Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Waiting for morning

TODAY'S SPECIAL:  Acts 23-24; Psalm 130

TO CHEW ON: "Out of the depths I have cried to You O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!" Psalm 130:1-2a

In January 2018 it was eleven years since my brother went to the doctor about his morning headaches. The doc soon found the cause — high blood pressure, which led to a diagnosis of kidney failure, which led to the discovery of the real culprit, a tumour, the advancing tentacles of which had choked that poor kidney.

Surgery, radiation, prayer, and hope followed. But in the intervening time it became clear that that malignant tumour would not be denied. After a time in palliative care in the summer of 2010, my brother was sent home. There his nurse-wife looked after him in his own private hospice.* Her email update from early 2011 is a modern incarnation of the Psalm 130 experience. Here are some snatches:

"...anticipation and hope is replaced by a reality that continues to wear you down and break your heart 100 times a day.... Sometimes I feel that we have entered into a 'twilight zone,' where all the old expectations and normal pleasures have been tossed aside, and we are left to grapple with a whole new set of circumstances and rules.... This is the valley of the shadow of death..."

Psalm 130 is a psalm written by a sufferer for sufferers. Eugene Peterson in his book A Long Obedience in he Same Direction speaks of what it teaches us:

"Such are the two great realities of Psalm 130: suffering is real; God is real.... We accept suffering; we believe in God. The acceptance and the belief both emerge out of those times when 'the bottom has fallen out' of our lives" p. 142.

Thankfully it doesn't end there.

"But there is more than a description of reality here, there is a procedure for participating in it. The program is given in two words: wait and watch. The words at the centre of the psalm: 'I pray to God — my life a prayer — and wait for what he'll say and do. My life's on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning.' Wait and watch add up to hope" - p. 142.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be realistic about suffering. May my faith in You be unshaken by it. And help me to be a companion in waiting and watching with those who are suffering now. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 130 

MORE: Notes from the furnace

My sister-in-law ended her January update in 2011 with this testimony: "....we are not without peace and gratitude. Sorrow and peace can go hand in hand, I have discovered."

Then this quote:

"Shining is always costly.  Light comes only at the cost of that which produces it.  An unlit candle does no shining.  Burning must come before shining.  We cannot be of great use to others without cost to ourselves.  Burning suggests suffering.  We shrink from pain.  We are apt to feel that we are doing the greatest good in the world when we are strong, and able for active duty, and when the heart and hands are full of kindly service.  When we are called aside and can only suffer; when we are sick; when we are consumed with pain; when all our activities have been dropped, we feel that we are no longer of use, that we are not doing anything.

But, if we are patient and submissive, it is almost certain that we are a greater blessing to the world in our time of suffering and pain than we were in the days when we thought we were doing the most of our work.  We are burning now, and shining because we are burning.  The glory of tomorrow is rooted in the drudgery of today.  Many want the glory without the cross, the shining without the burning, but crucifixion comes before coronation." - from Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman

*UPDATE:  I initially wrote this devotion on January 25th, 2011. My brother died that evening.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tell your story

Paul arrested in a riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-36)   - Artist unknown
 Paul arrested in a riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-36) - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 21-22; Psalm 129

" 'For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.' " Acts 22:15

I never tire of hearing stories of how God draws people to Himself and works in their lives. These tales—as original and varied as the people who tell them—range from stories of quiet pilgrimages to dramatic visions that turn life around in an instant. Paul's story was of the latter variety.

At the time it happened, his experience was reinforced by Ananias coming to him. Ananias was an entirely different sort of person. Paul describes him here as "… a devout man according to the law, having  a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there…" (Acts 22:12).

We know that sage Ananias had his own side of the story (Acts 9:10-18). His word to Saul/Paul was: God has chosen you. Now go and tell your story (my paraphrase of Acts 22:14-15).

Now, following his arrest by the Jerusalem mob, Paul gets to tell his story to the crowd that has just rioted and nearly taken his life (Acts 21:31-36). Of course this experience itself is a new installment in Paul's story.

Ananias' assignment to Paul is ours as well. Let's stay alert to God working in our lives so we recognize the continuing installments of our own "seen and heard" with God. Then let's retell the fresh chapters as conversations and situations, riots and debates open up along those lines.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for working uniquely in each life. Help me to recognize Your presence and action in my life and give me the courage to tell others. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 129

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Is it time for a burning?

"Saint Paul and the burning of pagan books 
at Ephesus" by Lucio Massari (1559-1633)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 19-20; Psalm 128

TO CHEW ON: "Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them and it totaled fifth-thousand pieces of silver." Acts 19:19. 

I love the beginning of a year. I like starting new calendars and a new daybook. I get the urge to purge old papers from my files and junk from my closets and the garage. I want to unburden myself of the past and make a new start.

The people in Ephesus made such a new start too. However, for them it wasn't a new year thing where they rid themselves of their abundance of clutter, but a spiritual housecleaning where they gathered and destroyed their how-to-do-magic books.

At dinner with friends a few weeks ago, a couple told of how they did something similar. Shortly after they became Christians, the man burned all his masonic artifacts, the woman her astrology jewelry. No pastor or leader told them to. They just knew it was necessary to make this spiritual break with the past. Why? Because physical objects can be weighted with spiritual power for good or bad. Earlier in this chapter we see how people used handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched Paul to bring healing to the sick (Acts 19:12). And in our focus verse, they destroyed those magic books.

Perhaps we need to do more of this—physically destroy those objects in our lives that signify and bind us to our life before Christ: the CDs, books, jewelry, good luck charms, masks...whatever.

Occult expert Kurt Koch says:
"Every object of sorcery must be destroyed. In the great revival which Paul experienced in Ephesus, many of those who were now believers brought their books on magic arts and burned them in the sight of all (Acts 19:19).

In the revival in Indonesia the natives brought their fetishes and occult objects together in heaps and destroyed them in a similar way.

Magical books and occult objects carry with them a hidden ban. Anyone not prepared to rid himself of the ban will be unable to free himself from the influence of the powers of darkness" - Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 90.
PRAYER: Dear God, please open my eyes to anything that is keeping me in Satan's bondage. Help me to make a break with any darkness from my past. Amen.

MORE: Collecting masks and objects of heathen worship

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 128

Kurt Koch makes this observation about collecting what some might call anthropological artifacts:

"Some missionaries are actually enthusiastic collectors of devil's masks and similar objects of heathen ritual worship. Through hanging the trophies up in their homes they burden the whole house and all who live in it .... These idols have sometimes been used for years or even decades in heathen rituals. In this way they become crystallization points for demonic powers in houses where they are displayed as works of art. The Spirit of God does not dwell with idols, even in a so-called Christian home" - Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 92.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The ready Christian

alter to the unknown god
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 17-18; Psalm 127

"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." Acts 17:16.

Paul is such a good example of the ready Christian: "… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…" - 1 Peter 3:15. Here, in new-to-him Athens, watch how he does it:

1. He starts by observing his surroundings (Acts 17:16).

2. He goes to the hotbeds of thought and discussion—the synagogue and the marketplace to listen and talk. (Acts 17:17-18).

3. He accepts an invitation to speak at the Areopagus, even though the invite is hardly given in a  complimentary way. (They call him a babbler - Acts 17:18. According to my Bible's footnotes, a babbler was one who picked up scraps of learning here and there and peddled them. It seems this is a better description of those who "… spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing" - Acts 17:21).

4. He grabs their interest with something from their own culture—an inscription to an Unknown God seen on an altar. He dangles this need for something they haven't yet found in front of them: "Wouldn't you like to know Him?" (Acts 17:22-23)

5. He's a good closer. At the end of his message he urges them to take action: repent because judgment is coming (Acts 17:30-31).

6. He does all this while killing time in Athens—waiting for ministry partners to join him.

I ask myself, what would I have done if I had been in Paul's shoes? Sightsee? Probably. But with a view to giving my testimony and sharing the gospel? I don't know. I'd probably have viewed this as time off from ministry.

But for Paul—really for all of us—there is no time off. This story shows us that all kinds of situations can be a springboard for the gospel.

Though the fruit of Paul's ministry here is minimal ("For reasons Luke does not explain, results here were meagre—no baptisms, no new church, and no letter to the Athenians in the New Testament" - Gary Kinnaman, notes on Acts, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1524), some believed. But Luke/Paul don't dwell on the low numbers. Paul has been faithful, and now it's time to move on (Act 18:1).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to become a ready Christian—alert to any and all opportunities to tell about and defend my faith in You, and not discouraged by small results. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 127

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Called and led

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 15-16; Psalm 126

TO CHEW ON: “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia but the Spirit did not permit them… Now after he had seen the vision (of a man saying ‘Come over to Macedonia to help us’) immediately we sought to go to Macedonia concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel there.” Acts 16:6-7,10

A reader, Judy, tells of a missions trip she took to South Africa (used with her permission):

First of all God supplied the funds. In 1966 I taught school on First Nations reserves north of Souix Lookout. I bought two large paintings for $35 each from Norval Morrisseau when he visited the isolated community I was teaching in. During our years of teaching in the Arctic they hung unframed, tacked up with push pins in several homes.

Fast forward ahead to 2008 when after reading something on Becky's blog I said to Christian, Where are those paintings? I'd done some research on the Internet and realized they just may have some value. I sold one of the paintings for $6,500. Christian said immediately that I should do something very special with this unexpected windfall. I like to imagine our Lord saying on the day I bought the painting, "Do I ever have a surprise for you. It will be arriving in 42 years."

I heard about the volunteer group in South Africa, again through Becky's blog. One of her daughters had worked in an orphanage and had had a very positive experience. I wanted to teach and found a school along the east coast that seemed to be a good fit. I did make it clear that I did not want to teach computers or run an after school recreation program. They said that was fine I could just be in a classroom.

I was picked up in East London by a different volunteer group than the one I'd communicated with. I thought that was a little unusual. The next day I found out that the first group had contracted me out to a second group AND . . . . . perhaps you can guess what is coming; they wanted me to teach computers and run an after school recreational program. For a few moments to use my mother's term, I was floored. Then I thought about the lessons I'd learned in home studies the previous winter studying the life of Abraham. Don't focus on the "problem." Focus on God.

I was sure God could/would enable me to do the tasks but I also knew the desire of my heart and where my strengths lie. I had immediate assurance from Him that there would be a solution to the situation. It took a couple of days until I was at King's Playschool. That was the last name of the people who ran a rural facility out of their home. I had noticed the verse "They shall shine like stars in his crown" from the song "When He Cometh" based on Zech. 9:16, on their sign. So .. . . I knew they were believers but they didn't know I was.

When I had the opportunity I told Tracy that I was a follower of Jesus Christ, that I knew He had led me to South Africa but that I didn't know what I was supposed to do. She said she'd been praying for someone to relieve her of classroom duties while she dealt with the rest of her life. Here's what was on her plate.

Pentecostal Pastor's wife of a growing church.
Home schooling their 3 children
Running the school of 50 children and 10 employees
In the process of adopting two black babies who had been abandoned
Teaching a class

I had three glorious weeks of teaching eager 5 year olds. Most of my ideas were new for them… Both Tracy and I felt so blessed…. Who, but our loving Father, would take a woman from northern North America and team her up with a woman from Southern South Africa at exactly the right time! These kinds of experiences just light a fire under my faith which was already strong. An entire year later I still marvel at it and hope I always do.

They light a fire under my faith too! I never cease to marvel at God’s way of putting together the circumstances of our lives to work for His kingdom and our blessing if that’s our desire.

(Even as I'm preparing to repost this, a song is playing on my husband's computer, reminding me of the same truth: "In His time, in His time, He makes all things beautiful in His time")

In today’s reading Paul and Silas were shunted off the track they were on by the Holy Spirit. How that looked, I’m not sure – a feeling of uneasiness, a prophetic message? However it happened, they knew they were not to go to Asia. At Bithynia likewise “the Spirit did not permit them.” The vision to go to Macedonia, then, was most welcome. Here was clear direction .

In Philippi – one of the largest cities in Macedonia – was Lydia and a band of believers who met at the riverside regularly for worship. Can you imagine how she must have felt the morning Paul and Silas showed up and told her the story of how they got there.

Judy’s story shows us that God still works in behind-the-scenes ways. It freights these familiar verses with a new and personal relevance:

“Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:27-28

PRAYER: Dear God, please put my life in the stream of Your usefulness. Help me to hear Your Spirit’s instructions and obey them. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 126

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 12, 2018

One secret to perseverance

Illustration from Lyman Abbot Commentary on Acts

Oriental Prayer Meeting - Illustration from Lyman Abbot Commentary on Acts
Oriental Prayer Meeting
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13-14; Psalm 125

TO CHEW ON: "So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus." Acts 13:4

What strikes me about the disciples here is their lack of personal agendas. They have no five-year plan to evangelize the world. There seem to be only two items on their to-do list: hear and follow God's instructions.

When those instructions come via the Holy Spirit saying "Separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" there is immediate obedience. No hanging back with—'Well, we had planned to visit our families, take a vacation, write a book…'

Their sense of being appointed and sent by God Himself on this mission was, I think, key to how they would handle what was ahead on this, Paul's first missionary journey (called Saul here, but his name was later changed to Paul). They didn't know it yet, but they would face opposition from a sorcerer, city-to-city hassling by the Jews, the desertion of a team member,  the threat of stoning in one place and actual stoning in another (Acts 13 & 14).

The lesson I take from this is  that I too need to listen to God's voice when I see opportunities to be sure that what I take on is by His leading and not my own idea. I need to be open to new tasks in areas I hadn't even considered. And when I don't hear anything specific, I need to be content to carry on faithfully with what I'm doing, knowing He is perfectly able to let me know when it's time to change course.

This sense of God's call is important because it is sure that I, that you, will face opposition, discouragement, misunderstanding, maybe even threats and physical danger while on Kingdom assignments. The knowledge that God has called us to any specific task will help us to persevere.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this clear picture of how You worked in Bible times. Help me to be as available as Paul and Barnabas were, and to follow Your direction, knowing that if You call me to a job, You will see me through it no matter what comes my way. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 125

The Bible Project VIDEO: Acts - Part 2 of 2 (Ch. 13-28) Read Scripture Series 


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

God brings us, not over but through

"Peter Released from Prison by an Ange" from Treasures of the Bible - Early Church
"Peter Released from Prison by an Angel" - from Treasures of the Bible

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 11-12; Psalm 124

"… he (Peter) declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. … And he departed and went to another place." Acts 12:17

I have sometimes wondered, as I read this story and others in Acts, why God didn't do the entire job—here get the angel to deliver Peter out of danger completely. Instead, he just brought Peter through the prison gates, down the first street and poof! he was gone (Acts 12:10).

After telling his story to his friends at Mary's house, Peter had to use his common sense and decide what to do next. It was obviously not safe to stick around so, though it was the middle of the night, he "departed and went to another place" - Acts 12:17.

Perhaps this is how we should expect God to work in our lives too. He can, and sometimes does intervene miraculously when the situation is beyond us. But He doesn't do for us what we can do for ourselves, or take us permanently out of trouble and persecution. It is commonly thought that Peter died by crucifixion.

However, no doubt because of his own experience with it, Peter left us with some powerful benefits of suffering in his first letter:

  • It proves the authenticity of our faith - 1 Peter 1:6,7.
  • Suffering for righteousness brings a blessing - 1 Peter 3:14.
  • It purifies us - 1 Peter 4:1.
  • Through suffering we identify with Christ in a unique way - 1 Peter 4:12,13.
  • In suffering we experience the Holy Spirit and God's glory - 1 Peter 4:14, Acts 7:55.

So, it's not that God can't do the whole job, but that He knows we'll get a greater benefit from going through the tough stuff than floating over it.

PRAYER: Dear God, when I'm in the middle of a hard patch, please help me to remember that You allow suffering for my good—even though it doesn't feel good at the time. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 124

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Who scripts your life?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 9-10; Psalm 123

TO CHEW ON: "And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together." Acts 10:27

I love the sense of order and planning that fills this story—divine, not human order and planning.

Peter's thrice repeated vision, followed by the explicit instructions of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:19,20), followed by the arrival of Cornelius's servants and Peter's trip to Caesarea with them, followed by his meeting of Cornelius, hearing his story and seeing the crowd gathered in anticipation of his arrival—it all feels scripted. That's because it was, by God the Spirit Himself!

Suppose Peter had done what I am too often prone to do? What if he had rationalized away the vision (I sure get crazy when I'm hungry), doubted the voice of the Spirit (it's probably just my imagination), and refused to drop everything and go with Cornelius's servants (but my day is all planned)? But he didn't and we have the wonderful story of Acts 10 with its reverberations down to our day as a result.

A snippet from the devotional book I read last night comes to mind. In his meditation on James 4:5, Rick Renner concludes:
"So make your relationship with the Holy Spirit your top priority. Don't give Him a reason to feel betrayed by or envious of other things in your life that have taken His place. Get to know the Holy Spirit's voice in your spirit so He can help you set your life in order. Make sure every area of your life is under His loving control" - Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Kindle Location 3791.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, I want to get to know You so well that I always recognize Your voice. Then help me to have a willing spirit that allows You to script my life. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 123

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Cut Hearts

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 7-8; Psalm 122

“‘You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you’ … When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.” Acts 7:51,54

Eloquent Stephen concluded his speech of defense to the high priest and the council by condemning them. His description of them as “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” certainly stirred them up, though not in a safe way. It was the last speech Stephen ever made.

A couple of things snag attention here.
1. We can be in the presence of God’s truth, as the religious Jews were, and still not be touched by it. Our unregenerate hearts readily filter out what our ears don’t want to hear.

2. If and when we are “cut” by God’s truth about us and our lives, our reaction can be negative or positive.
Stephen’s speech to the council cut their hearts not to “circumcise” or alter them in the way of being marked for God’s kingdom, but to make them angry; they “gnashed at him with their teeth.” In this way they sealed their own fates—though young Saul at whose feet the stoning people laid their clothes (Acts 7:57)* later had his own heart circumcision encounter.

Let’s take seriously the fact that being in the presence of God’s truth about us isn’t enough. We still have the choice to resist the Spirit or let His words to us cut and mark us as His own.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to have a heart and ears that are sensitive to what Your Holy Spirit says to me. Amen.
PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 122

* A note in my NKJV Cultural Background Study Bible comments on the stone throwers laying clothes at a Saul’s feet (Acts 7:57):
“Because the activity was physically strenuous, they could lay aside their outer garments, as was customary during exercise. … Ancient practice, however, specified not the stripping of the executioners but rather the stripping of the person being executed. Luke may ironically emphasize their stripping themselves to remind the reader who is really on trial” - Kindle Location 206,939.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The gifted speaker who served food

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 5-6; Psalm 121

TO CHEW ON: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem … “ Acts 6:7

When the distraction of serving food to widows became too much for “the twelve” they called a meeting of “the multitude of the disciples” and put a new committee—a food committee— into place. Stephen was one of the men chosen for that committee (Acts 6:1-6).

As we read on we find out, however, that Stephen was also a gifted speaker—perhaps more powerful and anointed and talented than some of the original twelve (Acts 6:8-10). I suppose he could have said, “Why must I give up speaking and teaching to do this menial work? What makes your seminars more important than mine?”

Of course he didn’t say or give us any reason to believe he thought that, but served, without a ripple, along with the rest of the committee.

The result: “Then the word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…” Acts 6:7.

I see in this an important example for myself, indeed the contemporary church. When we put ourselves at God’s disposal to use in any way He wishes, we may not always be doing the things we think are our strengths or especially enjoy. But we do launch ourselves into the river of God’s activity—a productive and exciting place to be.

So let’s not be too proud or picky to accept even the humblest jobs we’re asked to do. God needs and uses chair stackers, pancake flippers, parking lot attendants, spreadsheet makers etc. as well as preachers, teachers, and worship leaders. It’s the full complement of all of us doing the behind-the-scenes and upfront jobs that causes the gospel to flourish.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to be willing to do any job You have for me. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 121

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Would people say we've been with Jesus?

"Peter and John before the Sanhedrin"
- Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 3-4; Psalm 120

TO CHEW ON: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13

Peter and John have just got into their first scrap with the Jewish religious leaders. The lame man healed at the temple gate has opened the door to Peter's presentation of Jesus—who He was and is—and the receptivity of the audience galls the temple officials. They arrest Peter and John and, after a night in jail, these two appear before the high priest who asks, "By what power or by what name have you done this?"

Peter, with his post-Pentecost boldness declares, " the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth .... Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved" - Acts 4:10,12.

It is then these rulers make their telling observation: "... they realized they had been with Jesus." I like how Barnes Notes on the Bible enlarges on this moment:

"It is not said in what way they obtained this evidence, but the connection leads us to suppose it was by the miracle which they had performed, by their firm and bold declaration of the doctrines of Jesus, and perhaps by the irresistible conviction that none would be thus bold who had not been personally with him, and who had not the firmest conviction that he was the Messiah.

They had not been trained in their schools, and their boldness could not be attributed to the arts of rhetoric, but was the native, ingenuous, and manly exhibition of a deep conviction of the truth of what they spoke, and that conviction could have been obtained only by their having been with him..." Barnes Notes on the Bible.
This passage always pricks me, and leaves me with the question: Would people interacting with me, talking to me, reading me, detect that I have been with Jesus? What about you? Do we have that boldness of rock-solid faith in Him who said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)? Is there about our lives the perfume of His presence (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)?.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I want people to say of me, She has been with Jesus. Perhaps, in order for that to happen, I need to rearrange my priorities so that I actually spend more time with You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 120

The Bible Project VIDEO: The Holy Spirit (Theme Series)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The word that cuts

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts1-2; Psalm 119:153-176

TO CHEW ON: "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'" Acts 2:37

 Lydia Christensen was a 36-year-old Danish teacher who had it all—a great career, loving family, and a good man who wanted to marry her. But the Christmas of 1926 found her dissatisfied and searching for more.

Back in her apartment after celebrating with her family, she felt like reading and went to her bookshelf:

"I read off the names of the authors: Kierkegaard, Oenslaeger, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Plato. I had read them, quoted them, lectured about them—but they offered me no answer now. At the extreme right of the top row, my eye rested on a plain volume bound in black. … For a moment I hesitated, then I reached up and pulled it down" - Appointment in Jerusalem, Derek & Lydia Prince, Kindle Location 409.

The book Lydia pulled down was a Bible. She had been required to read it for one of her college courses. Soon she was immersed in the story of Jesus from Matthew and then the Sermon on the Mount.

"At the fourth beatitude I suddenly caught my breath: 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Hunger and thirst … Could this be the very longing that I felt for something I could not express in words? Did I dare to apply these words to myself?" Ibid, KL 419.

Lydia did apply those words to herself and her life was changed that day. Her experience is just another example of the power of God's word which cut to the heart of the listeners in Acts (notice how much of Peter's sermon is Scripture quotes), and continues to impact people around the world.

I ask, am I opening myself to this enlightening (Psalm 119:105), burning, pulverizing (Jeremiah 23:29), growing (Acts 19:20), cutting (Hebrews 4:12) word? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the power of Your word. Help me to be guided, broken, cut,  molded, formed, disciplined, fertilized, encouraged, and challenged by it today. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 119:153-176

The Bible Project VIDEO: Acts - Part 1 (Read Scripture Series)

Quotes taken from Appointment in Jerusalem by Derek & Lydia Prince, Kindle Edition. Read my review of it HERE.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Burning hearts

"The disciples at Emmaus"
 - Alexandre Bida

The Disciples at Emmaus - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 23-24; Psalm 119:129-152

TO CHEW ON: "And they said t one another, 'Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?'" Luke 24:32

The story of the travelers meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus is one of my favourites. Perhaps it's because I see myself in those sight-restrained disciples. I've often wondered, why did they not recognize Him?

Perhaps Jesus' physical look had changed. We read the stories of other people not recognizing Him either (Mary Magdalene John 20:14; the disciples - Luke 24:36-37). He was the last person they expected to meet on that journey. And our reading says, "their eyes were restrained" suggesting that there was also a supernatural aspect to their blindness. (God operates, even in the smallest details, in the fullness of time.)

Then, after they had walked, talked, and listened to Jesus explain the Scriptures and convinced Him to eat with them, He went through those familiar motions: "… He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them…" Luke 24:30. They had seen this exact ritual before—at the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:19), the feeding of the 4,000 (Mark 8:6) and the last supper (Matthew 26:26). What a wonderful thing for which to be recognized!

Jesus left after that. It seems His purpose was not to hang out with them in the way He had before. That time was over. Now they simply needed to know He was alive and how the events that had just taken place fulfilled prophecy.

After he left, the disciples recalled and recognized their reaction to Jesus on the road: "…'Did not our hearts burn within us?'…" Henri Nouwen describes how Jesus may come to us in the same way:

"Jesus joins us as we walk in sadness and explains the scriptures to us. But we do not know that it is Jesus. We think of him as a stranger who knows less than we do of what is happening in our lives. And still—we know something, we sense something, we intuit something: our hearts begin to burn. At the very moment that he is with us we can't fully understand what is happening. We can't speak about it to each other. Later, yes, later, when it is all over, we might be able to say, 'Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?' But when he walks with us it is all too close for reflection" - Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, p. 50.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus help me to recognize Your voice. Thank You for the witness of a burning heart. Please stir up the coals to a hotter fire. Amen.

MORE: Inner fire

  • Jesus came to ignite inner fire - Luke 12:49.
  • It is kindled by meditation, and bursts into speech - Psalm 39:3.
  • It is fed by fellowship with Jesus - Luke 24:32.
  • The light in our hearts is a reflection of "the glory of God in the face of Christ" - 2 Corinthians 4:6.
  • That inner fire makes it impossible not to speak - Jeremiah 20:9.

"So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem …. And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread" - Mark 24:33,35.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 119:129-152

The Bible Project VIDEO: Luke Ch. 24 (Luke Mini-series)


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Heaven's surprising kingdom

Crown of thorns
Crown of thorns - Image from
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 21-22; Psalm 119:97-128

 TO CHEW ON: " 'And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.' " Luke 22:29,30

Jesus talks a lot about His kingdom (also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God). In His teaching and parables about it, we discover some interesting things.
  • Here we see that it doesn't operate by society's usual rules of prominence. Its prominent ones are those who distinguish themselves, not by their sophistication and worldly wisdom but by their "youngest" qualities. I take that to mean their complete, innocent, and unquestioning faith.
  • They are also willing to serve (Luke 22:26).
  • The kingdom is not fair but unfair in the wonderful way of elevating those who, by the class and status into which they're born, aren't candidates for elevation. Jesus confers entry into and prominence in the kingdom. It's a gift (Luke 22:29).
In other places Jesus gives more clues about His kingdom:
  • Luke 14:15 describes more unlikely kingdom recruits. It's not who we would expect but the poor, crippled, blind, and lame; all those who respond to the Master's invitation.
  • In Matthew 25:34+, Jesus describes the unusual way its makeup will be determined. He talks of a day "When the Son of Man comes in his glory"  (Matthew 25:31) as a day of sorting when He'll admit those who, unbeknownst to them, passed the kingdom's entry test by their compassion on earth (Matthew 25:35,36).
  • In 2 Timothy 2:12 the kingdom is given to those who "endure."

Though we are probably well familiar with these descriptions of the Kingdom, we do well to ask ourselves, have we internalized them? Does knowing them change our behavior?

Or, despite what we read in the Bible and hear expounded from the pulpit and elsewhere, will we still be surprised when, someday, we see the answer to what we've prayed thousands of times: "Your kingdom come..."?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You've left us with plenty of information about your kingdom—which is already and which we hope to see in its fullness someday. Help me to order my life here on earth by its principles. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 119:97-128

Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures quoted in this meditation are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Jesus and the religious superstars

"Jesus Teaches" by A. Bida
"Jesus Teaches" by A. Bida
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 19-20; Psalm 119:65-96

TO CHEW ON: “Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes…’” Luke 20:45,46

The cat-and-mouse game the scribes and chief priests played with Jesus was serious. They wanted to get Him arrested, turned over to the governor, and sentenced (hopefully to death) for something.

They went to great lengths to try to make this happen.
  • They sent spies who pretended to be righteous but with the intent to catch Jesus saying something seditious (Luke 20:21,22).
  • They followed him around. It seems like wherever Jesus taught, there was a coterie of scribes, chief priests and Pharisees frowning and muttering in the background (Luke 20:20, 26, 39).
  • They flattered him (Luke 20:21,39).

Jesus was never tripped up or intimidated. Just the opposite. To His disciples but in the hearing of everyone (Luke takes pains to point out) He condemned the scribes for their religious show, their love of being honored and deferred to, their sanctimonious prayers, and their hypocrisy (Luke 20: 46,47).

Just as Jesus wasn’t  awestruck or taken in by these first century religious superstars, neither should we be starstruck by the religious big names of our time, or try to become one of them.

When we find ourselves tempted to fawn over popular preachers, singers, or authors, or trying to impress others with our learning and insight let’s remind ourselves:
  • God sees past education, cleverness, and talent. Let’s not be too impressed with these things in others or ourselves.
  • Religious showing off is abhorrent to God. Let’s avoid it and not be fooled by it in others.
  • In the end, each of us will stand with our own heart naked before Him. Let’s guard ourselves against sanctimoniousness, the love of human praise, and hypocrisy.

Dear Jesus, Your insight into human nature and refusal to be impressed or intimidated by the religious big names of Your time is inspiring. Help me to live for Your approval, not the approval or praise of people. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 119:65-96

The Bible Project VIDEO: Luke ch. 19-23 (Gospel of Luke mini-series)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Specific prayers

 "Healing of Bartimaeus" by Alexandre Bida
(Though the blind man isn't named in Luke's telling, 
he is named in Mark's - Mark 10:46-52)

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Luke 17-18; Psalm 119:33-64

TO CHEW ON: “So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, that I may receive my sight.’” Luke 18:40

Surely Jesus knew the man was blind and that he wanted to see. Yet He asked the blind man to say it, to pinpoint exactly what he wanted Jesus to do for him.

This incident says something to us about prayer (talking to God—that’s what the blind man was doing):

1. It seems our prayers are the catalyst that moves God’s hand.
Though God knows everything—knows our needs better than we do, He has invented prayer for us to tell Him what we need and want. I’m reminded of a scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Magicians Nephew. At one point the children, Digory and Polly, are hungry but all there is to eat is grass—good for Fledge the horse but not them. (Remembering that Aslan the Lion is the Christ figure):

“‘Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,’ said Digory.

‘I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,’ said Fledge.

‘Wouldn’t he know without asking?’ said Polly.

‘I’ve no doubt he would,’ said the Horse (still with his mouth full). ‘But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.’”
- C. S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, Kindle Location 1898 (emphasis added).

2. What we ask for is linked to our faith.
Jesus replied to the blind man’s ask: ‘Your faith has made you well.’ And then He healed him on the spot.

This incident encourages us to pray, and when we do, put into words what we specifically want Jesus to do for us. We are invited to pray ("'What do you want Me to do for you?'"), not in vague generalities (“Bless my family”) but specifics (“Please help my grandson with his math test”).

Do we have the faith for such praying?

Dear Jesus, praying in specifics is a little scary because it reveals the state of my faith and makes prayer’s answers so measurable. Help me to trust the wisdom and love of all your answers, whether they’re “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 119:33-64

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Dsicipleship's costs

Going forth to Calvary - Alexandre Bida
Going forth to Calvary - A. Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 14-16; Psalm 119:1-32

TO CHEW ON: "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?" Luke 14:28

The tower we're building, the war we're fighting is that of being a disciple—or not. Jesus here names three costs of discipleship. They are things that we should consider before we sign on:

1. The cost in relationships.
A disciple "hates" his family and his own life (Luke 14:26). What? My Bible elaborates:

"A disciple must subordinate all earthly relationships to loyalty to Christ. Jesus' remark is an example of Hebrew hyperbole to emphasize the subject being discussed. To 'hate' one's family is … but a way of expressing the importance of allegiance to Him" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1417.

2. The cost in vocation and destiny.
A disciple follows Jesus carrying his cross - Luke 14:27 (not a suitcase, or a ladder, or a sword, or a throne… ).

I see this as Jesus' way of foreshadowing to the disciples how He would die, and telling them that discipleship may well be their death sentence too (as opposed to a means to security, success, power or glory).

3. The cost in possessions.
The disciple forsakes all that he has (Luke 14:33).

This sounds like turning one's back not only on possessions but also dreams, goals and ambitions.

"Discipleship means the total renunciation of all selfish interest for the sake of Jesus. 'Cannot be my disciple' is dealing with issues of total commitment and maximum realization of Christ's purpose for our lives in this life' - Ibid.

As I try to superimpose my North American lifestyle on this stark template of discipleship, I ask, has my discipleship affected my loyalties? Do I view it as a possible death sentence? Is everything in my life (possessions, home, time, plans) subservient to following Jesus? Now that I've looked at the cost, do I wish to carry on?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, as I compare my life with Your cost, I see that my view of discipleship (at least my way of living it out) may be unrealistic. But with Peter, I say, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" - John 6:68.  Help me to be a more realistic disciple. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 119:1-32


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Our stuff

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 12-13; Psalm 118

TO CHEW ON: "And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.'" Luke 12:15

Jesus, the ultimate teacher, sure knew how to grab those teaching moments. Here the request of someone in the crowd for Him to intervene in an estate division problem gave rise to a proverb and a parable about the stuff people own.

The man who called out, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me," was probably surprised when Jesus took him back to considering the basics of possessions. One of the ideas that He alluded to in His answer: "'s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses," is the fact that people very easily let their possessions define them.

We still do that. Notice, for example, how TV commercials tap into our desire to project a good image. One way, according to the ads, is by being the owner of that new car, living in that home on the golf course development with all its amenities, surrounded by brand-name fixtures and furniture.

Jesus' parable draws our attention away from the glittery stuff we love to posses to our impending separation from those things by death. It's inevitable. It may be much nearer than we think. We can't predict when it will arrive in any case. When it does come, "this night" or that, and our souls are required of us, "whose will those things be which you have provided?"

The implied answer is, "They won't be ours." We'll leave them all behind.

A footnote in my Bible says it concisely:

"Possessions neither give life nor provide security; because death separates from things. The fool in the parable mistakenly looked upon his possessions as his own, not gifts dependent upon the will of God and to be used unselfishly." - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1413.

We can't get through life without possessions. But we can hang onto them loosely, knowing they are lent for a little while. The challenge is to steward them wisely and in a way that will show us "rich toward God." 

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have Your perspective on possessions. She me how to use them in a way that pleases You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 118

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Different styles of serving

Martha, Jesus, Mary (Artist unknown)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10-11; Psalm 117

"… Mary … sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving." Luke 10:39,40

The sisters Martha and Mary make an interesting study in contrasts. Martha is an efficient go-getter. The Bethany home she shares with her siblings is called "her house" (Luke 10:38). She takes the initiative for the dinner party and obviously knows just how she wants the evening to go. It involves lots of details, which I'm sure she delights in, except she needs a little help.

Mary is the dreamy impractical one. While Martha flits around, Mary sits around, oblivious to Martha's "much serving" list and completely engrossed in Jesus and His words.

The contrast between the two sisters is seen again in another incident. It's another dinner in Bethany where again Martha serves (John 12:1,2). This time Mary does more than listen. To show her love for Jesus she pours perfume on his feet and dries them with her hair (John 12:3)! Who but a dreamy, impractical soul would think of something like that?

I believe Martha and Mary were different at a basic level. I think they were both right in serving and loving Jesus according to their makeup. Martha's mistake was to try and force Mary to leave her way of serving Jesus and do it Martha's way. Jesus' reprimand was probably an epiphany moment for Martha as He focused her on the value of what Mary was and was not doing.

I like how my Bible's commentary gets to the core of these differences.

"Martha's legitimate concern was to be a proper hostess. Mary's concern was to be a proper disciple. Jesus does not negate Martha's hospitable activities but is concerned with her distractions, worry and trouble about many things which cause her to underemphasize the one thing that is needed (Luke 10:42) that is to hear the word of Jesus" J. Lyle Story, commentary on Luke, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1408).

My sympathies have always been with Martha in this story. In my own life I see a tendency to get hung up on the practical details of service and ministry while losing sight of the big picture. And I would also like some support in my busy-ness. Perhaps you too?

Through this story we hear Jesus remind us, Don't be worried and troubled about many things. One thing is needed—to listen to My words. Your pursue that in your way and let others do it in theirs (my paraphrase).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to be a disciple in the way I have been created, while giving others the freedom to be themselves in the way they love and serve You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 117

The Bible Project VIDEO: Luke - Part 2 (Read Scripture Series)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Words that need to sink into our ears

Image: Openicons /
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 8-9; Psalm 116

TO CHEW ON: " ' Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.'
But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying." Luke 9:44,45

Three times in Luke 9 we see Jesus speaking of His death. In Luke 9:22, after Peter called Him the Christ (Messiah), Jesus told them, in confidence: "'The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed and be raised the third day.'"

Then on the mountain, groggy as they were, they overheard Jesus, Elijah and Moses speaking of Jesus' "decease" - Luke 9:31.

And again in our reading today, after healing the demon-possessed boy (to the amazement and marveling of the crowds) Jesus' words to His disciples were urgent and insistent: "'Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men'" Luke 9:44.

They didn't get it (Luke 9:45)!

Some questions that come to me about this story:
- Why was it so important to Jesus that they understand?
- How could they not understand such plain language?
- Are there spiritual things to which I'm similarly deaf?

One reason I can think of for the importance of their understanding was that it would prepare them for what was ahead.

As to why they didn't  understand, I believe their expectation of Messiah and his role played a big part in their inability to hear and absorb what Jesus was saying. They saw the adulation of the crowd and that part of Jesus' ministry fit in with Him being an earthly savior, so that was the belief they clung to. In fact, in the verses after Jesus pleaded with them to hear Him, they were arguing about who was the greatest, no doubt  thinking of position in His "cabinet."

Finally, I ask myself, are there things to which I am (perhaps all of us are) similarly dull? As I examine my beliefs and compare them to what the Bible says, I do see some things that make me squirm. One is Jesus' teaching that He is the only way to God (John 10:9; Acts 4:1,2 etc.). I believe it in my head, but do my actions support what I say I believe?

Then there's the whole teaching about those rejecting Him ending up in the other place—"hell"—a concept that doesn't sit at all well in modern ears. Yet Jesus Himself speaks of it at the end of the chapter in Mark that tells the very incidents we've read about in Luke. He describes a place of utter torment and separation from God: "'Where "Their worm does not die / And the fire is not quenched"'" - Mark 9:42-47.

Like the disciples, it's important that I (we) hear what the Bible is actually saying and not be swayed by human interpretations and the ideas of a culture that seek to explain away what is hard for us to accept and understand. Like the disciples, there is no excuse for us to enter the future (now and eternity) unprepared.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please open my eyes, mind, and heart to Bible truths that clash with the values of humanism or any other belief systems. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 116

The Bible Project VIDEO: Luke ch. 9-19 (Luke mini-series)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

When doing nothing is doing something

"Jesus converses with the doctors of the law"
 - Alexandre Bida

Jesus converses with the doctors of the law - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 6-7; Psalm 115

"And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him." - Luke 7:29-30

There are moments of decision, crossroads where we must choose one direction or another. John the Baptist was one of the people who confronted his listeners with their path options. His message was repentance. The graphic way people showed they chose this repentance road was to submit to John's baptism.

After John's disciples asked Jesus John's question ("Are You the Coming One?" - yesterdays reading), Jesus explained John to the people (Luke 7:24-28). And then the writer Luke adds his author observations about what was going on here (Luke 7:29,30). Here's how the Amplified Bible puts it:

"And all the people who heard Him (Jesus), even the tax collectors acknowledged the justice of God [in calling them to repentance and pronouncing future wrath on the impenitent] being baptized with the baptism of John" - Luke 7:29 Amplified Bible.

However, two groups of people—the Pharisees and lawyers—steeled their hearts against this truth. How did they show their resistance? Apparently by doing nothing. Luke again:

"But the Pharisees and the lawyers [of the Mosaic Law] annulled and rejected and brought to nothing God's purpose concerning themselves, by [refusing and] not being baptized by [John]." - Luke 7:30 Amplified Bible (emphasis added). 

Jesus goes on to describe them as utterly resistant to wisdom (Luke 7:31-35). My Bible's commenter says it well:

"Jesus illustrates the fickle and even caustic response of the people to John's ministry and to His own. Unbelief will not respond to the truth, however well it is presented and demonstrated" - J. Lyle Story, commentary on Matthew 11:16-19, New Spirit-Filled Bible, p. 1310 (emphasis added).

There is a subtle warning in this for us. For we too can choose one way over another by doing nothing—by refusing to respond to the Holy Spirit's tug on our consciences, by resisting His invitation to change direction. How sobering to think that it could be said of me or you: "She / He annulled, rejected, brought to nothing God's purpose concerning themselves by refusing …"

Dear God, please help me understand the danger of passivity. I want to have a heart that is sensitive to You and quick to respond. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 115


Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotes are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation - Used with permission.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Jesus woos us

Jesus Preaches from a Ship - Alexandre Bida
Jesus Preaches from a Ship - A. Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 4-5; Psalm 114

"So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him." Luke 5:11

It's fascinating to watch Jesus woo the disciples (who were not yet disciples) in this passage.

His popularity with the crowd needed a bit of a stage that provided both visibility and distance. A boat would be just the thing. He chose Simon's (Peter's), asked him to interrupt his net-washing and "put out a little from the land" and taught the crowds from there.

Imagine being the one from whom this upstart asked such a favor. I wonder, did Peter feel annoyed that Jesus just commandeered his boat for several hours, or honored and flattered?

It didn't end there, though. After the teaching session, Jesus turned His attention from the crowds to the boat owner. He told Peter to move to deep water and start fishing. Peter, probably still smarting from the previous unsuccessful night, started to argue but then changed his mind and did as Jesus said.

A great miraculous catch followed. "They" (Peter and probably his brother Andrew) got help from partners James and John to haul in the multitudes of fish. At Jesus' next words "'Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men,'" Peter was completely smitten. He (and his partners) "...brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him" - Luke 5:11.

I would love to have interviewed Peter and asked him, what was going on in his mind and heart that synchronized with Jesus' actions and words to cause this life change in him.

Perhaps he was wondering how he could continue looking after his family's needs with such unpredictable fishing luck. Jesus had just showed him His supernatural power in that department.

Perhaps he'd been wishing, all his life, to live for something bigger and had for some time been questioning the usefulness of what he was doing. Jesus told him he would "catch men." Peter may not have completely understood, but would surely have been intrigued.

We don't know. But we do know that on that particular day in Peter's life, Jesus ticked all the boxes and the decision to follow Him was easy.

On listening to people's stories of how they come to Jesus, I've noticed something similar. Jesus woos us in different ways. Sometimes it's through unaccountable blessing. Sometimes it's via an inner search for more purpose and meaning. Sometimes Jesus is the last option to stop a downward spiral that, if something doesn't change, will lead to destruction.

Let's pray for friends, colleagues, and loved ones who have yet to meet Jesus, that He will continue to work His wooing ways in their lives and that they will respond like Peter did.

Dear Jesus, I see how You won Peter and his crew over in a few well-timed interventions and actions. Please continue to work that way in the lives of my loved ones who don't know You. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 114

The Bible Project VIDEO: Luke ch. 3-9 (Gospel of Luke series)

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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