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‘What Right Do You Have to Baptize?’ – John 1:24-25


About This Devotional

What Jesus Did is a one-year devotional guide through the gospels, using one short passage each day and following the Gospel in consecutive order. Each devotional consists of a passage, reflection and a prayer which opens up the day’s scripture and shows how it challenges you to live for Jesus.

What Jesus Did! is written by Phil Ware.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Quote for Jan. 16th, 2018


Isaiah 41:14 – Morning Devotional for Jan. 16th


This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help thee.” “It is but a small thing for me, thy God, to help thee. Consider what I have done already. What! not help thee? Why, I bought thee with my blood. What! not help thee? I have died for thee; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less? Help thee! It is the least thing I will ever do for thee; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose thee. I made the covenant for thee. I laid aside my glory and became a man for thee; I gave up my life for thee; and if I did all this, I will surely help thee now. In helping thee, I am giving thee what I have bought for thee already. If thou hadst need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it thee; thou requirest little compared with what I am ready to give. ‘Tis much for thee to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow. ‘Help thee?’ Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of thy granary asking for help, it would not ruin thee to give him a handful of thy wheat; and thou art nothing but a tiny insect at the door of my all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.'”

O my soul, is not this enough? Dost thou need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Dost thou want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring hither thine empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Haste, gather up thy wants, and bring them here-thine emptiness, thy woes, thy needs. Behold, this river of God is full for thy supply; what canst thou desire beside? Go forth, my soul, in this thy might. The Eternal God is thine helper!

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismay’d!
I, I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.”

Romans 12:9 – Verse for Jan. 16th


Does God still speak in an audible voice? He has to me


Of all the slurs aimed at Christians by atheists, the idea that we’re just ‘the people who hear voices’ is one of the most painful. The thought that religion can simply be conflated with mental illness is offensive for sure, but while faith is a perfectly sane pursuit, even the most devout among us are sometimes uncertain whether we actually heard from God…or made him up in our heads. Doubt is a central part of faith after all, and the question of whether we discerned or understood God’s voice is often the main reason that those doubts present themselves.

PixabayDoes God speak in an audible voice?

A key reason for this is that there’s no single way in which all Christians agree that God speaks. For some, God’s voice comes through a straight reading of Scripture (although many would argue that’s all open to interpretation); for others, it’s about a sense of guiding within our own feelings. Still other people rely on the guidance of leaders and ‘prophets’ – the direction and wisdom of God presented through the words and teaching of others. And perhaps for most of us, there’s a bit of truth in all of the above; God can and does speak through all of these mechanisms and plenty more: nature, art, prophetic action, the wisdom of great teachers and writers from the past. Given that he spoke through an ass in the Bible, God doesn’t seem to be restricted in his use of communication media.

There is one way in which God reportedly speaks however, which feels a little more divisive and even controversial. We’re perhaps uncomfortable with it because it’s particularly supernatural, and maybe even more so because it plays again on that fear that our faith makes us sound unbalanced. It’s the suggestion that sometimes, God chooses to speak through an actual, audible speaking voice, like that of another human there in the room with us. The question is – are we scared of this phenomenon because we think people who report it are probably making it up…or because it might be real?

In the Old Testament, God speaks to chosen leaders and prophets all the time in an audible voice. That’s the implication throughout (although some might argue that voice of God is interpreted by the prophets, rather than directly heard), and sometimes it’s made entirely explicit, such as on Mount Sinai in Exodus, where God tells Moses directly what how to direct the people. In the New Testament, God speaks to man directly and audibly, but only through the person of Jesus. Some would argue that this indicates that the days of a voice from heaven are over, thanks to the arrival of Jesus and then the Holy Spirit. But to confuse things somewhat, in Acts 9 (after his Ascension) we find Jesus speaking to Saul and then Ananias in an audible voice – so there is a little precedent for such communication.

Given that God is all-powerful, no one doubts that God could choose to speak audibly in 2018. The question is over whether he actually does, and opinion on the answer is somewhat divided. So allow me to throw in a personal story, which inescapably defines my position. I believe that I have heard the audible voice of God, speaking to me.

I have been a Christian for 25 years, and it has happened twice. The first time was when I was 19 – running errands for the children’s camp I was working at. I know precisely where I was, and some 20 years later I continue to absolutely believe that God told me something about my future. It was the calm, assertive voice of a man (although I’m sure he doesn’t have to use a male voice), and it absolutely transfixed me. The actual suggestion was a fairly extraordinary prophecy, and some two decades later it’s probably halfway to coming true. Of course I wish there was a neater resolution, but I still believe not only that I heard God that day, but that what he apparently said will come to fruition.

The second example is perhaps a little more striking, and yes, neat. I was 25, in Dallas at a conference, and two days from taking a flight to another part of the USA for a meeting which could have had a fairly exciting impact on my writing career. I woke up suddenly – it’s important to really stress that I was absolutely awake at this point – and heard that same voice telling me to forget the meeting and go home. It was so clear and sure that my body rushed with adrenaline – and even though I was desperate not to cut short my trip and miss the meeting, I just knew I had to.

I was immediately entirely awake, and so roused my travelling companion and shared my story with him. He was a little unsettled but agreed that it was probably God’s voice that I had heard, so I called the airline (and called the meeting off, which never got rearranged), and went home. And when I did, all I can say is that my early return was vitally needed by my family, in a way that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated. It was a moment where I believe indisputably that God chose to intervene in my life, and l believe that he did it through speaking out loud.

You may read this with disbelief, or even a nodding sense that yes, I am indeed mad, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So if God can theoretically choose to speak audibly today, and if stories like mine (there are many others) suggest that perhaps he actually does, is it something about which to be nervous, or to keep an open mind? As much as I don’t want to hand ammunition to those who might want to ridicule my faith, I can’t deny that I believe God does choose, rarely and in very important moments, to communicate in this way (and for the most part of course, not to).

A God who manifests himself in such a tangible way is perhaps a little scary because such supernatural phenomena makes his power suddenly more real. But let’s not be tricked into limiting him; that’s precisely the agenda of someone who would tell you that Christians are the people who hear voices. Maybe sometimes we do.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO ofYouthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.

Kerala Church Wins All-India Jurisdiction Again; Inaugurates Shamshabad Diocese



The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church on Jan. 7 has celebrated its triumph of getting back all-India jurisdiction with Shamshabad diocese, apart from the existing 30 dioceses. By winning back the administrative powers it had lost to the Latin Church in 1886, the church now claims to be the second most powerful in India.

Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, dedicated the diocese to the Vatican and set up Raphael Thattil as its first bishop.

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the president of the Catholics Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), Archbishop Cyril Vasil, senior Vatican representative and Thumma Bala, Hyderabad Archbishop, along with over 10 archbishops and 40 bishops from across the country, attended the celebration ceremony.

The Diocese of Shamshabad in Hyderabad is the largest in the country regulating across 24 states, including the entire Eastern and Northeastern regions, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and four Union Territories.

The Kerala-based church, which is said to founded by St Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD, is home for over 5 million followers, making it the second largest Christian community in the country and third largest under the Vatican, after the Latin Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Churches.

The Syro-Malabar Catholics lost their administrative powers to the Latin Church in 1886 after the Portuguese missionaries seized their authority. The Kerala church was left with just two territories –Thrissur and Kottayam.

In 1955, the Vatican expanded the territory of Kerala church to the entire state and a few districts of neighboring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Police, Hindu Radicals Shut Church, Christmas Celebrations in Uttar Pradesh



Pastor David Amarnath.

A pastor in Bhadohi District, Uttar Pradesh, who was forced to halt his church’s worship last month, is now deprived of his fundamental rights. Despite going to the police with some 50 Christians to help plead for his rights, he was denied and chased out of the station.

The 45-year-old Pr David Amarnath of Pathakpur village was taken aback by what police told him.

“The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government is ruling now, and you can’t assemble to pray,” police told Amarnath, according to Morning Star News.

“The local Hindu Vahini activists and all RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] groups are now informed of your activities – they will be after you. Even we can’t help you,” he added.

Upon insisting the police and reminding them the fundamental right to freedom of worship in the Indian constitution, the situation became worse.

“I will cut your other leg off. Your life will become hell. So refrain from all Christian activities,” police official M.K. Pandey told Amarnath, who has only one complete leg and requires a wheelchair.

The church with a congregation of 0 people was shut on Dec. 11. Since then, there has been no service for the last three weeks including Christmas and New Year.

“We have not gathered as a church for Sunday worship for three weeks till date,” said Amit Jaiswar, a member of the church.

“We did not celebrate Christmas and could not observe watch night service for New Year’s Eve. Our pastor is under observation by RSS activists,” he added.

Amarnath said seven police officers were deployed in front of his house on Dec. 25 to ensure that he led no house church worship.

“They told me to lead life quietly and not become the target of Hindu extremists,” he said.

“I shared the gospel with them. I told them about the importance for fellowship, and the love we share. My children distributed pieces of cake to the police and neighbors. That was our Christmas!”

How One Church Is Making Scripture Sing


Growing up in the modern worship boom of the mid-2000s, where thousands flocked to Passion conferences and CCM mainstays started releasing “worship records’’ that flew off shelves, I became quite fond of the latest and greatest in the genre. But though these contemporary songs stirred my heart for worship leading, they also had the unintentional effect of steering my interest away from what I perceived as the remnant of older generations: hymns.

The summer after my freshman year of college, however, a friend and fellow worship leader revealed his musical interpretation of William Cowper’s hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” The mixture of acoustic guitar and Cowper’s poetic words struck a literal chord in me. Despite the 18th-century lyrics, I could identify with the range of emotions present in the song, from intense sorrow to overwhelming joy.

My friend told me that several college ministries and churches all across the country—including Red Mountain Church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama—were making music like this: matching obscure texts to modern music. My exploration of these groups led me from Red Mountain Church and Indelible Grace to Sandra McCracken, Matthew Smith, and Bifrost Arts.

Old Texts, New Music

Last year, when my wife and I were looking for a new church, I came across the website of Cahaba Park Church, located in a Birmingham suburb. I knew their chief musician, Adam Wright, from local bluegrass group Act of Congress, and soon learned that the church’s worship ministry, The Corner Room, produced a series of albums in the “old texts with new music” genre.

The project began when Cahaba Park’s lead pastor was planning a summer series on the Psalms. Wright wanted to come up with a composition for each Sunday that took a verbatim delivery of the Scripture and thematically linked the music and the message.

“Psalm 1 was the first sermon, so I decided to sit down and write music to the ESV version of Psalm 1,” Wright explained. “[The psalms] were intended to be songs originally, so they’re bent more that way than some of the Gospel narratives or the Epistles. But there’s not really a set verse or a set chorus like we would think about a song structure now.”

The sermon series covered 16 psalms that summer and continued the following year, eventually yielding more than 20 tunes. Wright received positive feedback from the congregation, who said singing the Scriptures as songs helped the words and truths stick with them. He soon gathered a group of local and regional musicians to record the 10 compositions that would make up Psalm Songs, Volume 1.

“My 2-year-old kid is running around the house singing Psalm 121,” Wright said of the recording’s effect. “I think this is something both our generation and future generations can benefit from. The Scriptures are not going to change. They stay constant. Because of that, hopefully this project will be relevant for a long time.”

A follow-up EP, What Great Mystery, was soon written and recorded. Though three of the songs (including a reinterpretation of the “Doxology”) were centuries old, Wright and The Corner Room incorporated two of their original contributions that focused on a traditional hymn style of lyrical expression.

“I wanted to write in a way that if you kept the text and removed the music completely, it would almost read like it was written 0 years ago,” Wright said.

I wanted to write in a way that if you kept the text and removed the music completely, it would almost read like it was written 0 years ago.

Scoring 1 Corinthians 13

This year, The Corner Room’s Love Never Ends focused on the ever-popular passage of 1 Corinthians 13. The 12-minute suite, presenting the biblical text word for word from the ESV, expands on The Corner Room’s rootsy-yet-ambient style with a three-movement orchestral piece of strings, piano, and brass, scored by Grammy-nominated arranger/composer Don Hart. Wright saw the passage as an opportunity to challenge modern interpretations of the word “love.”

“Culturally, love is often regarded as a general kindness and respect for our fellow man, but I think this passage speaks to something far greater—a description of Christ himself and the sacrificial love he perfectly demonstrated to redeem his people,” Wright said of 1 Corinthians 13.

The Corner Room is currently working on a second volume of Psalm songs, due out in the spring of 2018. Wright hopes the project reaches beyond Cahaba Park’s vicinity and into more churches across the country. He also urges other songwriters and worship leaders to responsibly use their gifts to create musically pleasing and doctrinally sound songs for their congregations.

The songs that we sing corporately can either help us trust in Jesus or trust in ourselves.

“The songs that we sing corporately can either help us trust in Jesus or trust in ourselves,” Wright said. “We who lead God’s people in singing must take great care to create a culture of the former. Both ancient and modern hymns, written with the intent to sing the truths of Scripture, are great tools to help us accomplish this.”

3 Pleas for Preachers, From Martin Luther King Jr.


“Many labels were attached to him during his lifetime. He was called a civil rights activist; he was called a social activist, a social change agent, a world figure. But I think he thought of himself first and foremost as a preacher, as a Christian pastor.”

This is how Lewis Baldwin of Vanderbilt University described Martin Luther King Jr. in a 2006 PBS interview. Interviewer Kim Lawton noted that Dr. King as a pastor “may be one of the most overlooked sides of Martin Luther King Jr., but it was one of the most important aspects of who he was.”

Though known for his role as a leader of one of the greatest movements in American Christian history, Dr. King thought of himself primarily as a Christian pastor. And essential to his pastoral role was preaching. As Dr. King wrote in his autobiography: “I feel that preaching is one of the most vital needs of our society, if it is used correctly.”

One of the most vital needs indeed. But what does he mean by “if it is used correctly”?

In his autobiography, Dr. King answers this question by articulating a threefold plea concerning preachers today: one about the preacher, one about the people, and one about the process.

1. Preachers must possess sincerity, intelligence, and conviction.

Dr. King’s first plea concerns the preacher. “It is my opinion that sincerity is not enough for the preaching ministry,” he writes. “The minister must be both sincere and intelligent [and] should possess profundity of conviction.”

Sincerity. Intelligence. Conviction. For King, these attributes should characterize not only what the preacher is doing, but also who the preacher is becoming. As King surveyed the preaching of his day, he concluded: “We have too many ministers in the pulpit who are great spellbinders, and too few who possess spiritual power.”

We have too many ministers in the pulpit who are great spellbinders, and too few who possess spiritual power.

What is this “spiritual power” King found so rare? It is the conviction that “the God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God” and that “the ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.” It isn’t enough that preaching is sincere or intelligent, then; it must be undergirded by a profound conviction that God is at work accomplishing his mission, through his people, to his world. It is preaching that believes.

2. Preaching should connect with the concerns of the people. Preachers should know the problems of the people.

“Preaching should grow out of the experiences of the people,” Dr. King wrote. “Therefore, I, as a minister, must know the problems of the people that I am pastoring.”

Preachers must have sincerity, intelligence, and conviction. But they must also recognize that preaching is connected with the concerns of actual people, which means the preacher must be proximate with them.

We don’t have a shortage of preachers today who can preach with the best of them. We have a shortage of preachers who are in tune with the least of them. Our preaching must not only address the issues of those in our churches; it must also address the concerns of those in our communities, in our schools, in the streets, in the barbershops, in the universities, in our country, in our world. Our theology must get low.

We don’t have a shortage of preachers who can preach with the best of them; we have a shortage of preachers who are in tune with the least of them. . . . Our theology must get low.

King put it like this: “Too often do educated ministers leave people lost in the fog of theological abstraction, rather than presenting that theology in light of the people’s experiences.” To be clear, this doesn’t mean changing the theology to fit people’s experiences. It simply means listening and connecting biblical truth to their specific contexts.

It isn’t enough to educate people on the historical Jesus if they don’t see how this Jesus addresses the concerns of everyday life. Preachers must herald truth that deals with the whole man—not only his soul but also his body; not only his spiritual state but also his social reality.

3. Preaching ministry is a dual process: arresting souls and affecting societies.

Dr. King described preaching as a “dual process.” On the one hand, “I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so their societies may be changed,” he said. “On the other hand I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a change.”

This view has implications for the preacher, King concluded: “I must be concerned about unemployment, slums, and economic insecurity.” And the same is true for us. Our preaching must aim at the individual concerns and the spiritual plights of our people, but it must also press into the practical implications of the gospel we preach.

King showed that no matter how small or how big an issue may seem, the gospel compels us to address it with concern, intentionality, and love. Whether it was voting rights, racism, segregation, or education, King’s conviction moved him to prophetic engagement:

A religion that professes a concern for the souls of men, and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a spiritually moribund religion.

Preachers: as you plan your sermon schedules, let Dr. King’s pleas be a reminder to you. You don’t have to agree with all of his theology to learn from his insights on the preaching ministry. May you hear King’s plea for preachers to possess sincerity, intelligence, and conviction. May your preaching be in tune with the problems of your people. And may your preaching result not only in changed souls, but changed societies too.

In conclusion, remember Dr. King’s words, post them in your study, and discuss and pray through them with your preaching team. And then do what is most vital in our day: “Preach, preacher! Tell it like it is!”  

How to Be Culturally Intelligent in a Fractured Age


We live in an increasingly fractured world, and only now does the church seem to realize that the era of public discourse around a common set of assumptions is over.

In his new book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons, Matthew Kim, associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, wants to help pastors preach in this context.

Assess the Argument

In the first part, Kim explains cultural quotient theory, and he offers a four-stage process that addresses preaching to cultural variables within our contexts. He concludes with an excellent overview of how preachers exegete themselves. Part two contains a call to assess a culture’s beliefs, rituals, idols, dreams, god, and experiences (B.R.I.D.G.E.). It’s excellent.

So far so good. But Kim’s three-part, 18-step (!) homiletical template to create culturally intelligent sermons may be convoluted. The process risks the sermon becoming Frankenstein’s monster—containing all the necessary parts for life without ever becoming truly alive.

The sermon’s primary aim is to showcase Christ.

I also find it difficult to visualize the culturally clunky preacher Kim invokes to demonstrate the problem. His go-to example is something grotesque: a straw man preacher with cultural blinders tight enough to exclude all but his own limited experiences from the text. If such a straw man does exist, his straw house has already been rendered uninhabitable by the winds of cultural change.

Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons

Matthew Kim


Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons

Matthew Kim

Baker Academic (2017). 288 pp. $22.99.

To preach effectively in today’s world, preachers need cultural intelligence. They must build bridges between listeners who come from various denominations, ethnicities, genders, locations, religious backgrounds, and more. Experienced preacher and teacher Matthew Kim provides a step-by-step template for cross-cultural hermeneutics and homiletics, equipping preachers to reach their varied listeners in the church and beyond. Each chapter includes questions for individual thought or group discussion. The book also includes helpful diagrams and images, a sample sermon, and appendices for exegeting listeners and for exploring cultural differences.

Yet my primary concern runs deeper. In the second part Kim addresses how to preach to particular groups using his template. Five cultural subgroups are presented as case studies: denominations, ethnicities, genders, locations, and religions. A sample passage is exegeted through the lens of the template before a sermon framework is created using one of the five cultural identity markers.

While some of this is helpful, the hermeneutical method seems forced. For example, on the issue of gender, the passage in question is Jesus’s announcement in Matthew 10:37–39 that loving one’s family above Jesus invalidates the quest for true discipleship. While Kim’s analysis of gender is spot on, the process feels like squeezing the text for more juice than it’s willing to give. Does this passage primarily, or even secondarily, require a gender-aware reading leading to increasingly more pointed (micro?) applications?

Perhaps that isn’t Kim’s intention, but it could be the outcome, particularly when combined with Kim’s assumption about preachers’ natural tendencies toward “action items and to-do lists.” I’d suggest that if that’s your proclivity, then catering to a fracturing culture containing an increasing number of micro-groupings will eventually render your preaching uncertain and reactionary.

Tell a Bigger Story

In this fractious age, the preacher’s primary role must be counterintuitive. Rather than succumbing to increasing atomization, the sermon’s primary aim is to showcase Christ, all within the setting of a local church that creates space for “the second conversation” in which subsequent and diverse applications across cultural contexts can be explored.

This approach frees the sermon to soar and lift people’s gaze, rather than being the place to tease out myriad implications on the ground. It’s the macro-setting, so to speak, that counters the many micro-settings demanding our attention. Kim is undoubtedly adept at avoiding this trap, but in lesser hands the model he espouses could result in sermons hopelessly entangled in the netting of competing audiences, whether real or imaginary.

The preaching that has the most influence . . . paints in wide arcs—it showcases the Big Story to those trudging the trenches of hostile secularism and its increasingly fractured stories.

I write all this as an Australian speaking into the American context about an American book. Australia is behind in many ways, except for this: the hard secularism heading toward the States has been our experience for decades. The preaching that has the most influence in the Australian church paints in wide arcs—it showcases the Big Story to those trudging the trenches of hostile secularism and its increasingly fractured stories.

The true cultural chasm isn’t between those who sit beside each other in the pews. If you’re there on a Sunday morning at 10 a.m. on a regular basis to worship together with God’s people, then the biggest cultural divide in the West has already been crossed, no matter the gender or race of the person you’re seated next to. The yawning gap isn’t between the preacher and the hearer, but the Christian community and a culture that beckons our people with surprisingly unifying alternate visions of the good life, which promise much but deliver little.

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