Think and Pray Big!

Think and Pray Big!

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
William Carey

In John 3 we meet a man named Nicodemus.  We see him first coming to Jesus by night.  In fact, this act alone defined his character throughout his life in Scripture.  For example, John 7:50 states, “Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them…” and again in John 19:39, “and Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.”

As Lazarus was known for the rest of his life by the act of grace Jesus bestowed on him by raising him from the dead (John 12:1, 9), so Nicodemus was known as the one who came to Jesus at night.  Under the cover of darkness.  In secret.

So who was this Nicodemus and what was his relationship with Jesus?

Nicodemus

John 3:1 tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews.  Nicodemus was a common name in Jesus’ day and means “victor among the people or one who has won distinction among the people.”1  He was a Pharisee, a member of an elite religious party that strictly adhered to the letter of the Law and believed both the written and oral traditions were the same and of equal value.  It also states that he was a “ruler of the Jews” which meant he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing council of Israel.  Tradition held that the Sanhedrin was limited to 70 members much like our Senate is limited to 100.  Thus, Nicodemus was one of the most important religious and, in the time of Jesus, political leaders in Israel.

To further emphasize Nicodemus’ position, Jesus called him “the” teacher of Israel and not “a” teacher (John 3:10) indicating that he was one of just a few who held such a lofty position in the eyes of the people.  It would be like Billy Graham, once elected to the Senate, came to Jesus to ask Him a Biblical question as both a Senator and an evangelist.

The Exchange

When we examine the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus we see that, like most of us, Nicodemus saw life in only two dimensions, flat, limited, finite— while Jesus understood not only this life we can taste, touch and feel, but also the life to come.  Nicodemus was dealing with the here and now, the black and white, the simple, observable, measurable, while Jesus was living in HD, full color, 1080p, surround-sound.

The exchange between a ruler of Jews and the Ruler of the Universe centered around salvation, regeneration, sacrifice, truth, love, the coming Kingdom, and the crucifixion of the Son of God.  Jesus spoke of the things He knew:

“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:1).
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).
“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:13-15).

But to Nicodemus, these words where difficult to understand, yet alone, believe.

But believe he did.

At some point in time, and John does not tell us when, Nicodemus came to faith in Christ.  How do we know this?  We see our first glimpse in John 7:50 where Nicodemus offers a small defense of Jesus to his fellow members of the Sanhedrin who were demanding his death.  He says, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”  Needless to say, his words were not heeded and we have no record of Nicodemus saying more.

Then, after Jesus’ death, we see Nicodemus and a man named Joseph of Arimathea, coming and preparing Jesus’ body for burial.  John 19:38-40 states:

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took the body of Jesus.  And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.  Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

And after this, there is nothing more said about Nicodemus, the Pharisee, the ruler of the Jews, who had risked everything to take care of the body of his dead master.  Nothing.  It is like his life after this event faded into obscurity.  Did you ever wonder why?

Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea appears in all four Gospels but only in the accounts of Jesus’ burial.  He was rich (Matt. 27:57), a prominent member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), who had not agreed with its decision to condemn Jesus (Luke 23:51).  Joseph was a good and righteous man (Luke 23:50), who was waiting for the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43).  He was a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 27:57), although a secret one for fear of the Jews.2  Even though John usually presented “secret disciples of Jesus” in a negative light (John. 12:42-43), he, and the other Gospel writers, seem to commend Joseph’s actions in requesting from Pilate the body of Jesus to bury in his own tomb (Matt. 27:60).

After overcoming the crippling fear of losing his position and prestige as a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph emerged from the shadows into the light and publically proclaimed his loyalty to Jesus.  At last, Joseph stood for the Lord.

And after the burial of Jesus, just like Nicodemus, he drifts off into obscurity never to be heard of again.

The Resurrection

What happened to these two men?  Did they follow Jesus and become part of the upper room 120 who were filled with Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1)?  Or did they go back to their jobs and spend their lives debating with other members of the Sanhedrin about “what to do with these Christians?” (Acts 4:16)  Logically it would seem their lives had to follow one of these two paths.  Either they forsook all and followed the Lord seeking to bring others into His Kingdom or they would withdraw back into their prior lives hoping the story of Jesus would just go away.  Maybe they wanted to become “secret disciples” once again even though their “secret” was out and known to all.

We don’t know what happened to these two men.  The Scriptures are silent regarding them.  If, however, they played a great part in the founding of the church at Jerusalem, like Peter and James, it seems Luke would have recorded that fact in the Acts of the Apostles.  But he didn’t.

The sad part of their story is that they could possibly have become like us.  Jesus begins His encounter with Nicodemus in John 3.  But John 2 ends this way: “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).  Seems that Jesus was warning about casual, non-committed followers or half-hearted disciples.  A lukewarm church (Rev. 3:16).

Maybe they became just like us.

Think about it.  We have experienced the resurrection of Jesus and the proof that we are now children of God and join-heirs with Him (Romans 8:16-17).  We know He is the Lord and He has disarmed both Satan and death by defeating both and leaving an empty tomb as confirmation of His, and our, victory (1 Cor. 15:55-57).  Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8) and made a public display of His triumph over them (Col. 2:15) and we, by virtue of divine regeneration through salvation, have become the recipient of that great gift of grace (Eph. 2:8).

Yes, we know all this is true and we know we are now seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).  But has that fact prompted us to a life of reckless abandon to Him?  Have we forsaken all and followed Jesus?  Has the resurrection of our Lord transformed our love and affection from a two dimensional life in this world into life everlasting with Him?

Paul says of our Lord in Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

Did you get that?  Jesus is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”  That means He is willing and able to exceed what we have the faith to ask for or even imagine in our minds.  He is, after all, God.  And He lives in each of us.

This Easter, commit your life and thoughts and dreams to Him who can do far beyond what we can possibly imagine.  Do not, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, fall back and fade into obscurity regarding the moving of God and remain satisfied with the trinkets and toys this world offers and neglect the “riches in heaven” prepared for you, the “abundant life” our Lord promised (John 10:10).  Look around you and see the mission field God has place you in and begin today, on Easter, to faithfully serve Him who gave His life for you (Matt. 20:28).

And remember the words of William Carey:

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

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1.  Zodhiates, S. (2000). The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2.  MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (p. 366). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

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Have I Seen Him?

Have I Seen Him?

Wonderful words from Oswald Chambers:

Being saved and seeing Jesus are not the same thing. Many are partakers of God’s grace who have never seen Jesus. When once you have seen Jesus, you can never be the same, other things do not appeal as they used to do:

Always distinguish between what you see Jesus to be, and what He has done for you. If you only know what He has done for you, you have not a big enough God; but if you have had a vision of Jesus as He is, experiences can come and go, you will endure, “as seeing Him Who is invisible.” The man blind from his birth did not know Who Jesus was until He appeared and revealed Himself to him. Jesus appears to those for whom he has done something; but we cannot dictate when He will come. Suddenly at any turn He may come—‘Now I see Him!’

Jesus must appear to your friend as well as to you; no one can see Jesus with your eyes. Severance takes place where one and not the other has seen Jesus. You cannot bring your friend unless God brings him. Have you seen Jesus? Then you will want others to see Him too. “And they went and told it unto the residue, neither believed they them.” You must tell, although they do not believe.

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Podcast 235:  The Man and the Myrtle Trees

Podcast 235: The Man and the Myrtle Trees

The first of the eight visions revealed to Zechariah tell a harrowing tale of disappointment and disillusionment to those who are waiting for God to keep His promise. But as you dig deeper into the vision of the Man and the Myrtle trees, you find that God has not failed them but gives them incredible promises and declarations of what their future will be like.

In fact, according to Zechariah 1:13 the Lord answered the questions with “good and comforting words.”

I don’t know about you, but I could use some good and comforting words from the Lord. Listen and be encouraged from a prophecy to Zechariah that is just as relevant today as it was 2,500 years ago.

This following is a study of Zechariah 1:7-17.

To download the notes for this message, click – HERE

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Truly Saved, Always Saved.

Truly Saved, Always Saved.

The doctrine known as eternal security or the perseverance of the saints is one of the cornerstones of Reformed Theology.  It can be defined as follows:

The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly (the operative word) born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again. *

For the Calvinist, it is the “P” in their TULIP acronym.

T – Total Depravity.  Man is fallen in nature and, therefore, in total depravity.  This means that (1) man cannot do anything or any work that is good, (2) man cannot, by his nature, comprehend what is good, and (3) man cannot have, by virtue of his fallen nature, any desire for good. He is totally depraved.

U – Unconditional Election. This can be defined, according to the Puritans, as such:

Unconditional Election is defined in this manner: God did, by His most wise and holy counsel, of His own, freely and unchangeably ordain some men to heaven and some men to hell by the nature of His good pleasure.  In eternity, God has predetermined the course of everything and everyone.  He had foreordained the eternal destiny of everyone whether to heaven or to hell for His glory.  Men are unconditionally elected by God for His purposes without any prior works (good or evil) by which God would judge them good or evil.  The election of men rests solely on the counsel and purposes of God.  God has not decreed anything which he foresaw in the future, for that would place His decree upon foreseeing something in the creature.

L – Limited Atonement.  In a nutshell, this means that Christ’s death actually paid for the sins of those whom He knew would ultimately be saved— for the elect.  In essence, God imposed His wrath, and Christ paid the penalty for the sins of:

1.  All the sins of all men— which would mean that all men are saved, which we know is not the case.
2.  Some of the sins of all men— which would mean that men are still in their sins.
3.  All of the sins of some men— the elect, the chosen, those He foreknew and predestined from the foundation of the world— which is the Biblical position. Hence, limited atonement.

I – Irresistible Grace.  Which is a term that refers to the fact that when God calls a person He also gives them regeneration, both of which guarantee that we will respond in saving faith. In other words, when the Spirit of God moves in the heart to change a person, that person will be changed. Period.

P – Perseverance of the Saints.  This is one area in which many evangelical Christians have differed over the years.  Many within the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition have held that it is possible for someone who is truly (again, the operative word) born again to lose that salvation.  Reformed Christians have held, and rightly so, that it is impossible for someone who is truly born again to lose their salvation.

But did you know the book of Revelation has something to say about the controversial “P” point in the TULIP acronym?  Actually, it has much to say about election, the sovereignty of God and eternal security or the perseverance of the saints.

Take a look at the following two passages of Scripture:

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long , O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. – Revelation 6:9-11

Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14:12-13

* Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, page 788.

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Do you see what I see?  Do you see what the Lord is teaching us about the perseverance of His saints?

The following is a podcast from April of 2009 that deals with those very issues.  It is a study on Revelation 14:12-13.

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Spiritual Resolution for 2014

Spiritual Resolution for 2014

georgemuller-200On April 13th, 1832 George Muller received a letter from Henry Craik, his friend and co-laborer in ministry, to come to Bristol to join him in the work there.  One week later, on April 20th, George Muller left for Bristol encouraged by the preaching, teaching, witnessing… you know, all the ministry stuff— that he was soon to be engulfed in.  The air was full of excitement and anticipation, much like we are as we plan for a two week summer mission trip.

“Boy, when we get to the mission field, we’re going to win the area to Christ!”  Right.

Question:  But what about now?  What about your preparation for that mission outreach?  How are you preparing today for the harvest tomorrow?

Answer:  Oh I know, it’s the classic “bloom where you are planted” thing.  “I’m looking for every opportunity to tell people about Jesus right where I live.”

Good.  Excellent, in fact.  But what about your private time with the Lord?  What about your personal accountability and relationship with Him?  Are you too enamored, too giddy with the “doing” that you have neglected the “abiding”?  And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?

Be encouraged, for this is exactly the lesson that our friend, Mr. Muller, learned on his way to Bristol.  In fact, Arthur Pierson, Muller’s biographer, reflects on this very lesson the young man of God learned and, so it seems, never forgot.

The following is from Pierson’s book, George Muller of Bristol:

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On April 20th, Mr. Muller left for Bristol.  On the journey he was dumb, having no liberty in speaking for Christ or even in giving away tracts, and this led him to reflect.  He saw that the so-called ‘work of the Lord’ had tempted him to substitute action for meditation and communion.  He had neglected that ‘still hour’ with God which supplies to spiritual life alike its breath and its bread.  No lesson is more important for us to learn, yet how slow are we to learn it: that for the lack of habitual seasons set apart for devout meditation upon the word of God and for prayer, nothing else will compensate.

We are prone to think, for example, that converse with Christian brethren, and the general round of Christian activity, especially when we are busied with preaching the Word and visits to inquiring or needy souls, make up for the loss of aloneness with God in the secret place.  We hurry to a public service with but a few minutes of private prayer, allowing precious time to be absorbed in social pleasures, restrained from withdrawing from others by a false delicacy, when to excuse ourselves for needful communion with God and his Word would have been perhaps the best witness possible to those whose company was holding us unduly!  How often we rush from one public engagement to another without any proper interval for renewing our strength in waiting on the Lord, as though God cared more about the quantity than the quality of our service! *

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Wow.  Point blank, slam-dunk, “slap-ya-up-side-da-head” for me.  How about you?  I am guilty of this very act— continually.  So much so that I’m beginning to realize that I must crave the pleasure and acceptance of men, mere humans like myself, more than the pleasure of God.  I must be a card-carrying man-pleaser and not a God-pleaser.  Ugh.  Like how stupid is that!

Resolution #1 for 2014 – actually for the rest of my life.

I will strive to keep the good subordinate to the best.  Let’s flesh that out. It means that ministry, being good, will always take second place to intimacy with the Lord, which is, obviously— best.  I will seek His face first, and allow ministry to follow as an after effect or a result of that intimate relationship.  I will place abiding where it should be in my spiritual life and try to live the years I have left as a Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and not as a Martha, working in the kitchen too concerned about putting Cheese Wiz on Wheat Thins.

After all, as an old preacher once counseled me years ago, “Son, you take care of the depth of your ministry (intimacy with God) and let the Lord worry about its breadth.”  Exactly.  Couldn’t have said it better.

* George Muller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson, page 90. Proverbs 29:7,18,23.

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Proverb for Today:

The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern.

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.

A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor. *

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Podcast 233:  The Timeless Message of Haggai, Part 2

Podcast 233: The Timeless Message of Haggai, Part 2

The entire message of Haggai can be summed up in these three words: Consider your ways.

After all, consider this warning given five times in Haggai:

Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” – Haggai 1:5

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” – 1:7

“And now, carefully consider from this day forward.” – 2:15

And again, “And now, carefully consider from this day forward.” – 2:17

There is something – something important – the Lord is trying to tell us through the words of Haggai. Keep listening to find out more.

The following is a study of Haggai 2:1-23.

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