Posts Tagged ‘theology’

God Is Here!


In 1979 Fred Pratt Green wrote a simple worship hymn which has been a favorite of mine, though it is hard to sing.  He wrote:

God is here! As we his people meet to offer praise and prayer,

may we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.(1)


I frequently use the lyrics of this hymn as a Call to Worship and as a reminder to all worshippers to forget the people who are leading worship or and the people worshipping with them as they worship God.


If you worship with a sole concentration on God and His presence in worship’s particular time and place, you will always leave worship knowing that you were with God.


Christians have a ghastly habit of evaluating worship by measuring human traits, actions, and quantities.  Of these, the worse measuring stick is to evaluate worship by measuring your emotions.  


Unfortunately, too many Christians never truly worship because they come not to meet God, who is present, but to have their emotions and feeling massaged, as if they are part of a religious focus group directed by a Pastor and resident musicians.


Hannah Whitehall Smith provided this bit of wisdom to her daughter who was wondering why she did not always feel the presence of God in worship:

The whole reason is in you, yourself.  Say to yourself, “The Lord is here just as much as He ever is with me, but I am such a dunce as to be looking at the people instead of at Him, and so I do not see or feel His presence so much.  Ignore your feelings altogether.  How strange it is that feelings will crop up all along the line as stumbling blocks.(2)


Worship is not so much a matter of what you or someone else makes of it, but rather it is more about who you focus on when you worship.


I am with David, when he wrote:

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (3)



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  1. Fred Pratt Green, God is Here!, The Presbyterian Hymnal, (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990).
  2. Hannah Whitall Smith and Melvin Easterday Dieter, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life: The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
  3. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Psalm 122:1.

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The 1st Sign: From Water to Wine 

Preaching Notes John 2:1-11

John 2:1-11

1  On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  2  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.

3  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

4  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”

5  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6  Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  7  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  8  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  So they took it.

9  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew).  The master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”

11  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

I.  Miracles

Miracles, we love them, and we pray for them

We focus on the what more than the who 

Miracles reveal spiritual truth about Jesus, there is Christological significance in each miracle. They reveal Jesus’ oneness with God the Father

The 7 Miracles in John’s Gospel

1.  The turning water into wine at Cana – John 2:1-11

2.  The Cure of the officer’s son – John 4:46–54

3.  The healing of the lame man at the pool – John 5:1-15

4.  The feeding of the 5000 – John 6:1-15

5.  The walking on the lake – John 6:16-21

6.  The cure of the blind man – John 9:1-41

7.  The raising of Lazarus – John 11:1-44

Their purpose in John’s Gospel

Miracle stories in John’s Gospel are called signs and reveal information about Jesus for the purpose of leading people to believe in Jesus as Messiah, Christ, anointed, Chosen One, Son of God, Son of Man

By believing ==> you might have life in his name  –

John 20:30-31

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

II.  The Signs of the Miracle at the Wedding Feast in Cana

First public event of Jesus’ ministry at a semi-private event

Private 7 day Wedding Feast

Cana – small village in Galilee not a populous or crowded place to create buzz

Wedding at Cana Most mundane as far as miracles there

Jesus turned 120-180 gallons of water into wine for small party

=> What’s going on

A.  Weddings in the Bible – 

Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 22:1, Mark 2:19-22, Revelation 21 

Genesis 2:18-25 – Institution of marriage, before the Fall

Matthew 22:1

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son

Revelation 21 – Consummation of Creation’s restoration at a wedding

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people

Weddings are – foundational for imagery of the church as the bride of Christ

This is the Messianic wedding feast

B.  Rites of Purification in the Old Testament

People used stone jars in rites of purification because they did not attract impurities

The great annual purification from sin of the people was on the Day of Atonement

Jesus – a man without impurities

The vessel of God’s grace has no impurity

He is fit to be the atonement

C.  Significance of wine in the Old Testament

5 Cups of Wine Passover/Seder Meal – Exodus 6:6-7 and Malachi 4:5

The Cup of Sanctification – I will bring you out

The Cup of Deliverance – I will free you

The Cup of Redemption – I will redeem you

The Cup of Restoration – I will take you as my own people

A fifth is poured saved for the return of Elijah, see Malachi 4:5

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”

This points to Jesus pouring out the cup at the Lord’s Supper

Wine is a symbol of joy

Mark 2:19-22 Parable about the kingdom where the setting is a wedding feast

Wine points to the Lord’s Supper

Purification will come, not by the being washed in water, but through the blood of Jesus

D.  The Best Wine Now

Usually serve the best first, but the best comes last

The new covenant with God, established before creation is revealed at this time

The sheer quantity, 120-180 gallons – in the prophets, as abundance of wine

Reveals the lavish provision, never failing provisions of God’s Kingdom

III.  The Sign is for You about who do you believe Jesus is?

John 2:11 – This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him. 

Event => manifestation of Jesus’ glory

Who witnessed the miracle?

Disciples and servants only

Could have included Mary

Who saw Jesus’ glory?


Perhaps the servants

Who believed in Jesus?

Only the disciples

Not everyone believed

This is normative – many see, but do not understand

John 12:37-43 (edited)

Though Jesus had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, … For again Isaiah said, “The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart.” …  Nevertheless, many …  believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. 

==> ??? Do you believe in Jesus?

Verbally, most of us would say, “Yes, I believe!”

Are you more attracted to the glory of man instead of the glory of God?

Do you believe that you have found life in Jesus?

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We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  

and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (1)


Christiaan Beker, the Dutch theologian and one of the most respected Pauline scholars of the 20th century, advised his students to never quote this passage when ministering to the suffering unless you want the sufferer to spit in your face.


Dr. Beker suffered through the Nazi destruction of Europe during the reign of Hitler.  He had zero tolerance for anyone who thought we should welcome suffering into our lives as a gift from God.


As a passionate believer who clung to God through his own difficulties in life, Dr. Beker was never able to justify human suffering with a loving God.


If nothing else, Dr. Beker taught me to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with others with tender compassion and with my lips sealed.  He was an advocate of silent compassion as opposed to know-it-all comfort.  Your presence is more helpful than pitter-patter.


Why does a loving God permit suffering?  


My stock answer is, “I do not know, but I do know that God loves you! I know that God is hurting with you!”


Today I read a quote of Frederick William Robertson, which looks at suffering, not from it’s cause or purpose, but from what it does for us.  He speaks about how suffering makes us a better and more compassionate person.  He writes:


If you aspire to be a person of consolation, if you want to share the priestly gift of sympathy, if you desire to go beyond giving commonplace comfort to a heart that is tempted, and if you long to go through the daily exchanges of life with the kind of tact that never inflicts pain, then you must be prepared to pay the price for a costly education, for like Christ, you must suffer. (2)


While Robertson avoids answering our why questions about suffering, like Paul, he points us to one of the hidden blessings of suffering.  


The most compassionate people I know are those who have personally experienced the horror of unexplained and undeserved suffering.


Perhaps we will never find comfort in suffering, until it allows us to compassionately comfort those who suffer.


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  1. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 5:3–4.
  2. Reimann, Jim; Cowman, L. B. E. (2008-09-02). Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings (p. 313). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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Dare I really let God be to me all that He says He will be? (1)

Most of us want God to be a half-god to us.  

  • We want Him to be present in our lives, but not ever-present, because then He will interfere in our plans.
  • We want Him to be all-powerful, but not when credit is being given for a job well done by us.
  • We want Him to be holy and just, but not when we are enjoying an adventure in darkness and sin.

In 1952 J. B. Phillips published Your God Is Too Small.  His book became an instant devotional classic, from which comes this quote:

We create God in our own image, resulting in an anemic deity no more wise or powerful than we are, and certainly incapable of creation, maintenance, or salvation.

A small god begins with the misreading of Genesis 1:27: God created man in his own image.  

Our greatest sin is that we create god into our own image

Yes, this is idolatry:

The re-creation and re-imaging of God as a deity who meets our every need, desire, wish, and concept of how to best run the world.

We create idols because God is too much for us in all of His God-ness.  Thus, we prefer to slice and dice Him into palatable bits and pieces.  

We prefer to encounter God in small doses.  This is why we insist on worship being an hour long and assume worshipping Him twice a month, except on vacation and during the summer, as commendable for any believer.

We prefer God to give us a daily baby aspirin, rather than be our heart transplant surgeon.  Yes, we want Him to place a new heart in our enemies, spouses, and kids, but as for us, we simply want Him to give us a God-vaccination, just enough to save us in times of tribulation.

However … 

If you are tired of your god, whom you have made far too small, then pray to Him and ask Him to be all He can be for you.

You’ll be glad you did

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  1. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications; Marshall Pickering, 1986).

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Release of the Captives

July 8, 2012


Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.  I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.  I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it, to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.


Let’s start off with a bad memory today

Who has offended you recently => difficulty forgiving

Claims of inability to forgive

Declarations of unwillingness to forgive

When we have been hurt … we seek justice

The deeper the wound … the more difficult to forgive

If you have forgiveness issues, the book of Philemon is for you

Onesimus, a runaway slave is being sent back to Philemon by Paul


God has changed Onesimus … he has confessed and repented

Three changes in Onesimus

He is a convert and a changed person

He desires to make restitution (repentance)

He was of value in service to Paul while in prison

Paul gives God the credit for conversion and repentance


To renew a soul of man and form it anew to the image of God—is not a human work, and it is of this spiritual regeneration that he now speaks

This is where forgiveness has it’s birth

When someone comes seeking forgiveness, they have been sent by God

To deny them forgiveness is to deny God what He desires

This is the theological root of Paul’s appeal


Based upon their relationship as Christian brothers

They were co-workers in the Gospel

One of grace and charity

Invites him to forgive, rather than commands him


Paul empties himself of his rights to compel Philemon also to waive his rights


A man is more easily drawn than pushed, and compulsion brings with it a rebellious will

Genuine forgiveness flows from the heart, is not forced by command

John 3:16 … For God so loved the world

Romans 5:23 … While we were still sinner, Christ died for us

Love and grace are free acts

Corinthians 9:7 –

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Forgiveness can be neither demanded nor commanded

We teach the opposite with kids to siblings


Joseph and his brothers … remember Joseph’s declarations

Genesis 45:5  

Now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Genesis 50:20

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Paul points to the work of God and God’s will

Philemon lost a slave

Paul gained a servant

Philemon gains a brother

Our obsessive focus on the offense blinds us to God’s redemptive mercy

Are we going to follow the work of the Holy Spirit or Satan?


It is the work of the Holy Spirit to lead to confession of sin. On the other hand, it is the work of the devil to make the sin worse.

When we withhold forgiveness or fix conditions to earn forgiveness, we play into Satan’s hand


Paul could have kept Onesimus => thwarting the work of God

Philemon had the right to punish and demand justice

Paul did not deny this or argue against civil law

Paul even offers to cover Onesimus’ debt to Philemon

Paul is willing to make the sacrifice … he becomes the Christ

When we freely and graciously forgive other … we become Christ

Practical theology from the Lord’s Prayer

Forgive us our debts as we forgive others

Paul invites Philemon to live out his faith


When we side with others justifying NO forgiveness …

Often done is sympathy and empathy

Often done as a stand against sin

We are actually standing against God and His grace

Paul teaches how we ought to take care for and restore those who sin


The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of mercy and grace, while the kingdom of Satan is a kingdom of murder, error, darkness, and lies.

Forgiveness is providing sinners and sinned against a new start.

I started by asking you to remember pain

Now I ask you to remember grace => taught you about forgiveness

Art Ross’ grace to me and my high school buddies

The Pope forgiving the man who attacked him

When someone honors your confession and repentance with grace

=> is always a great day for you

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it

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Inner peace through an implicit trust in the love of God 

is the real evidence of a mature Christian faith. (1)

Inner peace eludes us because we pursue it in venues in which it cannot be found.  It will never be found at the store, in the office, or under a trophy.  It can not be purchased, achieved, or won.  It can only be received.

Inner peace can only be found in the company of faith.  Thus, it is accessible to all.  You do not need privilege, wealth, or luck to have it.  In fact, these things have prevented many people from finding inner peace. 

My friend Earl had inner peace.  

In the eight years I knew him, I never saw him out of bed.  He spoke between shots of air delivered to his lungs by a ventilator.  He could not tend to any of his personal needs.  

While Earl was was totally dependent upon others to provide all of his physical and worldly needs, his mind and heart had been spared the disease which ravaged his body.

Earl could have given up, but he did not.

He could have instructed his doctors to pull-the-plug, but he did not.

He could have spewed anger, despair, and resentment on anyone who entered his room, but he did not.

Instead Earl was the happiest man I ever met.  

In contrast to Job who moped, whined, and raged when his worldly possessions and loves were stolen by an evil twist of fate, Earl smiled, praised God, and rejoiced after disease robbed him of anything which looked like quality of life.

Earl had a peace which surpassed all understanding because he had faith in God.  This peace, his companion in faith, guarded his heart and his mind. (2)

Earl’s faith grew while his body decayed.  

Earl knew that his body would not last forever, it does not for any of us.  Thus, he placed his whole life into the hands of Jesus.  When troubles came and health declined, Earl found peace not in little things, but in the great and wondrous grace of God.

When Earl died, we sang Horatio Spafford’s great hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul” (Click the title to hear this great hymn.)

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, 

when sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, 

It is well with my soul. (3)

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  1. Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 202.
  2. Philippians 4:7.
  3. Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 202.

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