Sunday – September 27, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 22:1-29 “Tempest in the Temple”

Sunday – September 27, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – September 27, 2020

Acts 22:4-5
I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify.

Have you ever wished that you had a more dramatic testimony? Perhaps you’ve heard of someone who came to Christ from a life of terrible sin and you’ve thought, “If I just had a testimony like that, I could lead all sorts of people to Christ!” If you grew up in the church, your testimony may not be a dramatic or compelling story that leads people to Christ. But the Lord has shown me over the years that my heart is just as corrupt as the hearts of the most wicked people on earth. I’ve also learned that it takes the same mighty power of God to save an outwardly good person as it does to save an outwardly evil person. An outwardly good person needs salvation every bit as much as the notorious sinner does.

Everything about Paul’s conversion came from God. Nothing about his conversion stemmed from Paul. God didn’t look down and see some merit in Paul that qualified him to come to salvation. Quite to the contrary, Paul confesses that he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor” (1 Tim. 1:13). There are many who say that the reason that God chose Paul, or that He chooses anyone, is that He foresees that the person will one day choose to follow Him. But to say this is to base God’s sovereign election on the fallen will of man, ignoring the plain biblical truth that unless God first does a work of grace in our hearts, no one would ever choose Him. No one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44) and no one is able to come to Jesus unless it has been granted him from the Father (John 6:65).

In several places, Paul attributes the first cause of our salvation to God’s choice of us, not to our choice of Him. In Ephesians 1:4-6, he says, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world …. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” In 2 Timothy 1:9, he says that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

If God’s grace and power are mighty to save a sinner such as Paul, then He is able to save any sinner, and to do it instantly and totally. His light can blind and knock down the most powerful persecutor of the church. You may have some terrible sins in your past. You may even be militantly opposed to Christianity, convinced by all of your arguments that it is just a myth. But the risen Lord Jesus is mighty to save even you. He can open your eyes to get a glimpse of His glory and grace, and you will never be the same.

Sunday – August 30, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 19:8-41 “Do You Believe in Magic”

Sunday – August 30, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – August 30, 2020

Acts 19:11-12
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.

If there was a time for miraculous healing being needed, it must be now. We are continually bombarded with news about sickness from COVID 19, riots in the streets from social unrest and devastated communities from economic shutdown. And this is just relating to the events of 2020. We still see people stricken with terrible disease, famine from natural and manmade causes and broken families from any number of causes. Where is God’s miraculous power in the hurt and where are His people to bring healing to the afflicted?

The hope of miraculous healing attracts many people to churches that claim to see such miracles happening, because there are many who are afflicted with serious, incurable illnesses. Even here at Sunrise, we have many (including myself) suffering from such diseases. I often pray for healing, and I would rejoice if God miraculously intervenes heals. Sometimes God does heal miraculously, and we should pray for it, if it is His will. But the problem is, these verses do not seem to be true in my experience. So far in my life, God has never used me to perform a miracle. And I can’t say that whatever I ask Him to do, He does it every time.

Luke notes that these miracles in Ephesus were extraordinary, even for the apostle Paul (19:11). They seem to parallel the extraordinary miracles that Peter performed for a brief period in his ministry (5:15-16). It is significant that apart from Stephen and Philip, there are no miracles recorded as performed by anyone other than the apostles. The purpose of these apostolic miracles (according to Heb. 2:3-4), was to confirm the message of salvation that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed. In fact, throughout the entire Bible, miracles are not uniformly sprinkled as everyday occurrences. Rather, they are clustered at key moments, such as the exodus, where God was working on behalf of His people. Those who lived after are often reminded of these former miracles to call them back to God.

Can God heal miraculously today? Of course! Does He heal miraculously today? Sometimes, but not nearly as often as television evangelists claim or we want to see ourselves. If God chooses in His will to use us to heal someone through our prayers or to deliver someone from demonic power, we should be available for Him to do it. But to try to use such powers for our own purposes is to be lord of our lives. We must be people who live out our salvation in humility and repentance, which requires we be subject to God’s will.  God’s will often contains suffering to achieve His purpose in our lives. Rather than trying to use God, we should let God use us!

Sunday – June 28, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 14:1-28 “Mission Accomplished”

Sunday – June 28, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – June 28, 2020

Acts 14:11-12
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

It seems like we Christians have been schooled in the Gospel Americana. One of its main features is an obsession with meeting the minimal entrance requirements for admission to Heaven. Every time I have watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, (as my wife is fond of telling you, if you only knew what your Pastor watches…) I recall the scene when Arthur and his band are trying to cross a giant abyss in order to enter the castle. There is a bridge keeper, and he asks each of them three questions to see if they can cross the bridge and enter the castle. If they get any of the questions wrong, they will be cast into the abyss.

Absurd, right? Most people think the big question is, “How do you know you will get into heaven?” but the real question is, “If you went to heaven, would you like it and would you stay?” Dallas Willard was an expert at forcing us to wrestle with a different viewpoint. People think they can simply decide to turn to God whenever they get the desire, but Willard challenges this idea. The “them” he refers to are those who have thus far rejected Christ, but think Christ is always at the ready. Christ may be always at the ready, but what makes us sure that we would be. Willard describes them as…” Who cannot want God to be God? Multitudes of such people pass by every day, and pass into eternity. The reason they do not find God is that they do not want him or, at least, do not want him to be God. Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.”

During a crisis, many people turn toward the transcendent. They seek high and low for God, or a god, to help them cope with something unpleasant. When I hear that someone has turned to Christ, I automatically rejoice, but I do wonder “to which Christ did they turn?” Was it the one who claimed to be God, who challenged the religious institutions and the hubris that is inherent in the human race? The one who says, “Repent of your sins, and follow me?” [Mark 1:12-18] Or was it some selective Christ figure or principle that would accommodate one’s lifestyle and world view? Willard states it well in his last sentence: “Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.”

Hell is real; a place where all those who insist on their will being done and have rejected God’s will being done reside. Hell is God’s best for those who don’t like him, oppose him, or have put him on trial and found God to have failed. It is for all those who don’t want the peace and tranquility that come with submission, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Is entrance to heaven answered by three random questions from God? Or is the truth closer to you don’t want God to be God, so you can be your own god?

Sunday – June 7, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 13:1-13 “What a Way to Go”

Sunday – June 7, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – June 7, 2020

Acts 13:7-9
The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.”

Many people enter the Christian life with false expectations. They were told that trusting Jesus as their Savior would solve many, if not most, of their problems. They heard that the Christian life is an abundant life, full of joy and peace. What they didn’t hear is that it also is a life of mortal combat with the enemy of our souls, who is not only powerful, but also incredibly crafty. And, the combat intensifies when a person engages in some sort of ministry. When we go out to do the Lord’s work, we should expect and be prepared for satanic opposition. Leading someone to Christ involves more than giving a sales pitch or using logical arguments. We are engaging in battle with Satan himself, who wants to keep the person in his kingdom of darkness.

Although Peter had witnessed to Cornelius and the Gentiles in his home, the Jerusalem church never seemed to pick up on this as a precedent for further outreach to the Gentiles. It was left to the church at Antioch to see this direct approach bring many Gentiles to the faith without coming through the door of Judaism. When Barnabas and Saul begin their mission, they start by witnessing to the Jews in the synagogues of Cyprus. This was always Paul’s approach, to take the gospel to the Jew first, and then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16). Perhaps he did this because of his intense desire to see his own people saved (Rom. 9:1-5). He may have been following Jesus’ approach, of first taking the good news to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and only later mandating that the message go out to all the nations.

Satan uses deceit to undermine the necessity of the cross of Jesus Christ. In our day, there is a resurgence of “spirituality,” but it is a spirituality devoid of the substitutionary death of Jesus on behalf of sinners. It is a spirituality where each person makes up “truth” according to his own likes and dislikes. It even “works.” There are many publications giving evidence that faith contributes to physical healing- but it doesn’t matter what your faith is in. For example, Hindus in India who pray regularly have 70 percent less heart disease than those lacking such faith. This is satanic deception, causing people who read it to think that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you believe in something.

Satan does not want the gospel to go out, because he knows that God will use it to open people’s eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ. But your only real option is to go into battle, armed with the gospel of truth. With Paul at the end of his life, you will be able to say, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:18).

Sunday – May 31, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 13:1-3 “What Business Are We In”

Sunday – May 31, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – May 31, 2020

Acts 13:2-3
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Some years ago, an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Market Myopia” talked about how some people didn’t understand what business they were in. For example, the railroad people didn’t understand that they were in the transportation business. Had they realized it, they would have invested in the airplane. The telegraph people thought that they were in the telegraph business. They failed to realize that they were in the communications business. In 1886 or so, they could have bought all of the telephone patents for about $40,000. But they didn’t know what business they were in.

What is the main business of the church? Some would say that it is to care of its members. The church is here to visit the sick and pray with them, to take care of people at important transitions in life, such as marriage, childbirth, and death. It’s here to provide guidance and comfort for people at important times. But I would argue that these functions are not the main business of the church, and if we start acting as if they were, we will miss our main business. We are always in danger of slipping into a maintenance mentality, where we focus on maintaining our religious club and preserving its sacred traditions, and we forget about the lost. Erwin McManus said, “We somehow think that the Church is here for us; we forget that we are the Church, and we’re here for the world.”

The book of Acts is a constant indictment of maintenance Christianity. It’s a constant goad and encouragement and stimulation to fan the flame of Advent—‘The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost”. The main goal of evangelism and missions is not just to reach the lost, but to glorify God. The glory of God is the supreme goal of history. He saves sinners “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6, 12). In Revelation 5:9-10, John hears the heavenly chorus singing, “Worthy are You to take the book, and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

When the church preaches the gospel to all the nations, God will use it to save His elect to the glory of His name. Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. The glory of God is the ultimate goal of the church—because it’s the ultimate goal of God. Let’s keep our main business in focus: To obey the Holy Spirit in promoting God’s glory among the nations by sending out workers called by God to preach the gospel. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).

Sunday – May 17, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 11:20-33 “One Step Back to Move Forward” Pt 2

Sunday – May 17, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – May 17, 2020

Acts 11:22-24
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Most people in the world would say, “The way to get into heaven is to be a good person.” Again, the definition of “good” in the minds of those who say this is so vague and broad that almost everyone qualifies. If you’ve ever done a good deed for someone, even if it was to earn your Boy Scout badge, you’re in! But the Bible teaches that no amount of human goodness can qualify a person for heaven, because God is absolutely good and He cannot and will not allow even a single sin into His perfect heaven. Thus the apostle Paul builds his argument that “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:12), because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

In light of this, when the Bible calls a man “a good man,” we should sit up and take notice. Although it is speaking relatively, not perfectly, here is a man whose life we should study and learn from. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke says that Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). The description starts on the surface and works inward. He was a good man—how so? He was full of the Holy Spirit. How so? By being a man of faith. By studying Barnabas’ life, we will look at what a good person is, namely, a person who loves God and others (the two great commandments).

When we first meet Barnabas, he is selling his property to lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to meet the needs of the early church in Jerusalem (4:36-37). Years later, the apostle Paul referred to Barnabas as one, like him, who labored with his own hands to support himself in the ministry of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6). Barnabas’ generosity toward those in need took precedence over his thinking about his own future. Later, when the famine threatened not only Judea, but also Antioch, the church in Antioch gave to help the needy saints in Judea. Although the text does not say, I’m sure that Barnabas contributed to that gift, and he gave his time to deliver it to Jerusalem. The church could trust him with the money, because he was a generous man, free from greed and obedient to God.

Having considered Barnabas, can it be said of you, as it is said of Barnabas, that you are a good man or woman, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith? Is your love for God vital and growing? Is your love for people becoming more tender and compassionate? Do you seek to help others grow in their faith? Do you ask God to use you to reach the lost for Christ? Are you aware daily of your need to depend on the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit of goodness in your life? When you do stumble, do you turn from it and go on with the Lord? That is how you can become a truly good person before God.

Sunday – May 3, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 11:1-19 “Calling Peter on the Carpet”

Sunday – May 3, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – May 3, 2020

Acts 11:1-4
Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

We all get into mental ruts from time to time and often need a whack on the side of the head to jar us into new and better ways of thinking. Also, we all bring a lot of wrong-thinking baggage with us into the Christian life. If we are to grow into being more like Jesus, every now and then God has to take a 2×4 and gently whack us on the side of the head to help us change our thinking.

We’ve seen how the Lord whacked Peter in preparation for his going to the house of the Gentile centurion, Cornelius. No Jew would think of going into a Gentile home, much less eating with Gentiles, for fear of contracting ceremonial defilement. The Lord Jesus had clearly told the apostles to go into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature. But in their centuries-old Jewish way of thinking, the disciples thought that Jesus meant for them to go and preach to Jews who were scattered all over the world. But the thought of preaching the gospel to pagan Gentiles and of those Gentiles coming to salvation without first becoming religious Jews was simply unthinkable.

By nature, we all bring wrong theological views into our Christian experience. Charles Spurgeon once said that we’re all by nature born Armenians, so at first we think that we came to the Lord ourselves. Only later we learn from God’s Word that He first sought us. Part of the process of sanctification is God’s transforming our minds (Rom. 12:2) as we begin to assimilate the truths of His Word. Peter had seen this remarkable response, as a whole house full of Gentiles had believed in Christ and were saved. But rather than rejoicing over what God had done, these saints were grumbling about the matter of Peter’s eating with Gentiles!

But before we try to remove the splinter in their eye, let’s deal with the log in our own eye! We often do the same thing. We elevate certain traditions or ways of doing things above the salvation of the lost. We are all for seeing young people getting saved, but they had better make sure that they not delay in looking and acting like those who have been in the church for 50 years! If any of our cultural baggage (including spiritual culture) is getting in the way of our commitment to reaching people from different cultures with the gospel, then drop baggage! Our main focus should be the salvation of lost people to the glory of God. If you see someone come into church who is not “your kind of person” and you don’t go out of your way to make that person feel welcome, your heart is in the wrong place!

Sunday – April 26, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 10:34-48 “What a Difference a New Menu Makes”

Sunday – April 26, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – April 26, 2020

Acts 10:42-43
And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Since life is short and uncertain and eternity is forever, the most important question anyone can answer is, “How can I be saved?” How can I know for certain that I am right with God? Sadly, even among Christians there are myriads of answers to that crucial question.  Many think that if a person is sincere, it really doesn’t matter what he believes. Another common belief is we must be good people to be saved. If we try to do our best, if we don’t hurt anyone, if we help others, then we will get into heaven. Often faith in Christ is combined with good works. If we believe in Jesus and do the best we can, the combination will somehow get us into heaven.

Peter and the other apostles knew that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by our good works or efforts. But practically speaking, up till now they also believed that to be right with God, a pagan Gentile had to become a Jew in the sense of obeying the Jewish laws regarding circumcision and ceremonial issues. The thought of a Gentile getting saved without coming through the door of Judaism was foreign to them. But God has been breaking down Peter’s Jewish prejudices on this matter. Now they are all swept away in an instant, as the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house clearly get saved and receive the Holy Spirit in the same manner as the Jews had on the Day of Pentecost.

Even though Cornelius was a good man- even a God-fearing man, he still needed to hear about Jesus Christ and to put his trust in Him. As Peter proclaimed in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” This means that there is no salvation for good people apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no salvation for good Americans who live in a supposedly “Christian” nation, apart from personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is salvation for everyone who believes in Him.

Believing in the name of Jesus does not refer to a general, vague sort of belief. Instead, it is specific and personal. To believe in Jesus means that I believe He is the Lord who gave Himself on the cross for my sins. I believe the promise of God, that whoever believes on Him receives eternal life as God’s gift, not based on any human merit, but only on God’s free grace. To believe in Jesus means I no longer rely on anything in myself to make me worthy in the eyes God. Rather, I trust only in what Jesus did on the cross as my hope for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Sunday – February 9, 2020 Book of Acts – Acts 5:12-42 “The Great Escape”

Sunday – February 9, 2020

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Word On Worship – Sunday – February 9, 2020

Acts 5:19-20
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”

The early church in the Book of Acts experienced the Lord’s power through the many miracles performed by the apostles, and through powerful witness and the resulting powerful conversions of the Jewish population of Jerusalem. Jesus had told the apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them to be His witnesses and Peter testified to the Sanhedrin that it was the Holy Spirit in them that was the source of their power (5:32).

Many say that if the church would only repent of her sins and have faith in God, then we would again see miracles on a par with these recorded in the Book of Acts. But I believe such thinking not to be in line with biblical teaching. It was not every church member who was performing these miracles, but rather the apostles and a few other leading men in the church. The purpose for God granting these miracles was to confirm the gospel message and to authenticate these men as God’s messengers in these early days of the church.

While God obviously still does mighty miracles in our day if He so chooses, to argue that it is His will to do them as a common occurrence is to ignore the overall teaching of God’s Word. Many fail to note that while the apostles performed many great miracles, and the angel miraculously delivered them from prison, the angel did not spare them from being flogged. (There is a bit of humor here: since the Sadducees did not believe in angels, the Lord sent one to deliver the apostles!) God did not deliver James (12:2) or Paul from prison (Acts 24:27) or spare them and most of the other apostles from martyrdom. Paul did not heal Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20) or tell Timothy to claim healing by faith for his frequent stomach problems (1 Tim. 5:23).

On the one hand, we should never limit God’s power by our unbelief or by our rationalistic theology. We should pray in faith, knowing that all things are possible with God. Yet on the other hand, we should submit to the fact that it is not always His will to deliver us from illness, persecution, or death. Above all, we should be people who are “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:11-12). I would point out that you don’t need steadfastness and patience if God miraculously delivers you! We see God’s mighty power in our text, not only in the miracles of healing, but also in the disciples rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Sunday – October 6, 2019 Gospel of Luke – Luke 23:1-25 Part 2 “Rejection of Israel’s Messiah”

Sunday – October 6, 2019

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Word On Worship – Sunday – October 6, 2019

Luke 23:8-10
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.

We all make offers we really don’t expect others to accept. I believe Pilate made the leaders of Israel—the chief priests and rulers of the people—an offer they would never accept—but they did. The religious leaders of Israel brought Jesus to Pilate, accusing Him of being a criminal worthy of death. But Pilate did not see it this way at all. Eventually, he made these leaders an offer I think he was sure they would not accept. His offer was to release to them Barabbas, a thief, a revolutionary, and a murderer. Which would they choose—to turn Barabbas loose on their city—or Jesus? Jesus was a man of peace, a seemingly harmless fellow. Barabbas was a dangerous criminal. Surely they would leave Barabbas in prison, where he belonged, and be content to have Jesus found guilty of a crime and then pardoned.

When we read the account of the trial of our Lord before the political rulers of that day, it is like watching a table tennis match. On the one hand, Jesus is passed back and forth between Pilate and Herod. On the other, the dialogue between Pilate and the religious leaders bounces back, from one to the other. Pilate repeatedly pronounces Jesus innocent of any crime, but the Jewish religious leaders respond by even more vigorously affirming His guilt, demanding nothing less than the death penalty. One would think that Pilate, with the power of Rome behind him, would have little difficulty enforcing his will on the people, but such is not the case. We see that indeed the people prevail, and the story ends with Pilate giving them their way, even though this means the death of an innocent man.

Why does Luke include this incident with Herod while no other gospel writer does? I believe it is important to see that everyone rejected Jesus as the Messiah, including Herod. But it was absolutely necessary for Rome and the Gentiles to share in the rejection and the crucifixion of Christ so that all men, not just the Jews, might be guilty of His innocent blood. Herod does play a part, but this is the time for the Gentiles to show their own disdain for the Savior.

If men are so utterly angry with God that they will always hate, oppose, and reject Him, how can they ever be convinced, converted, and changed? It will not be through human might or methods, but only through the Holy Spirit of God. As we read the Book of Acts we learn that men were convinced and converted—miraculously so, such as Saul—but they were convinced and converted through the work of God’s Spirit, as He empowered men and their testimony for Christ. May we go about His work, dependent upon His Word and dependent upon His Spirit.