Hi all,

I originally wanted to have a book study over blog. So, I am on vacation from April 30-May 6. But starting May 14 I would like to write a post of about 200 words on the book, The Grace and Truth Paradox by Randy Alcorn. I will start with chapter 1 on that date and then write a post every two weeks. You can comment freely and this way we can have an online discussion.

This is a very short book and can be found here:

Have a great week serving Christ!

reading and listening

Good morning, I thought some may be interested in what I read and listen to. Now, this is not about what I am reading for sermon research; no, these are books and blogs that I try to read because I enjoy them and these readings aid me in continuing my education.

The following blog is written by Dr. Ben Witherington III. Dr. Witherington is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is quite extensively published having written commentaries on every New Testament book. Dr. Witherington writes book reviews as well as many other informative articles on his blog. You may also enjoy his blog.

I also read a blog written by Rev. Dr. Charles Swindoll to pastors:

Many times I will go to oneplace to listen to sermons. I particularly enjoy listening to Swindoll’s Insight for Living, MacArthur’s Grace to You, and James MacDonald’s Walk in the Word. Living on the Edge by Chip Ingram is also very good.

Books specifically: Right now, I am reading several books at the same time. I really hope to finish these some day, hopefully soon.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship : This is a classic and I just began reading it. I am greatly enjoying this treasured book.

I am slowly working through President Clinton’s autobiography.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers of all time. In the 1800’s he was one of the first mega church pastors of all time. He started a Christian school and would lecture to students on Fridays. Some, if not all, of his lectures are recorded in Lectures to My Students. I am slowly reading through this work.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn: This is book written all about Heaven. It is a wonderful book. It is about 500 pages long and very informative about our eternal home.

I am slowly trying to read the Pseudepigrapha. These are Old Testament extra Biblical writings in two volumes.

I am also reading a few books about church growth and Christian witness: one is called Outflow. There are various other books and articles that I try to read.

I also read a few chapters of the Bible many days of the week and various devotionals.

I don’t post this to arrogantly write about things I am reading. Not at all. It is important that I am reading as a pastor and that I am always gathering information on church ministry and Biblical texts. I have posted links as some of these you may enjoy checking out. In the future, I will write book reviews on this blog. Have a blessed week!


Good Friday message

Hi, in case any one is interested, below I have posted the message which I preached at the Good Friday service at Vine Street United Methodist Church:


We talk a lot about paradise, don’t we? I am not talk about church either. We use the term casually. We might be talking about some form of an island “paradise.” We might think of a vacation resort as a paradise. One definition of the noun “paradise” actually can mean an ideal or an idyllic state. We have the “Bird of Paradise” Listen to this:

An Easterner was being driven by a rancher over a blistering and almost barren stretch of West Texas when a large brightly-colored bird scurried across the road in front of them. The visitor asked what it was.

“That’s a bird of paradise,” said the rancher.

“Pretty long way from home, isn’t he!” remarked the visitor. [1]

We may use the noun casually and we may even somewhat seriously use the word to talk about a place of relaxation that will be a temporary ideal state. I might use the word to talk about a Mexican restaurant or IHop. Maybe Chipotle is paradise. I love it, sitting there eating a burrito and the chips, they are so good. But it is only temporary! Eventually, I must quit eating, let my food digest and run 4 miles to make up for it. However, in the verse which I will speak on Jesus uses this noun to define an eternal state.

In this passage Jesus has already been crucified. If you listened to the first sermon Jesus had already asked forgiveness on those who crucified Him and I dare say you and I too. Jesus was crucified between two thieves. Now, in verse 42 one thief asked Jesus to remember him when enters His Kingdom. This brings us to verse 43.

Let’s read that verse and talk about the observations and inferences we can take from it.

First, notice that Jesus answered the man. Now, you may be thinking, “of course Jesus answered Him.” But remember that they are on a Roman cross. They are dying a slow death by crucifixion.

This was a very slow death by suffocation.

Arms were outstretched with and fastened to nails on the cross, he had to support most of the weight of His body with His arms. The Chest cavity would be pulled upward and outward. Making it difficult to exhale in order to draw a fresh breadth. But when the victim’s longing for oxygen became unbearable, He would have to push himself up with His feet, thus giving more natural support to the weight of his body, releasing some of the weight from his arms, and enabling His chest cavity to contract more normally. By pushing himself upward in this way the criminal could fight off suffocation, but it was extremely painful because it required putting the body’s weight on the nails holding the feet, and bending the elbows and pulling upward on the nails driven through the wrist. The criminal’s back which had been torn open repeatedly by a previous flogging, would scrape against the wooden cross with each breadth. Thus, Seneca (First century A.D.) spoke of a crucified man “Drawing the breadth of life amid long drawn-out-agony” (Epistle 101 to Lucilius, sec.14).

Sometimes people crucified would survive several days nearly suffocating but not quite dying. This is why the executioners would sometimes break the legs as we see in John 19:31-33. So, this idea that they are able to talk is a big deal to me. I started exercising several months ago. Sometimes I will be running on the treadmill and my wife will come down to ask me something, but you know, it can be quite difficult to respond because I am gasping for air. In much the same way the words that Jesus spoke and the words the two criminals spoke to Him were probably spoke while struggling to breathe. However, they do talk and so we have these words.

Jesus tells this man, “Truly I tell you,” let’s stop right there. Jesus is saying that this is the Truth. Jesus is not making this up. Jesus is speaking a statement that is of the upmost importance. The truth may not stand out to us today. In today’s day the truth has been stretched and sometimes we don’t know who to trust. But we must always remember that the Bible is absolute Truth and that includes Jesus’ words.

Now, Jesus says, Today, you will be with me in paradise. Now, before we talk about paradise, let’s talk about “today.” Now, I am not talking about “today, as in Friday, April 7, 2012, I am talking about the word “today.” I am talking about the word “day.”

How long is a day? I bet a day could be pretty long when you are slowly dying through crucifixion. There was a show made a few years back called “24.” Recently, my wife and I started watching this show on Netflix. Usually this is what we do, we starting watching shows after they have been out a while. This show is in real time. This means that a one hour episode is one hour on the show. A one hour episode is one hour in Jack Bauer’s life. A 24 episode season is one day in Jack Bauer’s life. But the thing is that in the first season his wife and daughter are kidnapped and he and his family are under attack the whole day. For Jack Bauer and his family that day is very long. In fact, in the beginning of each episode he says, “My name is Jack Bauer and this is the longest day of my life.”

That is exactly why it is so very significant that Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Surely, the crucified thief knows that sometimes people don’t die so quickly. Even if he dies the same day as he is living in, what if there is some form of afterlife punishment? Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” That is significant. Later on in 2 Cor 5:8 Paul writes that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I have said before that I am not scared of dying, I am scared of the process of dying. Seriously, I am. But as Christians we have no fear in death. This verse gives us great hope. If you have lost loved ones who were Christians we know that they are with the Lord. This is Truth. In case you doubted, Jesus even says that this is truth. This is truth and Jesus says that this same day the man will be in Paradise.

Oh, guess what else? Jesus will be with him in paradise. Wherever this paradise is Jesus will be there.

Now, let’s talk about paradise. I read something about this term last week:

The earliest Greek translators of the Old Testament used the Greek term for paradise for God’s garden (Gen. 2:8–10). [The Garden of Eden was called paradise] In the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha written between the Old and New Testaments, [these are extra Biblical literature written in the time period between the Old and New Testaments] “paradise” takes on a new meaning in Jewish thought. It becomes associated with the blessing of final judgment (see 2 Esdras 4:7; 6:2; 7:36, 123, 8:52). This meaning appears three times in the New Testament (Luke 23:42; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7).


So the thinking that would have impacted this term in Jesus’ day would have been what developed in the time period in between the Old and New Testament. This man would have known that Jesus was talking about a place of eternal bliss.


It is interesting that the religious elite who had Jesus crucified didn’t get it. They missed it. But they were the religious scholars of the day. Yet, this thief who deserved to die for committing a crime, he figured it out. Actually, by God’s grace he was saved. He didn’t do anything. He believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior. He recognized Jesus for who He was and He was saved into eternal life.

One commentary says this:

23:32-43. Luke did not state, as did Matthew and John, how the events of Jesus’ death fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures. Luke’s purpose, instead, was to show that Jesus was the forgiving Messiah even as He died. Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were killing Him (v. 34), and He forgave one of the men sentenced to die with Him (v. 43). Even in death Jesus had power to make people right with God. And yet the rulers … sneered (v. 35) the soldiers … mocked (vv. 36-37), and one of the criminals crucified with Him insulted Him (v. 39).[2]

Salvation is totally by grace, not of us but a gift from God. This demonstrates what Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us. By believing in Jesus, accepting His free gift of forgiveness for our sins, confessing our sins and committing to Him we are saved and we will also enter paradise at death. This paradise will not be a temporary satisfaction of a burrito, nor an island resort. This will be eternity. I actually encourage you to do some study on Heaven. Interesting that this is our eternal home, but we don’t talk about it enough. There is a book by Randy Alcorn called Heaven, it’s very interesting. We’ll be there some day, with Jesus and with this redeemed thief.


[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[2] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Lk 23:32–43). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Lenten Luncheon Sermon is below:


Good afternoon, this is a Lenten lunch and many of you may be expecting a service that is specifically related to Holy Week. I want to forewarn you that this message is not one that specifically relates to this week. However, I do believe that this message will relate to the resurrection as every message should. We are called to be people living in the light of the resurrection all year long and this sermon relates to the idea of living as Spirit-Filled Christians all year long. Now, my style of preaching is generally teaching and generally teaching the Bible as you will see. Now, since I have given you that disclaimer, allow me to get to the message we are here for.

We have all eaten, haven’t we? I see that we have had some soup and some delicious cookies and we have coffee and maybe you are still eating. Food is such a gift from God, isn’t it? I mean, it even taste good. I think that we can eat and we enjoy what we eat is evidence of a loving God and even evidence of a God. I mean, God could have created us to need to eat but to hate the process of eating. But that is not true. I love the process of eating, I look forward to eating. I started exercising so that I can enjoy what I eat all the more. I mean, I don’t like to exercise but it is worth it when I eat. How do we know when we are finished eating? Well, one way is that we are full or filled up, right? I’ve said it before and maybe you have as well, “I am stuffed.” Some have said, “I can’t eat another bite.”

I have titled my message, Spirit-Filled Prayer, because in the passage which I will read I see the disciples prayer as Holy Spirit-Filled or at least Holy Spirit Filling. We must also seek the same in our churches and in our prayer life.

Allow me to read Acts 4:23-31:

  1. First notice that their prayer begins with worship and an acknowledgement that God is sovereign.
  2. Now, allow me to let you know what is going on in this passage: At the beginning of Acts chapter 3, Peter and John are going to the Temple at the time of prayer. A lame beggar was there and asked for money. Peter said, “Silver or gold I don’t have but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The man is healed. This attracted a lot of attention and Peter preached a sermon. Peter’s message reached about 5000 people with the Gospel, but this aggravated the Jewish authorities and Peter and John were thrown in prison for the night. The next day Peter and John spoke before the Jewish leadership and Peter again preached the Gospel (4:8 says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit). Eventually they had Peter and John released.
    1. Now, following their release from prison, they come back to meet with their own people.
    2. This term translated as “their own,” usually means family but in this case it means the other Christians.[1]But the point is they immediately went back to share with the other disciples what God had done.
      1. They didn’t go to take a shower first. They didn’t go to catch up on business, emails, Facebook or other things. They went straight back to join their people.
      2. They may have gone back to the upper room or a location where they knew the church would be at.
      3. They shared about the chief priests. The Chief Priests were a small group of priest within the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin would be the Jewish Supreme Court. The Sanhedrin would be composed of 70 people plus the High priest.[2] The chief Priests are composed of former high priest and members of influential priestly families.
      4. Notice in verse 24: When “they”, which I am thinking is the rest of the disciples” heard this meaning what God had done. They went straight to prayer.
        1. We must always apply the Scripture to our lives. Let’s apply this narrative for a moment. Do we do the same? They could have gone to rest, but no, they went to prayer. Their prayer includes allusions to Old Testament prayers.

Let’s look at this Spirit-Filled Prayer

  1. They start their prayer acknowledging who God is in relation to who we are. We should do the same. God created everything that we see and feel. God created the stars in the sky.
    1. Verse 24 starts their prayer as “Sovereign Lord.” This means that God is in control. This means “absolute ruler.” Actually the Greek word translated here is where we get the English word “despot.”[3]God is the absolute ruler and they acknowledged that as they began their prayer.
      1.                                                                                                                            i.      Let me also insert here that they were praying in unity. The Scripture says that they “raised their voices together in prayer…” This doesn’t mean they all prayed at the same time, but that they were praying in unity.
      2.                                                                                                                          ii.      Too often I believe that our churches are hindered because of our divisions. Our prayers are hindered because of our divisions. Hence, I am going to say that our divisions hinder the Spirit’s work in our prayer life. In a few verses we will see that this group of Christians experienced the Holy Spirit. I think we are missing the Holy Spirit because of our division[4].
      3.                                                                                                                         iii.      Another statement about division, I strongly believe that the devil starts and fosters our division in order to take our focus off of evangelism. I strongly believe that reaching the lost will heal our division. We will realize that the things we are divided over are not as important as sharing the Gospel with those who don’t even know the Lord.
      4.                                                                                                                        iv.      One more comment about unity and divisions: I was part of a church plant several years ago. A church plant is a start up church. In this case a church sent out about 45 people to start a new church in a different location. Now, last week I had the opportunity to talk with someone who is starting a new church in Alliance. Some would say, “Why start new churches when there are so many existing churches?” I think that is a valid question. However, I also believe that so many existing churches are struggling because they can’t work in unity; they are caught up in divisions. Consequently, God’s way may be to start a new gathering of Christians, start a new church.
      5.                                                                                                                          v.      What we need to see here is that there prayer was in unity and God blessed them with a special baptism of the Holy Spirit.
    2. Now, allow me to get back to their prayer and their acknowledgement of God as sovereign. Do we acknowledge that God is sovereign, I mean really acknowledge this?
      1. Do you go about your day to day life thinking that God is in control? Or, are you in control?
      2. Acknowledging God as sovereign includes the idea that we must surrender to His will too.
    3. Next, part of the prayer: Do we begin our prayer with worship. That is what they are doing. This is not unlike Jesus saying, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed, or holy, is Your name.”
      1.                                                                                                                            i.      Notice they are saying the Lord’s Prayer. If you read the rest of this passage they never say, “Now, we pray as you taught us to pray…” No, of course not. They are still praying the order, the pattern, which Jesus taught them to pray.
    4. Then, their prayer includes Scripture. They quote Psalm 2:1-2 in reference to Jesus.
    5. Lastly about God’s sovereignty, their prayer acknowledged that God’s plan included threats against Christians. Verse 27 references the crucifixion of Christ. Verse 28 references that in God’s sovereignty this was planned beforehand.
      1. But they never complained and that is my transition to their one request.

Read verses 27-30

  1. They prayed for boldness and an expansion of the Gospel
  2. They never complained. We would expect that they would pray that their threats would stop, but they don’t they prayed that God considers their threats. They had just been thrown in prison and they prayed nothing about that.
  3. They ask that God allows them to preach God’s Word with great boldness.
    1. Notice they say “preach.”
    2. In 2 Timothy 4:1 and following Paul’s dying words to Timothy are about preaching. Paul says that the time will come when people will want the preaching to be what their itching ears want to hear. Don’t you think that time has come? Our preaching is looked upon as entertainment and if a pastor preaches truly what God has called him to say they are called “too preachy.” If a pastor truly preaches the Scriptures they are considered too deep.
      1.                                                                                                                            i.      Today we need boldness in our pulpits. We need pastors who don’t shirk their responsibility under God because of a responsibility under man. We need pastors that quit filling their sermons with stories and a Scripture that is equal to a foot note. The disciple’s prayer in this passage is that they can Preach “God’s Word” with great boldness. Notice, they will preach God’s Word, not a few stories, poems and jokes.
        1. I think that this got started because at one time many of the churches were so far away from their people that they were too irrelevant. But now the church has swung too far to the opposite end. We are now unscriptural in our preaching.
        2. Peter and John were persecuted by unbelievers, today the Christians that do believe the Scriptures are persecuted from within the church for holding to the Scriptures.
        3. The pastors that preach God’s Word are persecuted from within the church.
        4.                                                                                                                          ii.       Now, I am a young preacher and you may walk away thinking, “that young preacher will learn.” But I want to tell you that I am standing on the shoulders of many other great older preachers when I say things such as what I just said. Among them Charles Swindoll. But most of all, I am referencing Scripture. Listen to what Rev. Dr. Swindoll writes referencing 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

Paul wrote with urgency, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (4:1-2). In other words, stick with the preaching plan God has promised to bless and use. Deliver the biblical goods! Be a man or woman of the Word!

Don’t attempt to be so creative and cute that folks miss the truth. No need for meaningless and silly substitutes that entertain but rarely convict the lost and edify the saved. Teach the truth. Will you notice something here? This exhortation is not addressed to the hearer, it’s for the speaker. The one who is to do this is the one proclaiming the message. Be ready to do it in season and out of season. Being ready implies being prepared both mentally and spiritually.

In essence, Paul says, “Don’t be lazy. Do your homework. Don’t stand up and start with an apology that you didn’t quite have adequate time to prepare. That doesn’t wash.” And do so faithfully—when it’s convenient and when it’s not.

Sadly, in an alarming number of churches today, God’s people are being told what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They are being fed warm milk, not solid meat. A watered-down gospel may attract large crowds (for a while), but it has no eternal impact. I’ve not been able to find any place in the Scriptures where God expresses the least bit of concern for drawing numbers. Satisfying the curious itching ears of our postmodern audiences is an exercise in futility.

The task of ministry is to deliver Truth. Frankly, I intend to continue doing just that, by God’s grace, until the day He calls me home. And I think there is an ever-increasing number of believers who long for nourishing messages based on the Word of God, not human opinion.

The world urgently needs more Christians with the fervor and faith of Paul. Will you be one of them? Will you answer the charge? If so, there’s no better time than now to begin.

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations . . . and I will be with you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV). There is no greater challenge and no more comforting promise. Believe it. Trust it. And by the grace of God, go do it!


  1. We also need prayers that we can preach God’s Word with great boldness.
  2. Verse 30 is a prayer for miracles.
    1. Do we pray for miracles? I must ask if I am praying for miracles. That is a challenge. We serve a God who brings about miracles.
    2. Verse 31 is a confirmation of their Spirit filled prayer.
      1. The place is shaken.
        1.                                                                                                                            i.      Did this really happen? It is possible it is metaphorical, but I favor that this is literal. God is so great that when He is present, I mean truly present there are consequences that defy natural laws.
    3. They also speak the Word of God boldly. That is the answer to their prayer.
    4. I want to read Isaiah 6:1-7:
      1. Notice this special revelation of God. God is present here. This really happened.

We eat and we want to be filled. We should pray desiring to be filled as well. We are New Testament Christians living in an increasingly secular world. Because of this we must go to the Word of God to be filled up with the Holy Spirit. Now, Christians are filled with the Spirit when we receive Christ as Savior and Lord; however, I believe as we grow in Christ we can experience special times of being filled with the Spirit. We should pray for this every day. I think this will mostly happen in small prayer circles and we need these as Christians. I think this will mostly also happen when our prayers are in the manner expressed in this passage. We must pray with worship acknowledging God as sovereign. We must pray in petition with our basic need, but also we must pray for the greater good submitting to God’s sovereign will. This prayer is for the building up of the church and it is spirit filled. Verse 31 says that they were filled with the Spirit.

Christ followers, let’s do the same. Whether or not you are a preacher, go forth and preach God’s Word including the Gospel. Do this with boldness. Pray in groups of Christians, pray in this manner and experience the Holy Spirit and get ready. Lastly, set aside diversity and instead embrace unity for the cause of the Gospel. Then, you ought to really be ready for the Holy Spirit’s work. Just last week in a small prayer gathering I experienced the gift of tongues being spoken and interpreted, though not by me. This confirmed God’s message in that prayer meeting. We need the type of prayer illustrated in this passage. I certainly do. We need, I need, Spirit-filled prayer meetings in our churches.  

Go and be Spirit-filled Christ followers, living as post resurrection Christians.

Listen as I read the words to a newer worship song:

Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble

Did you feel the mountains tremble?
Did you hear the oceans roar?
When the people rose to sing of
Jesus Christ the risen one

Did you feel the people tremble?
Did you hear the singers roar?
When the lost began to sing of
Jesus Christ the risen one

And we can see that God you’re moving
A mighty river through the nations
And young and old will turn to Jesus
Fling wide your heavenly gates
Prepare the way of the risen Lord

Open up the doors and let the music play
Let the streets resound with singing
Songs that bring your hope
Songs that bring your joy
Dancers who dance upon injustice

Did you feel the darkness tremble?
When all the saints join in one song
And all the streams flow as one river
To wash away our brokeness

And here we see that God you’re moving
A time of Jubilee is coming
When young and old return to Jesus
Fling wide your heavenly gates
Prepare the way of the risen Lord

Written by Martin Smith ©1995 Curious? Music UK

Let’s pray.

[1] Witherington III, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio-Rhetorical

Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.  Page 201.


[2] Arnold, Clinton E. Acts. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.

Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. Page 32


[3] Witherington III 201

[4] We may be able to take 1 Peter 3:7 which references our relationship with our spouse as hindering our prayer life to also mean if we are divided as a church it hinders our prayer life. Psalm 66:18 talks about cherished sin hindering our prayers.