No Man Can Know

Knowing more than Socrates

While researching the resurrection of the dead, I ran into a related quote from Socrates, a very wise and famous Greek philosopher from the fifth century B.C.–perhaps most known for his method of death (forced to drink hemlock).  But before I started typing my notes for this sermon I ran into something else of his I just couldn’t help but share:

“By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”  []

However, that’s not the quote that is pertinent to this discussion.  Instead the Gospel Herald notes that when asked  “‘Shall we live again?” [by his friends] The dying philosopher could only reply, ‘I hope so, but no man can know.’” [ Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX: Bible Communications. ]

“I hope so, but no man can know”…

Continue reading No Man Can Know

Why, Why, Why?

Picture after hurricane

Taxi Driver

One of the benefits of traveling is meeting new people–often taxi cab drivers.  Heading back to my hotel from Busch Stadium this past Monday I was blessed by a long chat with a former Ethiopian, Eyasu Reda.

The conversation started going biblical when, after I told him how Augie was a bit of a late arrival based on my wife’s age, he noted she was like Sarah.

Michelle will be glad to know that I did confirm she wasn’t quite that old. ☺

Just before we got to the St. Louis Airport Marriott Eyasu brought up how his daughter spoke with him about Job.  She could accept the terrible things that happened to him–but what about children who haven’t done anything wrong…yet suffer horrific fates.  Why does God allow it?

Eyasu didn’t feel that he was able to answer that well.

Would you?

Continue reading Why, Why, Why?

Bargaining with the Gods

Boy praying

Why a sermon on prayer?

At the end of Bible study on Wednesday I asked what folks might like to hear a sermon on…and Winslow suggested prayer since it is the theme of this month.

“But prayer is one of my greatest shortcomings!” I protested.

“All the more reason to do a sermon on prayer,” everyone countered.

Perhaps not the exact wording…but that really is the genesis of this talk.

Anybody else here feel the pang of guilt every time they hear of how some pillar of the faith spent hours a day praying, got up early every morning to spend time with God, etcetera?  [ Wait for answers. ]

Then this sermon is for us…for those who know their prayer life isn’t what it should be.

Now…I really, really don’t feel competent to talk about prayer because I am so lousy at its practice…luckily God hasn’t called me up here to preach my own wisdom, but instead His from the Bible–and the Bible has plenty to say about prayer!


Pagan prayer

Before we turn to Scripture to learn God’s guidance on prayer, let’s talk about how those in other religions pray.  In his book, “Every Prayer in the Bible,” Larry Richards had a section, “Prayer and Our View of God,” in which he summarized three major historic views of prayer:

  • Prayer in Roman religion: a legal transaction
  • Prayer in Sumerian religion: bargaining with the gods
  • Prayer in Egyptian religion: manipulation of the gods

He summarized those three in a section he titled, “The Impact of the Concept of God in Pagan Religions”:

The above descriptions of the prayers of pagans are not exhaustive. The literature of each culture mentioned contains poems praising the gods that the people worshiped. Yet the prayers quoted above reveal much about the basic assumptions of the Romans, the Sumerians and other Mesopotamian peoples, and the Egyptians concerning the nature of their gods and humankind’s relationship with them.

The Romans maintained a respectful attitude toward their gods, yet they assumed that something like a legal contract could be negotiated with them. By presenting something of value to the gods, the Romans expected the gods to behave appropriately, returning an equivalent benefit. The gods and human beings were viewed as parties who entered into formal contracts to the benefit of each.

The Sumerians and other Mesopotamian peoples assumed that the gods were in some sense dependent on human beings. The gods fed on the sacrifices offered by humankind, and they were pleased by gifts such as the gold cup which Zimri-Lim offered to Ida, the river god.

While the Romans tended to assume a quasi-legal mutual obligation might exist between men and the gods, the Mesopotamian peoples hoped that by appeasing their gods the gods might favor them. The fact that the gods wanted what human beings could provide offered some prospect of bargaining successfully, although the gods of the ancient Near East were capricious and could not be counted on.

The attitude of the Egyptians, as expressed in their prayer-spells, was far more cynical. The gods were real, but they could be manipulated by magic. In some sense, human beings could gain power over the gods and force them to do man’s will. Even access to heaven depended on having at hand the right magic spells by which to pass various tests imposed by the guardian deities of the otherworld.

While manipulation of the gods by means of magic spells was also an element in most other pagan religions, this approach to prayer was most fully expressed in Egyptian religion.

[ Richards, L. (1998). Every prayer in the Bible (12–13). Nashville: T. Nelson. ]

What do you prayers say about your picture of God?  Are you trying to legally obligate God to answer?  Are you bargaining with Him?  Do you think if you just choose the right combination of words you’ll get your way?

Have you, like me, been guilty of all three at some point in your life?

More importantly, what does the way you pray say about your picture of God?


Jesus’ advice about prayer

The sure cure for our unhealthy–perhaps anemic–prayers is a dose of biblical advice, so let’s go there.

Jesus’ prayer habit

First, does everyone understand just how much Jesus depended on prayer?

  • He started His ministry started with prayer (Luke 3:21)
  • He went up mountains to pray alone (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46)
  • He rose up before sunrise to pray privately (Mark 1:35)
  • He prayed all night (Luke 6:12)
  • He ended His ministry praying (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46)
  • And more…

Jesus practiced what He preached…so let’s now look at what he preached:

Matthew 6:5-15:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

10 Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

12 and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

What can we learn from Jesus’ example prayer and advice around it?

  • That we should never do prayer for show
  • That we should have private prayer
  • That quantity or repetition of words does not increase prayer effectiveness
  • That when we pray we should picture God as our [ wait for responses ]…that we should picture God as our Father.
  • That we should “hallow” our heavenly Father (honor Him as holy…treat him with respect and honor)
  • That we should pray for His will
  • That we should look to Him to provide our daily needs
  • That we should ask Him to forgive us…but not before [ wait for answers ]…but not before we forgive others
  • That we should look to the Lord to help us fight our temptations

Quite a lot in one prayer, eh?!

But doesn’t this all make sense if our picture of God is that of a trustworthy, powerful, caring, and loving father?

Wasn’t Larry Richards wise in naming a section: “The Impact of the Concept of God in Pagan Religions”?

If our prayers come up short when compared to Jesus’ advice, what does it say about our picture of God?

The second time Scripture captures Jesus’ example prayer is in Luke 11:1-13…let’s see what else it adds:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread,

4 and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.”

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The actual prayer shared by Luke is shorter, but he does include a couple more points we can learn from:

  • Be persistent (not for God’s sake, for our own).  Ask.  Ask.  Ask.  Don’t give up.
  • Trust your heavenly Father knows what you need, and will provide it

So…in just two scriptures about the sermon on the mount Jesus gives us 11 bits of advice.

Larry Richards ended up with a slightly different take–one that’s a bit more eloquent than mine:

1. True prayer is an expression of a human being’s personal relationship with God.

2. True prayer involves reliance on the fatherliness of God.

3. True prayer involves an expression by those who know God through Jesus of:

(a) respect for God as holy;

(b) submission to God’s sovereign right to rule;

(c) commitment to moral obedience and to fulfilling God’s purposes;

(d) daily dependence on God;

(e) determination to live as a forgiven and forgiving person; and

(f) reliance on God for strength to meet successfully any testing which He devises.

[ Richards, L. (1998). Every prayer in the Bible (143). Nashville: T. Nelson. ]


More advice

Obviously the Bible has much more advice on praying.  Whether it be Paul saying that we should pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17), James telling us not to doubt when praying (James 1:5-8), Jesus telling us to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), or John telling us to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are “committing a sin not leading to death” (1 John 5:16)…the Bible is full or guidance…both straight up and by sharing great examples.  (For instance, what was Daniel’s habit?  “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God…” — Daniel 6:10.)

With all these great words of wisdom from Scripture…do you suddenly feel like a prayer warrior?

Not me…but a Puritan, William Gurnall, did say something that speaks to me:

Praying is the same to the new creature as crying is to the natural. The child is not learned by art or example to cry, but  instructed by nature; it comes into the world crying. Praying is not a lesson got by forms and rules of art, but flowing from principles of new life itself. [Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

We don’t “learn” to pray like we pick up chemistry in high school…prayer is something we naturally grow into as God continues His work of regeneration in us.  It is from the heart, not the head.  I need…you need…to let God make prayer natural for us.

I’d like to wrap up with the thoughts of another Puritan, Thomas Brooks:

God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers, to see how neat they are; nor yet at the geometry of your prayers, to see how long they are; nor yet at the arithmetic of your prayers, to see how many they are; nor yet at the music of your prayers, nor yet at the sweetness of your voice, nor yet at the logic of your prayers; but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are. There is no prayer acknowledged, approved, accepted, recorded, or rewarded by God, but that wherein the heart is sincerely and wholly. The true mother would not have the child divided. God loves a broken and a contrite heart, so He loathes a divided heart. God neither loves halting nor halving. [ Thomas, I. (1996). The golden treasury of Puritan quotations (electronic ed.). Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation. ]

Nothing matters more in prayer than your heart…except…I would argue…the God you are praying to…

Fear of Flying

With this sermon it'll be the third time out of four that I have chosen a subject that is too broad to cover in a 30 minute sermon…so I am going to ask Warren to lock the door and we'll spend the rest of the day together. ☺

Okay, okay…perhaps instead we'll reduce it to 20-30 minutes by narrowing the scope. By the time I finish, if I've done my job right, I will have answered the following questions:

  • What is faith?
  • What is saving faith?
  • What should we do with doubt?

Ready to dig in?

What is faith?

Long ago someone share an analogy about faith with me. One can believe that planes are able to fly—but clearly they do not have faith that they can fly until they are willing to climb on one and let it take off. If your fear of flying keeps you on the ground, do you really have faith in an airplane?

Not much of a definition…but something simple that has stayed with me. However, let's try to get a bit more formal…

Continue reading Fear of Flying

A Brief History of the Paraclete

Many may think that in 1984 the movie, "Revenge of the Nerds," might have made nerdhood popular—allowed nerds to escape the closet and no longer have to hide their pocket protectors.

However, I would suggest a book first published in 1988 is more responsible— by Stephen Hawking. Anyone recognize Stephen Hawking's name?

[ Wait for answers ]

All the more proof to my point that he brought nerds into the mainstream—here is a theoretical physicist who is better known than many television stars. Not bad for scientists who might die out based on the "survival of the fittest" evolutionary theory most of them seem believe it.

For some reason when I read Winslow's Scripture for this week that book came to mind…although it seemed to me it was called "A Short History of the Universe"…

And it also seemed, with a slight adjustment to a different subject, a good title for a sermon.

Continue reading A Brief History of the Paraclete

Out of Nothing

A quick aside…

As most everyone sitting here knows, Augie's full name is Augustine—named after Augustine of Hippo, a famous theologian who lived from 354 to 430 A.D. However, some people don't think it should be pronounced uh-gus-ton, but instead aww-gus-steen. At night when I fall alseep…or wake up and need to go back to sleep…I throw on podcasts, and one of the speakers I listen to is Dr. Albert Mohler (, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. (Some of you might remember me quoting him when we talked about whether we should sign The Manhattan Declaration.)

Either way…I don't remember exactly since I was going in and out of sleep, but when it comes to how to pronounce Augustine Dr. Mohler quoted someone else who said:

"Aww-gus-steen is in Florida. Uh-gus-ton is in Heaven."

Our Augustine is a little heaven on earth for us…

Continue reading Out of Nothing

Do a Good Turn Daily

Boy Scout Facts

From "Scouting," January-February 2010:

  • The Boy Scouts were officially started by Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (1857-1941) when he published Scouting for Boys in [ let the congregation say based on it being the 100th anniversary ] 1908.
  • General (in the British Army) Baden-Powell "was officially crowned the first—and only—Chief Scout of the World" at the 1920 World Scout Jamboree in London.
  • William D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 2010.
  • William Boyce was a "wealthy newspaper publisher" who "came to the boys' work by accident" (but more on that later).
  • The Boy Scouts of America's 100-millionth member was registered in 2000.

William D. Boyce's "accidental" introduction to the Boy Scouts

The Story of a Good Turn, Boy Scout Handbook, Tenth Edition, Chapter 26, Boy Scouts of America

How good must a Good Turn be to be good? The answer is best given by telling you the story of how Scouting came to America. It shows that it isn't the size of a Good Turn that counts. What is important is the spirit with which a Scout does a Good Turn.

“Do a Good Turn Daily” is the Scout Slogan.

One Day in 1909 in London, England, an American visitor, William D. Boyce, lost his way in a dense fog. He Stopped under a street lamp and tried to figure out where he was. A boy approached him and asked if he could be of help.

Continue reading Do a Good Turn Daily

Just in Case



Those who have been tortured with listening to me talk in a day-to-day setting know that I’m a bit addicted to music.  I’m sure there are plenty who have more than I do…but even without ripping every CD I own, my iPod has over 60GB of music files.  It’s not a bad addiction compared to others, but it sure drives Michelle up the wall when I start cycling through the first portion of one song after another. ☺

Favorite groups

[ Ask people who their favorite artist or band is.  Ask them who the best band or artist ever is. ]

Although I think (ignoring the message of their music) the best band ever is Led Zeppelin, my favorite group is The Cult.  However, as I thought more about the band behind the title of today’s sermon, Tesla, I’m beginning to wonder if they have become my favorite.  Perhaps not–but they are definitely near the top and far better at always releasing a good album (although, in fairness, I just don’t always enjoy some of the style choices The Cult has made as they try new sounds).

(As an aside…my favorite Christian artist is Steve Camp and my favorite Christian band is 12 Stones.  Their quality is equal to, and sometimes better, than their secular peers.)

Continue reading Just in Case

When Sacrifice Is an Abomination

Following directions

Have you ever followed a teacher or a boss' directions exactly…completed your assignment or task…looked for approval…and then…

Been told you totally hosed up? Gotten that bad grade or bad review of your work?

[ Assuming most everyone is shaking their heads, note how this seems to be a pretty common experience. ]

How did you feel?

Like the rug was pulled out from under you?



Frustrated and angry?


But not good, eh?

God getting very specific with directions

I made it through the entire Bible for the third time in 2009…something I really can have no pride in since I am 45 and have no excuse for not having read through it many more times, but one thing that is clear, especially in the Old Testament, is that God can be very, very specific with directions.

Let's turn to chapter 20 in Exodus. We aren't going to read it, but we'll glance through it to get a sense of just how precise our Lord can be in telling us what to do:

Continue reading When Sacrifice Is an Abomination

Money (That’s What I Want)

Gold coins

Abu Dhabi

Last week I was in Abu Dhabi–The company I work for has provided services to FIFA Club football matches there and a good friend of mine has been running the ticketing.

After I dealt with exchanging U.S. dollars for UAE dirhams (and back), saw all the expensive cars zipping down the road (a bit disconcerting as they shook my rental car when they passed me the first night I arrived), saw the most prolific items in the skyline — cranes, made sure I’d have enough UAE coins for all the kids here…

The subject for this week’s sermon came to mind.

Continue reading Money (That’s What I Want)

Unequally Yoked (Part 2)


Last week I spoke about the active controversy about whether Christians should sign The Manhattan Declaration, a 7-page document that stands up for:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

[ ]

Although it is well written, timely, and doesn’t say anything that a traditional Christian would likely disagree with, I noted that I personally would not sign it for five reasons:

Continue reading Unequally Yoked (Part 2)

Unequally Yoked (Part 1)

The Manhattan Declaration

How many out there use social networking sites?

Which ones?




At this point all I really use is Facebook and Twitter, and there has been quite a controversy amongst Christians on that service under #mdec about The Manhattan Declaration — mainly, whether a Christian should sign it or not.

To complicate things, Christian leaders I respect have come down on both sides of the issue.

Continue reading Unequally Yoked (Part 1)

Understand the Loaves

Basket of french sticks

Finally in Sync

Do you know the one miracle that all four Gospels record?

[ Wait for answers. ]

Right, the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments says it nicely:

Here, for the first time, all the four streams of sacred text run parallel. The occasion and all the circumstances of this grand section are thus brought before us with a vividness quite remarkable.

Continue reading Understand the Loaves

You Are Members of the Devil’s Household

You Are Members of the Devil’s Household


On Sept. 21, Pastor Manuel was shot and killed by The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia, according to The Voice of the Martyrs contacts.

Continue reading You Are Members of the Devil’s Household

When God (Finally) Speaks Clearly

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with​the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and ​was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, ​with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, o​one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was ​caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for ​1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1-6, ESV)

How clear was that? Can anyone tell me exactly what God was showing John in that vision?

Continue reading When God (Finally) Speaks Clearly