Pray with boldness!


How often do we pray with boldness?  No, I mean with real boldness…?

Do we ask God for big things, as opposed to routine things?  Do we ask God to take the battle right to the enemy, or to win great victories for His church?

Are our prayers full of the request that His will be done and are they self-less?

For most of us, when we pray our prayers tend to center on what we want and they often don’t really go all that far, but those aren’t really the kinds of prayers you see in the Bible, for there, prayers tend to be directed towards God’s purposes and they seek great deeds.

Save me, O God, by your name;
    vindicate me by your might.
 Hear my prayer, O God;
    listen to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 54:1-2

Here are words of boldness, of purpose and words asking for great victories.  If you go on to read the verses that follow, you might at first think that requests are being made for selfish reasons when the speaker is asking for his enemies to be taken care of, but when we remember that the speaker is David and that his enemies are also God’s enemies and that they are in opposition to God’s purpose, it becomes clear that he is asking God to sustain him while advancing God’s purpose; and he isn’t meek and mild about the request; he is confident in his position.

We, too as Christians should be confident in our position with God when we pray, always remembering that God’s purpose is the central force that is important.

There is nothing on this earth that concerns the devil more than a believer in prayer, for it is at that time that the power of God is made manifest.  A believer at prayer, praying bold prayers for God’s will and purpose is like a catalyst that sets free the power of Victory in battle!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: March 18, 2018

Title: Jesus Arrives in Jerusalem

Text: John 12:12-19

It was a day to remember; there had never been anything quite like it before. Oh, Jesus had been to Jerusalem before, but not like this, you see, His time had finally come. This would not be like the other times He had been there, He wouldn’t appear on the scene and then slip out of town, let’s not make any mistake about that!

When the people heard that He was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover, there was electricity in the air. They had heard all about what had happened recently when He brought Lazarus forth from the tomb; some had even been there to see it. Nobody had ever done that before!

Everybody knew that their King was on His way, their King who had been promised by God to deliver His people from the Roman occupation, and with God behind Him, how could they lose?

Yes sir, the Messiah was on His way, and everybody went out to greet Him.

He rode in on a donkey, and while that may seem odd to us, for the people who were there on that remarkable day it was the sign of a king who comes in peace; hadn’t Solomon done the same thing? They waved their branches, they put them in His path, some even tossed their cloaks in the road… and they shouted:


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

God was about to save them from the Romans and restore Israel to the glory of old. Oh yes, it was a glorious day!

Even His disciples believed this to be true. John tells us that they did not understand what was really happening…

There were Pharisees in the crowd, there always seemed to be Pharisees in the crowd. They were not pleased with what they saw on that great day; something had to be done about it. To be fair to them, the Pharisees and the other Jewish leaders had much to be concerned about with Jesus. First of all, He was a threat to their lofty positions; He didn’t really seem to want to go along with the way things were done. Second, they were in a precarious position with the Roman authorities. The Romans were successful as an Empire because they allowed a certain amount of home rule in their provinces. As long as there were no insurrections, and as long as the locals accepted their authority and paid their taxes, the Romans would pretty much leave the locals alone, but if these conditions were not met, the Romans would crush the locals with a brutality seldom before seen. If Jesus encouraged the people to mount a revolt against the Romans, all Judea would be destroyed, and the Jewish authorities were not about to let that happen.

‘So, the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”’ They had tried to be lenient, they had let Jesus slip away several times, but this time they were determined to put a stop to this once and for all.


Luke’s View of Events

In these verses, Luke tells the same story that John told in John 12. Even though they both tell the same story, they differ slightly, as does any story when told by two different people. John tells us of how the disciples didn’t understand what was happening when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem; Luke doesn’t mention that, but then John was one of the disciples and was in a position to know what they were all thinking; Luke wasn’t there. Yet Luke is able to show us why the Pharisees were so concerned.

Let’s go back to Jesus entering Jerusalem; He’s on the donkey colt, the people are shouting and waving their branches when you can hear rising up from the crowd:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)

Do you see the problem?

“Blessed is the king who comes…”

The Romans are not going to like that, and the Pharisees have good reason to fear their reaction. Let’s be honest, and once again, fair about the Pharisees; they might be religious jerks who were overly impressed with themselves and all that. You might not like them very much, but they weren’t stupid! Their political situation was a very real danger for everybody in Jerusalem, so they said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

Looking at the situation from their point of view, I can’t say that I blame them for this. Jesus was having none of it, however. His reply to their request is classic Jesus, whose agenda is so far removed from what everyone else expects…

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (19:40)

The whole of Creation had been waiting for the day to come when the Messiah would ride into God’s Holy City, and that glorious day had finally arrived; this was not the sort of thing that could be hushed up.

Everybody knew when the Messiah was to come, the prophet Daniel had given them a timeline for His coming, and that’s why the Gospels are full of speculations about His coming, and of all people, the Pharisees would have known better than anyone, but there was a problem in all of this. The problem of course, was one of theological understanding, for their understanding of the Kingdom of God was based upon a false premise.

For the three years leading up to this climactic moment, Jesus had traveled the countryside preaching the Kingdom. Before that, John the Baptist had prepared His way. Jesus was the very embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and where ever He went, He preached the Kingdom, healed the sick, made the lame walk, restored sight to the blind, chased out demons… and made the authorities nervous. No one had ever taught as He taught, no one had ever done the things that He had done, and it would seem that no one quite comprehended what He was doing. Luke gives us a clue in the verses that follow…

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Luke 19:41-44

Imagine for a moment that you were Jesus. You’ve been preaching the Kingdom and performing miracles for three years; the people have followed you. Your time has finally come to enter Jerusalem in triumph as the King sent by God your Father to His own. The people have come out to welcome you, to cheer you, to praise God for you. You ride up the hill to where you can see your great city stretched out in the distance… and you say this?

Hold on a minute! You are the conquering hero sent by God to sweep the Romans before you, restore Israel to greatness and rule her as a mighty King, right? Haven’t you been telling everyone that the Kingdom of God was at hand?

I wonder… did the crowds know about this?

In due course, these words came to pass.

The disciples later understood that Jesus never had any intention to re-establish Israel to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon, for having an earthly kingdom within the pantheon of nations of this world was never God’s objective: No, not ever.

It would seem that there was a major disconnect between God’s purpose and the way the people understood God’s Kingdom. The understanding held by the people of that time, and frankly, many today as well, has much more to do with what they wanted from God, than it ever did with what God wanted. The people wanted to be free of Rome and go back to the way it used to be, but then how well had that ever worked?

God, on the other hand, wanted relationship with purpose, and sent Jesus to make that happen, and that is exactly what Jesus did: The people who cheered Him when He arrived in town that day had no concept of this, but that was about to change.

The next time we see Jesus in Jerusalem, He is chasing the money changers out of the Temple. Then we see Him teaching in the Temple and being under attack from the Jewish leaders. He defeats every attack and then He goes on the offensive, passing judgment against their whole way of doing things. After that, He is arrested on trumped-up charges, and many of those same people who shouted “Hosanna” when he arrived were now shouting “crucify”, for Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted.

His disciples were stunned and dismayed, the Jewish leaders were on the verge of victory, but there was still one man who stood in their way, and in one of history’s greatest ironies, that man might have been the only guy in town who understood the real nature of the Kingdom of God…


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Idolatry, Eating and Love

1 Corinthians 8

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. (8”1-3)

With these verses, Paul begins the next section of the letter, which runs through 11:1. For best results, we need to keep in mind as we go through the section that it is indeed three chapters in length with three subsections; more about that as we continue. Of course, we can easily see the shift in topic in verse 1, which will remind us of Paul’s structure as we have seen in multiple times before now.

He begins this section in an interesting way, with a contrast between “knowledge” and “love”: But knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1n). This is the dominant thought of the chapter and is reinforced by verses 2-3.

 Paul makes the point that an idol, representing a pagan god, is nothing other than a hunk of rock, for these are non-existent “gods”. There is only one God, the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ. These other so-called “gods” are nothing (8:4-6).

Yet in Corinth and other cities and towns of that era, there were still new Christians for whom that fact had not yet quite sunk in, and should they eat food that had been sacrificed to an idol, they would still think of it as something significant, and for them, eating such food would be highly problematic, even though there was no actual reality to the idol or the sacrifice (8:7-8).

If a Christian is clear about this, eating such food is not a problem, but in doing so, we must be careful, for if a brother or sister who doesn’t understand this yet should see us, they might be tempted to partake it thinking they are free to participate in pagan rituals, which would be a sin against Christ. For our parts, we too would be sinning, for in doing this, we will have caused our weaker brother or sister to fall back into the old ways− and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we (8:9-13)?

At this point, Paul’s dominant though becomes crystal clear:

But knowledge puffs up while love builds up

The very idea that a hunk of rock is a god is silly, and so is the notion that there is there is even such a thing as a “sacrifice” to a god that doesn’t exist… Pure nonsense! I’m hungry, and that meat is perfectly good food and I’m going to eat some of it because I can, and it’s my right to do so. That is the “puffed up” part.

How often do we hear this kind of thing today: It’s my RIGHT to do this!

The way of love, however, is quite different. Love is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of someone who understands less than we do; it’s a pity we don’t see more love in action today.

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The Section Concludes

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

I think it’s fair to say that Paul makes it very clear that he is expressing his personal opinion in these verses (7:25-40). I also think that it is fair to say that if everyone had taken his advice to remain single, the human race wouldn’t be here in the 21st century.

No one that I’ve ever heard of thinks that Paul wanted that to happen. For his part, Paul was interested primarily in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world, and he wanted every man and woman to play a role in the building up of the Church. His reasoning is clear and simple: Married couples have a much harder time devoting themselves to this cause, since they must be concerned with many other matters of this life on earth. Single people are free to concentrate 100 % on the things of God.

While no one can argue with that logic, it is also very clear that God did not intend for everyone to remain single and celibate; that is simply not the way He created things. Some are called to forgo married life to serve God, others are called to raise godly children, others to lead the church, others to serve and help those in need… and together we make up the many members of the Body of Christ. If you are called to the mission field, then you must forsake all else and go, but if you are not called in that way, then you haven’t done anything wrong.

If we consider the totality of this section from 7:1-40, this seems to be Paul’s clear message. He put this message into a context of sexuality, celibacy and marriage because these things, whether we like to think of it this way or not, comprise the fundament realities of our everyday lives. They really encompass the range of choices that each person must make about his or her living situation. Each person must decide whether they will be sexually active or celibate, yet few actually make a conscious decision. Each person who decides to be sexually active must decide whether they will be married or single, and many just go with the flow, and never consider fully the consequences of their decisions. Each of these decisions set us on a path, and that path takes us to the point where we are in life at any given time.

The day comes for most people when they wake up and wonder how they got to the place they find themselves in and begin to have regrets of one sort or another, and then they say, “Gee, I wish I could go back and be 20 again, knowing all that I know at 50.”

Sadly, we cannot do that.

Now that we have come all of the way through this chapter, it seems to me that Paul is trying to encourage the people in Corinth to start making intentional decisions about where their lives are headed in the Lord, and to act accordingly.

I would add to this that we should probably all do the same. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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Advice for the Unmarried

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28

Now, Paul turns back to his main theme and addressed the unmarried. In doing so, he is very clear about the fact that he is speaking as a trustworthy person, a man who is wise, but not for the Lord. As he gives his advice in this section, it is much like his advice in the previous text; remain as you are. If you are single, remain single. If you are engaged, remain faithful to your commitment. He gives this advice “because of the present crisis” (7:6), which begs the question: What crisis?

As you might expect, there are a great many theories about the “crisis”, and there really isn’t a way to be entirely certain about what he is intending here. We might just consider the context of the letter− Paul has written the church to correct a great many serious problems, including the presence of immorality in the congregation, so if I were going to hazard a guess, I’d be inclined to throw that one on the table. Yet the church is in the fledging stage everywhere, very vulnerable to persecution at any time, which could be described as a crisis. A bit later in this chapter Paul will mention that the whole world is messed up and this world will pass away (7:31): That could be what he means.

If Paul had written this letter to a modern-day church, I might suggest that the “crisis” is really all of the little crises we hear about every day! And that could also be what he means in the letter to Corinth.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (7:29-31)

This paragraph comes pretty close to advice for all time, for although he didn’t say it directly, Paul is advising the people to change their thinking away from their everyday living circumstances to a more heavenly perspective. Since we have the benefit of hindsight, we can see that people nearly 2,000 years ago were all caught up in the day-to-day things of this life: Status in the community, pleasures and delights of this world, getting everything right in doctrinal arguments, paying the bills, raising the children, having some good times, what is for dinner… and so on. As we look back across all of those centuries since then, it’s easy for us to say that none of that stuff was really so important, for they all left this earthly life so long ago; hopefully they took care to ensure their eternal futures.

While it’s easy to see that looking back 2,000 years, it is much harder to think that way in the moment, isn’t it? Paul’s message clears up as he completes this section in the remaining verses of the chapter…

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Changes in Status

1 Corinthians 7:17-24

In the last section, Paul spoke about marital status, as he does in the final part of the chapter, but here he takes one of his little asides. In doing so, he also clarifies some of his meaning in 7:8-16. The theme of 7:17-24 is ‘don’t change your status’.

7:17-20 If a man was circumcised when he was called (when he became a Christian) he should not become uncircumcised; considering the impossibility of that in the first century, we can safely infer that Paul is speaking metaphorically here. So, if a Jewish person becomes a Christian, they remain a Jew. If a Gentile (uncircumcised) person becomes a Christian, they do not become Jews. This was an issue that Paul dealt with a number of times in his writings, and his comments here are quite consistent with all of the others; I doubt this is terribly confusing to anyone reading this in the 21st century. The next part, however, might strike some as a little more difficult…

7:21-24 If a person was a slave when they became a Christian, they remain a slave. If a person was free when they became a Christian, they must remain free. The exception is that if a person who is a slave can obtain their freedom, then that would be a good thing to do. Most of us today know about slavery from history, but not all are familiar with a form of slavery that came to be called ‘Indentured servitude”. An indentured servant was a person who sold themselves into slavery for a certain period of time to satisfy a debt, and indeed thousands of people in the 17th and 18th centuries sold themselves into indentured servitude to escape the oppression of England and pay for the crossing of the Atlantic to get to America.

In ancient Rome, people sold themselves into slavery to pay debts, or to feed their children. A person who had a past due account could be taken to court and put into slavery to satisfy their debt. If such people started fleeing their lawful (in those days) masters because they became Christians, that would have had a disastrous effect on the Gospel, and since our priority must always be on making disciples of all Nations, Paul gave the instructions that we see here.

At the same time, his advice to people who are not slaves means that they need to handle their financial affairs very carefully, lest they find themselves in bondage to more than one Master.

With this set of priorities in better focus, some of Paul’s comments in the last section are easier to follow, particularly those concerning separation and divorce. Consider this: If a person’s accepting Jesus Christ began to cause divorces all over town, how long would it be before the cause of Christ found itself on the wrong side of a moral crisis? That would surely damage the cause of Christ and bring the Gospel into disrepute− thus Paul’s advice.

Now that we have a better feel for the context in this chapter, you can see why this letter is so tricky. If we took Paul’s comments in verse 10 that a wife must not separate from her husband, and applied that instruction to a woman in the 21st century who was being regularly beaten up by her drunk husband, you would not only be doing a grave injustice, you would be engaged in false teaching, for the instruction was being given in a vastly different context in a vastly different set of circumstances that existed in c. 55 AD. Sadly, such false teaching has been going on for centuries, and it needs to stop.

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Comments About Family Life

1 Corinthians 7:8-16

This section is divided into three clearly marked parts that contain general instructions relating to family life. As they occur in this tricky section dealing with sex and marriage in response to an inquiry from the Corinthian church that we do not have access to, I, and I’m speaking only for myself, really cannot say much more about the section than that.

The first part begins with verse 8: Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. We know exactly who Paul is addressing his remarks to, the unmarried and widows. Keeping in mind Paul’s comments about celibacy in the last section, we shouldn’t be too surprised at what he says here, and that he rather grudgingly concedes that they should marry if they “cannot control themselves”.

The second of the three parts begins in verse 10: To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. Surprisingly, at least for me, he follows this “must not” by saying “but if she does…” which seems an unusual concession following an imperative statement, as it does.  So, if she leaves him anyway, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband, and he shouldn’t divorce her.

The third part begins with verse 12: To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. In the next verse, he gives the same instruction to women, and then tells us that the unbelieving spouse is “sanctified” by the believing one and their children are not “unclean”. This would seem to be an Old Testament metaphor, making a comparison with a Jew being married to a Gentile. I say this realizing that there are several theories out there for understanding Paul’s intentions here. Once again, considering the strange context, I’m loathe to go much further than that, except to remind you that we are in a section dealing with sexual practices. It might just be that Paul is referring to couples in which infidelity has taken place, but there is no way to know for certain. Paul continues in verse 15 to say that if the unbeliever decides to leave the marriage, the believer should let them go in peace, for they are no longer bound together.

The section concludes with a statement that helps us to understand where Paul has been coming from: How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

I don’t know about you, but I sure wish I could find a copy of the letter Paul was responding to!

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