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Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 65: Acts 19:1-10 & Proverbs 22:17-21 - When Do We Withdraw and When Do We Continue?

Today's Reading: Acts 19:1-10 & Proverbs 22:17-21

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. - Acts 19:8-10, ESV

When Do We Withdraw and When Do We Continue?

Today, the Apostle Paul makes his return to Ephesus, after his previous visit had been cut short so he could keep his vow. This time, when he enters, he meets a group of disciples. These people may have come to faith when Paul was previously in Ephesus, reasoning in the synagogue, or they may have heard of Jesus from someone else. However the heard, they received incomplete information, for they had never been baptized in the name of Jesus and had never even heard that there was a Holy Spirit.

Paul takes time to instruct them accurately, because precision is important. Thus better instructed and coming to a more complete faith, these disciples were baptized and received the Holy Spirit. So the church in Ephesus began with twelve men. Twelve men and an open door for ministry is a good start for a healthy and vibrant community, and soon that's what Ephesus would have.

After teaching and baptizing these twelve disciples, Paul picked up where he left off on his previous visit: He went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. God gave him an open door to be able to do this for three months, far longer than he was able to stay in many other synagogues. Still, when opposition arose and people became stubborn and continued in unbelief, he left.

Paul here sets a great example for us of when we should continue sharing the Gospel with someone and when we should withdraw and wait for a more opportune time. When someone becomes stubborn, continues in unbelief and begins to mock or ridicule Christianity ("speaking evil of the Way"), then it is appropriate to avoid the confrontation. Jesus told us not to cast our pearls before swine or give what is precious to dogs and He also told His disciples to shake the dust off the feet in judgment of any town that would not receive them.

What is the benefit of withdraw? It is not an admission of failure, but a sign of judgment. As Paul said earlier, "Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:46) It dishonors the Gospel and lordship of Christ to haggle, debate, argue and plead with people who do not honor Him. This is not to say there's no role for apologetics, as we saw Paul engaged in doing in Acts 17. It's just that we need to know when to withdraw.

We also need to know when to continue. Withdrawal from the synagogue did not mean withdrawal from Ephesus. Paul went to the Hall of Tyrannus and stayed there for two years, reasoning daily. At the end of that time, everyone in Asia Minor had heard the word of the Lord. Faithfulness to the Lord means staying the course and continuing while the Lord had the open door before us. 

Heavenly Father, You call us to be Gospel ambassadors, heralds of the good news. Give us wisdom as we seek to engage people with the Gospel. Show us when the persevere, when to withdraw, when to pray and when to speak. Fill us with Your Spirit and give us Your words. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 22:17-21:

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
    and apply your heart to my knowledge,
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
    if all of them are ready on your lips.
That your trust may be in the Lord,
    I have made them known to you today, even to you.
Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of counsel and knowledge,
to make you know what is right and true,

    that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?

Heavenly Father, You have given us Your word,
    full of Your wisdom, revealing Your Son,
        that we may know You.
Incline our ears to know Your wisdom and apply Your knowledge to our hearts,
    that we may truly trust in You and walk before You all our days.
Lead us in Your word, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus,
    in whose name we pray, Amen. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 64: Acts 18:24-28 & Proverbs 22:9-16 - Is It Important for Preaching to be Precise?

Today's Reading: Acts 18:24-28 & Proverbs 22:9-16 

He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. - Acts 18:26, ESV

Is It Important for Preaching to be Precise?

Richard Rogers, the Puritan pastor of Wethersfield, Essex, at the turn of the sixteenth century, was riding one day with the local lord of the manor, who, after twitting him for some time about his “precisian” ways, asked him what it was that made him so precise. “O sir,” replied Rogers, “I serve a precise God.” - J.I. Packer, Puritan Papers, Vol. 2

Apollos was "an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures." Not only that, but "being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus." He sounds like the kind of man you would love to have come and speak at your church, the kind of man you set loose and encourage to speak boldly and freely. 


Yet as Apollos was speaking boldly in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla noticed that he was not quite accurate in his knowledge. Some things were lacking, and so they took him aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately." Was that really necessary? After all, why should we sweat the small stuff?



Well, as Richard Rogers said, it is because we serve a precise God. God has carefully and precisely revealed Himself, His law and His gospel in Scripture. Words matter, definitions matter, distinctions matter and so precision matters. The more important the topic, the more important precision becomes. For example, you may be sloppy with your handwriting when jotting a note for someone, but you wouldn't want to be sloppy handling a gun or a hand grenade.

What's the big deal in theological matters? Well, are you saved by faith or are you saved by grace through faith? The distinction makes all the difference! Paul says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph. 2:8-9, ESV) Every word and phrase in those verses matters. 


God has not given us a throw-away book. The matters we deal with in preaching and teaching His word have ultimate and eternal consequences. Let's be precise, for we indeed serve a precise God! 


Heavenly Father, Thank You for being so precise. You have disclosed Yourself and Your ways to us with great accuracy and care. You want us to know You rightly, and so You have revealed Yourself in 66 books given over centuries through many different men, but each precisely accurate and connected as a whole to reveal You. Thank You! In Jesus' name, Amen.


Prayer Based on Proverbs 22:9-16:


Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,

    for he shares his bread with the poor.
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,

    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.  

Father, we are so prone to be selfish and hard-hearted,
    so give us a tender heart for the poor, that we may share with those in need.

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,

    and quarreling and abuse will cease.
He who loves purity of heart,
    and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
    but he overthrows the words of the traitor.
Lord, keep us from being scoffers,
    and keep us from befriending scoffers,
       but make our speech gracious and our hearts pure, by Your grace.
Watch over us and keep us, Father, that we may honor You.

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!

    I shall be killed in the streets!”
The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
    he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.
Father, when we give in to the desires of self-indulgence,
    when we are lazy or lustful, 
        we expose ourselves to harm, and we dishonor You.
Forgive us and deliver us, Lord, for Your name's sake.
    
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
Father, show us how to discipline our children, well,
    even as You discipline us, driving out folly and instilling wisdom.
Lord, we need Your Spirit to make our lives a reflection of who You are,
   in Jesus name, Amen. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 63: Acts 18:18-23 & Prov. 22:1-8 - Why Didn't Paul Stay in Ephesus?

Today's Reading: Acts 18:18-23 & Prov. 22:1-8

When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. - Acts 18:20-21, ESV

Why Didn't Paul Stay in Ephesus?

Ephesus was a key city in Asia Minor. Sitting on the coast, just south of Smyrna, it was the first city on the seven-city postal route made famous by the book of Revelation. Home to a Jewish synagogue, Ephesus seemed like a perfect city for Paul's missionary efforts. When he enters Ephesus in verse 19, he begins his familiar pattern of entering the synagogue to reason with the Jews first. Things go well during this visit, and the Jewish synagogue members ask him to return and stay for a longer period. This is a better reception than Paul had received in many other places. So, why did he decline them and not stay?

To answer this question, we need to look very carefully at the context. Just before he entered Ephesus, Paul had taken a vow. Then, just after he leaves Ephesus, he "landed at Caesarea" and then "he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch." The clause "he went up and greeted the church" is connected to his vow in v. 18. "He went up" indicates going up to Jerusalem, where he went and visited with the key church leaders, especially Peter and James. While he was in Jerusalem, he almost certainly made an offering at the Temple connected to his vow.

So, why didn't Paul stay in Ephesus? Because he had made a vow and was committed to keeping his pledge to God, no matter what. The Bible says much about the vital importance of keeping vows and never breaking them under any circumstances. Our culture doesn't generally care much about commitment to vows, which is evidenced by the high divorce rate and the petty reasons why people get divorced. We tend to evaluate wedding vows based on their poetic elegance and not on the strength of the commitment they represent.

God cares very deeply about whether or not we keep our word, especially any vow we have made before Him. Why? Well, God is a God of faithfulness, and He always keeps His vows. Psalm 15 describes the righteous man as one "who swears to his own hurt and does not change." God swore to save His people, and in the end it cost Him His own Son. He swore to His own hurt and He did not change. He calls us to imitate Him, and He will empower us by His Holy Spirit to do so.

Paul would later return to Ephesus and stay for a long time. He would have an incredibly fruitful ministry there, and the church he plants will later be pastored by Timothy and by the apostle John. But in Acts 18, it is not yet God's timing for Paul to be in Ephesus. He cannot stay in a place where he and the Gospel are both welcome if doing so means breaking a vow.

Heavenly Father, give us the same determination to keep our word that Paul had. Forgive us for the times when we have broken our word, sometimes for the most petty reasons. Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to be those who swear even to our own hurt and do not change. This is only possible by Your Holy Spirit applying the righteousness of Christ to us. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 22:1-8:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
Lord, You have given us the best possible name
    when You have given us the name of Your Son, Jesus,
and You have given us the richest favor,
    when You have extended Your saving grace to us.

The rich and the poor meet together;
    the Lord is the Maker of them all.
Father, let us never be arrogant or self-satisfied,
    but remind us that everything we have comes from You,
        and give us compassion for everyone made in Your image.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
    whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
Lord, You are our shield and our defense,
    so please give us prudence and awareness, to guard our steps.
You are our Maker and Keeper,
    may we always humble ourselves before You as our God and King.

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Father, bless our children with salvation and wisdom,
    that they may walk with You in Your way all their days and even forever.

The rich rules over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of his fury will fail.
Lord, let us never be callous to injustice
    or ever oppress those who have less than we do.
Let us love and serve and seek to liberate the poor and oppressed.
    For Your honor and in Jesus' name, we pray, Amen.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 62: Acts 18:1-17 & Prov. 21:25-31 - Is Calvinism Biblical?

Today's Reading: Acts 18:1-17 & Prov. 21:25-31

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 
- Acts 18:9-11, ESV

 Is Calvinism Biblical?

Throughout these devotional blog posts, I have avoided using specific theological labels. Today, I am breaking that pattern because today's text contains such a clear affirmation of two central and hotly disputed doctrines of what is commonly known as "Calvinism" (although John Calvin himself would hate that label; he never thought of himself as anything but a biblical theologian). 

At the heart of what most people think of when they hear "Calvinism" is a belief in an absolutely sovereign God, whose sovereignty includes the control of the "free will" actions of human beings. This absolute sovereignty of God includes the doctrine of election, the idea that God has chosen people to be His own. Many people who dislike Calvinism insist that it's a system build on human logic and not the Bible.

The most obvious places to find the doctrines known as Calvinism are in Paul's letters, especially in Ephesians 1-2 and in Romans 8-9. But these are hardly the only places. Peter addresses his first epistle to "those who are elect" (1 Pet. 1:1). The Gospel of John is full of Calvinism, especially in chapters 6 & 10. The book of Acts has at least two clear references to election. The first was in 13:48, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." (Read the devotional on this text.) The second reference is here in today's text.

Think about the significance of what the Lord says to Paul in his vision in verses 9-10: Even though Paul is already facing opposition from many Jews in Corinth, Jesus tells him, "No one will attack you to harm you." How can the Lord promise this? It is only possible because God is sovereign over the actions of human beings, including the enemies of Paul. If this were not true, how could God protect any of His people ever? 

Then, the Lord tells Paul that He will protect him because He wants him to stay in the city for a while. Why does the Lord want Paul to stay in Corinth? He tells Paul "for I have many in this city who are my people.” At this point, there were very few Christians in Corinth. Yet God said "I have many in this city who are my people.” Who are these many? They are God's elect, His chosen ones. 

God's word is consistent and clear in the truth it teaches about God's sovereign reign over all things. If you want to think more about these issues, you can read my booklet on the Three Pillars of the Reformed Faith.  

Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your grace, which saves us from beginning to end. Thank You that You marked us out for salvation before the foundation of the world. Thank You that You called us to Yourself and that You keep us in Your love. We rejoice in Your absolute sovereignty! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 21:25-31

The desire of the sluggard kills him,
    for his hands refuse to labor.
All day long he craves and craves,
    but the righteous gives and does not hold back.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
    how much more when he brings it with evil intent.
A false witness will perish,
    but the word of a man who hears will endure.
A wicked man puts on a bold face,
    but the upright gives thought to his ways.
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel
    can avail against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but the victory belongs to the Lord.    

Heavenly Father, we have heard certain themes over and over again in Proverbs, expressed in different terms, using different imagery, but repeating the same core truths because we need to hear them. We need to hear them again and again. Lord, make us diligent and save us from being sluggards. Lord, keep us from lying and from wickedness. Make us honest and thoughtful. Give us Your wisdom, Your understanding and Your counsel, for You alone are God. You are the One who gives us insight and You are the One who gives us victory, In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 61: Acts 17:22-33 & Proverbs 21:17-24 - How Do We Connect Unbelievers to God?

Today's Reading: Acts 17:22-33 & Proverbs 21:17-24

For as I passed along and observed the objects of  your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man. - Acts 17:23-24, ESV

How Do We Connect Unbelievers to God? 

We live in a pluralistic culture full of unbelievers. In so many ways, our culture is just like ancient Athens. Although our culture claims to be much more secular and has a larger number of anti-religious people, still various forms of unbelief marked by idolatry are rampant all around us. As believers who love the Lord and are called to love our neighbors, we struggle to know how to reach our unbelieving neighbors and how to connect them to God. Today's text gives us a wonderful example of how to do this.

The Aereopagus today, with a plaque containing Paul's sermon from Acts 17.
In our last reading, we saw Paul's grief over the idolatry of Athens. We saw his drive to engage people with the Gospel. Today, we see him addressing a prestigious gathering of intellectuals on the Aereopagus, the rock outcropping on Mars Hill. This site had been the gathering site of the Athenian Senate for hundreds of years and was a place of public discourse and deliberation.

Paul begins his address on Mars Hill in an unexpected manner. The idolatry that has grieved him so much was, in fact, a symptom of the desire of the Athenians to worship. The Athenians were deeply religious and passionately committed to seeking the truth - or at least, that's what they told themselves! So Paul connects with this in a positive way. He commends them for their religiousness, even though it was sinful and idolatrous.

Next, Paul surprises again by saying that he had come to proclaim to them "the unknown God" they worshiped. So, Paul is really seeking to connect to what they already have in their cultural life. He goes even further by quoting from their literature: “‘In him we live and move and have our being" and “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’" These are not quotes from Scripture but from pagan Greek poets, probably writing about Zeus.

But we should notice that while Paul bends over backwards to connect with the cultural context of his audience, he does not water down or compromise the message of the Gospel. He directly confronts their idolatry when he says, "Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man." (v. 29) He also clearly proclaims the coming judgment of the world by Jesus: "he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." (v. 31)

So, how can we connect to our unbelieving neighbors and seek to connect therm to God. Well, Paul would call us to four things:

1. Get to know our neighbors and their culture well enough that we can "speak their language," incorporating cultural references that they would understand.
2. Affirm what is positive in their culture that might connect with a God-ward orientation.
3. Affirm and celebrate the equality and even the unity of all humanity under God, as His offspring.
4. Tell the truth, clearly and boldly, about who Jesus is, what He has done and what He will do when He comes again.

Heavenly Father, we know that our neighbors need You. They need to be reconciled to You, which is only possible through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You that You have provided salvation through Your Son, Give us the wisdom, understanding, courage and faith to be good witnesses to our neighbors of the truth that is in Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 21:17-24:

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;
    he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
The wicked is a ransom for the righteous,
    and the traitor for the upright.
It is better to live in a desert land
    than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling,
    but a foolish man devours it.
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
    will find life, righteousness, and honor.
A wise man scales the city of the mighty
    and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
    keeps himself out of trouble.
“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man
    who acts with arrogant pride. 

Heavenly Father, we love You and we love Your righteousness, Your truth and Your wisdom. We confess our own folly and our own tendency to be arrogant and to scoff, to be wasteful and to love pleasure more than wisdom. We confess that we have not always kept our mouth and our tongue, but we have often been quarrelsome and fretful, arguing and worrying instead of loving others and trusting You. Have mercy on us. Cleanse our hearts of these things. Fill our minds with Your truth, our hearts with Your love, our lips with Your words and our lives with Your righteousness. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 60: Acts 17:16-21 & Proverbs 21:9-16 - How Should We Respond to the Idolatry of our Culture?

Today's Reading: Acts 17:16-21 & Proverbs 21:9-16

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. - Acts 17:16-17, ESV

How Should We Respond to the Idolatry of our Culture?

We live in a cultural context very similar to ancient Athens. Like Athens, our culture is advanced, sophisticated, educated, wealthy, internationally connected and awash in idols. Both ancient Athens and contemporary America have more idols than can be counted. Over the past two thousand years, things have changed very little: People will worship almost anything that promises to give them what they want.

All idolatry is mercenary. We choose those idols which promise to give us what we most want. We give the idol some precious part of our lives, and we hope the idol will give us what we want. In this way, we can make an idol of anything: our job, our family, money, power, attention, pleasure, entertainment, technology, food, relationships, etc. Our cities may not be full of statues, but they are full of almost as many idols as people.

So, how did Paul respond to the rampant idolatry of Athens? Did he just sigh and roll his eyes go find some entertainment to distract him? No. He allowed himself to be properly provoked by the rampant idolatry of his culture, and he took action. He went to the synagogue to reason with the devout Jews and the God-fearing Greeks. He also went into the marketplace to reason with those who happened to be there. He did this every day, seeking to find, engage and persuade people of the truth of the Gospel.

How do we respond to our culture's idolatry? Do we ignore it? Do we just sigh and resign ourselves to the reality that nothing can be done about it? Or are we provoked, seeking to engage people with the claims of Christ in the Gospel? Paul's efforts at engaging people with the truth of the Gospel earned him an invitation to the Aereopagus. This prestigious forum of leading Athenian thinkers provided Paul with a unique platform for presenting the Gospel, which we'll look at in our next devotional.

What should we do in response to our culture's identity? Here are three things:

1. We need to let our hearts be provoked by our culture's idolatry.
2. We need to weep over the waywardness of our culture and pray for the salvation of our neighbors.
3. We need to seek opportunities to engage people in conversations that can lead to opportunities to present the Gospel.

In addition to these three things, we also need to make sure we are not joining the world in its idolatry. People who worship idols are trapped in a lie, and Jesus said the truth found in Him will set them free. We have that truth, and we need to pray for fruitful opportunities to bring the liberating truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those in need.

Heavenly Father, our neighbors and family members who are trapped in idolatry need Jesus. They are enslaved and they need the truth of the Gospel to set them free. Please give us opportunities to share Your truth with those in need. Prepare the hearts of those who need Christ and prepare us to speak Your word faithfully. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 21:9-16:

It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
Heavenly Father, give us peaceful homes and loving marriages,
    that our children may grow up seeing Your love displayed before them,
        and that the wold may have a witness of strong marriages centered on You.

The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
    when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.
The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
    he throws the wicked down to ruin.
Lord, keep us from wickedness and evil,
    that we may be a blessing to our neighbors.
Make us wise, that we may be teachable and may grow in knowledge,
    and let us live our lives before Your eyes with integrity.

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
    will himself call out and not be answered.
A gift in secret averts anger,
    and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
    but terror to evildoers.
One who wanders from the way of good sense
    will rest in the assembly of the dead.
Father, make us compassionate to the needs of the poor,
    and give us hearts to desire justice and righteousness.
We are wayward in our hearts,
    so keep us in the way of good sense, the way of life.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 59: Acts 17:10-15 & Prov. 21:1-8 - How Should We Receive the Preached Word?

Today's Reading:  Acts 17:10-15 & Prov. 21:1-8

"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." - Acts 17:11

How Should We Receive the Preached Word?

Finally, we see a refreshing break in the pattern of mixed reception we've been seeing in Paul's missionary efforts.  The Berean Jews had such a positive and exemplary response to the preaching of the Gospel that they have served as an inspiration for believers for almost 2,000 years. We still hear people encouraging others to "Be a Berean." So, what did the Bereans do that was so exemplary, and how can we truly imitate their example?

We're told that the Bereans "received the word with all eagerness" and that they were "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."  Whenever we sit under the preaching of the word of God, we should be eager to receive and yet careful to evaluate. After all, what is being preached is God's word, and if we love God, we should always be eager to receive His word, to hear Him speak to us. However, the human vessel bringing us the word of God is fallible, and so we need to be careful to examine the Scriptures to see if what is being taught is faithful to the written word of God or not.

The church is regularly plagued by two problems:

1. People who sit under faithful Bible preaching and teaching are often apathetic, not eagerly desiring to receive the word.

2. People who sit under false teaching masquerading as faithful Bible preaching are often overly eager and lacking in discernment, taking as God's word that which is really false man-made teaching.

Underlying these twin realities are a basic reality of human nature and also real spiritual warfare. The basic reality of human nature is that people often tend to be either critical and not enthusiastic or else very enthusiastic and not very critical or careful. In other words, some people tend to be driven by their critical thinking skills and other people tend to be driven by their hearts. The spiritual warfare is the fact that Satan wants people to be enthusiastic about false teaching and apathetic about the word of God, and so he actively works toward those ends.

Sadly, some people take "being a Berean" to an extreme  in a one-sided way. Often these people are simply critical and judgmental, harshly condemning anyone who ever says anything they think is not 100% accurate. That's not being a Berean. The Bereans received the word with eagerness. They were not negative, nit-picky people. God's word is to be received, not criticized. Yes, we must be careful to ensure that it is God's word, but there's a world of difference between being careful and bring a critic.

So, let's be Bereans, by all means. Let's receive the word with eagerness. Let's make sure the word preached is indeed the word of God, but then let's obey and respond with joy to the word. It is God's gift, after all!

Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your word and for faithful preachers of Your word. Thank You for loving us enough that You speak to us regularly through Your word. Give us Your Spirit that we may be discerning and give us an eagerness, a real hunger for Your word. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 21;1-8:

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
Heavenly Father, all our hearts are in Your hands,
    so turn us where You will, that we may love and honor You.
Keep us from selfish sin and foolish ways.

To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
Father, righteousness and justice are the foundations of Your throne,
    and we are Your subjects, so let us imitate Your righteous and just ways.
Keep us from arrogance and wickedness,
    which corrupt righteousness and undermine justice in selfish sin.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
Lord, You are very generous to us in many ways.
    Keep us from being hasty or deceitful in trying to secure our finances,
         and make us good stewards, careful and diligent and trusting in You.

The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.
Father, Your Gospel is tarnished and Your church divided and humiliated
    by the foolish and wicked conduct of too many who claim Your name.
Forgive our sin and keep us from the crooked way of the guilty.
    May our conduct in Your word be pure and upright.
In Jesus name and for His glory, Amen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 58: Acts 17:1-9 & Proverbs 20:25-30 - How Does the Gospel Turn the World Upside Down?

Today's Reading: Acts 17:1-9 & Proverbs 20:25-30

"These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also." - Acts 17:6, ESV

How Does the Gospel Turn the World Upside Down?

The reception Paul and Silas received in Thessalonica has become quite familiar by this point in the Acts. Thessalonica had a synagogue, unlike Philippi, so Paul and Silas went into the synagogue and reasoned from the Scriptures on three consecutive Sabbath days. Some of the Jewish men became convinced and professed faith in Jesus. Even more of the God-fearing Greeks, who would be on the periphery of the synagogue, came to faith in Christ, along with several of the leading women. The Gospel was once again bearing fruit and being used by God to bring people to eternal life.

However, the bulk of the Jewish men did not embrace Christ. The more Paul reasoned, the more they got angry and dug in their heels in opposition. As happened in so many other cities, those who opposed the Gospel message organized a mob and "set the city in an uproar." (v. 5) This time, though, two things were different:

1. The mob could not get their hands on Paul and Silas, so they arrested their hosts instead, including Jason.

2. The accusation against Paul and Silas was that they were men "who have turned the world upside down."

Today, we think of the Gospel as a simple and peaceful religious message of God's love. Why did these Jewish leaders see it as such a threat? Why did they accuse Paul and Silas of turning the world upside down? How does the Gospel turn the world upside down?

The Gospel is powerful and disruptive on many levels. Trolling around on social media and comment threads will show you very clearly that the Gospel generates a level of hostility unmatched by any other religion. The reason is simple: The Gospel violates all human expectations and upends all human systems of self-salvation or self-glory.

The Gospel strips us of all claims to self-righteousness. For the Jewish men, circumcision and their Jewish national citizenship distinguished them as the most righteous group of people on the planet. For all people, religions based on self-effort are considered safe and normal, but religions based on grace alone are a threat to all of our performance-based thinking, and the truth that Jesus is Lord disrupts our personal kingdom-building.

But those who have eyes to see the glory of grace and the wonder of Christ's kingdom see the benefits of the Gospel clearly and rejoice. The Gospel strips us of our self-righteousness only to clothe us in the perfect righteousness in Christ. The Gospel humbles us so that God may exalt us to His right hand. We lose our pathetic temporary kingdoms and gain His eternal kingdom.

Heavenly Father, thank You for opening our eyes that we may see Your glory in the face of Christ Jesus. Thank You for taking away all of our claims to any righteousness of our own and clothing us in Your perfect righteousness instead. Give us the grace to proclaim the Gospel and joyfully accept whatever reception comes. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 20:25-30:

It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”
    and to reflect only after making vows.
A wise king winnows the wicked
    and drives the wheel over them.
The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts.
Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king,
    and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.
The glory of young men is their strength,
    but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.
Blows that wound cleanse away evil;
    strokes make clean the innermost parts.

Heavenly Father, we need Your Holy Spirit to apply the perfect righteousness of Christ to our souls, that we may be careful and not rash, that we may walk in steadfast love and faithfulness, that we may be steady in the face of evil and may be used by Your to bring healing and peace. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Day 57: Acts 16:35-40 & Prov. 20:19-24 - Is it Okay for Us to Claim our Rights?

Today's Reading: Acts 16:35-40 & Prov. 20:19-24

But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. 
- Acts 16:35-39, ESV

Is it Okay for Us to Claim our Rights? 

Paul and Silas had been illegally and unjustly arrested, beaten and imprisoned. They had passed up an opportunity to escape when God sent an earthquake to loosen their bonds and open the prison. Instead of escaping, they shared the pure and simple Gospel with the jailer and rejoiced with him and his family in their salvation. After Paul and Silas had baptized the Philippian jailer and eaten with him and his family, they came back to jail and were re-imprisoned.

In the light of morning, cooler heads prevailed within the justice system and the magistrates ordered the police to release Paul and Silas. However, Paul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen who had been treated unjustly and demanded that the magistrates come and apologize and release them themselves. Was it right for Paul to claim his citizenship rights? Why didn't he just leave, like they were asking him to do?

Paul had several good reasons for doing what he did:

1. Injustice is never right, and it harms the one who commits the injustice, just as surely as it harms the one who is being treated unjustly. Injustice is inherently dehumanizing and Paul was right to oppose it and seek to correct it.

2. Paul wanted to protect other Christians in Philippi from being treated unjustly by the authorities. It would be too easy for the magistrates in Philippi to beat and imprison Christians whenever the mobs demanded it. People in Philippi had the benefit of Roman citizenship, just as Paul did. So Paul reminded the magistrates of the right of Roman Citizens, in part to protect Christians like Lydia and the Philippian jailer from further persecution.

3. Paul and Silas wanted the freedom to be able to meet with the believers and encourage them before leaving town. They knew they were going to have to leave the city, but asserting their rights as citizens bought them some time. "So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed." (v. 40)  

So, is it right for us to claim our rights as citizens? Yes, if we're doing so for the right reasons. We can't just be selfish or use our rights to cover up our own wrongdoing, because that dishonors Christ. We can assert our rights in order to prevent or expose injustice, to protect other believers from persecution and the advance the ministry of the Gospel. In these cases, it is best for us to take advantage of the rights we have for the greater good of justice and the kingdom of God.

Heavenly Father, we thank You that we do have rights established by You and protected by governments. Give us wisdom to discern when we should exercise our rights to promote the cause of justice and serve Your kingdom. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 20:19-24:

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
    therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
If one curses his father or his mother,
    his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
Heavenly Father, Thank You for the gift of speech.
    You warn us against the danger of slander and cursing
        because speech is a powerful gift, to bless or curse.
Take control over our tongues and empower us to honor You and bless others.

An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning
    will not be blessed in the end.
Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
    wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,
    and false scales are not good.
A man's steps are from the Lord;
    how then can man understand his way?
Father, give us the faith to trust in You,
    that contentment to accept what You give with gratitude,
        the willingness to wait for You and Your deliverance,
            and the joy to know we are always being guided by Your loving hand.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 56: Acts 15:25-34 & Prov. 20:10-18 - What Must I Do to Be Saved?

Today's Reading: Acts 15:25-34 & Prov. 20:10-18

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” - Acts 15:30-31, ESV

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

We complicate the Gospel unnecessarily. We pile on theological terms and expectations. When we're not complicating the Gospel, we're being so vague as to obscure the Gospel behind a veil of religiosity: going to church, doing good deeds, being a moral person, etc. But the plain and simple truth is that neither theological jargon not religious do-goodism can saved anyone. Only Jesus saves.

The Philippians jailer was facing death, having lost all hope. He thought an earthquake had freed all of his prisoners, and he thought he was a dead man. As he went to take his own life, "Paul cried with a loud voice, 'Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.'" How was this possible? How could someone voluntarily remain in jail when a way of escape had been opened for them? The jailer thought back on the sounds of Paul and Silas singing hymns and praising God in that jail at midnight, and he realized that these imprisoned men were more free than their jailer.

The jailer asked Paul and Silas desperately, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul did not respond with complex theological terminology, nor did he tell the man to go to church and live a good life, he simply and powerfully told him: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." Let's break this down:

To "believe in" Jesus is to trust in Him. To believe in "the Lord Jesus" means to trust Jesus as the Lord, as the Master and Savior. So, when we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, resting our faith in Him for salvation, we are saved. That's it. Yes, much else comes afterward, including growth in theological understanding and growth in discipleship and morality, but those things do not save. Only Jesus saves.

Finally, notice that Paul tells the jailer with confidence that he and his family will be saved. God is faithful to keep His covenant promises to be the God of the children of believers.  

Heavenly Father, Thank You for saving us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for giving us such a simple and powerful Gospel to proclaim to the world. Strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and our confidence in the proclamation of the Gospel. In Jesus' name, Amen.



Prayer Based on Proverbs 20:10-18:

Unequal weights and unequal measures
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
Even a child makes himself known by his acts,
    by whether his conduct is pure and upright.
The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
    the Lord has made them both.
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
    open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.
“Bad, bad,” says the buyer,
    but when he goes away, then he boasts.
There is gold and abundance of costly stones,
    but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
Take a man's garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
    and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners.
Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
    but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.
Plans are established by counsel;
    by wise guidance wage war.

Heavenly Father, while we know we are saved by Jesus alone, we also know that we need integrity and character that honors You and reflects Your righteousness. We know such character only comes from the righteousness of Christ applied to our souls by the Holy Spirit. We ask that You would work in us true honesty, diligence and hard work, forward-thinking planning and wise guidance to help us in our times of need. We need You, and we desire to honor You, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 55: Acts 16:16-24 & Prov. 20:1-9 - Why Do People Hate the Gospel so Much?

Today's Reading: Acts 16:16-24 & Prov. 20:1-9

But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. - Acts 16:19, ESV

Why Do People Hate the Gospel so Much?

People hate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They attack it in various ways, some by direct and open opposition and others by manipulation and distortion. When Paul and Barnabas were going through Asia Minor on their first missionary journey, they saw many converts and much opposition. They planted churches of new believers and were also driven out of towns, beaten, slandered, threatened and even stoned and left for dead. Now Paul has a new companion, Silas, and they're preaching in a new area, Macedonia, and they face the same realities.

Yesterday we rejoiced in the conversion of Lydia and the key strategic advance of the Gospel. Today, we see a slave girl delivered from a demon and then Paul and Silas beaten severely and thrown in jail. Why? Because the very power of the Gospel to bring salvation and deliverance also makes it a real threat. In this case, the Gospel threatened the economic profit of the slave girl's owner, who made money off of her demonic torment, exploiting her as a fortune-teller.

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, and it is also a threat to everything our fleshly selves hold dear. It is a threat to our self-righteousness, for we cannot come to God unless we confess that we have no righteousness of our own. We confess that we desperately need Jesus to save us from ourselves. It is a threat to our materialism, for Jesus tells us the truth that we cannot serve two masters, God and our wealth. It is a threat to our desire for self-exaltation, for the Gospel exalts Christ above all and draws our hearts to make much of Him. We say with John the Baptist, "He must increase; I must decrease." (John 3:30)  

The Gospel gives so much more than it strips away, but it does indeed strip all away before it gives back more than we could imagine. We are given the kingdom of God, but our petty, personal kingdom must die first. We surrender all attempts at establishing our own righteousness, which are vain and pathetic anyway. We receive in exchange the perfect righteousness of Jesus, but we cannot ever claim that we have earned or deserved it. We give up our materialism, and we receive a great treasure beyond human understanding, kept in heaven for us. We humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, and then He exalts us as He sees fit.

In the end, people hate the Gospel because the Gospel proclaims that Jesus is Lord. Those who confess this truth are saved and find eternal life. But those who insist on being the master of their own fate and the captain of their own ship are doomed by the Gospel, and so they hate it fiercely.

Some show their hatred for the Gospel not by open and violent opposition, but by distorting it to make it a message all about me and my righteousness and my prosperity. This is almost worse than those who would just beat missionaries with rods and imprison them. At least the violent opponents of the Gospel are being clear and honest about how they feel about the good news of Jesus' kingdom rule. May the Lord give us the grace to so cherish His Gospel that we willingly and joyfully face all opposition to it for His glory!

Heavenly Father, You have called us to Yourself in Your Son, Jesus Christ. He is Lord of all. You have shown us the futility and bankruptcy of our own personal kingdoms, and You have brought us into Your eternal kingdom. Thank You! Make us faithful ambassadors of Your kingdom. For Your glory and in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 20:1-9:

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
    and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
Father, keep us from being mastered by anything but You,
    that we may be free to serve You as Your beloved children.

The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
    whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life.
It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
    but every fool will be quarreling.
Lord, make us peacemakers in this fallen and divided world,
    that we may see You work through us to bring reconciliation to Your world.

The sluggard does not plow in the autumn;
    he will seek at harvest and have nothing.
The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water,
    but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
    but a faithful man who can find?
The righteous who walks in his integrity—
    blessed are his children after him!
A king who sits on the throne of judgment
    winnows all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;
    I am clean from my sin”?
Heavenly Father, the true value of diligence, understanding, integrity, faithfulness and purity
    are beyond our ability to grasp,
        for these character qualities make all the difference in our lives.
We need Your Holy Spirit to shape and fashion our souls,
    to instill in us the value of hard work,
        the ability to truly walk in faithfulness and integrity,
            to make us a blessing to those around us and to honor Your in all things.
We know how we have sinned and fallen short.
    Have mercy on us!
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 54: Acts 16:11-15 & Prov. 19:23-29 - Should Christians Strive to be Strategically Minded?

Today's Reading: Acts 16:11-15 & Prov. 19:23-29

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. - Acts 16:11-13, ESV

Should Christians Strive to be Strategically Minded?

When Christians engage in missions, it is critically important that we be strategic and wise. but also that we be prayerful and bold. Sometimes people set these mindsets against each other, some people preferring to be cautious and thoughtful, while others prefer to be bold and courageous, stepping out in faith and taking risks for the Gospel. Which mindset is correct? Instead of setting them opposite each other, we need to see how necessary it is for us to take both approaches at the same time.

Today, we see one of the great moments in missionary history, as a group of missionaries - including Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke - sailed from Troas to Samothrace and then on to Neapolis. It was a short sail from Asia Minor to an island in the Aegean and then to Macedonia, and with it, the Gospel crossed from Asia to Europe. The four men in this missionary band would be involved in writing 15 of the 26 books of the New Testament. They were moving from an area of the world that was very familiar to Paul into uncharted territory.

The missionaries had made this journey in response to God's call, which came in the vision of the Macedonian man (vv. 9-10). They were stepping out in faith, taking a risk, moving from the known to the unknown. Yet they would be wise and strategic about their new endeavor. Paul was a Jewish scholar from Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor, The bulk of his missionary experience at this point had centered around entering cities in Asia Minor and going to the synagogues to speak to Jews. Now they were in Macedonia, so what would they do?

They headed for Philippi, the key Roman city in the region. Once they arrived, they took several days to orient themselves to the city, to survey the situation. They were likely looking for a group of Jews, so they could begin by presenting the Gospel to them. They found a place outside the city gates by the river, which they thought was likely a place of prayer. On the Sabbath, a group of women came down to the river to pray.  The missionaries presented the Gospel to these women, who listened respectfully.

One of the women who listened most eagerly and responded most readily was Lydia, a seller of purple cloth. She was from Thyatira, a city in Asia Minor. Two things are interesting about this fact: Paul himself was a Jew from Asia Minor, and God had just directed the apostles away from Asia Minor, and now their first convert was from the area God had closed to them. After Lydia was baptized (along with her whole household, as was the standard practice), she became the key contact and her house became a center for operations in Philippi. As a merchant, Lydia would have had good contacts and a good reputation within the city.

God honors faith and prayerful risk-taking and also wise planning and strategic thinking. Both are vital for effective ministry. May the Lord be pleased to grant us both faith and wisdom, both boldness and strategic thinking.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for the precious gift of the Gospel and the call You have given all of Your people to take Your Gospel to the nations. Give us faith to trust You and be willing to take risks to advance the Gospel. Give us also wisdom and discernment, that we may be strategic in our approach to missions, that we may serve Your kingdom effectively. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Today's passage in Acts reminds me of this great song by Allison Kraus:


Prayer Based on Proverbs 19:23-29:

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
    and whoever has it rests satisfied;
    he will not be visited by harm.
Father, we can only find security and rest in You,
    as as walk in fear of You, freeing us from fearing anyone of anything else.

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish
    and will not even bring it back to his mouth.
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
    reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother
    is a son who brings shame and reproach.
Lord, You warn us repeatedly against the dangers
    of being a sluggard or a scoffer or given to violence,
        and yet we are continually tempted by the world to reject Your wisdom.
Keep us from neglecting our calling through laziness,
    from rejecting Your truth through arrogant scoffing,
        and from hating and degrading our enemies instead of loving them.
We can either live for You for our ourselves,
    and if we embrace the lie of selfishness, we will only harm ourselves in the end.

Cease to hear instruction, my son,
    and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
A worthless witness mocks at justice,
    and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
Condemnation is ready for scoffers,
    and beating for the backs of fools.
Lord, humble us under Your gracious hand,
    and make us teachable and responsive to Your word and Spirit.
May we honor You by never straying from Your words of knowledge.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 53: Acts 16:6-10 & Prov 19:16-22 - Are We Really Willing to Trust God's Leading?

Today's Reading: Acts 16:6-10 & Prov 19:16-22

"And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia." - Acts 16:6, ESV

Are We Really Willing to Trust God's Leading?

Our church is planning on taking a mission trip to Haiti this July, to partner with and support the work of Reformation Hope. One of the things we're learning as we meet together and plan is that the best plans are always subject to change, as the Lord closes and opens opportunities to serve. For many of us Americans, this can be difficult to accept.

Paul and Timothy had a clear plan for their mission trip. They were going to go into Asia Minor and travel to the cities Paul had visited before and go to some cities he had not yet visited. God said no. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit forbid them from going to speak the word in Asia. We could speculate as to the reasons, but that's not our responsibility, is it? The kingdom of God is a kingdom, where Christ sits enthroned as King. We serve at His pleasure, doing as He directs.

Map from BibleStudy.org
Having been blocked by the Holy Spirit from going South into Asia, Paul and Timothy thought they would go north into Bithynia, "but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them." Having come such a long way from Antioch, Paul must have been a bit confused at this point. He couldn't go south and he couldn't go north.

That's when the Macedonian call came to Paul and Timothy: "A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul now had his marching orders, so he and Timothy crossed from Asia to Europe, from present-day Turkey to present-day Northern Greece.

Paul and Timothy would enjoy a wonderfully fruitful ministry in Macedonia, including preaching the Gospel and starting new churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. When God turns us away from a potentially promising area of ministry, it is because He has something else for us to do, something vital and productive. If we are remaining on our knees before Him, in His word, seeking His face and yielding to His will, God will use us for His glory in the best possible way, the way He ordains. But we cannot be grasping so tightly to our plans and our priorities; otherwise, we may be very frustrated.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for not only saving us but also putting us to work in Your kingdom, to carry Your Gospel and serve others in Your name. Each of us who belongs to You has an appointed area of ministry, the place where You have led us and where You call us to speak the truth in love and share Christ with those in need, Make us faithful to Your call. Make our ministry, wherever it may be, fruitful for Your glory! In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 19:16-22:

Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life;
    he who despises his ways will die.
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will repay him for his deed.
Father, You command us to love our neighbors as ourselves,
    including those in need,
        not holding back when we have the ability to help.
Give us loving hearts to respond to Your word
    and wisdom to serve well.

Discipline your son, for there is hope;
    do not set your heart on putting him to death.
A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,
    for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.
Lord, You call father to discipline their sons, but also to avoid wrath,
    so give us the self-control to discipline in love.

Listen to advice and accept instruction,
    that you may gain wisdom in the future.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.
Father, our souls and our character matter most.
    We see our own need and how far we are from who we need to be.
Make us teachable, that we may heed Your wisdom.
    Make us committed to Your purposes and not our own plans.
Make us committed to the truth, to integrity before You.
    Make us more like Jesus, we pray in His name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day 52: Acts 16:1-5 & Prov. 19:8-15 - Why Did Paul Circumcise Timothy?

Today's Reading: Acts 16:1-5 & Prov. 19:8-15

Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. - Acts 16:3, ESV

Why Did Paul Circumcise Timothy?

Today's brief passage in Acts contains one of the most unexpected episodes in the ministry of the Apostle Paul: the circumcision of Timothy. Paul would later write to the Galatians: "Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law." (Gal. 5:2-3, ESV) Given Paul's strong language in Galatians, we have to wonder why he would want to have Timothy circumcised.

The answer is simple and yet complex, because it's a question of context and purpose. In Acts 16, Paul is bringing Timothy onto his mission team. Part of their mission is to try to reach Jews in the area with the Gospel. Timothy was half-Greek, his father being a Greek. To gain entrance into the Jewish synagogues in Asia Minor and to have an audience for the Gospel, Paul had Timothy circumcised as a matter of cultural accommodation. Paul never told Timothy that he needed to be circumcised in order to be acceptable to God.

The situation in Galatians was very different. Judaizers had worked their way into the church and had brought in a legalistic Gospel. They taught the Galatians that they needed to be circumcised and observe the Jewish ceremonial laws in order to be acceptable to God. In this context, Paul strictly forbid anyone from being circumcised. No one may undertake circumcision as a means of trying to be acceptable to God without being obligated to keep the whole law, which is both impossible and a direct contradiction to the Gospel.

Paul's stance on circumcision helps us understand a whole host of cultural taboo issues. If we can observe a cultural standard in order to open a door and remove a stumbling block for the Gospel, we should do so. In line with this thinking, one of our missionary friends is always careful to wear a head-covering when she is meeting with Muslims to share the Gospel. They appreciate it, and she is wise to do it. But if someone were to come into our church and proclaim that unless women wear a Muslim-style head covering, they are not acceptable to God, I would oppose that teaching vehemently. Removing obstacles and opening doors to the Gospel is great. Adding burdens to God's people as additions to the Gospel is not okay.

In both cases, the priority for Paul was the Gospel, and the Gospel must be the priority for us, too. We put no stumbling block in anyone's way to keep them from hearing the Gospel. We add no burden to believers to take them away from the purity of the Gospel.

Heavenly Father, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. Let us never be ashamed of the Gospel, never place obstacles in the way of the Gospel and never add burdens to the Gospel. Let us treasure Christ and proclaim Him openly for all. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 19:8-15:

Whoever gets sense loves his own soul;
    he who keeps understanding will discover good.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and he who breathes out lies will perish.
It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury,
    much less for a slave to rule over princes.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Heavenly Father, we need Your Spirit to work good sense into our souls,
    that we may be able to gain and keep understanding,
        and that we may be slow to anger and quick to overlook offenses.
Father, let us love the truth and love wisdom,
    that Your light and love may shine in and through us.

A king's wrath is like the growling of a lion,
    but his favor is like dew on the grass.
A foolish son is ruin to his father,
    and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
    but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep,
    and an idle person will suffer hunger. 
Lord, life in this world requires wisdom,
    and we need You to grant us the wisdom we need.
You tell us that if we lack wisdom, we can ask of You and You will supply it.
    So, give us discernment and prudence and diligence,
        for we would be lost in folly and sloth and quarreling without You!
In Jesus' name and for His sake we ask, Amen.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Day 51: Acts 15:36-41 & Prov. 19:1-7 - How Should We Handle Disagreements in Ministry?

Today's Reading: Acts 15:36-41 & Prov. 19:1-7

And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. - Acts 15:39-40, ESV

How Should We Handle Disagreements in Ministry?

Well, today we see the first chinks in the shining armor of Paul and Barnabas. We have been following them for the past few weeks as they have taken the Gospel to Cyprus and Asia Minor. We have seen them stare down opposition, overcome hostility, confront the corruption of the Gospel, lead the church to defend the Gospel in the Jerusalem Council and spread the truth to churches. Now we see then disagree and part ways. 

How could this happen? How could two such godly men who endured such hardship in ministry together end up having a "sharp disagreement" and parting ways? Well, as I was reminded at my ordination and installation service several years ago, "The best of men are but men at best." (John Lambert, 1610-1683) Paul and Barnabas apparently had very different personalities, which served them well in ministry but were also the basis for this disagreement.

Paul was a scholar and a debater, one who was firm in his convictions and was a strong defender of the truth. We saw him take the lead when opposition arose during the first missionary journey. Barnabas was the "Son of Encouragement," and was warmly encouraging toward others. So, the disagreement arose between them over what to do with the young John Mark (who would later write the Gospel of Mark). 

Mark had abandoned them very suddenly when they set out on their first missionary journey, and now he wanted to accompany them on their second journey. Paul thought this was a bad idea. He knew what opposition they would face, and he thought is was not wise to bring a brother who might run away in the face of it. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance to serve. Adding to the disagreement, perhaps, was the fact that Mark was Barnabas' cousin (Colossians 4:10). 

While the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas shows us their humanity, the way they handled the disagreement shows us their wisdom. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and went to Asia Minor. They used this disagreement as an opportunity to double their ministry impact. They did not create a church split or form some new denomination, because their disagreement was not over essential doctrine but over a ministry method decision. The church commissioned both teams, blessed them, and sent them on their ways.

Later, Mark and Paul would reconcile and Mark would become very useful to Paul in ministry. He was with Paul when he wrote Colossians (Col. 4:10), In Paul's last letter, 2 Timothy, he asked Timothy to "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry." So we can see that neither Mark nor Paul took this split personally; they still respected and served together in ministry. If only we would handle ministry disagreements with such grace today! 

Heavenly Father, we know that we are called to defend the truth and to seek to guard the purity of Your church. But we are also to seek unity and to love each other within the body of Christ. Give us wisdom and discernment, along with strong love for You and one another, as we seek to handle disagreements in a way that honors You. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 19:1-7:

Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
    than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.
Desire without knowledge is not good,
    and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
When a man's folly brings his way to ruin,
    his heart rages against the Lord.
Wealth brings many new friends,
    but a poor man is deserted by his friend.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and he who breathes out lies will not escape.
Many seek the favor of a generous man,
    and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.
All a poor man's brothers hate him;
    how much more do his friends go far from him!

He pursues them with words, but does not have them.

Heavenly Father, wealth is one of the most difficult things for us to handle well. We are drawn to the allure of wealth, often tempted to judge people on the basis of their wealth and even tempted to seek to win the favor of the wealthy. Lord, keep us from being so driven by money, which is a gift from You to be used for Your glory, but is also a dangerous snare if we do not guard our hearts. So, guard our hearts and let us seek to honor You with our wealth and seek to love all who bear Your image, rich or poor. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Day 50: Acts 15:22-35 & Prov 18:17-24 - What's the Benefit of Personal, Face-to-Face Ministry?

Today's Reading: Acts 15:22-35 & Prov 18:17-24

Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. - Acts 15:24-26, ESV

What's the Benefit of Personal, Face-to-Face Ministry?

We live is a time when more ministry is being done on a mass scale or remotely through technology. It is more common for Christians to have no personal relationship with a pastor. They attend a mega-church, if they attend church at all. More people get their favorite Bible teaching through the Internet or through books. I have nothing against using the Internet for ministry. After all, this is a blog post and many people reading this don't know me personally. But we are risking the danger of thinking we don't need face-to-face ministry.

So, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "What is the value of face-to-face ministry?" Thankfully, today's passage gives us a good example of the value of personal ministry. After the Jerusalem Council had ruled on the issues plaguing the church, they determined that it was best to send out Judas Barsabbas and Silas "with our beloved Paul and Barnabas" to inform the churches of their ruling in person.

Why did the council need to send out this group of trusted men? Why not just send the letter they had carefully drafted by messenger? Because they knew that "some persons had gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds." In other words, because false teachers had gone out from Jerusalem in person and had misled and upset several churches, the leaders in Jerusalem knew they needed to send out faithful men in person to teach the truth.

Personal ministry is needed when people are confused and troubled. When you have to explain something difficult, especially something controversial, it is best to do that face-to-face. Letters and messengers can be rejected, misunderstood or even manipulated by false teachers. Competent, faithful teachers can take the time to patiently teach God's word, answer questions, comfort the distressed and clarify things for the confused. They can do so much more effective ministry than can ever be accomplished by letter (or e-mail or book or blog post).

Notice that the Jerusalem Council sent out a group of four men. Why not just send one of two? Well, sending four men of good reputation helps to avoid the accusation that those who come only represent a certain party and not the whole church leadership. It avoids a cult of personality or a party spirit. It also provides a high level of accountability, to ensure that the teaching is communicated accurately. Finally, four men can also reach more people more effectively, being able to explain the truth well in different ways.    

Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us wise, competent and faithful leadership in Your church. We know our leaders are only human and are very capable of error, so we ask that You would safeguard them from error and keep us from being misled. Give us each a faithful local church fellowship where we can engage in personal ministry. Let us not neglect the value of face-to-face ministry. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 18:17-24:

The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.
The lot puts an end to quarrels
    and decides between powerful contenders.
A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
    and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
Father, our sin and selfishness causes so many quarrels and disputes,
    and we need You to give us peace, wisdom and justice
        as we struggle to discern Your will in disagreements.

From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied;
    he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
    and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Lord, again You remind us in Proverbs of the value of our words,
    so please give us wisdom by Your Spirit to speak well.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing
    and obtains favor from the Lord.
Lord, thank You for my wonderful wife,
    who is my greatest earthly blessing!

The poor use entreaties,
    but the rich answer roughly.
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Father, let us be kind and compassionate to the poor,
    remembering always Your kindness and faithfulness to us.
Thank You for never leaving us,
    for surrounding us with Your love always.
In Jesus' name, Amen.