are included and have access to God. This was hard for the Jews to grasp, especially since they viewed Gentiles as being created to fuel the flames of hell. Yet, Paul was making it clear that the walls of division were abolished by Christ.
We can all expect the world to be harsh and abrasive to Christians. The world hates Christ and His church. Therefore, the followers of Christ should come into the church community with love and peace toward one another and seek to be an encouragement and support for one another along the journey of faith. Any attitude and motive of division in the church is unbiblical and labors against the unity that Christ established through His work on the cross.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation: Studies in Ephesians, Chapter 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 170.
- See J. H. Iliffe, “The ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ Inscription from Herod’s Temple: Fragments of a Second Copy,” Quarterly of Department of Antiquities in Palestine VI (1938), pp. 1 ff.
Yesterday I had the privilege to return to our series in Ephesians, and our text was found in Ephesians 2:7-10. In our previous studies, we looked at the perilous condition of a ruined humanity and the power of God to save rebel sinners. Yesterday, I focused on the purpose of God in saving sinners – as verse seven begins, “so that.” God saves people for a reason, and it transcends far higher than merely sparing rebels from the flames of an eternal hell. The eternal eye of God is fixated upon the glory of God in eternity and the glory of God in our present time period. Both are extremely important.
The Glory of God in Eternity
For all of eternity, God will teach us the doctrine of God and the doctrine of salvation. Today’s evangelical church is often fueled by an appetite for entertainment rather than doctrine. In many church settings, the people would rather have a party filled with ferris wheels, cotton candy, and all of it sprinkled with a little Jesus instead of digging into Scripture and learning the doctrine of salvation. According to verse seven, God will teach us about how He saved us through His Son—for all of the ages to come.
What a grand truth. The greatest teacher will teach us for all eternity about His rich mercy and kindness that He extended to save a sea of ruined humanity. This is far greater than we can possibly imagine. This is far greater than the best conference on planet earth—and far superior than the greatest preacher in human history. God the teacher will instruct His people and reveal His majesty to us forever.
The Glory of God for Today
God desires for us to know that He saved us without our help. Our salvation is a work of God from first to last. It doesn’t have our finger prints upon it. Even the faith, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, is a gift of God. It is the desire of God for His people to recognize, in our present day circumstances, that God saved us apart from our own works. This is the eternal echo that has been repeated through the pages of Scripture in text such as John 1:12-13 and Titus 3:5. Our recognition of God’s sovereign initiative and rich mercy in saving undeserved sinners brings Him glory.
Also, we should see that God desires His people to be workers of righteousness. Although we aren’t saved by our works, we are saved in order that we will work for God. This is the point taught in Ephesians 2:10. Therefore, we must avoid two errors at this point in our understanding of the relationship between faith and works.
The error of antinomianism — This error teaches that faith in Christ alone saves, and beyond salvation, no commitment to the law of God is required to obey Christ. In other words, the law is abolished and has no binding affects upon the redeemed sinner. Therefore, whatever decisions the person makes in Christ are all covered by grace. This is an error that must be avoided in the journey of faith because it often results in lawless behavior beneath the banner of the gospel. While no works are necessary to save a sinner, salvation will always result in works.
The error of works based salvation — This is the error of the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries, they have taught faith in Jesus plus good works (specified by the RCC) bring about true salvation. This was one of the driving forces behind the Protestant Reformation and it’s why Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg in 1517 and it’s why he refused to recant while on trial in Worms in 1521. We as Protestants continue to protest such vain errors today.
It would be helpful to examine yourself and see if you’re in the faith once delivered to the saints. Faith plus works is a damnable heresy, but faith that doesn’t result in works is not true saving faith.
Yesterday, I preached from Acts 17:1-9 in an pre-planned evangelistic service within the life of our church. In this particular passage, we see the mission and preaching ministry of Paul put on display. However, he also points out a very relevant subject that pertains not only to the city of Thessalonica, but to the entire world.
Paul’s Source of Authority
The source of authority for Paul was not his own ideas or opinions. I’m sure that Paul had plenty of ideas and opinions to share, but upon arriving in Thessalonica, he found a Jewish Synagogue and spent three weeks reasoning, explaining, and proving his point to the people from the Scriptures. Paul was taking the Old Testament text and explaining that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God. The point is clear, Paul did all of his dialoging, preaching, and teaching from the Scriptures. Paul understood that the Bible is God’s Word and he stood firm upon the Scriptures.
Today, the world needs a fresh reminder that political opinions and personal ideas will not solve the problem of sin. We need something greater and that answer comes from the Scriptures. Today’s evangelical church must not lose sight of the sufficiency of Scripture. In an ever changing world of compromise, the church of Jesus Christ must continue to open the Word of God and reason, explain, and prove to people that Jesus is the answer for the world today.
Paul’s Message to the People
Paul labored his point that Jesus must suffer and rise from the dead in order to save sinners. Paul pointed to the need for a substitutionary atonement that comes in the suffering ministry of Jesus as He became the lamb of God who died for sinners. Paul likely pointed to the prophecies such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. He likewise, pointed to the need for Jesus to rise from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the hinge of Christianity because it separates Jesus from all other world religions. Furthermore, it validates everything He taught and reveals His deity.
Immediately following the resurrection, the religious community of the Jews started a propaganda campaign to coverup the resurrection (Matt. 28:11-15). They didn’t want to lose control and it would force them to admit fault in killing Jesus, so their answer was simple – cover it up. When the apostles started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, they were opposed, arrested, beaten, and threatened. Their response was simple, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Persecution of Believers
A jealous mob of the Jews assembled to oppose the preaching of Paul. When they saw the people coming to faith in Christ, both Jew and Greek alike, they were outraged. The ESV translates this text as, “some of the wicked men of the rabble.” The NASB renders it – “wicked men.” The KJV calls them, “lewd fellows of the baser sort.” A.T. Robertson, renowned Greek scholar and former professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, calls them – “bums.”
They went to the house of Jason looking for Paul and Silas and when they could not be found, they dragged Jason before the authorities. They made two accusations against Paul and Silas, and both are worthy of our attention.
- These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.
- They are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.
The first accusation is commendable because it points out that they were turning the world upside down with the message of Christ – from the Scriptures. They didn’t depend on a rock concert, cultural celebrities, or other means of getting attention. They simply unleashed the gospel upon the city and it caused a massive explosion.
Secondly, they were accused of pointing out that there was another King – unlike Caesar. They were pointing out that Jesus is King of kings and that Caesar is subject to Jesus. This offended the people and was a punishable offense. Paul and Silas and the other believers were committed to Jesus as King and wanted the entire world to know that the resurrected Savior is also King. This message caused quite a stir, but it was true. This message is something our cities need to hear today – especially in our day of confused politics.
The answer to the problems today cannot be solved with another political leader or another political policy. The world needs Jesus. British columnist Matthew Parris, an avowed atheist, wrote an article (December 28th, 2008) titled, “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.” After returning home to his homeland in Africa after 45 years, he was stunned by what he discovered. He writes:
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
Yesterday I preached from Ephesians 2:1-6 on the subject of the new birth. What exactly does it mean to be born again? Paul answers this question with precision in the second chapter of Ephesians. As we look at the first ten verses of chapter two, it’s apparent that Paul defines the new birth in verses 1-6 and he points out the purpose of the new birth in verses 7-10.
The Misery of Life without Christ
In verse one, Paul uses three key words that provide us insight to the natural man before he comes to faith in Jesus Christ. These three words not only point to the misery of the unconverted life, but to the helpless condition of spiritual death.
- νεκρός – Dead = “being in a state of loss of life, dead… being so morally or spiritually deficient as to be in effect dead.”
- παράπτωμα – Trespasses = “a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin.”
- ἁμαρτία – Sin = “To miss the mark.”
Although unbelievers are very much alive and have a will to make decisions on a daily basis, they are dead spiritually. They trespass against God and willfully choose to sin. That comes natural to them. However, when Paul points out their spiritual death, he is pointing to their complete inability to choose God on their own volition. They would never come to faith in Christ on their own, because by nature they are rebels who love to sin and are controlled by the prince of the power of the air.
Our culture today is consumed with a love and affection for zombies. Why is it that adults are driving around in pick-up trucks in Atlanta that have been customized and prepared as zombie hunting vehicles? We turn on the television and find shows dedicated to zombies. What exactly is a zombie? A zombie is a figurative creature that’s a walking dead person with putrifying flesh, rotting flesh, and horrid smells. Although the corpse is dead, in many ways, it’s pictured walking around on a mission.
Before we came to faith in Jesus Christ, we were like zombies. We were the walking dead. We had a life full of everyday decisions to make, but those decisions were made out of a will in bondage to sin. Therefore, they were selfish decisions and sinful decisions—never did we make a decision to obey God and love Him out of our own natural state. That would be an utter impossibility as John 6:44 clearly teaches. Charles Spurgeon once said:
I might preach to you forever. I might borrow the eloquence of Demosthenes or of Cicero, but you will not come unto Christ. I might beg of you on my knees, with tears in my eyes, and show you the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven, the sufficiency of Christ, and your own lost condition, but you would none of you come unto Christ of yourselves unless the Spirit that rested on Christ should draw you. It is true of all men in their natural condition that they will not come unto Christ.” 
The Miracle of the New Birth
As Paul continues to describe the new birth, he points to the motive of God’s mercy. The whole idea that God looks through a vast tunnel of time to see the decisions of man in order to choose specific individuals to himself and then ultimately bring those people to faith in His Son does not make sense when compared with the descriptions in Scripture. For instance, in Titus 3:5, we see that we are saved by God, not based on any works of righteousness. The verse explains that God saved us according to His own mercy. Here in Ephesians 2:4-5, we see the same language. Paul points to the riches of God’s mercy as the motive of our salvation.
The miraculous aspect of the new birth is clearly seen in Ephesians 2:5 as Paul points out that it was God who literally raised us from the spiritual death and gave us life. We didn’t do this on our own. This was a miracle. Just as calling Lazarus from a tomb was a miracle, so it is each time a person comes to faith in Christ. It’s a spiritual resurrection.
- We were lost in our sin – but God.
- We were guilty in our transgressions – but God.
- We were helpless in our sins – but God.
- We were in the shackles of sin – but God.
- We were slaves to sin – but God.
- We were alienated from God – but God.
- We were at enmity with God – but God.
- We were the children of wrath – but God.
- We were the enemies of God – but God
- We were walking according to the passions of our flesh – but God.
- We were enjoying our depravity – but God.
- Sin was good to us…it tasted good…felt good…seemed good – but God.
If left in our natural state to make our own decisions about God and His saving grace, we would always choose to rebel against Him. We would be wandering away from God. That’s why we sing the wonderful hymn, Come Thou Fount:
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
May God be praised for saving wretched sinners who could never save themselves. That’s why John Newton titled his hymn, Amazing Grace.
- Charles Spurgeon, “Free Will a Slave,” Sword and Trowel.