Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 23: Acts 8:4-8 & Prov. 10:24-32 - Do You Go About Preaching the Word?

Today's Reading: Acts 8:4-8 & Prov. 10:24-32

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. - Acts 8:4, ESV

Do You Go About Preaching the Word?

Stephen had been brutally stoned to death. The church was scattered, violently chased from Jerusalem. Saul was being sent out by the Sanhedrin with orders to arrest and imprison the scattering flock. The apostles, who led and taught the church since Pentecost, stayed behind in Jerusalem. What would this fleeing flock do now?

It would be so easy for these persecuted disciples to quit. They had every reason to go into hiding and stay quiet. Instead, "those who were scattered went about preaching the word." They took seriously Jesus' commission, "As you go, make disciples of all nations . . . " (Matt. 28:18) 

This is a challenge to all of us. As we go about our day, living our lives, are we looking for opportunities to preach the Gospel. to proclaim the word? Now, I'm not saying we need to go into work every day and set up a pulpit in the hallways so we can literally preach at people. I'm not sure how welcomed or effective that would be. Instead, we can find ways to creatively share the Gospel and to proclaim the word lovingly in our conversation and our conduct.

One man who was used by God powerfully after he death of Stephen was another of the original seven deacons, Philip. Philip was empowered by God to speak the truth boldly and to demonstrate the power of Christ's kingdom in signs and wonders. Originally, Philip was called to oversee food distribution so that the apostles could focus on the ministry of the word and prayer. He could have said, "Preaching isn't in my job description. Sorry." After all, where were the apostles? But Philip was not a man looking to make excuses; he was looking to make a difference and to make Jesus known to a watching world.

Are we looking for Gospel opportunities or are we looking for excuses? Are we looking to serve or looking for reasons why we're not qualified or properly called to some specific area of service?

Heavenly Father, You have given Your Son who made no excuses but went all the way to the cross for us. You have given us a powerful Gospel, the good news of Your Son and His saving work. Give us Your Spirit to fill and empower us to proclaim Your Gospel to all who will hear, that many may believe and that You may be glorified! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 10:24-34:

Heavenly Father,
You tell us that what the wicked dreads will come upon him,
    but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
Grant that we may be found righteous in Christ,
    that our desire to be with You forever may be realized.

You say that when the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
    but the righteous is established forever.
May we be established by Your grace in Your Son forever!

O Lord, keep us from being irritating and useless sluggards,
    and may the fear of You prolong our days and fill us with joy!
The hope of the righteous brings joy,
    and You, O Lord, are our hope.
By Your favor, we will never perish.

Your way, O Lord, is a stronghold to the blameless,
    but destruction to evildoers.
May we be righteous in Christ and never be removed,
    but dwell in Your blessed land forever.
May our mouths bring forth wisdom,
    and may our lips know what is acceptable,

Sanctify us by Your grace, through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Day 22: Acts 8:1-3 & Proverbs 10:12-23 - How Does God Use Persecution to Strengthen and Advance His Church?

Today's Reading: Acts 8:1-3 & Proverbs 10:12-23

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. - Acts 8:1-3, ESV

How Does God Use Persecution to Strengthen and Advance His Church?

No one likes being persecuted. No one likes being picked on, bullied, abused, targeted, mocked or intimidated unfairly. We also don't generally like seeing other people persecuted for who they are or what they believe. The persecution of a group of people is ugly and unjust. Yet God calls His people to suffer persecution, and God has repeatedly used persecution to strengthen His church and advance the Gospel in the world.

As we come to these opening verses in Acts 8, we need to know first that this is not just something that happened to the early church as a rare and unexpected occurance. Jesus told His followers: 

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."  - John 15:18-20, ESV

Christians should expect persecution. We should not seek it or provoke it, but neither should we fear it or ever compromise our faith and testimony to avoid it.

Secondly, we need to know that God powerfully uses persecution to strengthen His church. Our faith is like gold, in that it is purified by fire. (1 Peter 1:7)  Yes, we may sometimes crack under the pressure of persecution and we may even give in to the temptation to compromise our testimony, but God uses even these moments of weakness to expose our need and draw us back to Christ in repentance and faith. 

Third, God uses persecution to advance the Gospel and grow His kingdom in the world. In the case of the early church, it took persecution to drive the church beyond the narrow confines of Jerusalem and out into the wider world. The rest of the book of Acts will document this spread. 

Finally, we never know what God will do in the hearts and minds of those who persecute Christians. Here we see the violence and determination of a young man named Saul. He is fiercely opposed to Christ, but this is not the end of his story. God will save him and use him in powerful ways, as we will see in our continued study of this book. 

Heavenly Father, let us never fear but always be prepared for persecution, however it may come. Give us the grace to speak the truth about Christ in love to our neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers. Bless Your church around the world, and advance Your Gospel through our witness to the ends of the earth. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 10:12-23:

Heavenly Father, we know that hatred stirs up strife,
    but love covers all offenses,
        so give us love for our neighbors and our enemies.
On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
    but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense,
        so, Father, let wisdom be found in our hearts and on our lips.
The wise lay up knowledge,
    but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.
Father, may we never be so foolish and to bring about our own ruin,
    but may we lay up the knowledge of Your will in our hearts.
The wage of the righteous leads to life,
    the gain of the wicked to sin.
Father, let us use the wealth You entrust to our care
    to serve others and glorify Your name, and not to sin.
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
    but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
Lord, may we heed instruction,
    may Your word guide us on the path of life.
The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
    and whoever utters slander is a fool.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Lord, take control over our tongues,
    and give us the self-control to restrain our lips.
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
    the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
The lips of the righteous feed many,
    but fools die for lack of sense.
Give us the tongue and lip of the righteous, O Lord,
    that we may feedmany with the truth of Your word.
Your blessing alone, O Lord makes life truly rich,
    and You adds no real sorrow with it.
Let us never be like the fool, doing wrong like a joke,
    but let us walk in wisdom, taking pleasure in it as Your gift to us.
Hear us, we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.    

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Day 21: Acts 7:54-60 & Prov. 10:1-11 - How Can the Death of an Innocent Man Glorify God?

Today's Reading: Acts 7:54-60 & Prov. 10:1-11

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. - Acts 7:57-60, ESV

How Can the Death of an Innocent Man Glorify God?

The death of Stephen is one of the most compelling accounts in Scripture. Stephen's speech before the Sanhedrin was so knowledgeable and passionate, but the council responded not with contrite hearts and repentance but with blind rage. The anger of the council, the obvious innocence of Stephen and the gross injustice of his death combine to create a heart-wrenching scene. Why would God not deliver Stephen from this death? How could God allow His faithful disciple to be so mistreated? How could God be glorified in such a brutal death of such an innocent man?

What becomes obvious as we read the account more closely is that God is working out a greater purpose through Stephen's death. First of all, Stephen himself loses nothing, though he is unjustly condemned and brutally killed. He commits himself to the Lord, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." God gives him a glorious vision of Jesus, standing at the right hand of God, ready to receive this faithful witness. Even Luke's final words "he fell asleep" indicate the truth: Stephen did not truly die. He was trusting in the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live." (John 11:25)

Secondly, it is obvious to all of these men who commit this act that Stephen is not just an innocent man, but that he is dying just like Jesus. Stephen echoes two of the final sayings of Jesus from the cross as he is dying. He commits his spirit to the Lord and he forgives his enemies who are stoning him. In this way, he glorifies Christ by bringing back to the minds of his murderers the death of the Savior on the cross.

Finally, in the midst of this brutal scene, we are told of a young man named Saul. Stephen's killers threw their coats down at Saul's feet for safekeeping. This young man would soon be sent out with letters from this council authorizing him to arrest and imprison followers of Jesus. But Jesus would stop him in his tracks. Jesus would change his life forever, and Jesus would send him out to be an even more effective witness than Stephen had been.

We must never doubt that God is always at work, always ordering things in the best and wisest way. A senseless act of violence like the death of Stephen may seem to be the most unlikely place for God to be working. With hindsight, we can see that God was very present and very much in control as He welcomed His child home. Can we trust Him in times when our lives seem out of control?

Prayer Based on Proverbs 10:1-11:

Heavenly Father,

A wise son makes a glad father,
    so make us wise that we may make You glad.
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
    so give us the righteousness of Christ that delivers us from death.
You, O Lord, do not let the righteous go hungry,
    but You do thwart the craving of the wicked,
        so guard our hearts from wickedness and give us faith to trust in Your care.

A slack hand causes poverty,
    but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
    but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
So, Lord, make us diligent in the use of our time and energy.
    May we be prudent with the resources entrusted to our care.

The wise of heart will receive commandments,
    so grant us teachable hearts, ready to receive wisdom.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
    so Lord, keep us from crooked ways.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    so make our words truthful and full of grace,
        that we may bless those who hear us.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Day 20: Acts 7:44-53 & Prov. 9:13-18 - What Was God's Purpose for the Tabernacle and the Temple?

Today's Reading: Acts 7:44-53 & Prov. 9:13-18

"Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen." - Acts 7:44

What Was God's Purpose for the Tabernacle and the Temple?

As he nears the end of his sermon before the Sanhedrin, Stephen tightens his focus on the Tabernacle and the Temple. He was accused of speaking against the Temple, but as a believer in the Lord Jesus, Stephen knows the true purpose for the Tabernacle and the Temple.

Moses made the tent of witness (the Tabernacle) according to the pattern God had shown him. Later, the Temple was constructed by Solomon following the same pattern. These places were given by God to instruct His people about the right way to worship Him and to show them their need for forgiveness and intercession.

God's people were never supposed to think that His presence was limited to the man-made Tabernacle or Temple. As Stephen says, "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’ (vv. 49-50)

Stephen was quoting the prophet Isaiah. The Lord was confronting His people through Isaiah for a pattern of nationalist arrogance that saw the Temple as the guarantee of God's absolute favor and protection of the nation of Israel. God's people thought God had given them some guarantee of His protection and that they could claim exclusive ownership of the presence of God. But that was never the purpose of the Temple.

Jesus had connected the Temple to Himself when He said, "If you tear down this Temple, I will raise it up in three days." (John 2:19) By "this Temple," He meant the Temple of His body. Standing in the Temple courts and speaking about the destruction of His body in His coming death on the cross, Jesus was teaching His disciples the real meaning of the Temple.

Temple worship was given to teach God's people that they were sinful and that only a perfect sacrifice could take away sins. They were taught that they needed to be cleansed in order to approach a Holy God. They were taught that they needed a priest to represent them before God. All of these truths were pointing them to Jesus- the perfect sacrifice, the cleansing, and the Great High Priest we truly need.

Stephen condemns the Sanhedrin as "stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears [who] always resist the Holy Spirit" for one simple and powerful reason: They care more about the Temple building itself than about the One who came to fulfill the meaning of the Temple in His own body. They claim to love God's Temple, but they killed God's Son who was the fulfillment of the Temple.

We need to be careful that we don't become so focused on the performance of religious duties that we forget the object of our worship and the author of our faith, Jesus Christ. Like the Israelites, we can easily miss the whole point of worship if we focus on the superficial and miss the Gospel.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for the gift of Your Son. He is the true and living Temple. In Him, we are being built up into a living Temple where You will dwell forever. We are Your house and Jesus is the Great High Priest over Your house. Give us Your Spirit that we may worship You rightly, now and always. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Prayer Based on Proverbs 9:13-18:

Heavenly Father, the voice of Folly is loud and insistent,
   surrounding us in our culture daily.
Give us the grace to listen to Your wisdom and never to Folly.
   Folly tells us we can steal and cheat and get away with it,
      that no one will ever know if we lie and scheme to get what we want.
But we are always living our lives befire You.
   The voice of Folly leads only to death. 
Keep us in Your Son and His wisdom, our true life.
   In His name we pray, Amen. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Day 19: Acts 7:23-43 & Prov. 9:1-12 - How is Moses a Foreshadowing of Jesus?

Today's Reading: Acts 7:23-43 & Prov. 9:1-12

"He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand." - Acts 7:25

How is Moses a Foreshadowing of Jesus? 

In the Gospels, Jesus criticized the Pharisees and religious leaders in Israel for their failure to recognize Him as their Messiah. He said to them. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me." (John 5:39) Now, in Acts 7, Stephen is on trial before the same Jewish council that condemned his Lord, and he offers the same testimony: The Scriptures God gave to Israel testify about Jesus.

As Stephen continues his Bible history lesson for the Sanhedrin, he spends considerable time focusing on Moses, drawing out aspects of Moses' life that foreshadow Jesus. Moses was the greatest deliverer of God's people until the coming of Jesus and in the details of his life and the deliverance he brought, we can see hints of Jesus, as God was preparing His people for the true and final Deliverer.

Here are some of the parallels that Stephen highlights in today's passage:

  • Moses came to God's people to bring them salvation, but they did not understand and rejected him. (v. 25)
  • God's people mocked and taunted Moses. (v. 27)
  • God sent Moses to deliver His people from bondage and slavery. (v. 34)
  • God's people resented Moses and did not want him to rule over them. (v. 35)
  • Moses was both ruler and redeemer of God's people. (v. 35)
  • The Israelites refused to obey Moses and thrust him aside. (v. 39)

Prior to Moses, the greatest deliverer of the people of God had been Joseph, and they had sold him into slavery. It seems clear that God's people have a history of rejecting their saviors.

Stephen wanted the Jewish leaders to see that their rejection of Jesus did mean that Jesus was not the Messiah. The Jewish leadership wanted God's people to think that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, because they had tried and condemned Him. But God's people had violently rejected Joseph and had rejected Moses multiple times, too.

In fact, one of the key verses that the New Testament church came to understand as explaining Jesus was Psalm 118:22: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Jesus Himself quoted this verse in the Gospels and then Peter quoted it in his trial before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 and in his first letter.

We can often be tempted to think that the world's rejection of Jesus and His Gospel means that we're doing something wrong, that we need to change. But the truth is that Jesus told us to expect rejection from the world, which is exactly what He experienced, too. But God works through the world's rejection. He did it in the lives of Joseph and Moses. He did it on the cross through Jesus. He is doing it through His church around the world, too.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for loving us and for giving us life in Your Son. Thank You that the stone that the builders rejected has indeed become the cornerstone, the chief stone of the new and living Temple. Thank You that You have made us living stones in that Temple and that You are shaping us and making us into a house for Your glory. Let us trust You and follow You always. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Prayer Based on Proverbs 9:1-12:

Oh Lord, Your house is built by wisdom.
   Your table is set with the feast of knowledge and understanding.
We are simple and needy, and so we come to You.
   Satisfy us with Your truth and fill us with the good things of Your house.

Father, the world makes false promises,
   offering empty things that can never satisfy.
You alone have the food that satisfies,
   found in Your Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect wisdom.
Your house is Your church, build on the foundation of Christ.
   You call Your people and make us Your dwelling place.
      Make us holy and satisfy us with Yourself, 
          that we may dwell in You and You in us forever.

Father, lead us to leave our simple ways behind,
   and satisfy us with the Bread of Life.
Let us live in the fear of the Lord,
   and so find true wisdom, which comes from You.
In Jesus' name, Amen.   

Day 18: Acts 7:1-22 & Prov 8:22-36 - How Well Should You Know the Story of God's People?

Today's Reading: Acts 7:1-22 & Prov 8:22-36

"And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child." 
- Acts 7:1-5, ESV

How Well Should You Know the Story of God's People?

If someone asked you to explain how Jesus' coming was the climax and fulfillment of the story of God and His people, would you know how to summarize and explain that? How well do you know the story of God and His people? Could you effectively tell the story, from the calling of Abraham to the sojourn in Egypt to the Exodus and conquest of the Promised Land and how all of these events relate to the coming of Christ?

When Stephen was put on trial and was accused of speaking words of blasphemy against the Temple and against the customs handed down from Moses, he did not immediately respond by defending himself. Instead, he recounted the history of God's dealing with His people. Now why would Stephen give a Bible history lesson to the Sanhedrin? 

First, he was being accused of being against Moses and against the Jewish traditions. So it makes sense that he would clarify his commitment to the Scriptures, to Moses in particular, and to the Jewish people by demonstrating his knowledge of the Books of Moses and the history of God's dealings with His chosen people. 

Second, Stephen is drawing out a pattern for the leaders to see: God raised up chosen men to bring deliverance to His people, and these men were often rejected or were outsiders or were betrayed by their own people:
  • Abraham was a pilgrim and a stranger in the Promised Land, called to leave his father's house and never given his inheritance in this life.
  • Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers.
  • Moses was exposed as an infant before he was brought up by Egyptians.

These deliverers set a pattern that is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus: 
  • He lived His life as a pilgrim and stranger, walking through the Promised Land, teaching in towns and villages, without a real settled home. He never came into His kingly inheritance during His earthly life.
  • He was sold by Judas and betrayed by His Jewish brothers into the hands of pagan gentiles who beat and crucified Him.
  • Jesus also, like Moses, was under threat as an infant from a wicked king and spent time in Egypt.

So Stephen is showing the Jewish leaders the story of Jesus, foreshadowed in their own sacred history. We'll see more of this tomorrow.

Here's the bottom line for us: We can be tempted to think that studying Biblical history and church history is boring and irrelevant to our lives. But a careful study of the history of God and His people will show us valuable patterns that will help us understand Christ better and understand how we ought to live as God's people today. The study is worth the labor, as it bears fruit in our lives for God's glory.

Heavenly Father, You have always been faithful in Your dealings with Your people, even when we have been faithless. You have kept Your promises, even at times of great darkness and confusion. Give us the mind to understand Your dealings with Your people and the heart to follow after You, no matter the cost. May we not look for our treasure, acceptance or inheritance in this life, but look to You for Your promises fulfilled in the life to come. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 8:22-36:

Lord Jesus, You are the perfect Wisdom of God.
  The Lord, Your Father, possessed You at the beginning of His work,
    the first of His acts of old.
Ages ago You were set up as God's wisdom and His delight,
    at the first, in the beginning, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths, Your were begotten,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, You were brought forth,
When Your Father established the heavens, You were there;
    when He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when He made firm the skies above,
    when He established the fountains of the deep,
when He assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress His command,
when He marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then You were beside him, like a Master Workman,
and You were daily His delight,
    rejoicing before Him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.

And now, O King Jesus, may we Your people always listen to You:
    blessed are those who keep Your ways.
Let us hear instruction and be wise,
    and never neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to You,
    watching daily at Your gates,
    waiting beside Your doors.
For whoever finds You finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find You injures himself;
    all who hate You love death.
May we always love You, seek You, heed You and follow You. Amen. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Day 17: Acts 6:8-15 & Prov 8:1-21 - Why is Christianity the Most Persecuted and Restricted Religion in the World?

Today's Reading: Acts 6:8-15 & Prov 8:1-21

But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” - Acts 6:10-11, ESV

Why is Christianity the Most Persecuted and Restricted Religion in the World?

Christianity is the most reasonable and defensible worldview in the world. Christians who are trained and educated in the facts, evidence and logic of our belief system and who are filled with the Holy Spirit and living in fellowship with Christ are very difficult to defeat in a reasoned debate or a principled discussion. The evidence for the existence of God as Creator and the historic evidence for the resurrection of Jesus are very compelling. When combined with the personal testimony of a transformed life bearing the fruit of the Spirit, a more compelling case can be made for Christianity than for any other worldview or belief system.

As we can see today in the case of Stephen, the persuasive power of the Christian message is the #1 reason why Christianity is the most persecuted and restricted religion in the world. Peter and John and the rest of the apostles had already faced arrest, imprisonment, threats and ridicule, but it was impossible for the religious authorities in Jerusalem who opposed their message to silence them. The public miracles God performed through them and their first-hand testimony of having seen the risen Jesus were just too powerful to refute. So the opposition turned their attention to a less prominent leader in the church, one of the first deacons, Stephen.

These opponents of Christ could not silence Stephen either. This lowly deacon had been empowered by the Spirit to do wonders and signs, and he spoke with such wisdom that none could effectively contradict him. So they spread lies and slander, hate and accusations. When the witness to Christ cannot be dis-proven, the world will try any method available to silence it.

Today, estimates are that more than 75% of the world's population lives without religious freedom. The religion most commonly restricted? Christianity. Some 600 million Christians worldwide cannot exercise their faith freely. Yet despite being restricted or outlawed in the majority of the world, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Islam may be growing rapidly around the world, but it is the persecutor and not the persecuted, a religion enforced by law on most of its adherents.

from Open Doors USA
But Christ cannot be silenced and His kingdom's advance cannot be slowed or halted. Even the opponents of Christ, who questioned Stephen and (Spoiler Alert!) would later condemn him to death could see the evidence of Christ clearly on his face. "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel." (v. 15)

Heavenly Father, give us the knowledge, understanding and courage to articulate Your Gospel clearly before a watching world. Empower us to speak the truth about Christ with boldness and accuracy. Use our words to bring glory to Your name and to bring many to faith in Christ. Keep us from being defensive, petty, foolish or vindictive in our witness, that people may see Christ in us. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 8:1-21: 

O Lord, we hear the call of Your wisdom
    and of Your understanding as she raises her voice.
In every aspect of our lives, public and private, wisdom cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
    and my cry is to the children of man.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
    O fools, learn sense.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
    and from my lips will come what is right,
for my mouth will utter truth;
    wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
    there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to him who understands,
    and right to those who find knowledge.
 Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
 for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
    and I find knowledge and discretion.
 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
    and perverted speech I hate.
 I have counsel and sound wisdom;
    I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
    and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
    and nobles, all who govern justly.
I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me diligently find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
    and my yield than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
    in the paths of justice,
granting an inheritance to those who love me,
    and filling their treasuries."

O Lord, let us hear this call of wisdom and let us order our steps to walk in her path.
In the name of Jesus, who is true wisdom, we pray, Amen. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Day 16: Acts 6:1-7 & Prov. 7 - Why Does the Church Need Deacons?

Today's Reading: Acts 6:1-7 & Prov. 7

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 
- Acts 7:1-3, ESV

Why Does the Church Need Deacons?

The opening verses of Acts 6 tell of the appointment of the first deacons in the history of the church. Now, Luke does not use the term "deacons" to describe these men, but most people agree that these seven men were the first deacons, based on what they were called to do. So, why did the church appoint deacons? How were they appointed? What kind of work did they do? What kind of men did they choose to do this work?

The church appointed deacons because the apostles were being torn away from their primary calling to handle practical concerns focused on physical needs. In this specific case, it was an accusation of unequal distribution of food to widows. Apparently, the food was being distributed by Aramaic-speaking Hebrews and the Greek-speaking Hellenists thought their widows were being neglected. It's not clear why this neglect was happening, but it was probably related to a language barrier or cultural mis-communication. At any rate, the issue needed to be handled well, but it didn't need to be directly handled by the apostles.

The apostles were very clear on their priorities: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. . . we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The apostles took the ministry of the word and their call to be devoted to prayer for the church very seriously. They wanted to focus their undivided attention on the word and prayer, and did not want to be weighed down by distracting concerns. Distraction is a constant battle for church leaders, and wise delegation is a proven way to combat it.

But notice that the apostles did not appoint these seven themselves. On the contrary, they gave the qualifications to the church and let the church select the men. This sets the precedent for the practice of the congregation calling its officers. Congregations need to be taught the Biblical qualifications for office, and then they need to be empowered to exercise discernment in calling their officers.

The office of deacon is one of practical service to meet physical needs within the church and the community. The distribution of food to widows was a massive undertaking for a church of several thousand people. While the priority focus of the apostles was on preaching and teaching the word, they knew the church was also called to care for the poor, to meet needs. 

While the office itself is one of practical service, the qualifications for office were not focused on practical skills. The apostles might have valued organization, people skills, diplomacy, food expertise, etc. Instead, they focused on character and on spiritual qualifications: "men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom." As we will see in the examples of Philip and Stephen, these men were capable evangelists and teachers, as well as being wise and diplomatic.

The church needs deacons just as surely today as she did in the first century. In our day, it is tempting to want pastors to be marketing experts, CEOs, visionary leaders, organizational managers, etc. The calling of a pastor and of elders today is the same as it always has been: the word and prayer. Faithful attention to the word and prayer brings the growth that God ordains. Yet the church is also called to serve and not just to preach. Wise and godly men need to be called and ordained to that ministry, too. Thankfully, God is still raising up deacons to do this work. 

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your church, the bride and body of Christ, your visible kingdom on earth. We thank You for the word and for prayer and for the power of Your Holy Spirit to use these means to build Your church. We thank You also for the gift of wise, Spirit-filled deacons, who serve and lead the church in meeting the needs of the poor. Give us faithful pastors and elders and give us wise and Spirit-filled deacons. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based in Proverbs 7:

Heavenly Father, give us the grace by Your Spirit to keep Your words
    and to treasure up Your commandments within us;
may we keep Your commandments in Christ and so live as You intend us to live;
    let us keep Your teaching as the apple of our eye;
binding them on our fingers;
    writing them on the tablet of our heart.
Saying to wisdom, "You are my sister,”
    and calling insight our intimate friend,
to keep us from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words.
Lord, every day we see men and women deceived and led astray,
    falling prey to immorality and unfaithfulness,
        turning their backs on You, on Your word, on Your righteousness.
Keep us from falling into the traps Satan sets,
    by keeping us walking in Your word, treasuring Your wisdom.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Day 15: Acts 5:17-42 & Proverbs 6:20-35 - How Do We Know if the Gospel is from Men or from God?

Today's Reading: Acts 5:17-42 & Proverbs 6:20-35

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! - Acts 5:38-39, ESV

How Do We Know if the Gospel is from Men or from God?

One of the greatest rabbis in the history of Judaism was Gamaliel, mentioned in today's passage from Acts 5. Gamaliel was held in honor by all of the Jewish leaders on the Sanhedrin, which is why they followed his advice in today's passage, even though most of them felt passionately that they should have severely punished the apostles for continuing to speak to the people in the Temple about Jesus.

Gamaliel's advice is wise counsel for anyone considering the claims of Jesus today. Jesus was not the only man to claim to be the Messiah in first-centiry Israel. He was not the only one to have disciples who proclaimed His Messiahship. In Acts 5, Gamaliel mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean, but several others could be mentioned, too, including Judas the Son of Hezakiah and Simon of Peraea. What do these other men all have in common? You've probably never heard of any of them! In other words, none of the other Messianic candidates amounted to anything.

Gamaliel was right: If the claim to be the Messiah is an undertaking of man, it amounts to nothing. Now, some people could counter that Muhammed's claims to be the last prophet have stood the test of time, but Muhammed had a large army at his disposal which forcibly advanced his claims, establishing a large political empire before his death.

By contrast, Jesus commanded no army, and neither did the apostles. In fact, Christianity was an illegal religion with no political recognition or support whatsoever for almost 300 years - no church buildings, no official status, nothing. Yet it spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, claiming millions of followers from India to Ethopia to Spain.

So, how many poor and obscure men can claim to be the Messiah and see a group of perhaps 120 disciples grow to 5-8 million in less than 300 years without any political or military support at all? This is simply impossible and has never been done in the history of the world by anyone, except by Jesus of Nazareth.

Gamaliel was right: One of the best tests of the truth of the claims of the apostles regarding Jesus is the fact that they were received widely, establishing churches on three continents within 30-40 years of the life of Jesus, and have only spread from there for the past 2,000 years.

Even today, Christianity does not have much government backing or any real political empire, and yet it has grown from 600 million followers to over 2.2 billion followers over the past 100 years. Islam is also growing quickly, but it has governments and armies all over the world promoting and advancing it. The church has only the word of God preached and the worship of God practiced.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 6:20-35:

Heavenly Father, let us always keep Your commandments,
    and forsake not Your teaching.
Let us keep them in our heart always;
    keeping them in mind in every area of life.
When we walk, they will lead us;
    when we lie down, Your word will watch over us;
    and when we awake, they will talk with us.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
    and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve us from evil temptation,
    from the smooth tongue of the deceiver.
Let us not desire the false beauty of temptation in our hearts,
    and do not let temptation capture us;
for sin always costs us more than we think it will.
Can a man carry fire next to his chest
    and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals
    and his feet not be scorched?
So when we are unfaithful to You,
    we never escape unharmed.
Keep us safe in Your care.
    In Jesus' name, Amen 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 14: Acts 5:12-16 & Prov. 6:12-19 - Why Did God Empower the Apostles to Do Such Great Miracles?

Today's Reading: Acts 5:12-16 & Prov. 6:12-19

"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles." 
- Acts 5:12, ESV

Why Did God Empower the Apostles to Do Such Great Miracles?

It's almost too wonderful to believe, isn't it? Today's reading in Acts gives us a brief look at a marvlous time in the life of the early church. We've already seen the powerful preaching of the apostles and the strong commitment to church life by the early believers. Now we see the miracles God did through the hands of the apostles and the high esteem and honor they had in the eyes of everyone, including unbelievers. And, as we have seen all along, more and more people are coming into the church, finding salvation in Jesus.

What was God's purpose in granting the church these few years of prosperity in Jerusalem? What was His purpose in empowering the apostles to do such great miracles? And why didn't it last?

This was surely a uniquely wonderful time in the life of the church. Even these apostles themselves would not experience another time of such powerful unity, such miraculous displays of God's power, such widespread public acceptance and such relative peace from the authorities. We don't know for sure how long such a Golden Period for the early church lasted, but many Bible scholars believe it was a a few years before Stephen's arrest and execution as the church's first martyr, perhaps from the year 31 or 32 to the year 34 or 36 A.D.

These years allowed the apostles to clearly, repeatedly and powerfully proclaim the truth about Jesus to Jews in Jerusalem. By the time the church is scattered following the martyrdom of Stephen, no one in the Jewish leadership and very few who passed through Jerusalem on pilgrimage could deny knowing the truth about Jesus. It was proclaimed openly and repeatedly.

The miracles God granted through the apostles served as confirmation of their message. By empowering the apostles to do the same kind of miraculous works that Jesus did, God was giving a publicly verifiable confirmation of His Gospel. Before you give in to the temptation to dismiss these miracles as religious propaganda, consider that all of these signs were done publicly before many eye-witnesses. Consider also that the book of Acts was probably written within just a few decades of these signs, so that many of the eye-witnesses of these events would have been alive and able to verify or deny Luke's claims.

God has a consistent pattern of accompanying new revelation with public, verifiable miracles. This is one of the ways we know that the Koran and the Book of Mormon are not new revelation from God: They're missing the accompanying verifying miracles.

So, why did God scatter the church through persecution? We'll address that question in detail when we get to Acts 8. For now, we can say that the Gospel was not meant to be kept in Jerusalem but to be sent to the ends of the earth. Marvelous times of unity and growth in the church can sometimes be so comfortable as to keep us from advancing missions into unreached places.

The church today does not have miraculous signs performed through miracles, but we do have a clear record of these signs, confirmed by eye-witnesses. We also have a wonderful pattern of priorities for us to follow:

1. Preaching the Bible passionately, with a focus on Christ and sound theology.
2. A strong commitment to teaching, worship, prayer, baptism and the Lord's Supper
3. Living together in community, committed to caring for and serving each other.
4. A bold and clear public witness before a watching world.

May the Lord empower us by His Holy Spirit to pursue these kingdom priorities!

Prayer Based on Proverbs 6:12-19:

Lord, this world is full of wicked, worthless men,
who go about with crooked speech,
winking with their eyes, pointing with their fingers,
with perverted hearts devising evil,
    continually sowing discord.
Protect us, O Lord, from the schemes of such men;
    expose the men within Your church who mislead and divide.

There are six things that You hate, O Lord,
    seven that are an abomination to You.
Keep us from all of them, by Your preserving grace:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers.
Let us live in love and unity,
   committed to Your Gospel and to each other,
      living as becomes the followers of Christ.
In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day 13: Acts 5:1-11 & Prov. 6:6-11 - How Serious is Sin?

Today's Reading: Acts 5:1-11 & Prov. 6:6-11

Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. - Acts 5:4-5, ESV

How Serious is Sin?

Today's passage is one of the most shocking and disturbing stories for us in the whole of Scripture. It's difficult for us to accept for one simple reason: We don't really take sin very seriously.

Ananias and Sapphira had conspired together to lie to the Lord and to the apostles, to try to impress people and make people think they were more godly and impressive than they really were. Now, we would probably try to spin this and say, "Well, they sold a piece of property and gave a significant part of it to the church." Peter's words to Ananias clearly indicated that they were under no obligation from the church to either sell the property or to give all of the proceeds to the church. Their sin was not in what they did but in how they lied about what they did.

What's so serious about lying? We think of that as a "no big deal" kind of sin. After all, it's not like they committed adultery or murder, right? They were just trying to impress people, right? That kind of thinking is so far from right that we need to repent of ever beginning to think that way about sin.

All sin is a direct assault against the character and rule of God. As those who bear God's image and who are given responibility over His creation, our sin is deadly serious. Imagine if the American ambassador to Germany started lying to the German government about America's plans and promises. That's a hint of how serious our sin is. God is truth and He hates lies as an attack on His character and His creation.

The seriousness of sin is reflected in God's warnings about it:

  • "The soul that sins shall surely die." - Ezekiel 18:20 
  • "The wages of sin is death." - Romans 6:23 
  • "Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." - James 1:15

All sin is also serious because it is all done in the presence of God, who is everywhere and sees everything. What would we think of a husband who committed adultery right in front of his wife? What would we think of a drug dealer who came into the court and started selling drugs right in front of the judge? We know God is everywhere and sees everything, yet we choose to sin in His presence anyway.

The really surprising thing is not that God sometimes strikes people with the immediate consequences for their rebellion, but that He so often does not. His mercy to forebear and extend life to billions of people day after day, in the face of so much sin, is the really shocking aspect of His character. Our sin- all of our sin- deserves death. Our sin - all of our sin - is a direct assault on the goodness, holiness, justice and mercy of God done in the direct presence of God. We need to hate it as such, that by God's grace we may truly forsake it.

Heavenly Father, You are holy, holy, holy. Your eyes are too pure to look upon sin with approval. No sin can abide in Your presence. Your justice requires that all sin be punished. Jesus became sin for us and died in our place so that our sin can all be forgiven. Let us not respond to this good news with a flippant callousness toward our sin. Grant us true repentance. In Jesus' name and for the sake of Your glory we ask, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 6:6-11:

Father, we confess our tendency too be sluggards. You give us good work to do and You call us to work at it with all of our heart, working as unto You. We confess that we often find excuses to be lazy, neglectful, selfish, proud or careless in our work. Forgive our sin and change our hearts, O Lord. In Jesus' name we ask, Amen. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 12: Acts 4:32-37 & Prov. 6:1-5 - Are Believers Called to Have Everything in Common?

Today's Reading: Acts 4:32-37 & Prov. 6:1-5

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. - Acts 4:32, ESV

Are Believers Called to Have Everything in Common?

We come today to one of the most beautiful and challenging statements regarding the early church. In these early days in Jerusalem, as the church was rapidly growing and welcoming thousands of new converts in just a short period of time, we're told that "they had everything in common." The description of the church in these verses in so stirring that it has prompted many people to ask, "Is this the way it's supposed to be? Are believers always supposed to hold all of their property in common, like a commune?"

Some people have emphatically said yes to that question. This has even led some people to label Jesus as a communist, even though communism as a political philosophy was not really invented until 1848 and is explicitly atheistic. Still others have rejected the idea of Christian communism but have embraced Christian communal living, voluntarily choosing personal poverty and holding all things together. Is this the real Christian call? Are we just too materialistic, covetous and fearful to fully embrace it?

Well, this is a great example of how we need to be careful not to see everything described in the Bible as an absolute pattern for us to follow. The nation of Israel was begun by a runaway cheat who took two wives and also fathered children by each of their handmaidens, making the 12 tribes of Israel the offspring of one man and four women. Is this God's pattern for His people? No. God calls each man to have one wife. (see 1 Tim. 3:2, 12 & Titus 1:6)

The situation described at the end of Acts 4 was indeed a special time in the life of the church. It was wonderfully positive overall, unlike Jacob's domestic relations. However, it was not without problems, as we'll see tomorrow with Ananias and Sapphira. It was also never repeated, as far as we know. In just a little while, the Jerusalem church will be subject to violent persecution and will be scattered. Nowhere else in the New Testament do we read of a church taking such an approach to personal property.

However, we need to be careful not to let ourselves off the hook too easily. We can glibly say, "Well, this was a one-time thing for a short period and so I can hold onto all of my stuff and not worry about this issue." That would be a false conclusion. God does, in fact, call us to a radically uncomfortable and joyfully sacrificial view of money and the church. We are called to love each other within the body of Christ in sacrificial ways, which certainly includes meeting each other's needs materially.

We are not told that the church ever took such steps as described in verse 32 again, but we are given clear instructions about meeting each other's material needs within the church:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. - James 2:15-17, ESV

. . . your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” - 2 Cor. 8:14-15, ESV 

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. - Galatians 6:9-10, ESV 

We are not to see our money and our material possessions as belonging to us but as entrusted to our care to be used for God's purposes. We are to see that the things we have are to be invested in God's kingdom, to support the work of the church and missions and to meet the needs of fellow believers. This is to be done with wisdom under the care and direction of the leaders of the church, but it is to be done lovingly and sacrificially, too. After all, this is what Jesus has done for us:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. - 2 Cor. 8:9, ESV

Heavenly Father, Your Son told us that no one can serve two masters, and we know that we cannot serve both You and money. We are so prone to view our material possessions selfishly, to think that these are our things for us to spend on our desires. Forgive us. Give us eyes to see as You see, that all things belong to You and are to be used for Your glory and Your kingdom purposes. May we joyfully and sacrificially give of ourselves and our time and our resources, in response to all You have given us. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 6:1-5:

Heavenly Father, keep us from financial foolishness. Just as surely as we are called to be generous and loving, meeting the needs of others, so You also call us to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. We must never intend to harm anyone, but we must also be discerning, on the alert against those who would seek to harm us and steal Your resources away from Your kingdom. Keep us from unwise, wasteful excess and also from giving in to the schemes of dishonest men who are greedy for gain. Make us wise and loving, generous and prudent. Only You can do this in us and through us, and so we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Day 11: Acts 4:23-31 & Prov. 5 - Are We Boldly Praying for Boldness?

Today's Reading: Acts 4:23-31 & Prov. 5

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness - Acts 4:29, ESV

Are We Boldly Praying for Boldness?

How do we respond to challenge and opposition to the Gospel in our culture or from cultural leaders? Do we look for ways to compromise, to back off and water down, perhaps to save face or make peace? Or do we respond with anger, self-protection and mean-spirited counter-attacks? In our last reading, we saw the boldness and clarity with which Peter and John faced their opponents and proclaimed the Gospel to them. Now, in today's reading, we see the church's response to their leaders' arrest and release.

When Peter and John were released, they went back to the church and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. The church's immediate response was to pray. Their prayer reflects the same kind of Scriptural, Christ-centered heart that characterized Peter's preaching. 

The church was not shocked or surprised by the opposition of the world. They looked to Psalm 2 and prayed its words back to God as an explanation of the opposition they faced:

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
 The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’

The focus of their concern was not for their own safety or comfort. They did not ask for relief but for boldness: ". . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness."

God's response to their prayer was immediate and dramatic: "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." God filled the disciples with His Spirit and granted their request, as they spoke with boldness.

What a model for us, especially as we face a culture that is increasingly intolerant of Christian truth. In such times, we cannot trust in ourselves to have the wisdom to answer as we should. We must seek the Lord in prayer. As we pray, we must seek our identity and calling in Scripture. And we must pray for boldness. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we preach as we should, pray as we should and respond to a hostile culture as we should.

Heavenly Father, we are Your servants, Your children and Your ambassadors. The world needs a faithful, clear and bold witness of Your truth. Fill us with Your Spirit. Grant us boldness to speak Your word and proclaim Your Son with clarity, faithfulness and power. We ask this for Your glory and in Jesus' name, Amen.    

Prayer Based on Proverbs 5:

Heavenly Father, we live in a culture of sexual immorality and deviancy,
   and our eyes and minds and hearts can easily be distracted and ensnared.
Keep us in Your care and guard our hearts from being drawn astray by sin.
  Let us see clearly the death that waits at the end of sin's wayward calling,
     That we may not be deceived by the lies of temptation's empty promises.

Father, let us find our satisfaction in the provisions You give us,
   to find joy in the good gifts You have generously given.
Let us see a lack of discipline and a wandering eye as the deadly snares
   of the enemy of our souls, who would love to trap and destroy us.

You have been good to us, providing for our needs 
   and blessing us with many good and pleasant gifts.
May we delight in Your gifts, giving thanks to You,
   that temptation's call may lose its power and we may be kept in Your will.

In Jesus' name and loving care keep us, O God, Amen.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Day 10: Acts 4:1-22; Prov. 4:20-27 - How Should We Handle Opposition to the Gospel?

Today's Reading: Acts 4:1-22; Prov. 4:20-27

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,  for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” - Acts 4:18-20, ESV

How Should We Handle Opposition to the Gospel?

The assembled crowds may have been astonished and delighted by the miraculous healing of the lame man, but the rulers of the Jews felt very differently. The authorities were "greatly annoyed" and arrested Peter and John, putting them in jail until a trial could be held the next day. Yet even as these two apostles sat in jail, as many as 2,000 more people were added to the church by faith in Jesus.

Peter was then given his third opportunity to speak, this time to the most hostile audience yet. On Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, Peter preached to a crowd of confused people, wondering what was happening. In the Temple, Peter preached to an astonished crowd, praising God for a great miracle. Peter's first two public evangelistic sermons saw the Jerusalem church grow to 5,000 people. Now he faced an angry, suspicious council. The looks on the faces in front of him was not confusion or joy but bitter resentment, anger and hostility. What would Peter do?

Peter's sermon to the Sanhedrin is the shortest of the three messages in these early chapters, but it is as direct and clear as the other two:

“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” - Acts 4:8-12, ESV 

Peter's boldness and eloquence stunned the council. They had probably expected Peter the uneducated fisherman from Galilee to be stammering, stumbling, apologizing and pleading. Instead they found him eloquent, bold, clear, uncompromising and learned in the Scriptures. They had nothing to say. The man who had been healed was standing right in front of them. They all knew he had been lame, so they couldn't deny the truth of the miracle. 

Out of options, the frustrated council threatened Peter and John and warned them never to speak again in public in the name of Jesus. These men might have considered themselves lucky to escape more serious punishment. After all, this was the very same governing body which had condemned their Lord to death less than two months ago. But Peter and John were still bold. They knew they dared not disobey God's call just to obey human authority, and so they said as much boldly. 

The world still has little love for the Gospel. The world still stands in opposition to Christ the King and His kingdom. If we are going to represent Him with boldness and clarity, we are going to face opposition from the world. May the Lord give us the grace to follow the example of Peter and John and honor Christ in the face of whatever opposition may come.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 4:20-27:

Father, we must be attentive to Your words;
    and we need You to incline our ears to listen to Your sayings.
Let them never escape from our sight;
    keep them within our hearts, 
        safe from the distractions of the world and our flesh.
For Your words alone are life to those who find them,
    and healing to all their flesh.
Father, give us the grace to keep our hearts with all vigilance,
    for from them flow the springs of life.
May we put away crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from our minds and mouths.
Let our eyes look directly forward,
    and our gaze be straight before us.
As we ponder the path of our feet,
    may all our ways be sure, according to Your word.
Let us not swerve to the right or to the left;

    turn our feet away from evil and always toward righteousnes.
In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 9: Acts 3:11-26 & Prov. 4:10-19 - How Should We Handle Attention and Praise from the World?

Today's Reading: Acts 3:11-26 & Prov. 4:10-19

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus 
- Acts 3:19-20, ESV

How Should We Handle Attention and Praise from the World? 

Peter and John were used by God to perform a remarkable miracle, in full public view of many witnesses. A lame man, whom hundreds of people had known and had regularly passed on their way into the Temple, was completely and miraculously healed. He walked, leapt and praised God as he strolled into the Temple for joyful worship. Such remarkable actions will surely draw a crowd and soon "all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them." 

Peter's response to the astonished gathering is a model for us of how we should handle any positive attention or praise we receive from the world. Peter did not steal glory for himself. He did not put on airs of false modesty, saying, "Oh, it was nothing, really. Thank you." Nor did he just flippantly and casually say "Glory to God! Glory to God!" No, Peter took full advantage of the assembled crowd to give true glory to God and to proclaim Christ.

Peter began by making sure that the crowd did not credit him or John with this great miracle:
Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus" - Acts 3:12-13, ESV

If God ever chooses to use us to do something remarkable in the world, something noteworthy that somehow wins the attention and praise of the world, we must truly and sincerely give credit where credit is due. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights. (James 1:17) We must never forget that and never yield to the temptation to take credit for ourselves for the work of God in us and through us. 

Yet it is not enough for Peter to deflect the credit for this action back to God. He doesn't even slow down to take a breth once he mentions Jesus' name. He rushes onward, before the crowd can interfere or object, and gives them the full Gospel proclamation of who Jesus is and what He has done for them. He speaks boldly and directly, issuing a direct challenge to the assembled Jewish people.

Notice the rich content of this short sermon:
1. Who Jesus is: The Holy and Righteous One and the Author of life.
2. What Christ did: He suffered and died at the hands of God's people, as foretold by the prophets.
3. What God did for Christ: He raised Him from the dead and glorified His name.
4. How this miracle was done: Through faith in Jesus' name.
5. What the people should do: Repent of their sins, turn back to the Lord, and seek the Christ whom God has sent.

This sermon, like Peter's Pentecost sermon from chapter 2, has a clear declaration of truth and a call for repentance and faith. It is also thoroughly biblical, Christ-centered, theologically rich and personally passionate. Peter seems always ready to preach and to do so with knowledge, authority, passion and power. May the Lord grant us the same kind of desire to bring glory to His name and the same kind of readiness to speak the truth.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 4:10-19:

Heavenly Father, let us hear and accept Your words,
    that the years of our lives may be meaningful and significant for Your glory.
You have taught us the way of wisdom;
    You have led us in the paths of uprightness.
When we walk in Your word, let our steps not be hampered,
    and if we run in Your righteous ways, let us not stumble.
Let us keep hold of instruction and not let go;
    for Your words are the words of life.
Let us not enter the path of the wicked,
    and let us never walk in the way of the evil.
May we have the grace to avoid it, to not go on it;
    to turn away from it and pass on.
For the people of the world cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
    they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence.
But the path of Your righteous children is like the light of dawn,
    which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know over what they stumble.
Let us always walk in the light of Your truth, that we may see and follow after You!
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.