Prayer (book review)

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John Bunyan was in prison for refusing to bow to the dictates of the ecclesiastical rulers of England, but prison could not silence his pen. Before writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Bunyan said came to him in a dream, he wrote two manuscripts on prayer which can only have come from a visit to a much more substantial heavenly realm. 

Prayer is actually two books written in the mid-seventeenth century. The first book is A Discourse Touching Prayer in which Bunyan dives deep on the apostle Paul’s desire, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The second book is The Saints’ Privilege And Profit, which is a deep dive into the idea of “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:15). 

When I say “deep dive” I mean that John Bunyan gives us a masters’ level course on prayer! This is not reading for a new Christian nor for someone who merely utters a superficial prayer here and there. These books are for the mature Christian who is dissatisfied with their current level of prayer and longs for a deeper level of intimacy in communion with our Heavenly Father. 

Let me reiterate that Bunyan wrote these books from jail. Not exactly the idyllic setting for contemplation, nor an environment for pious platitudes that are reserved for the serene time of prayer in a place of comfort. Just imagine: Bunyan uses just one verse from the Bible for each of these works, and then keeps drilling down and down into the immeasurable riches that are found in our relationship with God. 

If you’re ready to take your prayer to an entirely new and more intimate place, spend some time with your Bible and these two short books from John Bunyan. 

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The Sin Of Man, The Salvation Of Jesus

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“Jesus is risen indeed!” This is the glorious good news that Christians around the world celebrate. 

But good news is really only good news when you fully realize how bad the bad news was. Like when the doctor comes in to tell you, “You’re going to be fine,” and you breathe a sigh of relief. And then the doctor goes on to explain what your condition was and all of the heroic efforts that were undertaken on your behalf, and you realize how close to death you actually were that your sigh of relief turns into a shout of joy! 

The resurrection of Jesus is the good news that brings us eternal life. But instead of merely breathing a sigh of relief thinking, “I shall not perish but have everlasting life,” let’s take a look at how close we were to everlasting death. 

Our fourth foundational belief says: “Man was created good and upright…. However, man by voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical death but also spiritual death, which is separation from God.” 

Adam and Eve were given a choice: they were able not to sin and they were able to sin. God gave them dominion over everything in His creation but themselves, and He made them to be personally and intimately connected with Himself. But satan tempted them to take dominion over themselves, saying that they would become like God.

They sinned. “And sure enough, they then had knowledge of good and evil, but it was from the standpoint of becoming evil and remembering how good they once were,” said Nancy Guthrie. Because they sinned, now all of us are unable not to sin. Why? Because no one has been able to demonstrate to us how to be able not to sin. 

Their sin had consequences for them that have extended to us:

  • they felt shame at their vulnerability before God
  • they were fearful to be in God’s presence 
  • they were separated from God  
  • and they doomed all of us to live an utterly meaningless existence forever! 

But Adam and Eve’s sin didn’t send God scrambling for a remedy. Our fifth foundational truth says: “Man’s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” 

Jesus turned the absolutely worst news into the most eternally, overwhelmingly good news ever! 

Jesus was made the cure for sin from before the foundation of the world. God made Jesus to be our sin (not just to carry our sins). In order for this to happen, Jesus had to become human like us. That means that Jesus, like Adam and Eve, had the same choice to sin or to not sin but He did not sin. This allowed Him to be our perfect sacrifice on the Cross. 

When He died on the Cross, Jesus removed the uncrossable abyss between us and God. Jesus made it possible once again for us to be able not to sin. Not only that, but Jesus covers the shame that would linger even after our sin is forgiven by clothing us in His own righteousness! 

(check out all of the biblical references for the above points by clicking here)

Sin had us doomed to not only a meaningless existence on earth, but also to an utterly meaningless existence for the eternity following death. Jesus became our sin to allow us to be reunited with God and reclothed in Christ’s righteousness. This is not just good news, it’s eternally, overwhelmingly good news! 

If you’ve missed the discussion of any of our other foundational truths, you may access the full list by clicking here.

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Resurrection Appearances Of Jesus

Jesus gave us ample evidence of His bodily resurrection. This is a recreation of a chart found in The Quest Study Bible:I also previously shared an infographic from The Infographic Bible. The historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is firmly established making it a historically verifiable event.

Poetry Saturday—Depth Of Mercy

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Depth of mercy! can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

Kindled His relentings are:
Me He now delights to spare;
Cries, “How shall I give thee up?”
Lets the lifted thunder drop.

There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is Love; I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps, but loves me still. ―Charles Wesley

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“My God, My God”

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Jesus has been hanging on the Cross silently for three hours. And now He gathers His strength for four final statements that all come in pretty close proximity. His first three dying declarations have been declarations of love:

But now comes a word of sheer, unparalleled agony. A word from a heart that is experiencing the depths of betrayal and pain that has never been known—or even approached—in all of human history: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani! (Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:33-34)

Does this sound like a good Friday message: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? 

This is the only one of the seven dying declarations of Jesus that Matthew and Mark record, and they do it nearly identically: 

  • It’s spoken in the everyday language of the people: Aramaic 
  • It’s translated into the worldwide language of business and literature: Greek 
  • It’s a direct quotation of Hebrew Scripture 

This is a word for everyone: Jews and Greek, nobles and commoners, religious people and pagans. 

This dying declaration comes from words taken directly from Psalm 22. David wrote this psalm 1000 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, but note the amazing accuracy in the despicable treatment of Jesus, gambling for Christ’s clothes, even the crucifixion itself (which was unknown in David’s time), and then there’s the heart-wrenching cry My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?  

Matthew and Mark say Jesus “cried out.” This can mean a cry of joy or a cry of pain. They also record that He cried out with “a loud voice.” The Greek words here will sound very familiar even to English ears—“loud” is the word megas, and “voice” is the word phoné. Literally: Jesus raised a megaphone voice to make sure everyone heard His cry! 

Remember that cried out can either be a cry of joy or of pain? Which one was it? You could make the case that it is both of these meanings. But there is a third way of using this word: a cry for help. 

Jesus is about to take a plunge. He is about to descend deeper than anyone else ever has. He is about to voluntarily go into Hell itself. This megaphone cry is His battlecry before storming the gates of Hell! 

Christ’s megaphone battlecry was heard in Hell and in Heaven as Jesus descended to decisively defeat hell, death, and the grave! Make no mistake, Jesus undoubtedly won that battle! That same descriptive word megas is also used for… 

  • …the stone in front of His grave is a megas stone 
  • …the earthquake that rolled away that stone on Resurrection morning was a megas earthquake 
  • …the joy of Christ’s friends at seeing the tomb empty was a megas joy 
  • …the trumpet sound at Christ’s Second Coming when He returns to earth as the Conquering King will be a megas blast, and His shout a megaphone cry (Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)! 

Jesus went to the deepest depths to take us to the highest heights! 

His megaphone declaration from the Cross on Good Friday was a cry of pain over our sin, a battlecry as He stormed the gates of Hell, and a cry of joy over His coming victory! 

So now we can say, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Oh yeah, you don’t have one because my Savior has totally defeated you!” 

If you’ve missed any of the other dying declarations of Jesus from the Cross, you may access the full list by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—An Important Distinction

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

An Important Distinction

     Many had been the good works of Abram. It was a good work to leave his country and his father’s house at God’s bidding. It was a good work to separate from Lot in so noble a spirit. It was a good work to follow after the robber-kings with undaunted courage. It was a grand work to refuse to take the spoils of Sodom and to lift up his hand to God that he would not take a thread even to a shoelace. It was a holy work to give to Melchizedek tithes of all that he possessed and to worship the Most High God.

     Yet none of these are mentioned in the text, nor is there a hint given of any other sacred duties as the ground or cause, or part cause, of his justification before God. No, it is said, ‘And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). … 

     If there is salvation for the dying thief and others like him, it cannot be of debt, but of grace, seeing they have no good works! If Abram, when full of good works, is not justified by them, but by his faith, how much more we, being full of imperfections, must come to the throne of the heavenly grace and ask that we may be justified by faith that is in Christ Jesus and saved by the free mercy of God! …  

     Always distinguish between the truth of God that living faith always produces works, and the lie that faith and works cooperate to justify the soul. We are made righteous only by an act of faith in the work of Jesus Christ. That faith, if true, always produces holiness of life. But our being righteous before God is not because of our holiness in life in any degree or respect, but simply because of our faith in the divine promise [Romans 4:22-25]. 

From Justification By Faith

“I’ve been made righteous in God’s sight SO THAT I can live a holy life” is vastly different from “I’m living a holy life SO THAT I can be made righteous in God’s sight.” 

None of our good works—no matter how many we do—will ever wipe the slate clean of our sins. It’s an impossibility! That is why faith in the work of Jesus on the Cross is vital. It’s my faith in His substitutionary work that has canceled the record of my sins and made me holy before God, SO THAT now I am free to live out that holy life! 

What freedom there is in allowing our living faith to overflow into our loving deeds! Our holy living is our thankful worship to God for His precious gift of Jesus. 

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The Fame Of God’s Name

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

In You, Lord, I have taken refuge … Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Psalm 31:1, 24). 

The bookend verses of Psalm 31 speak to the security we have when we are IN God: “IN You and all you who hope IN the Lord.” 

Jesus taught us to pray for Our Father’s name to be hallowed—for His fame to be as great on earth as it is in heaven. Those who are called CHRISTians literally carry the name of Christ IN themselves everywhere they go. Granted, there are some who will carry the name but not the character of Christ. To those people, Jesus will one day say, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.”  

But for those Jesus does know—those who carry IN themselves both the name and the character of Christ, those who have made their place IN God their utter dependence—there are amazing blessings that hallow God’s name. David lists blessings like:

  • being free from shame
  • answers to prayer
  • guidance 
  • deliverance from entrapments 
  • stores of abundantly good things 
  • protection from slander
  • preserved for all of eternity

God will cause His name to be hallowed and glorified through those who remain IN Him. We are not only recipients of His favor, but we also become conduits of His favor that make His name as great on earth as it is in Heaven! 

Thanks be to Jesus who has made us accepted in the Beloved, and has taken us IN Himself so that we can remain IN the Father (Ephesians 1:6; John 14:20)! Father, I pray that You will always find me IN You so that You can glorify Your name THROUGH me. Amen! 

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Podcast: Apathy Vs. Passion

On this episode of “The Craig And Greg Show” we talk about: 

  • the first in our series of leadership builders and killers
  • Craig goes negative right away!  
  • the danger with apathy is that you don’t know that you don’t care—Greg says apathy is a nebulizer
  • the value of an honest, loving friend
  • it takes a lot more energy to get to a boiling point than it does to keep your passion at the boiling point  
  • apathy is “have to” but passion is “get to”
  • Greg likes to exchange heartstorming for brainstorming
  • Craig talks about the warning signs for leaders, and how to build passion-fueling activities into our daily agendas 
  • good feelings follow good actions
  • leaders need to be the thermostats for their team

Check out this episode and subscribe on YouTube so you can watch all of the upcoming episodes. You can also listen to our podcast on Spotify and Apple.

His Last Bow (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

They say all good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it! Arthur Conan Doyle had attempted many times to stop writing Sherlock Holmes stories, but the reading public kept clamoring for more. At last, Doyle brought them an epilogue entitled His Last Bow. 

Readers of my blog may recall that I seldom read fiction books, but there are two notable exceptions to that rule: One of them is Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Although I hated to come to the end of these great stories, Doyle did some unusual things in this set of memoirs that I hadn’t read before, so it really kept me on my toes. 

For instance, in one story, Holmes solves the entire case while lying sick in his bed. And in the final story, Doyle uses a device never before seen in his great detective stories: he told the story not as he usually does in first person through Dr. John Watson, but in third person through an unnamed observer. There are a couple of other twists in these stories that careful Sherlock Holmes readers will probably catch as well. 

All in all, His Last Bow was a very enjoyable final send-off for the world’s greatest detective. 

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“Dear Woman”

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The crucifixion of Jesus lasted about six hours. This was mercifully short compared to what typically happened to crucifixion victims. It was hard enough for Jesus to get enough air just to breathe, let alone enough air to talk, so His words are few but precious! From 9:00 until about noon, He speaks three times; from noon until about 3:00, He has no recorded words; at 3:00 there are four final statements that come pretty close together. 

As Jesus speaks His final declaration before wordlessly suffering for the next three hours, let’s take a look at who was there. They were people who deeply cared about Jesus, and people about whom Jesus deeply cared: His mother, His aunt, the mother of one of His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and His beloved disciple John. 

Also notable was who wasn’t present on Golgotha: none of Christ’s siblings or other close relatives. 

This last word from Jesus before His long silence was an incredibly loving word. As the oldest of His siblings, and with His earthly father Joseph dead, Jesus had head-of-the-household responsibilities, especially the care of His mother Mary. 

When Jesus speaks to her, He says, “Dear woman.” This is a term of kindness, respect, and endearment. To both His mother and to John, there is a Greek word that is omitted in some English translations of the Bible: Behold. Since Christ’s words were at a premium, this word was Jesus saying, “Listen very closely. Pay careful attention to this important word I’m about to speak.” 

To His mother, Jesus says, “Dear woman, behold your son.” Jesus was saying, here is one on whom you can depend. And to His dear friend Jesus says, “Behold your mother.” Literally, Jesus was asking John to care for Mary as though she were his own biological mother. 

Think about the dying declarations we’ve already heard. To those who treated Him so horribly, Jesus said, Father, forgive them.” This was a word of forgiveness that required agape love. To the hardened criminal crucified next to Him, Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” This was a word of salvation that also required agape love. 

Agape love is only possible in a regenerated heart. It’s an utterly selfless love that Jesus described this way: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To forgive the unforgivable, to grant salvation to a lifelong criminal, takes the other-worldly agape love. We expect this from Jesus. 

But there are two other loves in this scene. When Jesus says, “Dear woman,” He is expressing this natural love of son to mother. This Greek love is labeled storgé. C.S. Lewis calls this “the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves.” To His dear friend John, Jesus speaks a word of philos love. C.S. Lewis says philos is “the love between friends as close as siblings in strength and duration [and] the least natural of loves.” 

Jesus cared deeply for His mother and He deeply trusted His friend John. This tells me an important truth: Jesus doesn’t just care about spiritual things. 

In fact, there isn’t anything that you care about that Jesus doesn’t feel too: “He had to be made like [us] fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17). 

Sadly, I think we frequently hold on to some cares because we think they are too small or too insignificant—or maybe “unspiritual”—so we think they are unworthy of Christ’s attention. Let me say it again: There isn’t anything that you care about that Jesus doesn’t feel too! 

Jesus intercedes before the Father’s throne of grace on our behalf. He knows exactly what to ask for because He experienced all of our earthly pains Himself. Then the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us the love and strength we need (see Hebrews 4:14-16; Romans 5:5). 

When Jesus showed us His full love—storgé, philos, and agape—He made it possible for us to fulfill His command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Jesus showed every kind of love so that we can live every kind of love! As we live as love-filled people, we show others the path to Christ’s love for their own love-starved hearts. 

Jesus spoke this loving declaration from the Cross to show us that His love covers any need that we have to encounter. Let me repeat it again so that you don’t forget it: There isn’t anything that you care about that Jesus doesn’t feel too!

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series on the dying declarations of Jesus from the Cross, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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