All posts by Bill Bryan

The Gospel Message of Resurrection

Ten days after the ascension of Jesus to heaven the apostles received the Holy Spirit and began preaching the gospel (Acts 1-2). This was fifty-three days after His death. Their message from the beginning to the end of their ministry was built upon and around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus had commissioned them: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16.15).

In explaining the gospel, Paul wrote,

“Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received…For I delivered unto you first of all which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; that He was buried; and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15.1-4).

Christ’s resurrection from the dead is our assurance that He was the Son of God and that His sacrifice is acceptable with God. The basic fact upon which the entire scheme of redemption is supported is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Everything in the Christian religion is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, the church itself becomes a monument to the resurrection, since from the beginning it has rested on the resurrection of Christ as its foundation.

– Homer Hailey, From Creation to the Day of Eternity, 83-85

 

Jesus and Prayer

A study of the Gospels should impress us with Jesus’ dependence on prayer. The greatest illustration of His intensity and persistence in prayer occurred in the garden prior to His death: “He knelt down and began praying, saying, Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done…And being in agony He was praying fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22.41-42, 44).

While on earth, Jesus performed many mighty works and miracles. Scripture says “power went out of Him,” yet there is nothing to suggest He had to exert any effort to perform His miracles. Only when He prayed do we see Him agonize and toil over His petitions – even to the point of sweating great drops of blood. Such persistence is foreign to us, yet it’s that kind of intensity He would have us learn from two parables. In Luke 11.5-10, the man requesting bread from his friend didn’t recite some formulated request – he pleaded for what he needed. Likewise in Luke 18.1-8, the widow cried out for protection to the one who had the power to grant her petition. His message is clear: If we are to prevail, we must persist! We are not heard for our many words – but for the cry of our hearts.

Persistent, continual prayer welling up from the innermost part of our being is what moves the heart of our compassionate and loving Heavenly Father. Jesus’ promise to His people is this: “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” (Mark 11.24).

– Bill

 

Unceasing Prayer

Paul instructed believers to “pray at all times” (Ephesians 6.18) and to “devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4.2). He urged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17)…the Philippians to stop being anxious and instead, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4.6)…the Colossians to “devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (4.2)…the Ephesians to arm themselves to combat the spiritual darkness in the world around them, “with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (6.18).

Unceasing prayer is essential to the vitality of our relationship with God and our ability to function as God’s called out people in the world. “Pray without ceasing,” what does that mean? To “pray at all times” obviously doesn’t mean we are to walk around praying in noticeable or formal ways every waking moment. Neither does it mean we are to devote ourselves to reciting ritualistic patterns and forms of prayer.

To “pray without ceasing” refers essentially to recurring prayer – not non-stop talking.  “Ceaseless prayer” is living in continual God-consciousness: When we are tempted, we hold up the temptation before God and ask for His help. When we experience something good or beautiful, we immediately thank the Lord for it. When we see evil about us, we ask God to use us to make it right according to His will. When we meet one who does not know Christ, we ask God to help us be effective messengers of the Good News. When we encounter trouble, we turn to God as our Deliverer. Life becomes a continually ascending prayer: all life’s thoughts, deeds, and circumstances become an opportunity to commune with our Heavenly Father – in that way we “set our minds on things above, not on the things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3.2).

– Bill

 

Prayer, the Center of Christian Experience

Prayer has always been at the center of the Christian experience.

Immediately following the Lord’s ascension, the eleven apostles returned to Jerusalem, and Luke records, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1.14).

At the conclusion of the great events on Pentecost—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel, and the response of the three thousand—the text states, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2.42).

When Peter and John told the brethren of their arrest for publicly preaching Jesus as the resurrected Messiah, “when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4.31).

When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, “prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God” (Acts 12.5).

Prayer was their source of power. Their complete dependence upon God, as expressed by their frequent and fervent prayers, enabled them to accomplish the unimaginable—the saturation of their world with the gospel of Christ.

– Bill

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,
so that you will know what is the hope of His calling,
what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
which He brought about in Christ,
when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him
at His right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Ephesians 1.18-21

 

The Privilege of Prayer

Prayer grants us entrance into the Holy of Holies.

Prayer is a privilege that lifts us above the clamoring noise of the world and transports us into the very presence of the Majesty on High.

There is no pretentiousness with God. We can’t fool Him. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our hearts and the intentions of our hearts.

Prayer is the secret place where we can go and unburden our souls before the One who knows all our burdens and invites us to cast them upon Him (1 Peter 5.7).

In his book on prayer, Richard Foster says prayer is ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father…no pretense to be more holy, more pure or saintly than we actually are. We don’t try to conceal our conflicting and contradictory motives from God — or ourselves. And in this posture we pour out our heart to the God who is greater than our heart and who knows all things – “in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater that our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3.20).

To believe that God can reach us and bless us in the ordinary junctures of daily life is the stuff of prayer. The only place God can bless us is right where we are, because that is the only place we are!

– Bill

 

 

Salt & Light

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

 THE MESSAGE, Matthew 5.13-16

Jesus used the analogies of salt and light to illustrate the Christian’s role in the world.

There are two things required of salt and light:

  1.  They need to be different from their surrounding environment. Salt seasons bland food and light banishes darkness.
  2. Both salt and light must penetrate their environment in order to make a difference.

“Salt of the earth” has become colloquialized in our language to describe a person we believe to have exceptionally high moral and ethical standards. If that’s the case, then we’ve missed the point Jesus is driving home here.

Here’s what He’s really saying, “You are the red hot chili pepper for the whole world!” His description refers not to status, to a person’s high ethical standard, but to function, a person’s impact on the world around him or her.

Light is one of Scripture’s most common symbols. God is light (1 John 1.5), Christ is light (John 1.7-9), and God’s people are light (Ephesians 5.8).

Light makes things visible. You can’t hide a city built on top of a hill. By day it’s visible by the light of the sun, by night by the lights of the city itself. The visible light within each Christian is the working of God in each one’s life.

With salt the world will taste the goodness of God because of the influence Christians have on their immediate surroundings. With light the world will see the goodness of God radiating from within the lives of Christ’s called-out people.

 – Bill  

 

The Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

In the opening words of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focused attention on the center of true religion. Outside appearances, looking and acting religious aren’t what make us acceptable to God; rather it is the condition of our heart (Matthew 5.2-12).

The heart has always been the source of our troubles.

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, envy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7.21-23).

Some folks have the notion that the world is to blame. Change the world, improve our environment, and all our troubles will disappear. But that’s just not so. Where was man when the trouble started? He was in Eden – in “paradise” – no environmental problems there! Our troubles come from within, not without. That’s why purity of heart is so crucial. Neither education, health, power, wealth, nor fame make us good people – purity of heart does.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” How badly do we want to see God? Are we willing to open our innermost thoughts, our cleverly concealed desires, our secret ambitions for God’s inspection? Oh how happy are those who live without shame before the all-seeing eye of God.

Jesus is keenly interested in the quality of our innermost being – purity of mind so clean that lust cannot live; honesty so well-known that oaths are unnecessary; love, care, and concern so genuine that hate, anger, prejudice, and retaliation are never reasons for action; trust in God’s provisions so complete that worry, greed, and material indulgence don’t distract. Those are the characteristics of the pure in heart.

– Bill

 

 

The Contribution: An Act of Worship

The Lord’s church is a unique institution. One of her unique characteristics is the manner in which her financial needs are supplied.

No church policy pressures members into giving. We do not exact tithes from members, nor do we attempt to finance our work with street collections, fairs, bazaars, bake sales, bingo parties, or other such fund-raising activities.

Each week faithful Christians contribute from their hard-earned wages to support the work of this church. We are fortunate and thankful to our Heavenly Father for the loyalty of our brothers and sisters who have committed themselves to provide for these financial needs.

The principle upon which the financial needs of the church are supplied is given in 2 Corinthians 9.6-7:

But this I say, he which sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.

Acceptable giving is something that is learned through studying God’s Word. It must be purposed and planned. It is a personal expression of devotion and love for God and His church. It is an act of worship centered in the heart expressed with money earned
through your labor.

– Bill

 

“And the Tempter Came…”

Not even God, for that is who Jesus is – remember Immanuel, “God with us?” Not even God could escape the pressure and challenge and nuisance and allure of temptation while He was on earth. The difference, though, between Him and us is that He never yielded. He never gave in to the temptation. He overcame the tempter on every occasion. But He knows how it feels to be tempted. He knows the struggles involved in having to deal with jealousy and greed and lust and ambition and anger, because He faced them too.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.14-16).

Jesus, now in heaven in the presence of God the Father, is our High Priest and our Advocate. He is qualified to intercede for us because He was tempted like us in every way. And having overcome all temptation He sacrificed His sinless life to redeem us from our sins when we fall to the temptation.

Because of Him and through Him we may indeed draw near with confidence to God’s throne of grace. Hallelujah!

– Bill

 

The Baptism of Jesus

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’… Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3.1, 13).

John the Baptist’s ministry created a sensation. He found himself at the center of a great spiritual revival. Large crowds converged on the lower reaches of the River Jordan, both to listen to his call to repentance and to be baptized.

John had already spoken of Jesus as one mightier than he, the thongs of whose sandals he was not worthy to undo. It is not surprising that when Jesus presented Himself to John for baptism, John demurred. It would seem more appropriate for Jesus to baptize John than for John to baptize Jesus. But Jesus insisted.

It also seems strange that Jesus asked for baptism. John’s was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was without sin.  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3.15) and John consented.

As Jesus emerged from the waters of baptism “lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him; and lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.16-17).

Those words united two Old Testament scriptures. First, “this is My Son” echoes Psalm 2.7 where God declared the Davidic king to be His son. Second, “in whom I am well pleased” echoes Isaiah 42.1 where God declared His pleasure in His servant. Thus at His baptism, Jesus was declared both Son and Servant of God.

 – John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year