About The Will Of God

Series Introduction



Some of this will be one of the basic foundations of the Scripture — that God is sovereign over all. There can be no argument about this, if we believe the Bible. There can only be raised eyebrows and questions and wonderful discussions about what this really means.

And we can allow Him to be God while we wait for the End and trust Him daily.


The second subject calls for the question about the Scriptures. Are these facts and prophecies and truths and  applications the Word of God. We believe that, so we can teach this area as something very strong.

There are questions of meaning at times, and certainly about  application. But we can take this in a strong way and it needs to be said today as never before.

This is a great time to affirm your church and personal statement of faith about the Scriptures, and to call people to know what the Bible says  and obey it.



Here we go with differences of opinion. Which certainly should be allowed in the church.

Sermons three and four will deal with this issue of the individual will of God and the questions of wisdom and shepherding.


Put simplistically, there are three main views, though few people categorize themselves:


  1. “God Told Me”

Is the title of a book by Jim Samra  (Calvary Church, Grand Rapids), recently published to say that God told him and he can tell us whom to marry, where to work, which car to buy, and, the author adds,  “I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy.”

This is a  view held informally by many people in our churches.   And many of them have heard speakers and others like Bill Hybels talk about the whispers of God, and they listen intently.


It has its basis in at least these main things:

  1. Promises in the Bible that God will “guide our paths.”
  2. Teaching of others
  3. Experiences and feelings of spiritual impressions
  4. Desires to know what is best. High hopes


This is often referred to as the individual will of God for our lives. That He has a personal will for each of us,  a plan that we must find.


  1. “Ask for Wisdom”

This is the understanding that we have to make our own decisions about specifics not clearly revealed in the Bible. We are to ask for wisdom, but that very idea means that  we get the wisdom to make the decision.

This is a view practiced by most people for most decisions, with exceptions.   Some would say that the exceptions are the big decisions, when God must speak to us. Others say that the whole issue of the Bible is that we are accountable for our decisions in our choices, not for hearing the voice of God.


Is often referred to as the wisdom way (that He will grant wisdom quietly or dramatically for the decisions to be made)


 or the shepherding will of God (emphasizing that we will be able to see God’s leading in the rear-view mirror of life).


  1. View #2 plus the emphasis that God can speak any time He wishes or deems it necessary.


This view would say that the incidents in the Bible of God speaking directly, as to Saul  on the road to Tarsus, are extraordinary.  Not to be taken as the norm, as they often are to support view #1.


It seems important to say that we should be able to differ on these views and live together in unity.


These notes will show a prejudice towards view 2 or 3.   And the notes are really written so you can apply your own view as you teach the people or urge them to make their own decision (about which view).


Either way we will all practice one of the views in  a very deliberate way.



SERMONS 4 and 5

The fourth sermon from James 5 actually applies all of the views, and gives a very significant paragraph from James for our lives.

It is a very clear example of when we must decide what the phrase “God’s will” means for our daily lives.

It is about making plans or choices, but always with the phrase in mind,   “if God’s wills.”


The sermon is about how to make choices.   It too should be a very pastoral 20 to 40 minutes!   (Or shorter or longer, however God wills J.

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Sermons for Special Occasions

special occasionThere is no verse in the Bible that tells us what to preach on Easter or Christmas, or when we get to speak to the Rotary or Kiwanis.  There are promises that if we seek wisdom we will get it.

I’d like to share some of the suggestions from my heart that helped on special occasions and special places to speak:

  •   Mother’s Day is way ahead of any other holiday other than Christmas in Easter.  In most churches it’s second in the list of numbers of attenders.  You won’t want to skip honoring mothers at least and bringing thoughts for them into the sermon, while still being sensitive to women who wish they were mothers and cannot be.
  •   The Sunday after tragedy – most every pastor has worked on a sermon about “Why?” to use the Sunday after a tragedy around the world that everyone’s thinking about and talking about.  You can’t avoid a tsunami or a hurricane that hurts many.  Certainly everybody switched after the horrors of 9/11.  There are many verses and many psalms and even prophets like Habakkuk that help us answer the question, mostly by calling us to trust God in spite of our pain.
  •   Anniversaries of the church – every culture and church is different about this.  Certainly there are times to just celebrate God’s goodness in the past but also commission everyone for the future, not forgetting that some of the people sitting there just started in the last year.
  •  Weddings: how many pastors pull out the same wedding as before at the last minute and do it in a rather perfunctory and professional way instead of making it so very warm and personal that all those guests that are there, who do not know Christ, are intrigued by what has been presented.  Weddings are one of the most amazing opportunities a pastor ever has – to not only explain marriage from God’s view point, but to work in a few minutes explaining life and love and the reason God made them both.  If we drone, people will daydream.  If we are alive and passionate about God’s love and His plans for us, they just may look into it.
  •  Funeral: same thing.  Many of these people would never sit down in a chair and ask you to talk to them for 15 or 20 minutes.  But here you get the privilege to honor the one who has died, hopefully to give some hope about the person, but for sure to point people to Christ and the possibility of eternal salvation and resurrection.  What a privilege!


Speaking at Special Events – Part 2

On speaking at special events and special places!

  •   Most of us get an opportunity to lead in prayer at public gatherings.  Go ahead and read Franklin Graham’s book about Jesus’ name, and you will feel guilty if you do not pray, “In Jesus’ name.”  I’m not criticizing the book.

But there may be options where you do not sacrifice your convictions or bend your conscience.  A friend taught me to pray, somewhere in the middle of the prayer or early on even, “I come to you in the name of our savior, Jesus Christ, joined by friends who come in various ways but all with the same desire, that these graduates might receive wisdom from you… or that all of us would do our work in integrity and with good ethics…”

So that you are clearly declaring that you are praying in Jesus’ name but allowing others some wiggle room so they don’t get distracted.  You decide.

  •  Never leave out that Jesus was a carpenter for many more years than He was a full-time teacher.  And that the first assignments given to human beings related to tending the garden.  Work is sacred and good.
  •  I got to speak at a lot of public events around Akron where I pastored for 26 years.  Not only the service clubs, but also things like the graduation of the trade school, or the police banquet… Here’s my concern with people who think this is your only chance to push the gospel to people so you should be clear and blatant and even push hard: why not have several chances?  Why not clearly show your faith and even mention how you have “found peace and total forgiveness and meaning in life and hope in Jesus Christ,” while you urge people to find that for themselves and to look and to be careful?

Once I was asked to do a baccalaureate service but the superintendent added, “But I do not want you to mention God.”  A couple of people around me thought I should refuse it, but I thought this was better than nothing.  You need not agree with me, but I thought my talk on purpose and eternal meaning of life, and that I had found it in a very clear way, might make people think about their own needs.  (I do admit that I pointed up once and said, “You know who I mean.”  Maybe that was cheating.)

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Does Law Get a Bad Rap? Yes and No

Law a bad rapNo, when we’re talking about the means of righteousness in front of our holy God, who really does demand perfect holiness for access to Him.

The Law, for that, will get us nowhere.

We flunk, and fall short.

We can keep none of them as perfectly as requested.

But that does not stop 75% of Americans who thought they would go to heaven when they die—this is the Gallop poll from a year ago—from saying that the way they would get to heaven was by “keeping the ten commandments.”

Hello!  No mere mortal has ever, ever kept the Ten Commandments.  Not Charleton Heston, not Billy Graham, not Mother Theresa.  Not a soul.

Romans 3:20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his (God’s) sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we became conscious of sin.”

Galatians 3:11: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law.”

So it should get a bad rap, if we’re talking about the law as the way we get to God.

We should denounce it as having no ability to get us there, by itself.  We should hold press conferences—okay, sermons and conversations—to see that we and the Law cannot make it.

Our wills are too weak to keep the Ten.  Every which one of them.

I asked my friend John how he thought he would get to heaven, since he did think he would.  “By keeping the Ten Commands,” was what he supposed.

So I asked—tell me if you think this was fair—“What are they?”

He could only name two of them, by the way, and he admitted readily that he had broken both of those!

We kid ourselves.

We kid ourselves when we preach to people to love their neighbors as themselves and don’t tell them also what it means to admit sin and seek the Savior.

We kid ourselves when we try to suck it up or grit our teeth and keep the Law to impress God or hope He will give us a pass because we tried.

We kid ourselves when we don’t present God’s commands as strong truth but our abilities to keep them as weak.  Worse, impossible.

So let’s honor our Lord by honoring His laws and keeping them in the proper perspective.  They show us God’s holiness, reveal the way He wants us to live, make us realize we are too weak and sinful, and drive us to the Savior if we are honest enough to admit our extreme shortcomings.

But whoa and woe to the person who thinks he can keep them to impress God or measure up to His standard.  That idea deserves no good press.

Paul spends most of Galatians arguing with people who try to mix faith in Christ with the ways of law as the means of salvation.

There he sums up the law “in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).  He does not throw it out.

But the whole lambast in Galatians is against those who seek to secure their righteousness for salvation or their strength for Christian living.  “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing,” Paul states (Gal 2:21).  That captures our attention.

And our attention should then be on the cross of our Lord and Savior, where we find law.

We are dead ducks at the hands of law—it condemns us.  We are made alive only by the grace gift of our Lord.

Who loved us and gave himself for us.

Any emphasis on the law as the means of righteousness and life actually gives Christ and Calvary a bad rap.

And that will get us nowhere.

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Church Grace (Part II)

My second assignment as a lead pastor turned into 26 grace-filled years in Akron, Ohio. I should write a book rather than a blog on this topic, but here are just a few examples of God’s grace in action.

On an Easter Sunday there a few years back, I privately gave thanks for the amazing church growth. About 23,000 attended our six services plus the six churches our people had helped to start. Missions giving increased every year, and the church had a huge influence in the city.

During my years there I also saw God’s loving grace in the midst of staff tensions, His answers to prayer and submission with a main board that had one negative vote in 26 years (and that one was totally my fault for surprising them with a change), and with many lives that showed such grace to others.

Because of those examples of grace, I embraced 1 Corinthians 4:7 as a second life-verse.

“What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

Are we allowed to have two life verses? I think we can have scores, but some of them have to be about gratitude.

Wherever you are and however you see growth, or don’t see it, if you are faithful to your calling you can be grateful for God’s personal grace and for His grace as it shows through the church.

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Church Grace (Part 1)

graceI never, in 43 years of pastoring, looked in the mirror and thought, “They are so lucky to have me as their leader.” But there were very few days when I did not stop and pray, “Thank you for your grace in this church. You are kind.”

While I made my share of mistakes, God generously provided unity, vision, good gifts.
My first of two lead pastor roles was in a college town in Ohio. The church’s name was Grace – one of two church in this town to bear that name. Ironically, these two Grace churches extended very little grace to one another. Due to hard feelings, a lack of vision, and stalled thoughts of growth and outreach this then 27-year-old pastor was charged with leading a flock of mostly over 60s.
One of the leaders called me “Young Man.” He might as well have called me, “Boy.” But grace and love were embraced, and we began to lead toward change and effective ministry. The church relocated to escape the deteriorating and hidden building. A group of young adult, including my wife and I, embraced the ABF movement and what started with a few of us and grew to 18 ABFs, three of which were young adult ABFs, 15 years later.
During those years the church I had once referred to as, “a rest home,” was now an aggressive local and global organism. Many lives were changed, three building additions had been constructed on that site, and grace flowed. It continues today, 29 years later, in that church which is known for its grace, not just its name.

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People Grace


If grace is the good we get from God that we do not deserve, pastors see plenty of it.  We are in on people’s lives at the best and the worst, and both times often are when our Lord is gracious.

I’m thinking back as a pastor, making up fictitious names, but giving thanks for grace to real people.

Eric and Jane were as mad as you could be at each other.  He had been a general jerk for years, but then a specific cheat more recently, and she had had it.  Understandably.  Now he was “back with the Lord,” as he put it, and could not see why she could not forgive and forget.  After long listening times with both of them, and prayers from their close friends, I watched her find the grace of forgiveness and him reach for the grace of mercy and a new life, and it was like a new day that stretched into years and the rest of their marriage.  I cried at his funeral a decade later more with gratitude for the changes that made their last years together joyful.

The Smiths would come late and leave early to worship, sitting in the balcony in a large worship center, so I did not even know their faces.  But they stood in line to say goodbye to Jeanine and me after our 26 years in Akron, because they wanted to announce the grace of salvation in their lives – for the first time.  “Recently, after all these years,” he said, “we got it, and we do trust grace and understand grace.”   While my wife urged them to be baptized and join an ABF group, I cried with gratitude for grace that connects with the pulpit  when you don’t even know it.

Coincidently, the couple right behind them in this reception line – far enough back that they did not hear the first story – repeated it and told of their legalism upbringing and that, “Now we understand and have received grace,” as she put it, and he agreed, and I smiled with tears, and Jeanine urged them to be baptized.

Jared played basketball with me and 25-30 other guys at 4:00 on Fridays, and I barely knew him.  He came with a high school friend, and I

came with my 60-year-old body.  When he wrote to me ten years later he was a platoon leader in Afghanistan and wanted me to know how grateful he was for the grace he had found, partly by watching those of us who followed Christ and talked about it at breaks at the gym.  He was discipled at West Point, and wanted me to know that he was sharing Christ with his platoon every day, and that a number of them a come to faith while serving in these life-or-death daily missions.  He wondered what seminary he should consider when he finished.  Yo!

Jodi was a jail warden and gay and forsaken by her church when younger, and out-of-the-blue helped me break up a fight with traffic stopped on Market Street in Akron – the drugged man would have killed the other, we were sure.   She started coming to church, was baptized, and got grace.

‘And what more shall I say?  I do not have time to tell” of others, but, like all pastors, I got to see many gifts of grace.

I am grateful.

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You Can Do It!

NikeBut sometimes I think they are kidding, or maybe wrong. Or just trying to get me to buy a pair of shoes.

And even when I get the shoes, I am no faster.

Are all these ideas for pastoring and leading just to bring me up then let me down? Do they work only for Bill Hybels or Tim Keller, for whom everything seems to work?

Some strategies or ideas can help you and me also, for sure. Some ways have been proven, especially when they emphasize wisdom, grace, and love for the Lord and the people of the church.

Perhaps some of them are here for you. they certainly have helped me, for 47 years, or wherever I learned them along the way.

See if they help you run.

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