The Awesome Jesus

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Comedian Brian Regan tells a story about people trying to one-up others with their stories. He explains that he has a “social fantasy” that he wishes he was one of the 12 people who have walked on the moon. How nice it must be, he says, that they can top any story!  

It’s one thing to read things, hear things, and even believe things, but it’s something completely different when you experience those things for yourself. 

The one with an experience…

  1. …is never at the mercy of the one with an argument 
  2. …gains the ear of others 
  3. …inspires others to desire a similar experience for themselves 

In the case of prayer, I feel bad for those who have heard that God no longer answers prayer, or no longer does the miraculous for His children. I have personally experienced God’s healing power as a direct result of someone praying for me. In fact, I’m alive today because of the prayers of my two grandmothers! 

When God answers prayer, it is awesome! 

The dictionary defines awesome with three main words: reverence, admiration, and fear. I think we can be a bit more specific with these definitions—

  • for saints: reverence 
  • for seekers: admiration 
  • for sinners: fear 

It is so important for Christians to personally experience the awesome deeds our God has done because we have prayed in the awesome name of Jesus! 

A.W. Tozer wrote, “There’s an awesomeness about God which is missing in our day altogether; there’s little sense of admiring awe in the Church of Christ these days.” 

I think this is because our prayers are too tame. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us about the powerful personal relationship we can have to Almighty God through Jesus Christ. His conclusion is, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29). 

When Christians pray in the awesome name of Jesus, and God does awesome things in response, the saints stand in reverent worship of Him. God told Moses, “The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you,” and David exclaimed, “You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds” (Exodus 34:10; Psalm 65:5). 

These awesome answers that we personally experience gain the attention and admiration of seekers. Again, David said, “Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind!” (Psalm 66:5). 

But God showing up in His awesome strength will also create fear in sinners. The prophet Joel said, “The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing” (Joel 2:11). The righteous judgment of God is awesome, but so is the love of God: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5). We need to use the awesomeness of God as a means to tell both sinners and seekers how they can know the awesome love of God.  

Remember that Tozer said “there’s little sense of admiring awe in the Church of Christ these days.” So I think we need to pray this, “God, forgive us for expectations of You that are too low.” 

I challenge you: 

  • Let’s pray bolder prayers this year to our awesome God. 
  • Let’s worship in reverence of His awesome deeds. 
  • Let’s create a sense of admiration in seekers which will lead them to reverence as saints. 
  • Let’s address the fear of sinners, and lead them to admiration as seekers, and to reverence as saints. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series on prayer called Awesome, you can find all of the messages by clicking here. 

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Sermon Prep 101

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

Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you My message (God speaking to Jeremiah).

Jesus was masterful in using visual illustrations—common, everyday things—to illustrate the biblical truth He wanted to teach. God does the same thing with Jeremiah. 

God instructs Jeremiah to simply go to the potter’s house and watch. Jeremiah obeyed: “I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working” (v. 3). It was after taking in this scene that God could speak to Jeremiah a sermon illustration. Jeremiah says, “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (v. 5). 

Not only did God help Jeremiah prepare his sermon with a visual illustration, but God also prepared Jeremiah for the follow up conversation. God knew how the people would respond to Jeremiah’s message, and He again gave him the words to speak ahead of time (vv. 12-17). 

God knows His sheep better than we do. He knows what they need to hear, and how best to make His message stick. Jesus said, 

“I have never spoken on My own authority or of My own accord or as self-appointed, but the Father Who sent Me has Himself given Me orders concerning what to say and what to tell. And I know that His commandment means eternal life. So whatever I speak, I am saying exactly what My Father has told Me to say and in accordance with His instructions.” (John 12:49-50 AMP) 

We pastors and evangelists dare not try to prepare a message on our own! 

Samuel Johnson prayed something that I pray every time I sit down to prepare a sermon: “Almighty God, my Heavenly Father, without Whose help labor is useless, without Whose light search is in vain, invigorate my studies.” 

Seeking God’s help in our sermon preparation should be our very first action every single time. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Beautiful Homegoing

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 AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Beautiful Homegoing

You shall come to the grave at full age, as a sheaf of grain ripens in its season. (Job 5:26) 

     The Christian’s death is always timely. ‘You shall come to the grave at full age. 

     ‘Ah,’ says one, ‘that is not true. Good people do not live longer than others. The most pious man may die in the prime of his youth.’ But look at my text. It does not say you will come to your grave in old age, but in a ‘full age.’ … All fruits do not get ripe and mellow at the same season. So it is with Christians. They are at a ‘full age’ when God chooses to take them home. … 

     There are two mercies to a Christian. The first is that he will never die too soon. And the second is that he will never die too late. … 

     ‘But,’ say some, ‘how useful might they have been had they lived.’ Ah, but how damaging they might have been! And were it not better to die than to do something afterward that would disgrace them and bring disgrace to the Christian character? Were it not better for them to sleep while their work was going on than to break it down afterward? … 

     Again, the Christian never dies too late. … God is too good a Husbandman to leave His wheat in the field too long and let it shale out. …  

     Now the last thing is that a Christian will die with honor. … I think there are two funerals for every Christian: one is the funeral of the body, and the other of the soul. Funeral, did I say, of the soul? No, I meant not so. I meant not so. It is a marriage of the soul. For as soon as it leaves the body, the angel reapers stand ready to carry it away. They may not bring a fiery chariot as they had for Elijah. But they have their broad spreading wings. I rejoice to believe that angels will come as convoys to the soul across the ethereal plains. … I think the most honorable and glorious thing we will ever behold, next to Christ’s entrance into heaven and His glory there, is the entrance of one of God’s people into heaven.

From The Death Of The Christian

As I mentioned last week, this sermon was so providential in its timing for me because my precious mother went Home to be with Jesus just days before I opened to this sermon from Charles Spurgeon. 

We are comforted by the promises Rev. Spurgeon shares because they are based on the truth in God’s Word. “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die” (Isaiah 57:1-2). 

At my Mom’s graveside committal service I shared this—

One of my favorite authors C.S. Lewis made a comment, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” 

This part that we called Claudia Owens was just the body that carried around who she really was. What a beautiful soul that we got to experience for 78 years. What shined through was so sweet and graceful and wonderful. What a glimpse we got! But a joy to know that it was only a glimpse. That the part of my Mom that was so beautiful that we got to see, was only a fraction of her full beauty! The part that was really her, that is at Home with her Savior Jesus now is shining in all its brilliance. … 

We will all miss her and we will grieve our loss. But as the apostle Paul reminded us, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. We know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We know that this body is sown perishable ravaged by the disease of cancer, but that my Mom is now in a place with no more tears or disease. We know that the same Savior that prepared a place for Claudia has prepared a place for us.

And we concluded with this prayer that can be offered up for every Christian who has died at their “full age”: 

Heavenly Father, 

We commit this body to the ground with the full assurance that her soul is in your everlasting presence. Holy Spirit, help us in our grief to be reminded of the hope of eternal life that we all share. Thank You, Jesus, for purchasing this hope on which we stand.

As I mentioned last week, if you don’t have this blessed assurance of the marriage of your soul when you take your last breath here on earth, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Rules Of Evidence

As I mentioned in my book review of David Limbaugh’s Jesus On Trial, he presents the evidence for the validity of the Bible and the historicity of Jesus Christ as if he were presenting a cae before the jury. As a trial begins, a judge will share with the jurors the rules for considering the evidence that is being presented. Here is a fantastic summary from Mr. Limbaugh—

“Applying the rules of evidence. … These rules are the ancient documents rules, the parole evidence rule, the hearsay rule, and the principle of cross-examination. 

“The common law ancient documents rule presumes a document is truthful unless it is self-contradictory, inaccurate, or there is internal evidence of text tampering. The one challenging the document generally shoulders the burden of proof. Unsolved problems or lack of clarity in the document don’t necessarily invalidate it as erroneous or unreliable. …

“The parole evidence rule provides that external, oral testimony or tradition will not be admitted into evidence to add to, subtract from, vary, or contradict an executed written instrument such as a will or a contract. This means the document, absent any applicable exceptions, will stand on its own. … 

“The hearsay rule precludes a witness from testifying as to what others may have said and, generally speaking, requires the witness to have firsthand knowledge of the matter to which he is testifying. As applied to the New Testament documents, this rule lends credence to New Testament authors who say they were eyewitnesses to the events they recorded. 

“The cross-examination principle holds that the more the testimony holds up once it is subjected to rigorous cross examination, the more credible we deem it to be, which, incidentally, is one reason for the hearsay rule, i.e., it excludes testimony from witnesses that can’t be subjected to cross-examination. … Law professor and historian John Warwick Montgomery, who rigorously applied all these evidentiary rules to an examination of the Bible, finds the witnesses who were challenged to confirm having witnessed Jesus’ resurrected body did so ‘in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case of Christianity’ had such accounts been contradicted by the facts. 

Josh McDowell summarizes Montgomery’s approach to New Testament examination as giving the document the benefit of the doubt, which is another way of saying the burden of proof is on the critic or challenger. So, Montgomery writes, ‘One must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradiction or known factual inaccuracies.’ Applying this approach and similar ones, McDowell argues that we can’t just assume that what appears to be a difficult passage constitutes a valid argument against it. We must be sure we correctly understand the passage using accepted rules of interpretation.”

I present some evidence for the inspiration and validty of the Bible in these two posts: The inspiration of Scripture and Can we really know if the Bible is God’s Word?

Heart Rate Recovery

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

A few years ago Mark Schultz wrote a song about someone living a go-go-go, overly-busy life and he entitled the song “Running just to catch myself.” Ever been there? 

There’s a Hebrew word that shows up 70 times in the Bible (mostly in the Psalms) that, sadly, many English translations of the Bible have relegated to a footnote. That’s too bad because Selah is such a powerful word. Unless we want to live our lives “running just to catch myself,” we all need a take time to Selah. Look how some have translated this word:

  • “Stop there and consider a little” (Matthew Henry) 
  • “the sacred pause” (Charles Spurgeon) 
  • “pause and calmly think of that” (AMP) 

Whether it’s a planned exercise time or just something that frightens or excites us, our heart rate is designed by God to increase—this is how we prepare for fight-or-flight. Doctors say that one of the most vital statistics they now look at to gauge overall cardio health is heart rate recovery (HRR). Doctors want to see a significant increase in HRR after exercise, fright, or excitement. 

A few of the factors that boost HRR:

  • Regular, planned exercise 
  • Getting the proper amount of quality sleep 
  • Reducing stress 

Respond-and-recover is part of a health-building cycle. But if we’re “running just to catch myself” all the time, this time of recovery isn’t happening. Not only are we not recovering well, but we are not properly prepared for the next time our heart needs to start beating faster.   

This HRR is just as vital for us emotionally and spiritually as it is physically: We cannot always be stressed or always be “on.” We need a Selah—a time to stop and consider, a time to take a sacred pause to calmly think. 

This is what David teaches us in Psalm 68. Check out the “bookend verses” where he reminds us that when God arises His enemies are scattered, and that God is awesome and He gives power and strength to His people (vv. 1, 35). And look a the middle verse where David says that when God ascends in victory He gives gifts (v. 18). 

This tells me two things: (1) God is sovereignly in charge (not me or anyone else), and (2) In His love, God delights to use His sovereign power to bless His children. 

The question is not IF I’m going to be confronted by difficult things or difficult people, but HOW will I recover from these confrontations? 

May I suggest a 3-step process to increase your spiritual HRR? 

  1. Acknowledge your situation—don’t try to cover it up or justify it 
  2. Selah—pause to take a deep breath  
  3. During that breath, redirect your thoughts from the difficulty to your awesome God (see 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-8)

Look at David’s example in this psalm:

Reflect Worship
God defeats enemies (vv. 1-2) Be glad, rejoice, sing (vv. 3-4)
God is a Father and Deliverer (vv. 5-7) Selah (v. 7)
God is sovereignly in control (vv. 8-18) Praise and Selah (v. 19)
God defeated Death (vv. 20-23) Join the procession of worshippers (vv. 24-27) 
God uses His strength to care for His people (vv. 28-31) Sing praises and Selah (vv. 32-35)

As you breathe deeply in this worship of recovery, think on this: “Your sigh can move the heart of Jehovah; your whisper can incline His ear to you; your prayer can stay His hand; your faith can move His arm.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Our Selah pause leads to proper perspective, which allows us to recover more quickly. That, in turn, helps us to be better prepared for the next time we’re confronted by difficulties. 

To check out the other lessons we’ve learned in our ongoing series called Selah, please check out the list I’ve compiled here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Value The Scriptures

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.

Value The Scriptures

     John wrote to believers, ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God’ (1 John 5:13). It is worthy of note that all the Epistles are so written. … 

     We do not wonder that certain men do not receive the Epistles, for they were not written to them. … Here is a will and you begin to read it. But you do not find it interesting. It is full of words and terms that you do not take the trouble to understand because they have no relation to yourself. But should you, in reading that will, come upon a clause in which an estate is left to you, I guarantee you that the nature of the whole document will seem changed to you.

You will be anxious now to understand the terms and to make sure of the clauses, and you will even wish to remember every word of the clause that refers to yourself. O dear friends, you may read the testament of our Lord Jesus Christ as a testament of love to yourselves, and then you will prize it beyond all the writings of the sages. … 

     But as these things are written to believers, believers ought especially to make themselves acquainted with them and to search into their meaning and intent. … Do not, I beseech you, neglect to read what the Holy Spirit has taken care to write to you. …  

     Value the Scriptures. … The saint can say, ‘Oh, how I love Your law!’ (Psalm 119:97). If we cannot say so, something is wrong with us. If we have lost our relish for Holy Scripture, we are out of condition and need to pray for spiritual health.

From The Blessing Of Full Assurance 

The Bible is God’s love letter to you. I love what Smith Wigglesworth said about the Word of God: 

“Never compare this Book with other books. Comparisons are dangerous. Never think or say that this Book contains the Word of God. It is the Word of God. It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, infinite in scope, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, inspired in totality. Read it through. Write it down. Pray it in. Work it out. And then pass it on.”

I spent a whole week blogging about my favorite Book. You can check out those posts by clicking here. In the meantime, let me encourage you in the strongest possible terms: Make the time to read your Bible every single day. Doing so will totally transform your life!

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(Im)Patiently Waiting?

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I waited patiently for the Lord … You are my God, do not delay (Psalm 40:1, 17). 

These bookend verses—the first and last verses of the 40th Psalm—are humorous to me. I wonder: Is David saying something like, “I’ve waited long enough, c’mon, God, let’s get moving”? 

Not exactly.

The first part of this psalm is a backward look that recounts all that God has already done for David: He heard me, He lifted me out of a pit, He set me on a firm place, He put a new song in my mouth (vv. 1-3). While the end of this psalm is David’s anticipation of what is still to come: the enemies of God turned back, and the saints of God rejoicing in His deliverance (vv. 11-17). 

The backward look in gratitude fuels the forward look in expectant hope.

In the meantime, in the middle of this psalm—between the backward look and the forward look—David is living as a testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness:

  • many will see how God has delivered me and put their trust in Him 
  • I speak of Your deeds 
  • I listen to You and proclaim what You speak to me 
  • I do not hide Your righteousness 
  • I speak of Your faithfulness (vv. 3-16) 

This is a good lesson for us: Our continual praise and proclamation of God’s goodness is what connects our gratitude to our hope!

So in looking at these bookends verses again, I think that what David is saying is something like, “Father, I have so many good things already to say about how You have provided for me, so do not delay in moving again so that I have even more to share with others! Let many see Your hand on my life so that they too may learn to fear and trust You. Amen.” 

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Persistent And Insistent Prayer

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When I first began this series on prayer, I challenged all of us to make prayer a habit. I suggested putting up “Have I prayed about it?” Post-It Notes all over the place to get us thinking about prayer continually. 

“Have I prayed about it?” is a great start. But then I need to ask, “How long have I prayed about it?” or maybe even, “How long am I willing to pray about it?” 

Thomas Merton wrote, “What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” In other words, why do we go through the motions of praying and then strike out on our own? Or why do we pray for a little bit and then think, “Oh, perhaps God isn’t interested in this prayer”? 

In Romans 12:12, the apostle Paul challenged us to never stop praying:

  • faithful in prayer (NIV) 
  • constant in prayer (AMP) 
  • prayerful always (TLB) 
  • continuing steadfastly (NKJV) 

This verb emphasizes the –ing part. Even though this is a verb, it’s what is known as a “verbal noun”: the noun pray is the same thing as the verb praying. 

This Greek word is defined as: devoted, giving unremitting care to something, being courageous in perseverance, and staying at constant readiness. I would sum it up this way—

Prayer that is both persistent and insistent! 

When Jesus teaches us that the motive for our prayer is, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” He is also implying that this requires continuous—persistent and insistent—involvement. With every prayer, we are persistently and insistently advancing God’s Kingdom and God’s glory. 

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is of a persistent and insistent mother. Her daughter was in desperate need, and she simply would not take “no” for an answer. She insistently kept asking Jesus for a miraculous touch, and Jesus finally said, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

I’m also moved by the insistent and persistent prayer of Nehemiah. He prayed, “Give Your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of [King Artaxerxes].” He prayed this every day for over 4 months. The king finally noticed Nehemiah’s downcast face, asked him what was wrong, and then “because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.”  

Nehemiah kept praying for 120 days or more, believing every day God would open the door of favor. In the meantime, God was moving things into place so that when Artaxerxes finally noticed Nehemiah’s downcast face, and Nehemiah shared what was on his heart, the king granted every single request! 

Friends, don’t be timid in your prayers and don’t give up praying. P.U.S.H.—Pray Until Something Happens. Pray for God’s glory to be seen, for His kingdom to advance on earth, and for His will to be done. 

Prayer starts it, prayer sustains it, prayer successfully concludes it! 

Let me say it again: DON’T STOP PRAYING! 

If you missed any of the messages in our Be A First Responder series, you may access all of them by clicking here.

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Standing In The Gap

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Pastors and other Christian leaders, this is from the Maxwell Leadership Bible and it’s well worth your time to contemplate. 

“God contrasts the poor leader with the godly leader in Ezekiel 22. The poor leader oppresses and destroys his or her followers, while the godly leader ‘stands in the gap’ on behalf of the land and the people. These leaders represent God to the people, and represent the people to God. They serve as ‘middle-men,’ serving God and serving the needs of the people. This text describes ten traits of the leader God affirms:

    1. Consecration: They set themselves apart and remain committed to their call.
    2. Discipline: They do what is right even when it is difficult.
    3. Servanthood: They model a selfless life, lived for the benefit of others.
    4. Vision: They see what God sees and live off the power of potential.
    5. Compassion: Love for their cause and their people moves them to action.
    6. Trustworthiness: They keep their word regardless of what others do.
    7. Decisiveness: They make good decisions in a timely manner.
    8. Wisdom: They think like God thinks and avoid impetuous moves.
    9. Courage: They take risks for what is right.
    10. Passion: They demonstrate enthusiasm for their divine calling.” —John Maxwell

Check out what God Himself says:

“Your princes plot conspiracies just as lions stalk their prey. They devour innocent people, seizing treasures and extorting wealth. They make many widows in the land. Your priests have violated My instructions and defiled My holy things. They make no distinction between what is holy and what is not. And they do not teach My people the difference between what is ceremonially clean and unclean. They disregard My Sabbath days so that I am dishonored among them. Your leaders are like wolves who tear apart their victims. They actually destroy people’s lives for money! And your prophets cover up for them by announcing false visions and making lying predictions. They say, ‘My message is from the Sovereign Lord,’ when the Lord hasn’t spoken a single word to them. Even common people oppress the poor, rob the needy, and deprive foreigners of justice. I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:25-30 NLT)

Pastor, will you be that righteous one who will stand in the gap? Will you stand strong against the onslaught of sin and a compromising culture? Will you be a leader that God can use?

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12 Lessons From The Good Samaritan

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Dwight Moody was passionate about telling others how they could have a relationship with Jesus. In his book To The Work! he encourages other Christians to share this passion with him, and he counters any hesitations that Christians have to this work. Using the story Jesus told about the good Samaritan, Moody made these noteworthy observations: 

“Some people seem to think that all the world needs is a lot of sermons. Why, the people of this land have been almost preached to death. What we want is to preach more sermons with our hands and feet—to carry the Gospel to the people by acts of kindness. … 

“The Jews considered that the Samaritans had no souls; that when they died they would be annihilated. Their graves would be so deep that not even the sound of Gabriel’s trump would wake them on the resurrection morning. He was the only man under heaven who could not become a proselyte to the Jewish faith, and become a member of the Jewish family. …  

“You observe there are twelve things mentioned in the narrative that the Samaritan did. We can dismiss in a word all that the priest and the Levite did—they did nothing.

(1.) He ‘came to where he was.’ 

(2.) He ‘saw him;’ he did not, like the priest, pass by on the other side. 

(3.) He ‘had compassion on him.’ If we would be successful winners of souls we, too, must be moved with compassion for the lost and the perishing. We must sympathize with men in their sorrows and troubles, if we would hope to gain their affections and to do them good. 

(4.) He ‘went to him.’ The Levite went toward him, but we are told that he, as well as the priest, ‘passed by on the other side.’ 

(5.) He ‘bound up his wounds.’ Perhaps he had to tear up his own garments in order to bind them up. 

(6.) He poured in oil and gave some wine to the fainting man. 

(7.) He ‘set him on his own beast.’ Do you not think that this poor Jew must have looked with gratitude and tenderness on the Samaritan, as he was placed on the beast, while his deliverer walked by his side? All the prejudice in his heart must have disappeared long before they got to the end of their journey. 

(8.) He ‘brought him to an inn.’ 

(9.) He ‘took care of him.’ … 

(10.) When he departed on the morrow, the good Samaritan asked the host to care for him. 

(11.) He gave him some money to pay the bill. 

(12.) He said: ‘Whatever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’ …  

“Do you want to know how you can reach the masses? Go to their homes and enter into sympathy with them; tell them you have come to do them good, and let them see that you have a heart to feel for them. When they find out that you really love them, all those things that are in their hearts against God and against Christianity will be swept out of the way.” 

To read my full book review of To The Work!, please click here. You can also check out some other quotes that I have shared from this book by clicking here. 

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