Wednesday, October 31, 2018

When should someone else's conscience rule your behavior?

Emoticon drinking wine
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 7-8; Psalm 144

TO CHEW ON: "But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak." 1 Corinthians 8:9

Are you aware of your conscience? We all have one, you know, though this part of our consciousness gets little attention in the secular world. However, writer Joe Carter believes the conscience is making a comeback among Christians. In an article on The Gospel Coalition, he describes what the conscience is and isn't, does and doesn't do for us. He makes these points:
1. Conscience is an internal rational capacity that bears witness to our value system.
He likens a bothered conscience to physical pain, alerting us to the fact that we've done something we consider wrong.

2. Conscience is a trustworthy guide only when it is informed and ruled by God.

3. Conscience is to be subordinated to and informed by the revealed Word of God.

4. To willfully act against conscience is always a sin.

5. Conscience can be suppressed by sin.

Paul here is going one further, telling his readers not to merely follow their own consciences (he assumes they already do) but to alter their behavior so as not to offend the conscience of a more sensitive brother or sister.

And why would they do that?

Out of genuine care for that more sensitive Christian, realizing that when they indulge their greater freedom, their example may encourage the person with the sensitive conscience to join in the activity and thus go against his conscience and thus sin (1 Corinthians 8:9).

The example Paul uses—eating meat offered to idols—will hardly apply to us. But many modern behaviors could. For example, if your conscience allows you to drink alcohol in moderation, would you refrain from drinking it if you were with someone who had scruples against drinking alcohol?

Jim Cymbala in the book Storm makes an impassioned plea for this kind of consideration of others exactly in this area. His dad, who was an alcoholic, didn't even attend his wedding. Cymbala says:

"That's what I always think about when I hear people flaunting their so-called 'freedom in Christ' or their enlightened view of twenty-first century ethics. One drink at one party did my dad in. And I don't know what weakness lies resident in me. That's why I forgo anything with alcohol content. Not because wine with a meal is wrong, but rather who knows where that drink might lead me? Or someone who watches me drink it? ...  Can't we all, regardless of our differing views on what's 'lawful,' put other people's welfare first?" - Jim Cymbala, Storm, Kindle Location 1576.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put into practice the principle of caring as much about others and their spiritual welfare as I care about my own. Amen. 

Psalm 144

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 30, 2018

Should you ever unfriend a fellow Christian?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 5-6; Psalm 143

TO CHEW ON: “But now I write to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of [Christian] brother, if he is known to be guilty of immorality, or greed, or is an idolater—that is whose soul is devoted to any object that usurps the place of God—or [is] a person with a foul tongue (railing, abusing, reviling, slandering) or is a drunkard or a swindler or a robber. [No] you must not so much as eat with such a person” 1 Corinthians 5:11 AMP.

The church discipline Paul recommends here sounds a lot like the “shunning” that happens amongst, for example, the Amish. To us, living in our postmodern culture of individuality and permissiveness, this kind of treatment may sound extreme. I’ve heard of members of religious groups taking to court church officials who disciplined them in such ways.

However, tolerated sin is dangerous. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul explains why, using the metaphor of leaven or yeast (which is almost always a type of sin in the Bible). Just like leaven grows to spread through an entire lump of dough, so, Paul says, sin left unaddressed soon permeates an entire congregation (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).

The Israelites were to remove leaven from their homes in preparation for Passover. So, Paul argues, these Christ-followers need to deal with the leaven of sin in their midst when they gather to celebrate Christ (“keep the feast”-[2 Cor. 5:8—Passover and/or the Lord’s Supper).

Paul’s list of leaven-type actions they needed to address didn’t end with the sexual immorality of two members. To immorality Paul added greed, idolatry, "foul tongue"*, drunkard, swindler, robber.

Two takeaway thoughts from this passage:
1. I ask myself (and all of us)  are we guilty of the leaven on this list? Could we be spreaders of leaven in our churches? Could our attitude toward possessions, accomplishments, goals etc. ever be characterized as greedy or idolatrous? What about speech. Do we ever rail, revile, abuse, or slander? Are we disciplined in eating and drinking? Are we honest?

2. If our church leadership doesn’t enact discipline, we need to guard our own relationships.
Perhaps we should prayerfully consider separating ourselves from “brothers and sister” who live immorally, are greedy and worship the idols of possessions, accomplishments, prestige, leisure, whose speech is abusive and foul, who practice dishonesty.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to eliminate the leaven from my own life, and to guard my relationships with Christians who have slipped into a worldly lifestyle.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 143

* “Foul tongue” "Railing" (rail: to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation), and "reviling" (revile: to assail with contemptuous language, address or speak abusively - definitions from 

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.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (

Monday, October 29, 2018


TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 3-4; Psalm 142

TO CHEW ON:"Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." 1 Corinthians 4:2

In Paul's day a steward was an important part of wealthy households. It was the steward's job to oversee particularly the feeding of the household. He was in full charge and accountable only to the owner.

A steward in our time has no less responsibilities. He is, by my dictionary:
1) One entrusted with the management of property, finances, or other affairs not his own — an administrator.

2) One in charge of buying provisions, managing servants etc.

3) One with a unique role in various settings:
  • on a ship, in charge of food and the guests' comforts.
  • on an airplane or bus, one who waits on the passengers.
  • in a union, a shop steward is the intermediary between the workers and the union leadership.

When Paul was calling himself a steward he was identifying himself as a person who dedicated himself to the spiritual nourishment needs of others. Whatever his role (and he had many: explainer of God's word, teacher, preacher, church planter, mentor) he lived it under the overarching principles of being a "servant of Christ" which included being "a steward of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Though we may not have an official position of leadership, all of us have those in our lives to whom we can be spiritual stewards. Whether those who look to us are our children, or friends, or members of our Bible study class, or whole churches, let's take personally Paul's challenge to be faithful stewards of the things God has entrusted to us:
  • God's word - the Bible, in our country freely available in multi-translations with an accompanying embarrassment of riches in the Bible helps and commentaries department.
  • Time, talents and opportunities (from internet access to an opening in conversation with our local barista).

We could make the faithful steward in the story Jesus told, our model (Luke 12:42-43).

PRAYER: Dear God, what a privilege to be a steward of the eternal truths of the Bible. Help me to be faithful. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 142

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 28, 2018

The wordless wisdom of unity

Singers in church sharing hymn book
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 1-2; Psalm 141

TO CHEW ON: "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Corinthians 1:10

If there's one thing our society is not, it's united. Listen to any open line talk show and you will hear a variety of points of view on most subjects. Perhaps it's our democratic outlook that makes us value individualism along with knowing and speaking our own minds. And so Paul's plea for unity: "Speak the same thing … no divisions … perfectly joined together" seems impossible—even undesirable—to us.

Yet Paul wasn't the only one with the ideal of unity in mind for people of faith. It was Jesus' idea in the first place. He talked about "'one flock and one shepherd'" (John 10:16) and pleaded in prayer for oneness among His disciples: "'… that they may all be one, as You Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that You sent Me'" (John 17:21).

The persuasive apologetic of unity may be what Paul is referring to in the last verse of our reading when he says: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words…" What other wisdom would preach and convince?  Perhaps the wisdom of lifestyle—like a body of people supernaturally united in love?

Maintaining unity is work though, otherwise why would Paul have had to "plead" with them to be united? It might be even more work for us individualists.

  • It may mean keeping silent when issues come up that would divide us, especially issues non-essential to salvation - Galatians 3:28.
  • It means body-part-like cooperation instead of competition - 1 Corinthians 12:12.
  • It means, above all things, other-centred love - 1 Peter 3:8.

I ask myself, is my church community a persuasive wisdom-without-words apologetic for the gospel? Is yours? What are you and I doing to make it more so?

PRAYER: Dear God, so often I lose sight of Your ideal of unity as I glory in my own opinions and rightness. Help me to catch Your vision of a united body of believers. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 141

The Bible Project VIDEO: 1 Corinthians (Read Scripture Series)


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

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Making plans

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 15-16; Psalm 140

TO CHEW ON: "...and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain I shall come to you." Romans 15:23,24

When Paul wrote Romans he had not yet met the Christians there. In his letter he introduces himself to them in anticipation of seeing them — and it sounds like he hopes it is soon.

Our reading today is full of his plans. He wants to go eventually to Spain and his visit of Rome will be on the way. Presently he is anticipating a trip to Jerusalem (from Corinth where scholars believe Romans was written). In the meantime, he asks them to help Phoebe a businesswomen from Cenchrea, and to give his greetings to fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila.

It is a normal and good thing for us to make plans. They help us look toward to the future with expectation and optimism, and to tailor the present with realism. For example, our plan to buy a car next year will give us the discipline to live frugally this year so that we can save the needed money for our purchase. Right now we're making plans to visit Israel next year.

Did Paul eventually get to Rome? Yes he did, but hardly in the way he anticipated. For his trip to Jerusalem ended in arrest and imprisonment. And though God affirmed to Paul in a dream that he would someday realize his goal of visiting Rome (Acts 23:11) it wasn't for a while.

To prevent the Jews from lynching him, his Roman captors soon transferred him to Caesarea. There he was held in prison for two years and when it looked like Felix's successor was going to hand him over to the Jews again — which would mean certain death — Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 23-25). This meant traveling to Rome.

However, even the last leg of his journey wasn't straightforward. On his voyage from Caesarea to Rome, his ship met with a deadly storm at sea that saw him and his shipmates washed up on the island of Malta for the winter. Only in spring could they continue toward their destination.

So Paul eventually got to Rome, only several years later as a prisoner. And though the Acts history ends with him still in Rome, tradition would support a later trip to Spain before he was martyred by Nero in 67 A.D.

Though it may be normal, and healthy to make plans (and in fact for the Christian these plans may be divinely inspired and initiated — as it seems Paul's desire to visit Rome was) let's not be surprised when God modifies them, adding all manner of twists, turns, and adventures. (For our trip, trip cancellation insurance is offered and we're taking it.)

Two Bible passages come to mind.

"We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps" - Proverbs 16:9, NLT.
"Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that” - James 4:13-15, NLT

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your plan for my life. Help me to live in sync with your purposes, to catch Your vision, and to make plans according to Your promptings. Then help me to hang onto them loosely, allowing You to craft my circumstances in their fulfillment. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 140

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.

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Hazards of judging

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 13-14; Psalm 139

TO CHEW ON: "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Romans 14:10

The urge within us to judge others is insidious and strong. That tendency may be stronger in some personality types than others. If we're perfectionists and hard on ourselves, we may be hard on others too.

What need does judging others fill? Why does judging make us feel so good?

It does give us a sense of moral superiority: I'm better than you because I don't do this or I do that. In this way it feeds our ego, the human side of us that wants attention and praise—not something God approves of in the first place. And judging has a lot of other hazards too.

To clarify what kind of judging we're talking about, in Romans 14 Paul addresses a specific kind of judging, i.e. Christians judging each other in non-essentials of the faith—food preferences, the behavior of each others servants, which day to observe - Romans 14:1-6. There is a place for Christians to judge the conduct of fellow believers in essentials—albeit very carefully and within guidelines - Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1.

So we're talking about Christians judging each other on non-essentials. When we do that:
  • We're revealing that we may have tendencies to commit the faults we're judging in others. The very fact we're aware of another's faults in a certain area is probably a tip-off that we struggle with the same thing (and probably sometimes fall) - Romans 2:1.
  • We're meddling in things that are none of our business. Like the food or servant issue for the Romans, when we're critical of the way fellow Christians keep their homes, or how they raise their kids, or generally live their lives, we have no idea how they got that way or what life is like for them behind the scenes - Romans 14:1-6.
  • We're setting ourselves up to be similarly judged - Matthew 7:1.
  • Our critical, judgmental attitude toward our Christian brother may keep non-Christians from coming to Christ—especially if our moral superiority extends to us judging them - Romans 14:13.
  • We don't have all the facts. We don't know enough to judge others fairly. We are to leave judging to God - 1 Corinthians 4:5; James 4:12.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be alert to when I'm being critical and judgmental, even in my thoughts. Please remind me to stop and leave the judging to You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 139

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, October 25, 2018

Are you gifted in the prophetic?

Image: Pixabay
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Romans 11-12; Psalm 138

TO CHEW ON: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Romans 12:6

When you think of “prophecy” what comes to mind? Are you of the opinion that a prophet is someone who can foretell the future?

Actually, the word “prophecy” in the New Testament doesn’t refer  primarily to predicting the future at all. This definition from my study Bible bears that out:

“Prophecies” - propheteia - means to speak forth. The primary use of the word is not predictive in the sense of foretelling but interpretive, declaring or forth-telling the will and counsel of God” - Dick Mills, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1689.

Artist Rebekah R. Jones (from whom I have learned much about Bible art journaling) also formerly administered a prophetic arts Facebook group (Prophetic Arts for Jesus). In an article on her blog, she explains the connection between art and the prophetic. Her helpful definition of prophecy and its function comes from Seth Dahl’s The ABCDs of Prophecy—a book for children. I quote her (quoting Dahl):

“The reason He (God) wants us to have this gift is because of what prophecy does. Look at what it says in 1 Corinthians 14:3: ‘He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” These lessons will teach your children that “edification” is “to build up,” “exhortation” is “to cheer up,” and “comfort” is “to draw near” - from “Prophecy and the Creative Community”.

Here are links to the three words in a lexicon, so you can check them out for yourself:

edification: oikodome (Strong's #3619)
exhortation - paraklesis  (Strong's #3874)
comfort - paramuthia - (Strong's #3889)

And here’s the 1 Corinthians 14:3 definition of prophecy in the Amplified:
“But [on the other hand], the one who prophesies—who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching—speaks to men for their upbuilding and constructive spiritual progress and encouragement and consolation” - 1 Corinthians 14:3 AMP.

All that to say, I believe we all exercise the gift of prophecy as we build up, cheer up, console, comfort, and encourage each other. And I would submit we can use many means—direct teaching and preaching of course, but also friendship, and the arts (writing, music, the graphic arts) to exercise this gift.

How will you use your prophetic gift today?

Dear Father, help me to be in tune with the Holy Spirit as I use my spiritual gifts. Help me to faithfully use the gift of prophecy—speaking the will and counsel of God—using various means to build others up as well as cheer, console, comfort, and encourage them in You. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 138

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.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Say the words and seal your faith

The Crucifixion - Alexandre Bida
The Crucifixion - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 9-10; Psalm 137

TO CHEW ON: "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9

In this passage, which gets at the nub of the good news—that we can be saved from our default sinful state—Paul makes several points.

1. Christ is the end of the law. He fulfilled it.
My Bible's notes explain: "Thus Paul emphasizes the sufficiency of faith in receiving the righteousness of God because in fulfilling the law's demands, Christ terminated its claim" - Wayne Grudem, notes on Romans, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1565.
We no longer have to be concerned about keeping the law perfectly to earn salvation—something we could never do in any case. Jesus did it for us.

2. Accepting this good news and having it apply to our lives is not hard or complicated. It involves two steps:
- Confessing our belief with our mouth—aloud, to ourselves, to others.
- Believing in our hearts that Jesus' death and resurrection (not keeping the rules of the law, not our good works) are the basis of our being saved from the death penalty our sins deserve.

I find the order of Paul's words here interesting. Wouldn't you think the sensible order would be to believe first and then confess? But he says confess, then believe.

I submit this order is no mistake. For though the germ of belief exists in thoughts (before they are uttered as words) there is something about saying the words that nails down the belief. As my Bible commenter puts it: "Oral confession declares, confirms and seals the belief in the heart" - Ibid.

If you're a believer who never expresses your faith aloud, complete the process. Say the words to yourself and to others. Say something like this (or put it in your own words): "I believe Jesus' death was not for His sins but for the sins of the world—mine included. I believe that God raised Him from the dead. Because I trust in His death and resurrection (not my own efforts), I am saved."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for making this way for me to be saved from my sinful condition and sinful acts. Help me to express my beliefs out loud and often. Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 137

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 23, 2018

The rebel within

choose good or bad
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 7-8; Psalm 136

TO CHEW ON: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:24-25

Who of us can't relate to the split personality inside each of us that Paul writes about here? Some ideas he develops in this passage:

1. The law is a mixed blessing.
What law is Paul talking about? I think we can safely assume he is referring at the very least of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). He mentions one of them ("You shall not covet") in verse 7.

Jewish readers would also probably have thought of the myriad of laws connected to their worship. These involved offerings, feast days, circumcision, refraining from certain foods etc. We know a lifetime of religiously doing such things can put one into bondage, fearing that if something is left out, it will lead to damnation, It's another way the law puts one in shackles.

Paul describes the law as the thing that revives an inner struggle (so, in a way, bad) and also "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12).

2. Awareness of the law awakens within us the desire to break it
(Romans 7:7-12).
The very presence of a rule is a challenge to our perverse human nature to break that rule.

3. We are born in sin with a bent to rebel against God and His law.

The tendency to sin is our default setting (Romans 7:14-18). And so as Christians, our desires (wanting to obey Christ) and our actions (disobedience, because it comes naturally) often contradict each other (Romans 7:19).

4. But there is a way out of this law-awakened rebellion against God
—a way to get unchained from this "body of death":
This body of death: The figure of a person chained to a corpse from which he cannot be freed, despairing of deliverance…"
It is "Through Jesus Christ our Lord":
"But despair gives way to a declaration of victory, not because the struggle ceases, but because human strength is exceeded by the power of the Holy Spirit" - Wayne Grudem, commentary notes on Romans, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1561).

As we experience what Paul is talking about, let's allow the Spirit full sway in our hearts to change our desires so that we fulfill the "law of God" (Romans 7:22) not only with our minds but with our flesh as well.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit, be alive and active in me so that I desire to obey—not rebel—God's will as expressed through His moral laws.  Amen. 

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 136

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 22, 2018

Slaves - of what?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 5-6; Psalm 135

TO CHEW ON: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?" Romans 6:16.

Slaves? That sounds extreme. By using the startling analogy of slavery, Paul pictures our life choices in a very either/or, black/white way. Is he saying Christians can actually still be slaves of sin?

What I understand this passage to mean is that even as people who have accepted God's gift of salvation and are legally free, it is possible to live as slaves of our old master, sin. We humans have been born with a nature to which sinning comes naturally. How easy it is, even after we've been set free, to slip back into old habit patterns of worry, envy, pride, anger, unforgiveness etc. etc., that is, patterns of sin.

Paul urges these Roman Christians to resist old reactions and instead prove that they are slaves of Christ by living in obedience to His standards of righteousness.

But, I can hear you say, slavery has a bad connotation. I don't want my life with Christ to be characterized in such a negative way.

Even Paul acknowledges the unfortunate aspect of this metaphor: "I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh..." he says. But then he goes on to extend and explain it even further: "For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness" Romans 6:19.

But Paul is not giving a mere "just do it" message. Something real happened when we gave our lives to Jesus and began living in the realm of grace. Romans 6:23 reminds us we have been "set free from sin" and have in a real sense "become slaves of God."

So let's use this slavery picture to flesh out and affirm our freedom from sin and our enslavement to the "fruit of holiness and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).  Today when we're at a decision crossroads:
- about whether to fret about the difficult thing on today's to-do list, or place it in God's hands and refuse to worry about it any more.
- about whether to eat one more helping or push back from the table.
- about whether to react to the person who cuts us off in traffic — or not.
- or about a hundred other situations
we can ask ourselves: What would a slave of Jesus do in this situation? And then choose to do it.

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me where I am a slave to sinful tendencies and am habitually making sinful choices. Help me to enslave myself to You today. Amen.

Psalm 135

The Bible Project VIDEO: Romans - Part 2 of 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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Jesus, my mercy seat

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 3-4; Psalm 134

TO CHEW ON: "...Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood..." Romans 3:24b-25a

Within the word "propitiation" we have one of the most amazing and offending aspects of the Gospel.

In English when we talk of propitiating someone, we mean that we appease, conciliate and cause them to be favourably disposed toward us.

The Greek word for "propitiation" is hilasterion  which actually means "mercy seat." It refers to the place of atonement between the two cherubim on the top of the ark. "The root meaning of hilasterion is that of appeasing and placating an offended god" - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1738.

The idea that a loving God would personally exercise wrath against His creatures is what's offensive to some. However, the Bible makes it clear that that's the way it is (for example, see Isaiah 53:4-5; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 6:16-17).

But that's not the end of the story. Though we deserved God's wrath, Jesus took it for us. God "set forth" Jesus as a propitiation. "...By His blood" refers to the fact that He died: "Blood is a reference to Christ's death as a substitute sacrifice for us. Christ's blood poured out is a clear evidence that His life was given for us" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1553.

And so God was able to satisfy both His holiness in its complete abhorrence of and wrath against sin, and His love. It really is the most incredible good news (gospel)!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for being my mercy seat. May I never take my sin lightly, but keep in mind God's wrath visited on you for me. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 134

MORE: More on propitiation
"What is a 'propitiation'? It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin, and cancelling guilt. the real heart of the gospel: that Jesus Christ, by virtue of His death on the cross as our substitute and sin-bearer, 'is the propitiation for our sins' (1 John 2:2). Between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath stands the cross of the Lord Jesus. If we are Christ's, through faith, then we are justified through his cross, and the wrath will never touch us, neither here nor hereafter. Jesus 'delivers us from the wrath to come' (1 Thessalonians 1:10)" - J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 173.

If you're interested in reading more, check the "Theological Term of the Week," propitiation page of the Rebecca Writes blog.

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 20, 2018

Not ashamed of the WORD

Bible - open at Romans
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Romans 1-2; Psalm 133

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek." Romans 1:16

You have probably memorized this flag-plant statement of Paul's—a manifesto well worth committing to memory because of its many goodies. Today let's delve into a couple.

Far from being intimidated, Paul states he is unashamed of the GOSPEL.

[Gospel - euangelion  in Ancient Greek was the reward for bringing good news. It later came to mean the good news itself. The New Testament meaning encompasses the promise of salvation and its fulfillment by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus - Dick Mills (Word Wealth) - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1349]

Why is Paul not ashamed? Because the gospel is the POWER of God to salvation for everyone

[Power - dunamis  means energy, power, might, great force, great ability, strength. It is sometimes used to describe the powers of the world to come at work upon the Earth and divine power overcoming all resistance … The dunamis in Jesus resulted in dramatic transformations. This is the norm for the Spirit-led church - Dick Mills (Word Wealth) - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1498.]

Bible writers describe this power of the Word (Gospel) in vivid ways:
  • God promised to make His word fire in Jeremiah's mouth to devour the wood of the people that heard it - Jeremiah 5:14.
  • In another place Jeremiah compares God's word to a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces - Jeremiah 23:29.
  • In Ezekiel the prophesied word is a uniting force bringing bones together in preparation for the life-giving breath of the Spirit - Ezekiel 37:7,14.
  • Luke describes the increase / growth of God's word: "So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed" - Acts 19:20.
  • Paul, the author of Hebrews, and John describe the word as a sword - Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:15.

A modern testimony of the power of God's word is Rosaria Butterfield's ("My Train Wreck Conversion" in Christianity Today). This former lesbian university professor came to faith in Christ primarily through reading the Bible (as she stayed in touch with a pastor who answered her questions and a Presbyterian congregation who loved her without conditions).

Let's engrave Romans 1:16 into our memories and hearts afresh. God's word is powerful. We have every reason to be bold, courageous, and unashamed to anchor our lives on it and claim and proclaim it for and over the circumstances of life and the people we love.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the power of the gospel. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 133

The Bible Project VIDEO: Romans  - Part 1 of 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, October 19, 2018

The Christian's memory

Return of the Ark to Bethshemesh by Gustave Dore
"Return of the Ark" - Gustave Dore (1 Samuel 6:13)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 27-28; Psalm 132

TO CHEW ON: "Behold we heard of it in Ephratheh
We found it in the fields of the woods." - Psalm 132:6

What is the "it" the psalmist is talking about? It is the ark—that box that symbolized the presence of God among the Israelites.

The first verses of this psalm refer to specific stories about the ark that pilgrims marching to Jerusalem* would have known. They recall the time that David vowed to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. They remember an even earlier time when Samuel located it in "the field of the woods," that is, Kirjath Jearim ("City of Forests") - 1 Samuel 7:1,2.

What's the point of bringing up these memories? It is to help the people get a vision for their future with God (Psalm 132:11-18).

Eugene Peterson enlarges on this psalm in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He says about the importance of memory in matters of faith:

"This history is important, for without it we are at the mercy of whims. Memory is a databank we use to evaluate our position and make decisions. With a biblical memory we have two thousand years of experience from which to make the off-the-cuff responses that are required each day in the life of faith.

"[...] The past is not, for the person of faith, a restored historical site that we tour when we are on vacation; it is a field that we plow and harrow and plant and fertilize and work for a harvest" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, pp. 166, 168 (emphasis added).

What are we facing today that is making us nervous, upset, panicky, desperate, scared? Let's recall our history with God and how He has proved Himself faithful to help us in the past. Let's obey His instructions to us, whatever they are in the situation. Maybe it's to:
  • acknowledge Him and trust Him for directions (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • pray and not worry (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • tell the truth and live with integrity (Matthew 5:37)
  • be single-hearted (Luke 6:13; James 1:5-8)
  • or ...
Peterson again:

"What we require is obedience—the strength to stand and the willingness to leap, and the sense to know when to do which. Which is exactly what we get when an accurate memory of God's ways is combined with a lively hope in his promises" - p. 171.

PRAYER: Dear God, I bring the specific situation of ___ to You. You know the dis-ease I have in my spirit over it. Please settle me down as I remember Your faithfulness to me in the past. Help me to hear Your instructions about what to do (or perhaps it's to be still)  and to obey. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 132

MORE: Defective memory

"A Christian with a defective memory has to start everything from scratch and spends far too much of his or her time backtracking, repairing, starting over. A Christian with a good memory avoids repeating old sins, knows the easiest way through complex situations and instead of starting over each day continues what was begun in Adam" - Peterson, p. 167 (emphasis added). 

*This psalm is one of the "Songs of Ascent" which pilgrims sang as they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the yearly festivals.

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, October 18, 2018

Assigned to our own

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 25-26; Psalm 131

TO CHEW ON: "I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me." Acts 26:17-18

What a huge assignment Paul received, the day he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. As he recounted his experience of that day to Agrippa (today's reading), his memory of it was clear enough for him to repeat Jesus' words verbatim.

We may not think it surprising to hear he was to tell the Gentiles about their state. But the Jews too? Those were his people, his family members, relatives, neighbours and colleagues.

And what a precarious state they were in:
- They had closed eyes, for he was sent to open their eyes.
- They were in darkness, for he would turn them to light.
- They were under Satan's power, for he would tell them how to escape those clutches.

It's not difficult to think of people in lands far away as needing such information. But do we believe that our people, our unbelieving friends, family members, and colleagues are in as desperate a condition — blind, in darkness, under the power of Satan? Do we take seriously our job to alert them to their condition, to tell them how to get free so they can live in Jesus' kingdom and look forward to life in eternity with God?

PRAYER: Dear God, please give me the courage to alert my neighbours, friends and family members to their need of You. Amen.

PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 131

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 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.

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