The Power Of God In The Church Today
Begin now to make ready for as many people in church the 11 weeks after Easter as the 11 weeks before. To that end prepare to preach from “the most exciting book in the New Testament.” Meantime live with the Acts of the Holy Spirit. On points of difficulty consult such a commentary as R. B. Rackham’s, but let the main stress fall on study of the Bible book, by paragraphs, with prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
On the Lord’s Day after Easter introduce the book. “The Holy Spirit as Power in This Church” (1:8). Power—Personal—Practical—Through Prayer. Near the end lead the hearer to resolve that following a listing in the bulletin he will read a few chapters every week, including the passage for the coming sermon. Topic given; passage not known. Later topics; no text in advance.
“The Christian Secret of Courage” (4:13a). In the most perilous city on earth, courage by a former coward! “The Forgiveness of Deadly Wrongs” (7:60), like “the sins that crucified Jesus,” and unconfessed. “He prayed for them that did the wrong; who follows in his train?”
“The Spirit’s Guidance in Personal Work” (8:29). The Spirit Chooses the Soul-Winner—Singles Out the Man to Be Won—Brings Them Together—Guides the Conversation—Leads to Acceptance of Christ. “The Conversion of Public Enemy Number One” (9:31).
“The Christian Remedy for Race Prejudice” (10:34). In Bible days race prejudice ran riot. I. The Spirit Takes Race Prejudice out of a Roman Army Captain. II. Out of a Jewish Christian Minister. III. Out of Their Social Relations. IV. Out of Their Public Worship. V. And Leads to a Second Pentecost.
“An Unexpected Case of Answered Prayer” (12:16). I. An Exciting Case of Need for Prayer. II. A Hearty Response to a Call for Prayer. III. A Blessed Answer to United Prayer. IV. Amazing Incredulity about Answered Prayer.
“The Conversion of a Hardened Sinner” (16:31). A man of middle age, strong and capable, transformed between dusk and dawn. How? Through a tremendous, crashing experience. I. This Conversion Begins with a Desire to Be Saved. II. Comes Through Personal Acceptance of Christ. III. Leads to Acts of Mercy. IV. Issues in Baptism and Church Membership. With the converted business woman and jailer as the first members, the congregation grows in grace.
“The Deepening of Christian Experience” (19:2). I. Christian Experience Begins with Being Born Again. II. Persons Born Again Need to Grow in Grace. Like those early believers, through no fault of their own, many church members lack power, joy, and radiance. III. They Need Personal, Transforming Experience of the Holy Spirit. Like Paul, guide them to the Spirit as God’s way to deeper experience.
“How to Have a Clean Conscience” (24:16). Everyone has a conscience. Everyone here longs to keep it clean. How? Many a well-educated man has used the case method in college, but never has found in the Acts the inspired collection of cases in the meaning of a Christian life here today.
I. The Apostle Has a Clean Conscience. This God-given power shows the right from the wrong. Impels, but does not compel, a man to do the right. Approves when he does the right; rebukes when he does the wrong. II. The Politician Felix Shows What It Means to Have an Unclean Conscience. Like an unclean watch, or automobile motor, an unclean conscience cannot do what God made it to do. Is there any hope for a person with an unclean conscience?
III. The Gospel Shows How to Get a Clean Conscience. Paul serves as a living example of what the blood of Christ does with a conscience befouled by sin. IV. Better still, the Apostle Shows How to Keep Your Conscience Clean. At the Cross through Bible-reading and prayer keep your conscience clean. Like Paul, exercise it every day. Otherwise it may suffer from fatty degeneration.
James Stalker well says that a man who can not preach to the conscience can not preach. If any Christian would learn how to preach, as well as what, and why, let him live with this Bible book, in prayer. Now for a few inferences, each of them from the Acts, and obvious.
1. This Bible book affords inexhaustible materials for a course of practical, inspiring sermons after Easter. 2. Any paragraph, or little cluster of paragraphs, provides more than enough biblical materials for a sermon. Why complicate the message by looking elsewhere? 3. If the minister keeps to his passage he can weekly show a layman how to read the Bible at home, prayerfully. 4. Such a hearer continues to grow in knowledge of God and in His grace. 5. So does the minister who keeps close to the Book and to the people, because he wishes to keep close to God. Man of God, are you growing? (See the author’s book, The Growing Minister, Abingdon Press, 1960.)
ANDREW W. BLACKWOOD
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him (Acts 12:5).
The introduction has to do with persecution, nothing new in a local church. This our Lord has led believers to expect. The sermon deals with a case of persecution, where a foremost minister suffers and the home church prays. The first of four main ideas: In a time of persecution,
I. The Home Church Prays. Note here the contrast. Peter in prison asleep, not on a Beautyrest mattress, but on a stone floor in a sleeping bag, while chained with two soldiers. He has prayed. He knows that his times are in God’s hands and that “he giveth his beloved sleep.” Now look at the home church the same night, on bended knees before God, praying for Peter.
II. The Home Church Believes. Not in prayer, but in God! These church folk know that King Herod has killed James, and that Peter may come next. But still they trust God, for what we do not know. Doubtless they leave all that in the hands of God, who loves both Peter and the local church at prayer.
III. The Home Church Prevails. While they are on their knees praying for Peter, to their amazement they hear him knocking at the gate. We know little about those prayers, but we learn anew that God delights to answer collective prayer, especially in a time of persecution.
IV. The Home Church Prospers, with “soul prosperity.” Because of persecution? No! Because of united prayer! In times of intense persecution the Church has her largest growth, but only if she prays. When the Church is the pawn of a welfare state, the Church grows weak. This does not mean that we should become self-appointed martyrs, but that in America the Church may have to drink the bitter cup of persecution, so as to lay hold of God’s untold power, released through united prayer.
Near the end of the sermon comes the sole illustration. It has to do with what the minister recently beheld in Korea. At 5:00 A.M. in winter, and 4:30 in summer, a thousand believers come together in a church to sing and pray, quite informally but with no disorder. Five times the city has been overrun in battle. Now the church is stronger than ever before. Why? Because that church prays, most of all in a time of persecution.
The conclusion has to do with how God blesses a home church that prays.—Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Oklahoma City.
… He is a chosen vessel unto me (Acts 9:15b).
In the Apostle, God shows how He calls and equips a church leader. In every case the Lord works differently. Even so, his way with Paul teaches much today.
I. God’s Choice of Paul. A. A unique background: a Jew by birth and rearing; a Roman by citizenship and custom; a Greek by environment and culture. “All things to all men.”
B. A unique equipment: an unimposing body; a strong intellect; even stronger emotions; a keen conscience; a mighty will, for self or God, for bad or good.
C. A unique experience: God-defying; God-transformed; Christ-centered. “For me to live is Christ.”
II. Lessons from God’s Choice. A. For leadership He chooses only a prepared vessel. His ways are not our ways. He alone knows the heart. For what are you preparing yourself?
B. God crowns his choice with his grace. He waits to do wonders with an earthen vessel he has cleansed. An earthen vessel means one with flaws, but in his hands, ready for service.
C. God uses a leader where the Kingdom needs him most. For Paul that meant peril, toil, and pain, even martyrdom. God alone should determine your lot, and your life from day to day.
Do you believe that in the little and in the large your life should be a plan of God? Paul never dreamed that his place would be so vast as we now know it to have been. Leave all such things in the hands of God. When he honors you by a call, delight to do his holy will. Herein lies the Christian secret of being a good leader, or a good follower, “in Christ.”—From The Evangel of the Strait Gate, 1916, pp. 224–34.
Dedicated to assisting the clergy in the preparation of sermons, the feature titled The Minister’s Workshop appears in the first issue of each month. The section’s introductory essay is contributed alternately by Dr. Andrew W. Blackwood and Dr. Paul S. Rees. The feature includes, also, Dr. Blackwood’s abridgments of expository-topical sermons, outlines of significant messages by great preachers of the past, and outlines or abridgments of messages presented by expository preachers of our own time.—ED.
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
Under God, the hope for still better days in our beloved church depends largely on our ideals. Here as a congregation we can learn much from the Book of Acts. In Jerusalem the home church rose to wondrous heights, largely because of her ideals, which came from God. The list here is incomplete.
I. The Pulpit Teaching. After persons become believers they need instruction from the pulpit. It comes best as a vital part of worship, and centers in Christ, not least in his cross.
II. The Happy Family. As members of God’s redeemed family, believers enjoy each other because of all they have in common. Their fellowship centers in Christ. Him they gladly serve, and by mingling with each other they continue to grow more and more like Him.
III. The Holy Communion. Such believers look on the Lord’s Supper as earth’s nearest approach to heaven. Here they enjoy the real presence of their Lord. In him they hold loving fellowship with the saints assembled, with other believers around the world, and with the redeemed in glory, What a mystery! Ah, yes, but “a mystery of light”!
IV. The Daily Prayers. Like oppressed Christians in Korea today, those first-century believers showed their loyalty to the Redeemer by their daily prayers. In the house of worship, at the family altar, and in private devotions they learned to know him better, to love him more, and to become more like him. Then they went forth to do the Redeemer’s holy and perfect will, gladly and well, for his dear sake.—From The Way Everlasting, 1911, pp. 101–12.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God (Acts 27:25a; read vv. 23–25).
Here is the world’s most famous description of a storm at sea. Also, one of the most striking chapters in the Bible, strangely neglected in sermons. The chapter shows how by faith a landsman leads a shipload of storm-tossed sailors and soldiers to escape from a watery grave.
I. Trust Amid a Storm. In mid-winter a storm at sea causes strong men either to fear or have faith. Practical faith means trust in the Living Christ: as One who is here—One who knows—One who cares—One who is able. Able to do what? To deliver from death, and from fear. What else does our old earth need now?
II. Night After Night. Fourteen days and nights! With no way of lighting the old wooden tub in which those men sailed! Every hour the terror mounted. But not with Paul. He alone prayed. When the storm broke and while it raged, he prayed to God, who alone could hear. When the storm subsided he prayed so that all on board would look to God for deliverance.
III. Prayer for Others. “Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” Prayer for others too terror-stricken to pray for themselves, even if they had known how to pray at all. For a later example, read the life of Alexander Duff, brilliant missionary to India. On his first voyage, during a storm the ship went down. On the shore he gathered together the survivors, read a part of Psalm 107, and led in a service of thanksgiving for deliverance from death.
IV. When the Ship Goes Down. When the Titantic went down (Apr. 14, 1912), many on board were lost. But because of the apostle’s faith in the Living Christ, all those men long ago were spared. Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, they all escaped safe to land.
Once in Washington, D. C., T. De Witt Talmage used these closing words in a message about being saved in time of storm. Fifty years later a dying widow told me how that sermon had blessed her and her husband through all their years, when more than one ship had gone down with all their worldly goods.
However faulty the interpretation, thank God for a message that for 50 years served a home as a guiding star through all sorts of storms! Better still, while the sun is shining and the south wind is purring, put your own trust in the hands that once were pierced. Even while the storm rages, with Paul look up to the Living Christ and pray for others.
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