Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Day 42: Acts 13:13-43 & Prov 16:10-18 - How Should the Gospel Be Presented to Jewish People?

Today's Reading: Acts 13:13-43 & Prov 16:10-18

As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 
- Acts 13:42-43, ESV

How Should the Gospel Be Presented to Jewish People?

After leaving the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed north to Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. They made their way inland to a city called Antioch. This can be confusing to casual readers, because Paul and Barnabas are from a city called Antioch in Syria, but this Antioch is over 425 miles to the north-west from the sending church that commissioned Paul and Barnabas.

As was their custom, Paul and Barnabas made their way into the synagogue first. Unlike on Cyprus, we're given a recording of Paul's sermon in the synagogue, so we can see how Paul preached the Gospel to Jewish people. Paul's sermon to the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia shows us five key elements of his Gospel presentation:

1. A strong knowledge of the history of the Jewish people. Paul shows that he understands the long and noble history of the Jewish people, as recorded in the Scriptures.

2. A knowledge of God's covenant promises. Paul understands that the Messiah is the promised Son of David, who comes according to the covenant promises of God.

3. Accurate reporting of the events of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist to the eye-witness accounts of His resurrection. Paul knew that many of the Jewish people would be more familiar with the ministry of John the Baptist, which is why he began there, to connect to knowledge they already had.

4. Direct quotation of specific promises of Scripture, demonstrating their fulfillment in Christ. Paul didn't just made reference to the broad outline of Jewish history or the covenant promises, both of which are important. He went further and directly quoted from Psalms that were fulfilled in Jesus.

5. Invitation to respond with faith and a warning against rejecting salvation. Paul urged the Jewish people to respond with faith in Jesus Christ, telling them what they would receive, and warning them against the high cost of rejection.

These five elements are a good guide for us to consider when we have opportunity to share the Gospel with Jewish people, but they're also helpful for sharing the Gospel well with anyone. We need to demonstrate an understanding of history, of God's covenant promises, of the details of the ministry and work of Christ, and of the promises of Scripture. But we cannot just be demonstrating our knowledge; we must also be calling for a response. People must accept God's promises as they are fulfilled in Christ. They must receive Christ to be forgiven and freed.

Heavenly Father, when we have opportunity to share the Gospel with someone, it is a precious gift. Let us not squander the opportunity by being unprepared or unwilling to tell the whole truth. Give us opportunities to witness and prepare us to witness well. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 16:10-18:

An oracle is on the lips of a king;
    his mouth does not sin in judgment.
A just balance and scales are the Lord's;
    all the weights in the bag are his work.
It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
    for the throne is established by righteousness.
Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
    and he loves him who speaks what is right.
A king's wrath is a messenger of death,
    and a wise man will appease it.
In the light of a king's face there is life,
    and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
Heavenly Father, we see in Your word the importance of having wise and just rulers,
    and so we pray for those who rule over us,
        that You would give them Your word, Your justice, and Your righteousness to guide them.
Lord, keep our rulers and leaders from doing evil and from being deceived by those closest to them.
    Give our leaders Your favor, that they may govern well.
Father, help us to lead well in our homes and neighborhoods and workplaces, too.

How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
    whoever guards his way preserves his life.
Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Father, Your wisdom is a priceless gift,
    worth more than anything this world could ever offer us.
We thank You for guarding our way by Your Holy Spirit,
    and we ask that You give us discernment that we may walk wisely.
Keep us from the foolishness of sinful pride,
    and let us humbly look to You in every aspect of our lives.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Day 41: Acts 13:4-12 & Prov 16:1-9 - What is Gospel Tell-and-Show?

Today's Reading: Acts 13:4-12 & Prov 16:1-9

He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. . . Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. - Acts 13: 7 & 12, ESV

What is Gospel Tell-and-Show? 

Grima Wormtongue is one of the truly despicable characters in literature. A magically empowered false counselor, he corrupts the mind, body and soul of King Theoden of Rohan before he is confronted and overthrown by Gandalf. Perhaps Bar-Jesus, the Jewish magician and counselor to Sergius Paulus, was part of Tolkien's inspiration for Wormtongue. He is certainly a despicable character, a magician fiercely opposed to the Gospel.    

When Barnabas and Saul set out on their first missionary journey from Antioch, their first stop is the island of Cyprus. Cyprus sits right off the coast of Syria and Turkey and is a short sail from Antioch in Syria. As would be their regular pattern, they go first to the synagogues to preach Jesus to those who should have been most prepared to hear the message. Together, they then walk from Salamis to Paphos, literally from one end of the island to the other, preaching the Gospel.

It was in Paphos, after they had walked across Cyprus, that they encounter the procounsul, Sergius Paulus, who is the Roman governor of the island. Sergius Paulus is intelligent and receptive to the Gospel, but he is being deceived by Bar-Jesus. As Bar-Jesus seeks to turn him away from the faith, Paul rebukes him in the power of the Holy Spirit, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?" And then Paul pronounces God's curse: "And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time."

Here we see Barnabas and Paul doing three things:

1. Proclaiming the Gospel.
2. Powerfully opposing deception which leads people away from the Gospel.
3. Demonstrating the power of God.

While we may not be apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit to do signs and wonders, we are still called to do the same three things as kingdom ambassadors of the Lord Jesus. We must proclaim the Gospel. We must clearly and powerfully oppose deception which keeps people from the truth. Finally, we must demonstrate the power of the Gospel through actions that support the message of the Gospel. This is Gospel tell-and-show.

Some people like to quote Francis of Assisi, who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." Well, words are very necessary for preaching the Gospel, always. It is the word of Christ that brings faith. (Rom. 10:17) But words of positive proclamation is where our Gospel ministry begins, not where it ends. We must also reason and refute error by the word of God. Then, we must demonstrate the reality of the Gospel's power in our lives in our actions toward others. Over the centuries, Christians have done this by starting hospitals and schools, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, having compassion of those who suffer and loving their neighbors and their enemies.

May the Lord empower us by His Holy Spirit to imitate the apostles and engage in Gospel tell-and-show. Then, may He bless our efforts and glorify His name through the advance of the Gospel!

Prayer Based on Proverbs 16:1-9:

The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the Lord,
    and your plans will be established.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that You are the sovereign One,
    and we rejoice in this truth and praise You for Your wise and Fatherly care of Your own.
You are the One who answers our prayers and establishes our works for Your glory.
    You are the One who weighs our hearts,
        and You are the One who makes all things for Your purpose.
Lead us, establish us, conform us to Your will and glorify Your name in us.

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
    be assured, he will not go unpunished.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
    and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
When a man's ways please the Lord,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness
    than great revenues with injustice.
The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.
Lord, give us eyes to see Your kingdom realities,
    and keep us from arrogance or self-deception.
Thank You for Your steadfast love and faithfulness,
    which sent Your Son to the cross to fulfill Your covenant promises for us.
Let us walk in the fear of the Lord and turn away from evil,
    and may our ways please You in all that we do.
Give us contentment, peace on our hearts, thankfulness for Your provisions.
    We thank You for all good things, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Day 40: Acts 13:1-3 & Proverbs 15:28-33 - What Should Be the Highest Priority of the Church?

Today's Reading: Acts 13:1-3 & Proverbs 15:28-33

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

What Should Be the Highest Priority of the Church?

The church at Antioch was blessed and growing. A model church, it had been planted and led by excellent, humble, dedicated, Christ-centered, Gospel-preaching men. We don't know how big the church was by Acts 13, but five men are named as the key leaders, likely teaching elders: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. This is a very diverse leadership group, including . . .

  • a Libyan (Cyrene)
  • a man from sub-Saharan Africa (Simeon Niger)
  • a politically connected man (Manaen)
  • a devout Jew from the school of the Pharisees (Saul) and 
  • a man so full of encouragement that they called him not by his given name, Joseph, but by his nick-name, the Son of Encouragement (Barnabas).

These men sought to lead the church faithfully, teaching the Scriptures and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit through fasting and prayer. Suddenly, while fasting and praying, they were told by the Spirit to "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Barnabas and Saul were the key leaders among this group. Barnabas had been the first key leader for the church, sent to Antioch by the apostles. Barnabas had sought help from Saul, better known to us as Paul.

Imagine God calling the two most prominent leaders from a large and influential church to set out on mission together. This shows us the high priority that missions should be for the church, and it shows the faithfulness of these church leaders that they immediately obeyed and sent Barnabas and Saul off on their mission.

Almost 2,000 years after Barnabas and Saul set out on their mission trip, the church has still not reached all nations and tribes with the Gospel. Some estimate that over 7,000 people groups, representing over 4 billion people, remain unreached by the Gospel, having less than 2% Christians in their population. Over 3,200 people groups, having a population of over 216 million people, are completely unengaged, having no mission engagement with the Gospel. (SOURCE)

[NOTE: Please join Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in praying for this unreached people group. If you want to take action, you can support Reaching Africa's Unreached.]

Why are so many people still unreached? Well, we could give the good Calvinist answer and say that God has not yet sovereignly ordained that all the nations should hear the Gospel. But that kind of answer gives Calvinism a bad name, and it is really just a cop-out. God has commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, and we have not obeyed the call. Why not? Because we're too busy doing other things.

Too many churches prioritize almost everything above missions: church buildings, staff, programs, technology, marketing, etc. They are far more interested in growing in size and serving their own members than in reaching the nations with the Gospel. I understand very well the budgeting pressures of local churches. As the pastor of a small church that's less than two years old, we have limited resources. Caring for and seeking to grow the local church is important, but we must never neglect the priority of missions. The church exists to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors and the nations. This must always be our highest priority.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for seeking our own comfort over the advance of the Gospel to the nations. Forgive us for neglecting Your call. Your Gospel, Your mission, Your kingdom and Your glory among all peoples must be the highest priority for Your church. Ignite a fire in us for missions as the priority of Your church. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 15:28-33:

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
    but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
The Lord is far from the wicked,
    but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
Heavenly Father, make our hearts and our actions truly righteous, by Your grace,
    that we may seek and live for Your glory.
Give us wisdom to know how to answer,
    and hear our prayers as we seek Your will through Jesus our High Priest.

The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
    and good news refreshes the bones.
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
    will dwell among the wise.
Lord, we are called to give light and good news to the world,
    and we pray that You would give us the hear to go and tell,
        and prepare the people to hear the good news.
May we be willing to listen to the reproof of Your word
    when we are being selfish and foolish.

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
    but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
    and humility comes before honor.
Father, let us walk in the fear of You, humbling ourselves before You,
    that we may have true wisdom and may gain instruction and intelligence.
Lord, we need You. Lead us. Teach us. Forgive us.
    In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Day 39: Acts 12:20-25 & Prov 15:19-27 - How Should We View the Rulers of this World?

Today's Reading: Acts 12:20-25 & Prov 15:19-27

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

But the word of God increased and multiplied. - Acts 12:21-24, ESV

How Should We View the Rulers of this World?

Herod is not a very popular baby name these days. According to the Social Security Administration, "Herod is not in the top 1000 names for any year of birth beginning with 1900." (Interestingly, Adolf was in the top 1000 almost every year until 1928, and then it dropped out of the top 1000.) By contrast, almost all of the names of the disciples have remained relatively popular for centuries. James, John, Peter, Matthew, Paul and even Bartholomew, Nathanael and Thomas have been pretty consistently popular for a very long time. Only Judas fell out of favor very quickly and has never recovered.

Why am I pondering the popularity of baby names? Because it reminds me of the difference between the people the world thinks are important and the people who really matter in the eyes of God. In today's passage, we see that the people of Tyre and Sidon greatly feared Herod. They were eager to appease his anger because they depended on him for food. So they were happy to praise and glorify him, and he was all-too-happy to receive their praise and adoration.

This is the same Herod who had put James to death by the sword and had arrested Peter and kept him in prison. This whole chapter is framed as a contrast between the reign of King Herod and the reign of King Jesus, the living and eternal Word of God. We see in Herod injustice and arrogance. By contrast, we see in the disciples of Jesus humility, prayer and perseverance in faith.

The world would say that the show-down between Herod and these poor and obscure disciples of a Jewish rabbi is not even a contest. Herod wins, hands-down, in the eyes of the world. Yet this brief chapter ends with Herod being worm food and the word of God increasing and multiplying.

This chapter has such rich, vital lessons for us. How much weight do we place on earthly political power? How willing are we to compromise our faith in Christ and our faithfulness to His word in order to pursue and retain some measure of political power of favor in the eyes of those who wield such power. The people who sat under Herod's rule were willing to acclaim him as a god in order to keep his favor. What are we willing to compromise?

Do we really believe that King Jesus is the eternal King of kings and Lord of all lords? Do we really believe that His kingdom alone shall have no end? Are His cause and His mission our first priority for our money, our time, our concern and attention? Are we loyal to Him above all others?      

We have been given the highest citizenship and the most noble calling. We've been adopted into the best family and have access to the highest throne in the universe. Why would we settle for petty, passing political power?

Heavenly Father, You have adopted us into Your family and have made us citizens of Your eternal kingdom. You have called us to be ambassadors for Your kingdom to this fallen world. Give us the wisdom to forsake the fleeting pleasures of sin and the siren's song of worldly power for the better calling of Your heavenly kingdom. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"There is a Higher Throne" by Keith and Kristyn Getty:

Prayer Based on Proverbs 15:19-27:

The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
    but the path of the upright is a level highway.
Father, guard us from being sluggards, wasting the life You've given;
    set our feet on the path of the upright,
        and empower us to walk in uprightness before You!

A wise son makes a glad father,
    but a foolish man despises his mother.
Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
    but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
Lord, if we're honest, we know how close foolishness is to our hearts, lips and lives each day.
    We need You to save us from folly and train us in wisdom and godliness.

Without counsel plans fail,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
    and a word in season, how good it is!
The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
    that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.
Father, let us seek Your wise counsel in Your word,
    and the wise counsel of those who walk in faithfulness with You.
Give us the apt answer, the word in due season, to bless others,
    and lead us in the path of life that Jesus walked for us.

The Lord tears down the house of the proud
    but maintains the widow's boundaries.
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord,
    but gracious words are pure.
Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
    but he who hates bribes will live.
Lord, pride and greed come from the same unrigheous root of selfishness,
    thinking too highly of ourselves and wanting too much for ourselves.
Lord, may our thoughts and our words relfect Your grace at work within us,
    and not the arrogance and covetousness of our selfish sinful natures,
        for only in Your ways will we find peace and life.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 38: Acts 12:6-19; Prov 15:10-18 - Why Are We Surprised When God Answers Prayer?

Today's Reading: Acts 12:6-19; Prov 15:10-18

They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. - Acts 12:15-16, ESV

Why Are We Surprised When God Answers Prayer?

Yesterday, we saw the church responding to violent persecution with prayer. The church was praying for Peter, who had been arrested and was being kept in prison. Today, we see God answer their prayer in a miraculous way, and they are completely shocked and left in stunned disbelief at the power of God. This raises two questions in my mind, one historical and one still relevant today:

1. Is it true that ancient people were gullible, more willing to believe in the supernatural and the miraculous?
2. Why are we so often surprised when God answers our prayers?

The first question deals with a charge that critics of the Bible often level against the miracles recorded in Scripture, They say that ancient people living in a pre-scientific age didn't understand as much as we do and so they were more readily willing to accept miracles as labels for things they didn't understand. Today's passage directly contradicts such misconceptions of ancient peoples: The disciples knew what it meant for someone to be locked in prison and kept under guard, and they certainly were not expecting to see Peter show up at the gate of the house.

The second questions deals with the surprise of the disciples from a different angle: These men and women had seen God do miraculous things before. Many of them saw Jesus raised from the dead. Many of them saw Peter perform very Christ-like miracles. Why did they think it was impossible for God to bring Peter out of prison miraculously? Well, before we judge too quickly, don't we need to confess that we do the same thing?

We may not live in an age of such miraculous works as they did, but we have seen God answer prayers and provide for His people in truly remarkable ways. We have seen people cured of cancer. We have seen money come to pay our bills. We have seen people come to faith in Christ after years of rebellion. We have seen the Gospel advance into hard, unreached lands. Yet so often, when God chooses to answer our prayers directly and powerfully, we act surprised. We are as stunned as the disciples were at the report of Rhoda.

God is so good and so patient with us. He answers our prayers, even when they are offered up without much faith and with too much doubting. Though we are warned that those who doubt should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-7), God still graciously answers and provides. Our surprise reveals both the depth of our doubt and ths strength of His grace!

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your generous kindness to us. Thank You for answering our prayers and extending Your favor to us, even though we don't deserve it. You are good! Strengthen our faith in You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 15:10-18:

There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
    whoever hates reproof will die.
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord;
    how much more the hearts of the children of man!
A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
    he will not go to the wise.
Heavenly Father, we need Your discipline.
    Our hearts are open to You, and You see the depth of our sin,
        and You know the layers of deception and doubt,
            and yet You love us, despite ourselves.
Let us not be hardened to Your reproof,
    and let us not forsake Your way,
        but bring us to continual repentance for our continual sin!

A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
Lord, Your grace and mercy make us glad all of our days.
    We always have reason to rejoice and never have cause to despair,
        because of what Jesus has done for us and what You are doing in us.

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
All the days of the afflicted are evil,
    but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
Father, give us understanding spirits that we may seek Your knowledge continually,
    and keep us from the folly and evil so prevalent in our world,
        and in our own flesh.
Let us feast continually upon Christ!

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
    than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Lord, we have so much to be thankful for,
    and yet we can often envy the prosperity of the wicked.
Teach us that it is better to be right with You and have little,
    than to be under Your judgment in a house full of riches.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
    but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Father, tame our tongues and our tempers.
    May we be ones who quiet contention and not those who stir up strife.
Make us peacemakes, O God, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 37: Acts 12:1-5 & Prov 15:1-9 - How Should the Church Respond to Violent Persecution?

Today's Passage: Acts 12:1-5 & Prov 15:1-9

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. . . So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. - Acts 12:1-3, 5, ESV

How Should the Church Respond to Violent Persecution?

Since the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, many Christians are looking for the White House to reverse emerging trends of discrimination and persecution of Christians in America. Small business owners are being compelled to either violate their consciences to participate in events they regard as immoral or face the loss of their businesses and, in some cases, of their retirement accounts and homes. Other Christians have been forced to resign their positions within companies or have seen their television programs forced off the air for holding to biblical convictions on social issues. Such relief has not yet come, and some fear the expansion of executive power that would be required in order for the White House to directly grant such relief.

Meanwhile, many of our brothers and sisters around the world face severe and violent persecution for their faith, including the burning of their churches and homes, imprisonment in harsh labor camps and worse. Last year, over 150,000 Christians around the world were killed for their faith.

What should we do? How should we respond to this wide range of persecution?

Well, when the Apostle James was killed by King Herod, and then the Apostle Peter was arrested and kept in prison for a time, what did the church do? We do not see them rioting, boycotting, demanding a change of government or staging mass protests. Instead, the church under persecution intensified their prayer life.

We so easily overlook the importance of prayer or the vitality of prayer as a spiritual weapon for the advance of the Gospel and the defense of the church. Such a low view of prayer and our quickness to pursue political and civil means for relief show the shallowness of our view of God and our overly exalted view of ourselves.

Our lives are in God's hands. We are not our own; we were bought with a price. Christ is the head of His church, which is His body and His bride. The kingdom of God advances according to God's soveriegn will. The Gospel grows and bears fruit as He blesses and protects and provides.

John Bunyan said, "You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” How much stronger would the church be if we really believed this? 

Heavenly Father, we are indeed in Your hands. Nothing can touch us apart from Your explicit permission in order to serve Your purposes. In the same way, nothing we do can have any eternal value or bring glory to You in any real way without Your blessing of grace. Protect Your church and advance Your Gospel, Lord, we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 15:1-9:

A soft answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
Father, You tell us very clearly about the power of our words,
    and how much we need You to tame our tongues.
Use our words to speak Your truth in love,
    and bridle our tongues by Your Spirit that we make speak in wisdom.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
    keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Heavenly Father, we are always under Your watchful care,
    and we trust You to guide and protect, according to Your perfect will.

A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
    but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
A fool despises his father's instruction,
    but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
Lord, let us give wise and life-giving instruction to our children,
    and season our words with gentle grace,
        that we may guide our children in life and prudence.

In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
    but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.
The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
    not so the hearts of fools.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but he loves him who pursues righteousness.     
Father, the only way for us to be righteous is by Your grace,
    as You impart to us and infuse in us the perfect righteousness of Christ.
The only right sacrifice we can offer must be the fruit of lips that give thanks to Your name,
    offered through Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest and perfect sacrifice.
Lord, we need You to watch over our hearts and direct us in the pursuit of righteousness,
    that we may not walk in foolishness or wickedness, but keep to Your path.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 36: Acts 11:19-30 & Prov 14:28-35 - How Can Churches Be Led Well?

Today's Reading: Acts 11:19-30 & Prov 14:28-35

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. - Acts 11:21-22 & 24-26, ESV

How Can Churches Be Led Well?

All leadership is challenging, and church leadership is a particularly challenging endeavor. So many factors can undermine the work of the church and present unseen challenges for effective leadership. In today's passage, we have examples of excellent and fruitful church leadership in Barnabas and Paul.

The church in Antioch was greatly blessed by God. We don't even know for sure who started this church, as we're only told that "some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus." This is the first encouraging leadership development in Antioch: The "church planters" didn't get possessive and act like the new fellowship of believers belonged to them.

The next positive development came when the church got outside help, wanting to be connected to the established church. These believers in Antioch were not setting out to be different and disconnected. They wanted trusted, experienced leadership to ground them solidly in the faith shared by the church in Judea.

Barnabas was a model pastor for four reasons:

1. He rejoiced in the good work begun by others.
2. He exhorted them to remain faithful to the Lord.
3. His personal character and deep spirituality were impeccable - "he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."
4. He sent to get help when the church grew beyond his ability to shepherd.

Paul also showed great qualites of an effective church leader, too:

1. He came to a work he had not begin because he was needed.
2. He remained and faithfully taught the church for a year, to ensure that they were well grounded in the Scriptures.

The result of the work of God and the effective leadership in Antioch was remarkable. This was the first place where disciples were called Christians. They also responded to the word God sent through Agabus and showed sacrificial love for those who would suffer the most in the upcoming famine.

Notice what is completely lacking in this whole story: ego. Neither the original men who brought the Gospel to Antioch nor Barnabas nor Saul show any sign of ego or personal kingdom building. They were all focused on proclaiming the Gospel, serving the church, teaching God's people and being faithful to Christ. This is the kind of leadership our churches need today.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your good work among Your people. Thank You for saving people through the preaching of the Gospel and for building up Your church. Give us faithful leadership, focused on faithfulness to Christ and not on ego and self-promotion. May Your church be firmly grounded in the Gospel and make us fruitful for Your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Prov 14:28-35:

In a multitude of people is the glory of a king,
    but without people a prince is ruined.
Heavenly Father, give us good and effective leaders,
    who will lead Your people well, with faithfulness and effectiveness.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
    but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
    but envy makes the bones rot.
Lord, You are our peace;
    give us tranquil hearts and let us not be rules by anger,
        but give us understanding and peace that comes from You alone.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
    but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Lord, let us follow Your example and be generous and kind to the poor,
    having compassion on those who need it.

The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing,
    but the righteous finds refuge in his death.
Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding,
    but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.
Father, if we are ruled by wickedness and folly,
    we will be quickly overthrown and our folly will be evident to all.
If we are led by Your wisdom and clothed in Your righteousness,
    than we find a refuge at all times and will understand Your will.

Righteousness exalts a nation,
    but sin is a reproach to any people.
A servant who deals wisely has the king's favor,
    but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.
Father, give us righteousness and peace, by Your grace and for Your glory.
    Deliver us fromnthe sin that makes brings reproach.
May we serve You well, our God and King,
    in Jesus name, Amen.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Day 35: Acts 11:1-18 & Prov. 14:19-27 - When Should We Humbly Submit to Revelation?

Today's Reading: Acts 11:1-18 & Prov. 14:19-27

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” 
- Acts 11:17-18, ESV

When Should We Humbly Submit to Revelation?

For Peter to overcome his own prejudices and preach the Gospel to Gentiles in the home of a Gentile was a major step forward for the Gospel. Obviously, Peter did not come to this point lightly. We could say that God dragged him there through overwhelming direct revelation. Now Peter had to return to Jerusalem and report what God had told him, what he had done and what was the result. To say Peter's actions not well received at first is an understatement.

The members of the "circumcision party," those who believed in observing the Jewish ceremonial law, were shocked and outraged. They "criticized him, saying, 'You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.'" (vv. 2-3) Only after Peter carefully recounted the revelation God had given him and the supernatural work that accompanied his preaching ("the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning") did the circumcision party relent and accept the joyful news that God had indeed granted salvation to the Gentiles.

This raises an interesting question: When should we submit to revelation from God? When should we be open to changing our views and practices based on a word from the Lord? Charismatics and Catholics both make claims to ongoing revelation from God. Charismatics believe it comes through the ongoing gift of prophecy given to certain people. The Roman Catholic Church believes it comes through church councils, like Vatican 2, and sometimes through the Pope, when he speaks "ex cathedra," with the full authority of the apostolic office they believe he holds.

If we examine Peter's report, we will see two things about his revelation from God to the church:

1. It came through someone with authority directly given by Christ. Peter was an apostle, one who had seen the risen Christ and one who was personally commissioned by Christ. This kind of authority cannot be claimed by anyone in the church today.

2. Peter's revelation from God was confirmed by an outward sign witnessed by many. The Holy Spirit was visibly and unmistakably poured out on Cornelius and his household. No one claiming to speak for the Lord today has the same kind of miraculous accompanying signs. Charismatics may claim miracles and gifts of healing, but such claims are often false and are not as verifiable as the sign that accompanied Peter's preaching.

Image from Blue Letter Bible
Revelation from God comes through those commissioned by God and is almost always accompanied by signs, in some way. It is valid and can be validated. For these reasons and many others, the only time we should submit to revelation and change our views or practices based on it is when the revelation comes from the written word of God, the prophetic word made sure by God's testimony.

If I am wrong in what I believe or how I worship, I want to be corrected by Scripture. I want to be shown my error and made right. God has graciously done that for me many times in my life. We should all strive to be open to such biblical correction. But as Luther said, "my conscience is held captive by the word of God" and no church council or charismatic preacher can steer it in a different direction.

Heavenly Father, Your word is truth. Lead us, Your people, into truth, as Your Spirit teaches us through Your word. In Jesus' name for for His glory we ask, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 14:19-27:

The evil bow down before the good,
    the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
Heavenly Father, we seldom see this truth in this world,
    but it often seems like the wicked are prospering and the righteous are trampled.
Give us the faith to trust in Your eternal plan,
    beyond what we can see.

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
Lord, in this world, it is the rich who have "friends,"
    but their friends love their money more than them.
Give us generous hearts to love our neighbors,
    and generous hands to meet the needs of the poor.

Do they not go astray who devise evil?
    Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.
Lord, we do not want to go astray, but we need You to guard us from evil,
    and guide us with Your Holy Spirit to devise only what is good,

In all toil there is profit,
    but mere talk tends only to poverty.
The crown of the wise is their wealth,
    but the folly of fools brings folly.
Father, the world encourages and celebrates laziness,
    but we are called to work and seek wisdom.
Give us both wisdom and diligence,
    so that we may abound in the wealth that matters,
        spiritual fruit that brings Your glory!

A truthful witness saves lives,
    but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.
Lord, keep our lips from speaking lies,
    whether out of flattery or self-preservation.
Let us speak only the truth, in Your love.

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
    and his children will have a refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
    that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Father, our hearts need to be guided by the fear of the Lord,
    that we may live in reverence and holiness,
        walking in grace-empowered obedience and giving life to our families and neighbors.
Lord, hear our prayer, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 34: Acts 10:34-48 & Prov. 14:10-18 - What is the Gospel We Proclaim?

Today's Reading: Acts 10:34-48 & Prov. 14:10-18

" . . . you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. 
- Acts 10:37-43, ESV

What is the Gospel We Proclaim?

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone when they suddenly started trying to sell you something? I remember a time during college when a friend of mine invited me to lunch. I was excited to eat and catch up with my friend. Suddenly, I was in the middle of an Amway pitch - not what I signed up for! 

When we have an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus, do our words sound like a sales pitch? Are we focused on the wonderful benefits a relationship with Jesus will bring into their lives? A sales-pitch Gospel dishonors Christ's kingship and makes the other person feel like I felt that day at lunch, like we're trying to pull a fast one on them. 

When Peter had an opportunity to present the Gospel to Cornelius, he did take a few minutes to confess his past sin of discriminatory attitudes against Gentiles. But after that, he didn't say, "Listen, Cornelius, do you ever feel like your life is missing something?" or even "Cornelius, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!" No, he immediately connected with what Cornelius already knew about Jesus and went on to give a clear and authoritative declaration of the Gospel, not a sales pitch.

The Gospel is good news, the message about what God has done in and through the person and work of Jesus. It is a royal declaration focused on who Jesus is and what He has done. Peter's message went from what God did through Jesus, to what Jesus did to pay for the sins of His people, to who Jesus is now, what authority He has been given and, finally, to what Jesus will do in the future. Only after Peter had finished telling Cornelius about Jesus' person and work- who He is and what He has done, is doing and will do- did Peter begin to tell what God now requires of people.

Notice the kind, clear, and yet firm, authority with which Peter speaks. He is not selling anything. He is proclaiming. The Gospel is news to be announced, not a product to be sold. It is the best news and has the best benefits for people, for "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Let's pray for God to give us wisdom, clarity and loving boldness to be faithful Gospel ambassadors, declaring what God has done through Jesus Christ. Such a witness honors Christ and trusts God to save whom He will.  

Heavenly Father, You do not call us to be salespeople but to be ambassadors, not to be pitching a product but to be lovingly declaring a proclamation of good news. Give us the grace and wisdom by Your Holy Spirit that we might faithfully, lovingly and clearly proclaim Your Gospel to those who need to hear. In Jesus' matchless name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Prov. 14:10-18:

The heart knows its own bitterness,
    and no stranger shares its joy.
Heavenly Father, You alone know all hearts.
    We cannot know anyone else's heart, their joys or sorrows.
We pray for those we know who are hurting,
    whether we see their hurts or they remain deeply hidden,
        that You would touch them and heal them.

The house of the wicked will be destroyed,
    but the tent of the upright will flourish.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.
Lord, let us not walk in self-confident folly,
    thinking we are wise and safe, when we are foolish and in danger.
Guard our steps according to Your way!

Even in laughter the heart may ache,
    and the end of joy may be grief.
Father, keep us from presumption and give us hearts that are open
    to the turns of Your providence, trusting Your goodness always.

The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways,
    and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
The simple believes everything,
    but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
    but a fool is reckless and careless.
A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
    and a man of evil devices is hated.
The simple inherit folly,
    but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
Heavenly Father, You alone are truly wise and the source of all wisdom;
    our hearts are prone to folly and rashness.
Lord, make us prudent, throughtful about our choices and direction,
    that we may turn away from evil and be crowned with the knowledge of You!
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Day 33: Acts 10:23b-33 & Prov. 14:1-9 - Are We Sometimes Tempted to Worship the Wrong Person?

Today's Reading: Acts 10:23b-33 & Prov. 14:1-9

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” - Acts 10:25-26

Are We Sometimes Tempted to Worship the Wrong Person?

Several years ago, celebrity pastor Carl Trueman raised a bit of a fuss at the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference by commenting on the cultural phenomonon of celebrity pastors. Later, Trueman clarified that his main concern was "was the distasteful self-promotion and the cultivation of cults of personality which it seemed to involve." He raised some important issues and concerns, while also stirring up a bit of controversy in the process.

Celebrity pastors are not a new phenomenon. Charles Spurgeon was a celebrity pastor in his day. So were both Martin Luther and John Calvin, who hosted numerous pastors and theologians who travelled across Europe to spend time with them and learn from them. In fact, the apostles themselves were "celebrity pastors" in their day, but how they handled it was very instructive for us today.

It's easy for any of us to greatlt admire the men of God who have influenced us, taught us, led us to Christ, led us into sound doctrine or in some other way blessed our lives. It's natural to be thankful to God for the gift of such gifted men who have written books, led conferences, preached sound sermons, taught great courses, etc. I myself am greatly indebted to Mr. Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, James Boice, C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, John Piper, John Owe, John Calvin, Richard Rushing and others who have taught, inspired and corrected me through their books and sermons. I am currently thoroughly enjoying and benefitting from Carl Trueman's book, Luther on the Christian Life, thus benefitting from two men of God at the same time.

How do we know when we're crossing the line and starting to inappropriately worship these fallible men who were and are but instruments in the Lord's hands? Few of us would be tempted to do what Cornelius did and literally fall down at the feet of these men and begin to openly worship them, but are we tempted to do so in more subtle ways? Yes, we are, and here are four key signs that we're drifting in that direction:

1. When "Pastor __________ said" begins to replace "The Lord said." Pastors can and should help us understand God's word better, but it is the word of God which holds the authority for the believer, not the word of any pastor.

2. When we begin to dress, act or talk like Pastor ___________. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we need to be careful how much we are flattering mere men or patterning our lives after them. The apostle Paul could say, "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ," but what he meant was for people to imitate just the Christ-like or the Christ-imitating parts of his life, not everything he did and said.

3. When we get angry or defensive when people criticize Pastor __________. Now people should not gossip and slander anyone, let alone an elder in Christ's church. However, all men are fallible and subject to critique. We should not be so quick to defend and we definitely should not get angry when our favorite pastor comes up for some close scrutiny.

4. When Pastor __________ replaces your local church fellowship and your pastor. God desires for all of His people to be in fellowship in a local body of believers and to be under the authority and oversight of real elders who know us and whom we know. This local church context cannot be replaced by a celebrity pastor and his books or recorded sermons.

Pastors who are in the public eye should follow Peter's example when he reached out to Cornelius and said, “Stand up; I too am a man.” They should be humble, teachable, accountable, and willing to correct people who place them on a pedestal.  

Heavenly Father, You alone are worthy of all of our worship. Your glory should be the goal of our lives. We are thankful for able and faithful men of God who teach Your word and shepherd Your people. Let us be thankful but never make an idol out of a mere man. May we always seek to hear Your word, imitate Your ways and submit to Your authority. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Celebrity Pastor: Indecent Exposure? from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 14:1-9:

The wisest of women builds her house,
    but folly with her own hands tears it down.
Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord,
    but he who is devious in his ways despises him.
Heavenly Father, give us the grace to walk in wisdom,
    working hard with our hands to build and secure what You give us, for Your glory.
Father, may we walk in uprightness of heart
    and never act deviously.

By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back,
    but the lips of the wise will preserve them.
Lord, guard our lips from folly,
    and make our words seasoned with grace to bless those who hear.

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Father, thank Your for Your abundant provision;
    Your genersity is wonderful and we are blessed beyond what we know.
May we be good stewards of the things You've given to our care,
    working to feed and bless those who are struggling.

A faithful witness does not lie,
    but a false witness breathes out lies.
A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
    but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.
Leave the presence of a fool,
    for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
Lord, may our words reflect the knowledge of You found in Your word
    and not the scoffing attitude or deceitful lies of the world.

The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,
    but the folly of fools is deceiving.
Father, give us discernment and pridence, that we may walk in Your ways.

Fools mock at the guilt offering,
    but the upright enjoy acceptance.   
Lord, we see so many people who mock Christ and His cross;
    give us reverence and acceptance of what Christ has done for us and for our salvation.
We pray for Your will according to Your word, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day 32: Acts 10:9-23a; Prov. 13:19-25 - Are We Guilty of Calling "Unclean" What God Has Made Clean?

Today's Reading: Acts 10:9-23a; Prov. 13:19-25

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 
- Acts 10:14-15, ESV

Are We Guilty of Calling "Unclean" What God Has Made Clean?

Peter had a problem: He had been conditioned since birth to regard all Non-Jews as "unclean" or "common." He had been conditioned by years of social programming never to enter a Gentile home, never to eat with a gentile and never to look at Gentiles as belonging in the same category as Jewish people. God had not set these rules. They were a matter of social custom among observant Jews.

Jesus had taught Peter several different times how wrong-headed his social conditioning was:
  • He healed the servant of a Roman centurion and publicly praised the gentile centurion's great faith (see Luke 7:1-10). 
  • He healed the daughter of a Gentile Syro-Phoenecian woman, praising her for her great faith (see Mark 7:24-30)
  • He repeatedly condemned the traditions of the Pharisees and scribes as arrogant and de-humanizing.
  • He drove the money-changers and animal-sellers out of the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple, reminding people as He did so that the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations. (see Mark 11:17)
Peter and the other apostles had not picked up on the significance of these words and actions of Jesus, and so the early church was exclusively a Jewish affair for a few years. In order to open Peter's eyes and soften his heart toward the Gentiles, God gave Peter a vision of a sheet of unclean animals being lowered from heaven with the invitation to arise, kill and eat the animals. Peter objected, thinking it was a test, and God responded to his objection by saying, "What God has made clean, do not call common."

Peter's thinking was so deeply ingrained that Jesus had to speak to him in this way three times. Finally, Peter understood that he had been categorically dismissing people as somehow unworthy of God's love. 

Are we guilty of doing the same? Most of us would not consider ourselves racists, but are there categories of people we simply dismiss as unreachable? For some of us, that may be atheists, liberals, Muslims or criminals. For others, it may be Republicans, whites, rich people or celebrities. Have we called "unclean" people God created in His own image, including some for whom Christ died? We need to search our hearts and repent of our prejudices.

Heavenly Father, You have made all people in Your image. When Your church is gathered at the end of the world, people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation will gather around Your throne in praise to the Lamb of God. Please change our hearts and forgive us for any prejudiced attitude we have toward anyone. Give us love for all people. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 13:19-25:

A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul,
    but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
    but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Disaster pursues sinners,
    but the righteous are rewarded with good.
Heavenly Father, teach us to walk with the wise that we may be wise,
    and train us to shun the company and influence of those who mock You and manipulate Your truth.
May we treat all people with love and compassion,
    but may we be careful to guard our hearts from the influence of Your enemies.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children,
    but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.
The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food,
    but it is swept away through injustice.
Father, teach us to be truly diligent and wise in our work,
    that we may leave a blessing to those who follow after us,
        and not to waste the good resources You have entrusted to our care.

Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
    but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
Lord, give us the wisdom and the self-control to discipline our children well,
    for we confess that we are tempted to be lazy and selfish in our discipline of our children.
We need Your Spirit to empower and guide us according to Your word.

The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite,
    but the belly of the wicked suffers want.
Lord, we know You will provide for our every true need,
    and that You withhold no good thing from Your children.
Give us the faith to trust in You!
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Day 31: Acts 10:1-8; Prov. 13:10-18 - Do Some People Deserve Salvation?

Today's Reading: Acts 10:1-8; Prov. 13:10-18

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. - Acts 10:1-2, ESV

Do Some People Deserve Salvation?

Luke's description of Cornelius at the beginning of Acts 10 makes him sound really wonderful. Here was a man who did not know Jesus, who needed to have the Gospel preached to him by Peter, and yet was devout, prayerful, God-fearing and generous. It almost seems like Luke is trying to build a case for why Cornelius deserves salvation. Is that how we're supposed to read these verses?

Like many things in the Bible, what may seem evident on the surface is not always correct. The Bible is very clear that no one on their own deserves salvation, or even desires salvation, for that matter:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”  - Rom. 3:10-12, ESV

So, what is happening in Acts 10 with Cornelius, then? It certainly seems like he is understanding and seeking God, doesn't it?

Simply put, what is happening in Acts 10 is that God is in the process of graciously drawing Cornelius to Himself. On our own, we do not seek God, but God moves the hearts of those whom He is saving, drawing us to Himself, sometimes for a long time before He actually brings us to faith, repentance and salvation in Jesus.

Cornelius definitely did not deserve salvation. If you had asked him, he would have quickly confirmed that truth. He knew he was a sinner in need of salvation, and anyone who knows their need of salvation also knows clearly how much they don't deserve it.

Of course, people may appear outwardly religious and moral for other reasons, too. Sometimes people who are the most outwardly respectable and religiously inclined can be more deeply furthest from God. The scribes and Pharisees are sad examples of this principle, as are many church-going professing Christians in the world today.

We can never know someone else's heart. Only by God's grace and the searching ministry of the Holy Spirit can we ever hope to know our own hearts. But God knows all hearts, those who are His, those whom He is drawing to Himself and those who are hardened against Him. And it is His grace that alone can change and save anyone's heart.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your saving grace. Thank You that You looked in love on our stubborn, sinful hearts and had mercy on us. Thank You for drawing us to faith in Jesus and saving us from ourselves. Please have mercy on those we love who do not know You, whose hearts You have not yet won. Bring them to Christ, we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 13:10-18:

By insolence comes nothing but strife,
    but with those who take advice is wisdom.
Heavenly Father, we need You to give us teachable hearts,
    tosave us from our own foolish insolence and show us Your truth.

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
    but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
Lord, keep us from the foolish dreams for quick wealth,
    and from the dream that somehow money will solve our problems.
Make us diligent and careful stewards of what You entrust to our care.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Lord, we know that our hope in Christ is not a hope in vain,
    and that all of our heart's deepest desires will be met in Him.

Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,
    but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
    that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Father, we have so much to learn from the wise,
    so make us mindful of their wisdom and open to Your teaching.

Good sense wins favor,
    but the way of the treacherous is their ruin.
Every prudent man acts with knowledge,
    but a fool flaunts his folly.
Lord, keep us from folly and from selfishness,
    that we may exercise good sense and act with knowledge in all we do.

A wicked messenger falls into trouble,
    but a faithful envoy brings healing.
Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction,

    but whoever heeds reproof is honored.
Let us be those whose lips bear the Good News,
    bringing life and healing to all who hear,
        and let our ears be attentive to truth and sound instruction,
            that our lives may bear the fruit of righteousness for Your glory.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Day 30: Acts 9:32-43 & Prov. 13:1-9 - Did the Apostles Do the Same Kinds of Works that Jesus Did? Do We?

Today's Reading: Acts 9:32-43 & Prov. 13:1-9

But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. - Acts 9:40-41, ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father." - John 14:12, ESV

Did the Apostles Do the Same Kinds of Works that Jesus Did? Do We?

Today, we come to two amazing miracles perfoirmed through the Apostle Peter which very deliberately echo the miraculous works of Jesus. In case we didn't catch the parallels with the first miracle, Luke includes a detail in the second that is unmistakable. In Mark 5, Jesus raises a little girl from the dead, and He says to her, Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (Mark 5:41) The parallels with Peter's words in Acts 9:40 could not be more striking.

Jesus had promised that His followers would do the same kinds of works that He did, and here we see Peter living out the direct fulfillment of this promise of Jesus. The miracles of the apostles served the same purpose as the miracles of Jesus, as validation of their God-given authority and the truth of their message.

So, why don't we see pastors doing these same kinds of miracles today? Well, today's pastors carry neither the authority of the Messiah nor of the apostles, except through the written word of God we proclaim. This word has already been fully established by miraculous attestation. The word we proclaim is the word God gave through the apostles, and the miracles we point to in support are their miracles.

However, God's people are still called to show the validity of our message through powerful works. The difference is that we are called to work together as the body of Christ to heal and serve in a way that shows the life-changing power of the Gospel at work within each of us and among all of us as the body of Christ. As Christians serve the poor, build hospitals, bring literacy and basic healthcare to the poorest parts of the world and provide for the needs of orphans and widows, we are doing the works that Jesus did and we are giving evidence to support the truth of the Gospel.

Heavenly Father, lead us by Your Spirit to do the good works that Jesus did, showing with our hands and feet the truth of the Gospel. Let us reach out and show love to those who need it most. Forgive us for our selfishness and give us hearts to care for those who need Your love. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 13:1-9:

A wise son hears his father's instruction,
    but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Father, You have the best and wisest instruction for us,
    so let us listen to You and never harden our hearts against Your rebuke.

From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good,
    but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
    he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
Lord, You tell us again and again how powerful our words are,
    and we know how impossible it is for us to tame our tongues,
        so give us Your Hply Spirit to bridle our tongues and speak through us.

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,

    while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Father, we confess that we can be so lazy,
    but we do not want to miss Your blessing
        or neglect the work You give us to do.
Give us diligent spirits and willing hearts to labor in Your work.

The righteous hates falsehood,
    but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.
Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless,
    but sin overthrows the wicked.

Father, Your Son is our perfect righteousness,
    and in Him we are guarded in our ways.
Let sin never gain mastery over us,
    but keep us far from falsehood and establish us in Your love.

One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
    another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
The ransom of a man's life is his wealth,
    but a poor man hears no threat.

Father, we know that we have all we need in Christ,
    and that we are well supplied by Your grace for every need.

The light of the righteous rejoices,
    but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

By Your grace alone, O Lord, we have the light of Christ in us,
    and by Your preserving grace, we will be kept in the light.
Make Your light shine through us into this dark world,
    that You may be glorified in our words and actions.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.