Sunday, April 30, 2017

Day 85: Acts 26:12-32 & Prov. 27:17-22 - What Should Be the Goal of Ministry?

Today's Reading: Acts 26:12-32 & Prov. 27:17-22

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” - Acts 26:28-29, ESV

What Should Be the Goal of Ministry? 

The Apostle Paul is an admirable and exemplary Christian for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest is his consistent focus in ministry. It it so easy for any Christian to lose sight of what our main goals should be in life and in ministry. Those who have been engaged in full-time ministry work for years often lose sight of what the core purpose and main goal of ministry should be and instead get focused on ego, personal kingdom-building, church vs. church competition, etc.

The Apostle Paul maintains his focus on the main purpose for ministry throughout times of great success, like his extended stays in Ephesus and Antioch, and through times of intense persecution and difficulty. In today's passage, we see that he has kept his focus clear despite being unjustly imprisoned for a couple of years.

Standing before Agrippa, Bernice and Festus, Paul speaks with respect and conviction. He faithfully tells the story of his conversion encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He then tells of his faithful and obedient response to Christ's commission: "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God" (vv. 19-20)

Festus cannot believe Paul's account of his conversion and his ministry. This calculating politician thinks Paul is insane, but Paul brushes off Festus' objection and presses the message of the Gospel home to Agrippa: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”  (vv. 25-27)

So, what do we learn from Paul? What is the right focus for us to have and keep in life and ministry? Our calling is to glorify God by testifying to the truth about Jesus Christ in order that people may come to salvation in Him. May the Lord empower us by His Spirit to have and keep that focus, always.

Heavenly Father, we are made to glorify You. You have given us the Gospel of Your Son, which brings glory to You and salvation to all who believe. Give us the ability, by Your Holy Spirit, to faithfully glorify You by telling the truth about Jesus for the salvation of the lost. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 27:17-22:

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.
Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and he who guards his master will be honored.
As in water face reflects face,
    so the heart of man reflects the man.
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
    and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and a man is tested by his praise.
Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
    along with crushed grain,
    yet his folly will not depart from him.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Day 84: Acts 26:1-11 & Prov. 27:9-16 - How Can We Defend Our Faith in the Gospel?

Today's Reading: Acts 26:1-11 & Prov. 27:9-16

Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today . . ." - Acts 26:1b-2a, ESV

. . . but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. - 1 Peter 3:15, ESV

How Can We Defend Our Faith in the Gospel? 

Are you ready? If you knew you were going to be accused of something, do you think you would spend some time thinking about your defense? Of course you would! But here's a sad reality: Christians have been told by Jesus Himself that we will be persecuted, hated and falsely accused because of our faith in Him, yet precious few spend any serious time thinking about their defense. Peter tells us to set apart Christ the Lord in our hearts as holy. This means we are to be devoted to Him. Then he tells us that a vital part of our devotion to Christ is "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." Are we ready?

Paul on Trial by Nikolai Bodarevski (1875)
Paul was ready. he had studied the Scriptures well. He had also studied his culture and knew his audience. He knew what the Bible said and he knew what King Agrippa knew and understood.In Acts 17, on Mars Hill in Athens, Paul was able to quote from the Greek poets and connect with his audience. Likewise, here he addresses King Agrippa with respect and a knowledge of his convictions. Paul is a great model for how to live Peter's command. He has dedicated himself to Christ, and he is well prepared to make his defense, with gentleness and respect.

Sadly, so often, Christians are unprepared to make their defense, to explain and support their convictions. Others are prepared but rarely make their defense with the gentleness and respect that properly reflect Christ's character. Let's look at a few highlights from this opening section of Paul's defense to see what we can learn from him:

1. Paul identifies with his audience. He emphasizes what he has in common with Agrippa.

2. He then builds on that common ground. He doesn't just identify the common ground, but he effectively uses it as the basis for his defense. 

3. He asserts the reasonableness of the Christian faith. He asks, "Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?" Surely, if God is real, then it is very reasonable to believe that He can raise the dead.      

4. He emphasizes his own prior unbelief and his conversion. Paul talks openly about how he used to disbelieve the Gospel, to emphasize that this is not something he just came to believe easily or naturally.

We'll see more from Paul as we continue studying his speech before Agrippa next time, but these four points give us a good starting point for beginning to think through how we can make an effective defense of the Gospel to others who do not believe. 

Heavenly Father, You have saved us and have commissioned us to represent You and carry Your kingdom message to a world in need. You ask us to always be prepared to give a defense of our Gospel hope. We need You to give us wisdom, discernment, clear articulation and a loving spirit as we present the Gospel to others. In Jesus' name and for His glory we ask, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 27:9-16:

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend,
    and do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbor who is near
    than a brother who is far away.
Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad,
    that I may answer him who reproaches me.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Take a man's garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
    and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for an adulteress.
Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
    rising early in the morning,
    will be counted as cursing.
A continual dripping on a rainy day
    and a quarrelsome wife are alike;
to restrain her is to restrain the wind
    or to grasp oil in one's right hand.

Heavenly Father, our lives are made so rich by our relationships. The earnest counsel of a true friend is sweet to our souls. Good neighbors make life a blessing and a joy. Wise children make our hearts glad. On the other hand, the very relationships which bless and enrich our lives can cause so much heartache when they are broken by sin. We need Your Holy Spirit to fill us with love and patience, with kindness and compassion. We need Your grace to refresh our hearts in love and renew our minds in the truth, that we might honor You in all of our relationships. We ask for Your blessing on our relationships, for Your glory, in Jesus' name, Amen. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Day 83: Acts 25:13-27 & Prov. 27:1-8 - How Does God Use Persecution to Advance the Gospel?

Today's Reading: Acts 25:13-27 & Prov. 27:1-8

So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.  - Acts 25:23, ESV

How Does God Use Persecution to Advance the Gospel?

What role does persecution play in the life of the church? Yesterday, we saw that persecution is neither something so dreadful that we should be willing to compromise the truth to avoid it, nor is it something so wonderful in itself that we should go out of our way to seek it. It is a reality that sometimes persecution is unavoidable, for the world hates Christ and His kingdom. But what good comes from persecution?

We see a powerful example in today's passage of God bringing a great opportunity to advance the Gospel out of unjust persecution. Paul has been lingering in jail for over two years, without being charged with any crime. Due to his imprisonment, he had the opportunity to testify to the truth of the Gospel before two Roman governors, first Felix and then Festus. Now he gets an audience with the royal couple, King Agrippa and Queen Bernice. In addition to the king and queen, military tribunes and prominent men of the city were also summoned to hear Paul.

The Gospel advanced because Paul was faithful to consistently and fearlessly tell the truth about Jesus, no matter who his audience was. Paul preached the same Gospel to a slave girl and a jailer as he did to King Agrippa and Governor Festus. Later, Paul would end up in Rome, where he would continue to testify and see the Gospel advance. He wrote to the church he had founded in Philippi with the unexpected good news of his imprisonment:

"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." - Philippians 1:12-14, ESV

When God grants His servants courage, and His people respond with faithfulness, the persecution of Christians is a powerful tool for the advancement of the Gospel. As Paul stood fearlessly before Felix, Festus, Agrippa and Bernice, watching eyes took note. As he remained steadfast in Rome, the imperial guard took note. People who would never have paid any attention to the Gospel were hearing the good news about Jesus from the imprisoned Apostle Paul.

Heavenly Father, we don't face imprisonment for our testimony, and yet we still pull back and compromise so readily. We need You to empower us with wisdom, eloquence and faithfulness, that our words might reflect Your truth and might bring honor to You. Make us faithful ambassadors, with Your Gospel always on our lips. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 27:1-8:

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips.
Heavenly Father, keep us from prideful boasting,
    from the self-deception of self-reliance
        and from the glory-stealing vanity of self-exaltation.
May we always seek to honor You with our lips.

A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty,
    but a fool's provocation is heavier than both.
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
    but who can stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke
    than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
    profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
One who is full loathes honey,
    but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.
Like a bird that strays from its nest
    is a man who strays from his home.
Heavenly Father, we belong to You,
    and we should imitate You as dearly loved children.
Give us the grace to be faithful in all of our relationships.
    keeping our promises and loving others with humility.
Let us rest in Your provision, satisfied with Your good gifts.
    Let us never stray or long for the false promises of Satan's temptations.
In Jesus' name, Amen,

Day 82: Acts 25:1-12 & Prov. 26:20-28 - Should We Embrace or Avoid Persecution?

Today's Reading: Acts 25:1-12 & Prov. 26:20-28 

Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” 
- Acts 25:10-12, ESV

Should We Embrace or Avoid Persecution?

Some Christians seem intent on avoiding persecution at any cost. If the culture turns against the church and the Gospel in some area, they quickly adapt and change their message to suit the prevailing winds. Other Christians seem to delight in being hated, and so they look for ways to make the Gospel message as offensive as possible. They wear the world's disdain like a merit badge, whatever the cause may be. Which of these approaches is right? Honestly, neither of them. Here's why . . .

The truth of the Gospel is offensive and Jesus Himself promised us that the world would hate us, because we are His followers. The message of the Bible is God's word and not ours, and we have no right to change it. If we compromise on the message of the Bible, then we have betrayed Christ. He is our King, our Lord and Savior, not the world.

On the other hand, our Lord has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and to bless those who curse us. We are called to live lives that are above reproach. We are told to follow Paul's example and put no stumbling block in anyone's way (2 Cor. 6:3). Thus, being offensive and adding our own rude, callous and unloving behavior on top of the inherent offense of the Gospel is wrong, too.

But we also have another angle to consider as well. Just as the truth is not ours to change and manipulate to suit the culture, so also our lives are not our own either. Our lives belong to Christ, who has purchased us with His precious blood. Today, we see Paul appealing to Caesar to protect his life from the violent Jewish conspiracy against him. Was Paul being cowardly is appealing to Caesar? Should he have just accepted his fate? No. We are not free to be reckless with anyone's life, not even our own.

Of course, this can be taken to an extreme, too. Many closed areas of the world are languishing without the Gospel because Christians are scared to take the Gospel to them. The danger is real, but so the need is even more pressing and urgent, isn't it? Paul never hesitated to enter any town with the Gospel just because he knew he would face opposition. But when he had specific information about murderous plots or conspiracies, then he would leave or stay away. Courage compels us to take the Gospel to dangerous areas. Wisdom compels us to take reasonable measures for safety. Both courage and wisdom come from the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, give us a clear understanding of the truth of the Gospel and the call to take Your Gospel truth to our culture and to the ends of the earth. Give us the courage to do so without compromise, the grace to do so with love and humility and the wisdom to know how to uphold the truth and exercise prudence, too. In Jesus' name we ask, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 26:20-28:

For lack of wood the fire goes out,
    and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
    they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
    are fervent lips with an evil heart.
Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips
    and harbors deceit in his heart;
when he speaks graciously, believe him not,
    for there are seven abominations in his heart;
though his hatred be covered with deception,
    his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
    and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
A lying tongue hates its victims,
    and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Father, once again You are reminding us of the power of the tongue. You are calling us to honor You and to love others with our words. Gossip, slander, rumor-spreading and deceit are all deadly influences. If we're honest, we know we've been guilty of all of them, and we need Your forgiveness. Give us the power from Your Holy Spirit that we may simply and faithfully speak the truth in love, for You are the truth and You are love. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Day 81: Acts 24:22-27 & Prov. 26:13-19 - Why Do Some People Get Upset When They Hear the Gospel?

Today's Reading: Acts 24:22-27 & Prov. 26:13-19

And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 
- Acts 24:25, ESV

Why Do Some People Get Upset When They Hear the Gospel? 

Felix's name meant lucky, successful or even happy. But when he heard the Gospel from the Apostle Paul, he was not any of these things. He was alarmed. Some people get upset when they hear the Gospel clearly presented, getting angry or hurt or scared. Why?

Well, Felix is a good example for us to examine. He was a very successful guy, in the eyes of the world. He was born a slave but had been set free, giving him the status of a freedman. His brother, Marcus Antonius Pallas, also a freedman, served as secretary of the treasury for the emperor Claudius. This close royal connection got Felix the job as governor of Judea, a post he held from 52 to 58 AD.

Felix was also a conniving and selfish politician. He had married a Jewish woman, Drusilla, to gain favor and acceptance by the people. He was also known to take bribes, so he was profiting well from his position. Unfortunately for Felix and the people of Judea, his lucky family connections and corrupt nature did not make him a good leader. Crime ran rampant under his watch, and he was soon replaced by Festus.

Perhaps it's not too hard to see why a man like Felix would grow alarmed at a reasonable and persuasive message "about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment." Paul told Felix what he needed to hear and did not give him what he wanted, a bribe. Paul told him that God would one day judge all men according to His perfect and righteous standard. Felix knew his luck was going to run out, and this scared him.

It's not just notoriously corrupt and selfish men like Felix who tremble at the message of God. We are all sinners, and we all fall short of God's standard. We all should be alarmed at the coming judgment, for unless we have a way of salvation, we will all be condemned. Thankfully, God has provided salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through Him, we can have a perfect righteousness and be safe in the coming judgment!

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, who saves us from the judgment to come. He took the judgment we deserve for us on the cross. We praise You for Him! Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 26:13-19:

The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
    There is a lion in the streets!”
As a door turns on its hinges,
    so does a sluggard on his bed.
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
    it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
    than seven men who can answer sensibly.
Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own
    is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death
is the man who deceives his neighbor
    and says, “I am only joking!”   

Heavenly Father, despite all that I have been reading in Proverbs about the sluggard, I have been feeling and acting sluggishly lately. I need You to stir my heart toward love and good deeds, to make me faithfully diligent in my calling, that I might love You and love others with zeal and energy that Your provide. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Day 80: Acts 24:1-21 & Proverbs 26:7-12 - How Should We Respond to False Accusations?

Today's Reading: Acts 24:1-21 & Proverbs 26:7-12

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. . ." - Acts 24:9-11, ESV

How Should We Respond to False Accusations?

Have you ever been falsely accused? Have you ever had someone slander your reputation, either directly charging or else insinuating that you have done some great evil? Because I have spent several years in leadership positions, I have had the pleasure of that experience on a number of different occasions. If you've ever had it happen to you, you know how gut-wrenching an experience it can be. The Apostle Paul certainly knew this experience well, and the way he handled the false accusations in today's passage is very helpful for us.

Sometimes you aren't given an opportunity to defend yourself. Paul didn't always have the opportunity either. At those times, we must pray and trust God and wait for Him to provide the right opportunity, if one ever comes. If we are given the opportunity, as Paul is given in today's passage, we need to make sure we respond well:

1. First, we need to make sure that we maintain a positive attitude, thankful to God and respectful to others. Notice that Paul did not complain to Felix or grumble about the way he had been treated. He simply, respectfully and cheerfully made his defense.

2. Secondly, we need to make sure we have not done anything to cause offense or bring accusations on ourselves. Paul could address Felix honestly and respond to these charges openly because he had nothing to hide. He invited Felix to verify his story for himself.

3. Third, if we have done anything wrong, we need to make sure we confess it and apologize for it. In verse 21, Paul does admit that he caused a commotion in his trial before the Sanhedrin by what he cried out before the council.

4. Finally, we need to be focused on the Lord, on His honor. His worship, His word, His Gospel and His church. Paul is clearly concerned to honor the Lord and faithfully adhere to His word as he defends his behavior and seeks to protect the church from any further harm.

Of course, we need God's grace to equip and empower us for this kind of defense. We need Him to lead us as we speak. We can imagine that Paul spent much time in prayer while he was being held prisoner. God answered those prayers by giving him the right words to say and the right attitude in which to say them.

Heavenly Father, living in a fallen world is full of dangers. At times, we will be slandered or falsely accused of wrongdoing. At those times, we need Your Holy Spirit to calm our spirits, strengthen our faith, give us wisdom to speak well and help us to glorify You at all times. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 26:7-12:

Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless,
    is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds the stone in the sling
    is one who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard
    is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like an archer who wounds everyone
    is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
Like a dog that returns to his vomit
    is a fool who repeats his folly.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Lord, as terrible as it is to be a fool, it is even worse to be arrogant, pridefully confident in our own wisdom. Keep us from both folly and self-reliance. Keep us humble and dependent on Your wisdom. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Day 79: Acts 23:23-35 & Proverbs 26:1-6 - What is the Responsibility of Government toward the Church?

Today's Reading: Acts 23:23-35 & Proverbs 26:1-6

Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” - Acts 23:23-24, ESV

What is the Responsibility of Government toward the Church?

All governments have the responsibility to protect innocent people, especially their own citizens. Paul lays out the responsibilities of government in Romans 13:1-7, and we will look at that passage in greater detail when we get to it in our journey through Acts and Romans. For today, we will consider what responsibility the government has toward the church. In today's passage, we see the Roman tribune acting in an exemplary manner toward Paul in a time of great need.

We can answer the question of what special consideration the government should extend to the church in a single word: none. Christians should be treated just like other citizens by the government, and churches should granted the same status as other non-profit religious organizations. The state should not grant special privileges to the church, but neither should it penalize, punish or restrict the church.

The tribune is acting in an exemplary manner both for what he does and for what he does not do. The Roman government does not try to govern the church. The tribune does not try to settle any theological disputes nor does he try to grant special advantages to one group over another. What he does is provide robust protection for Paul from a violent conspiracy. This is the same protection that should be given to anyone in a similar situation.

Notice also that when the tribune sees the need to act, he acts decisively and effectively. He will leave no opportunity for the conspirators to attack Paul. Knowing Paul is threatened by 40 determined conspirators, he sends Paul with 470 soldiers and puts him on horseback. He also sends a letter to Felix the governor explaining to him the situation so that justice can be administered fairly and the proper protections and protocols implemented.

Government has a vital role in God's providential care for all people. It's role is not a theological one but a judicial and administrative one, to protect the rights and safety of all citizens. May we support government in its role and not ask it to do what God has not called it to do.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of good government. We pray that You would give our government leaders wisdom and discernment, that they may protect and serve the rights and freedoms of all citizens. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 26:1-6:

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
    a curse that is causeless does not alight.
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
    and a rod for the back of fools.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
    cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.

Heavenly Father, You have harsh words and stern warnings against fools. Keep our hearts and lives far from foolishness. Anchor us in Your word, guide us by Your Spirit, grant us Your wisdom and give us the grace to honor You with our lives. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Day 78: Acts 23:12-22 & Prov. 25:20-28 - What is the Source of our Safety?

Today's Reading: Acts 23:12-22 & Prov. 25:20-28

Now the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” - Acts 23:16-17, ESV

What is the Source of our Safety? 

Yesterday, we saw the source of Paul's courage. When he was losing courage. Jesus came to him and strengthened his courage by reminding him that he was in God's hands. He was not responsible for saving people and making results happen from his ministry. God was using him for His glory and Paul could find great courage in that truth.

Today, we see Paul's life threatened by a well connected and very dedicated conspiracy.  Forty Jewish men went to the chief priests and the elders of Israel and told them that they were bound by an oath to eat nothing until they had killed Paul. This was an organized, dedicated group of conspirators. But was Paul really in danger from them? Not really. Why not? Because he was safe in the hands of God's providence.

As the murderous conspirators were making their plans with the chief priests and elders, who just so happened to be close enough to overhear? Paul's nephew, the son of his sister, overheard everything. He was able to bring the news to the Roman tribune, who was then able to protect Paul. Paul was always safe. God's will was for Paul to end up in Rome, and as we will see, this conspiracy would be the means God would use to get him there.

Now, there's a wrong way for us to interpret the truth that we are always safe in the hands of God. Some people could use it as an excuse to be reckless. Some people could be so callous that they are sinfully irresponsible with their lives. We are not called to be recklessly irresponsible, but we are also not called to live in fear and anxiety. Our safety comes from the Lord. As long as He is watching over us, we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

Another wrong way to interpret this truth would be to think that God has guaranteed to keep us from physical harm. He has made no such promises. Sometimes He wills that we suffer physical harm. The Apostle Paul was not going to be killed by these conspirators, but he had been stoned and left for dead at Lystra. At other times, he was beaten, shipwrecked, abandoned, mocked, slandered, arrested and imprisoned unjustly. God always keeps us in His care, but that care often includes hardship. Whatever God's providence ordains for us, it is always what is right for us.

Heavenly Father, thank You for watching over us and keeping us in Your perfect providential care. You are the Lord, our Keeper and Protector, our Shield and our Strong Tower. We are always safe from real harm in Your fatherly care for us. Strengthen our faith in You, In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 25:20-28:

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart
    is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day,
    and like vinegar on soda.
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
    and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.
Lord, we need wisdom from You to know how to treat others.
    Give us the grace to be sensitive to those who are hurting,
        and to treat our enemies with kindness and love.

The north wind brings forth rain,
    and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
    so is good news from a far country.
Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
    is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
It is not good to eat much honey,
    nor is it glorious to seek one's own glory.
A man without self-control
    is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Father, let us be people of peace,
    In everything we do, may we make peace.
Let us stand our ground before the plans of the wicked,
    and give us self-control over our own impulses.
Make us the bearers of good news.
    and a blessing to all in our lives.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Day 77: Acts 22:30-23:11 & Prov. 25:11-19 - What is our Source of Courage?

Today's Reading: Acts 22:30-23:11 & Prov. 25:11-19

And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.  

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” - Acts 23:10-11, ESV

What is our Source of Courage?

In today's reading, we see some chinks in the armor of the Apostle Paul. When he gets to his trial in front of the Sanhedrin, it's clear that he isn't going to be granted a fair hearing. After he speaks a single sentence, he is struck on the mouth. Then, things get really chaotic. Paul cries out in anger against the high priest, which he retracts once he realizes who he is. Then, he takes advantage of a divided council by declaring his allegiance to the Pharisee party and his hope in the resurrection.

Overall, Paul's actions seem to arise from panic and emotion rather than cool reason, and his actions result in a chaotic and violent argument. Paul himself is in danger of being torn in pieces before the tribune once again steps in to save his life. Paul owes much to this brave and noble tribune. Yet it seems like his efforts to proclaim the Gospel in Jerusalem have been an utter failure.

This is why it's so surprising when Jesus comes to Paul the next night and says, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Paul might have been feeling like he had blown his one decent chance to gain a hearing for the Gospel among the rulers of his people. Jesus sees things differently. Paul has testified in Athens, the intellectual capital of the Roman Empire. He has now also testified in Jerusalem, the spiritual capital for God's people. The next place for Paul to go is to Rome.

But how can Paul take courage? He has had some success, but arguably just as many failures. Certainly his time in Jerusalem was a failure. But that's not God's way of thinking. Paul cannot take courage from his eloquence or persuasiveness or from his results. God is the One who saves and He does so as the Lord God, not in response to how "good" someone is at "selling" the Gospel.

Where does the Christian get courage? Not from our own abilities or our own results. Ultimately, neither our abilities nor our results are our own. They come from God, and so does our courage. Our courage comes from knowing that we belong to the Lord and He uses us as He sees fit. We are to be faithful to His call, by His gracious power, and leave the rest in His hands. Not stressing about our own abilities or the results of our ministry frees us to take courage in the Lord!

Heavenly Father, we are Yours and Yours alone. You have created us and You have redeemed us by Your power for Your glory. Your kingdom is indeed Your kingdom, not ours. Salvation belongs to You alone. Use us as You would see fit, and may we always draw every ounce of our courage from belonging only and always to You! In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 25:11-19:

A word fitly spoken
    is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
    is a faithful messenger to those who send him;
    he refreshes the soul of his masters.
Like clouds and wind without rain
    is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.

Heavenly Father, make us Your ambassadors, faithful and true. Let us speak Your word, which is always fitting, and to be wise and gracious in our words always.

With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
    and a soft tongue will break a bone.
If you have found honey, eat only enough for you,
    lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.
Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house,
    lest he have his fill of you and hate you.
A man who bears false witness against his neighbor
    is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.
Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble
    is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.

Lord, grant us patience and gentleness, the fruit of Your Spirit. Give us also contentment and gratitude, that we might not be looking with coveting eyes on our neighbors. Let us speak the truth and do so in love always. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Day 76: Acts 22:22-29 & Prov. 25:1-10 - Are Patriotism and Nationalism Good or Bad?

Today's Reading: Acts 22:22-29 & Prov. 25:1-10 

 . . . And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air" - Acts 22:21-23, ESV

Are Patriotism and Nationalism Good or Bad?

What is the difference between patriotism and nationalism? These words are sometimes used interchangeably, but there does seem to be a significant difference between them. Essayist Sydney J. Harris explained, "The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war." 

We see nationalism on display in the crowd that wants the Apostle Paul dead. It is displaying the same ugly and violent spirit that another, similar crowd in Jerusalem displayed years earlier when it shouted "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" The Jewish nationalists of Jesus' day were happy to cheer Him when He rode into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David!" But once Jesus criticized and attacked the false worship of the Temple and not the Roman garrisons, they knew He was not going to be their nationalist political Messiah, and so they were done with Him.

Similarly, when Paul addressed the crowd in Hebrew and listed his Jewish resume, they were happy to listen to him. Once he got to the point in his testimony when Jesus sent him to be a witness to the Gentiles, they had heard enough. Suddenly this Jewish man who had been taught by Gamaliel had to die. He was a threat to their nationalist agenda: “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”

As the Roman tribune took Paul and prepared to flog him, Paul saw an opportunity to appeal to the tribune's patriotism, his sense of Roman justice and ethics. So Paul told the man he was a Roman citizen, and he was unbound and unharmed. While there is an overtone of nationalism in Paul's conversation with the tribune, he is really appealing to the commander's sense of justice and allegiance to the rule of law.

When we are connecting with people from our broader culture, we can identify many of our shared values, but we need to be careful not to connect on the darker side of some of those shared values. Just as patriotism's dark side is nationalism, so anything we love can have a dark side when we make it an ultimate standard or the source of our identity. God had given Israel their identity as a nation, and they had taken that identity and made it more important than God Himself. May the Lord have mercy on us and keep us from a similar idolatry with any of His good gifts.    

Heavenly Father, we do thank You for all of Your good gifts. We thank You for blessing us with life and liberty, our country and our families. May we love You for Your good gifts and never make Your gifts more important than You! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 25:1-10:

These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out.
As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth,
    so the heart of kings is unsearchable.
Take away the dross from the silver,
    and the smith has material for a vessel;
take away the wicked from the presence of the king,
    and his throne will be established in righteousness.
Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
    or stand in the place of the great,
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
    than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
What your eyes have seen
    do not hastily bring into court,
for what will you do in the end,
    when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
    and do not reveal another's secret,
lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,
    and your ill repute have no end.

Heavenly Father, You are the One who knows all things, Who orders all things, Who weighs all hearts and Who saves and purifies Your own. Guard our hearts from arrogance, from self-seeking, from grasping for power, and from self-indulgence. Give us contentment with You and faithfulness to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Monday: No Regular Post, Enjoy This Instead

I'm taking Easter Monday as a holiday, so enjoy this instead as we continue to celebrate His resurrection! This is lyrically one of my favorite resurrection hymns. Listen to the video performance by Churchfolk while you ponder each word.

Jesus Lives and So Shall I
by Christian F. Gellert (1757)
Translator: John Dunmore Lang (1826)

Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death, thy sting is gone forever!
He who bowed his head to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, though once he died.
In the ground he was forsaken.
Yet, the stone was rolled aside!
How the gates of hell were shaken!
Death obeys Him, yes, it must;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, and reigns supreme,
And his kingdom still remaining,
I shall also be with him,
Ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised. He is just;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, I know full well.
Naught from him my heart can sever,
Life, nor death, nor pow’rs of hell,
Joy, nor grief, henceforth forever.
None of all his saints is lost;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Day 75: Acts 22:6-21 & Prov. 24:30-34 - What is the Value of Personal Testimony?

Today's Reading: Acts 22:6-21 & Prov. 24:30-34

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ - Acts 22:6-10, ESV

What is the Value of Personal Testimony?

Yesterday, we looked at how Paul was able to get the attention of the Jerusalem mob by speaking to them in Hebrew and then giving his credentials in a way that got them to settle down and pay attention to him. Once he had their attention, Paul made the most of his opportunity by sharing his personal testimony of his encounter with Jesus. Rev. E.W. Moore was an Anglican pastor in the early 1900's who was an eye-witness of the Welsh revivals. Here's what he said about the value of personal testimony, using the Australian gold rush as an example: 

Many years ago now, before the Australian goldfields were opened, a party of experts were sent up the country to explore the district and report on the probability of gold being, found there. They made their survey, sent in their report, gave it as their opinion that gold would be found, that there were "auriferous strata," etc., but somehow or other no one was greatly interested. Nobody disputed their conclusions, and nobody acted on them. But some time after, one market day, some shepherd lads came down to Melbourne from the bush with some lumps of yellow ore in their pockets. "Why," said those to whom they showed it, "that's gold! Where did you get it?" "Oh"! said they, "we got it up country; there's plenty of it up our way." Next morning there was a stampede — everyone that could raise a cart was off to the diggings. Now, my brother, you may not be able to preach, but does your life show that you have got the nuggets? - E. W. Moore

Now, you my not have a testimony as supernatural and amazing as that of the Apostle Paul, but if you know Jesus and He has changed your life, you have a testimony. Even if you've known Him all your life and have one of those "boring" testimonies of someone who has grown up in the faith, you still
know what a difference Christ makes:

  1. Your sins have been forgiven.
  2. You have peace with God.
  3. You have the assurance of eternal life.
  4. God speaks to You through His word.
  5. You have the privilege and joy of worshiping Him.
  6. You have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.
  7. You are a part of God's family,
  8. You are a citizen of Christ's kingdom.
  9. You are a joint heir with Christ.
  10. You have the fulfillment of every promise of God in Jesus.

A personal testimony is something which every Christian can share and which is difficult for a non-believer to refute. For Paul, it was a wise choice for sharing with this mob. He could not engage them in extended reasoning from the Scriptures in that atmosphere, and he did not want to be argumentative. It was a great time for him to share his testimony. When was the last time you shared yours? 

Heavenly Father, give us opportunities to share out testimonies with unbelievers. Give us courage and clarity to share our faith with those who need to know Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen. 

Prayer Based on Proverbs 24:30-34:

I passed by the field of a sluggard,
    by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
    the ground was covered with nettles,
    and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
    I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,

    and want like an armed man.

Heavenly Father, keep us from the lure and the danger of being sluggards. Give us diligent spirits and let us work hard for Your glory in all we do. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Day 74: Acts 21:37-22:5 & Prov. 24:23-29 - What is the Value of Cultural Engagement?

Today's Reading: Acts 21:37-22:5 & Prov. 24:23-29

As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? - Acts 21:37, ESV

Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. - Acts 21:40 - 22:2, ESV

What is the Value of Cultural Engagement?

Most Americans speak only one language, while many other people in the world speak 2-3 languages. As Americans who speak only English, we are typically comfortable in only one culture, our own. More accurately, our current media and technology landscape has divided our English-speaking culture into dozens of discreet sub-cultures, broken up by generation, ethnicity, education-level, religious affiliation and geography. We don't watch the same television shows, listen to same music, read the same books, enjoy the same foods or speak the same language.

What is the value of bridging the cultural gaps and learning to speak other cultural "languages"? Well, on one level, doing so simply helps us fulfill the second great commandment by learning how to love our neighbors as ourselves. On another level, as we see with the Apostle Paul in today's passage, cultural literacy can help us gain an audience, when we connect with people in a language they understand.

Paul first surprises the Roman tribune who is taking him away from the crowds by speaking to him in Greek. But Paul knows more than just the actual Greek language; he also evidently knows the cultural values and priorities of a Roman soldier. He appeals to the Roman tribune by telling him that he is "a citizen of no obscure city," a reference to Paul's Roman citizenship. Paul knew this would raise his status in the eyes of the tribune. He used this to gain an opportunity to speak to the crowd.

Speaking to the crowd in Greek and making reference to his Roman citizenship would have been a very bad idea. That would have reinforced the anger the mob already felt toward him. Instead, Paul turns and addresses the crowd in Hebrew. This hushes the crowd and immediately gets their full attention. They had heard that Paul hated Jews and Jerusalem and was working to undermine Judaism in the world. Speaking in Hebrew was the perfect way to gain this audience.

As with the Roman tribune, though, Paul did more than just speak the Hebrew language; he also spoke to the Hebrew culture. He told them:

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. (21:3-5, ESV)

This was the perfect resume to dispel the vicious rumors swirling about Paul and to ensure that the crowd would listen to what Paul had to say. He referenced his birth, his education and his former way of life. He even called upon the highest authorities present - the high priest and the Sanhedrin council - to verify his claims.

Of course, gaining an audience doesn't guarantee that the audience will agree with your message. But at least the message you have will be heard. We need to be willing to do the work necessary to learn how to connect with people in their language, connecting to their values, so we can bring them the Gospel and be heard.

Heavenly Father, You have called us to be ambassadors for Christ to our fallen and needy world. Good ambassadors study the culture they are sent to engage, so as to not give offense and to ensure that the message they carry will be received clearly. Give us the wisdom and discernment to be faithful and loving ambassadors for Christ. May the Gospel never be obscured by our own arrogance, callousness or cultural ignorance. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Prayer based on Proverbs 24:23-29:

These also are sayings of the wise.

Partiality in judging is not good.
Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,”
    will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations,
but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
    and a good blessing will come upon them.
Whoever gives an honest answer
    kisses the lips.
Father, it is hard for us to speak the truth when it is not welcome,
    and confronting in love those who are doing wrong
        is one of the hardest things You call us to do.
Give us the courage by Your Holy Spirit to speak the truth,
    giving an honest answer and blessing those who hear.

Prepare your work outside;
    get everything ready for yourself in the field,
    and after that build your house.
Father, give us the diligence and wisdom to work hard and well,
    doing our work for Your glory.

Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause,
    and do not deceive with your lips.
Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me;
    I will pay the man back for what he has done.”
Lord, it is so easy for us to give in to the desire to get even,
    to treat others they way they've treated us,
        and not the way You call us to treat them, with integrity and love.
Give us Your Spirit to fill us, control us and to love others well.
    In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Day 73: Acts 21:27-36 & Prov. 24:17-22 - Why Are Mobs So Dangerous and Senseless?

Today's Reading: Acts 21:27-36 & Prov. 24:17-22

Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” - Acts 21:27-28, ESV

Why Are Mobs So Dangerous and Senseless?

In today's reading, we see another mob being stirred up to violence and extreme reaction against the Apostle Paul. The book of Acts seems to be full of angry, senseless, foolish, violent mobs. And yet, what is reflected in the book of Acts is just a sad and common reality in human history: Mob violence is often as brutal as it is senseless. Why?

Mobs are often made up of groups of disgruntled people who are hanging around a public space with a general sense of anger at the world. Lots of people sadly go through life convinced that the world is really messed up, that they've been cheated, and that someone must be to blame. Beneath this anger is a deep and universal human realization of the truth that the world is indeed broken and full of injustice. What is misguided is the need to find a scapegoat, the eagerness to blame someone else for the world's problems.

A group of people in this condition are ripe for manipulation by someone who sounds confident and who appeals to the crowd's natural sense of outrage. Think about what these Jewish leaders from Asia Minor said: “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” Was this true? No. Why was it so effective? Because in a mob mentality, outrage matters much more than truth.

The accusations of the Jewish leaders from Asia Minor had all the key ingredients for stirring up a mob: outrage, blind nationalism, a scapegoat and a call to action. The appeal was effective and the mob reacted just as they were supposed to: "Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut." (v. 30)

This mob was going to kill Paul, but thankfully, "word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul." (vv. 31-32) This is one good reason why we need lawful governing authorities, to protect us all from mob rule.

The psychology of the mob is simply a reflection of our fallen humanity. We demand our rights, are outraged when we think we don't get them, look for someone else to blame for our problems and then get angry when we feel like our complaints are not being heard. There is a little piece of the senseless mob inside of each of us, and we need God to save us from it.

Heavenly Father, give us eyes to see that we deserve nothing but Your judgment and we are treated far better than we deserve. Save us from self-pity, self-righteous anger and self-delusion, Make us an influence for truth and righteousness in Your world. In Jesus name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Prov. 24:17-22:

Read these verse carefully, examine your hearts in the light of them, and pray in response to the Lord:

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
    and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the Lord see it and be displeased,
    and turn away his anger from him.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
    and be not envious of the wicked,
for the evil man has no future;
    the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

My son, fear the Lord and the king,
    and do not join with those who do otherwise,
for disaster will arise suddenly from them,
    and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 72: Acts 21:17-26 & Prov. 24:9-16 - Why Was Paul Trying to Prove that He Kept the Law?

Today's Reading: Acts 21:17-26 & Prov. 24:9-16

Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. - Acts 21:23-24, ESV

Why Was Paul Trying to Prove that He Kept the Law?

I have a confession to make: This section of Acts has been one of the most confusing sections of Scripture to me for years. Along with yesterday's text, where it almost seems like Paul is going against the Holy Spirit in going to Jerusalem, today's text has puzzled me: Why is Paul, now in Jerusalem, going to such extraordinary lengths to demonstrate to his fellow Jews that he lives "in observance of the law," when he had written to the Romans and had said, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."? (Rom. 10:4)

Has Paul lost his mind? Has he compromised his witness? Hasn't he been teaching for years that no one can keep the law and that the law only condemns and never justifies? Is he being inconsistent out of fear?

I don't think that's how we need to see Paul's actions here in Acts 21. James, the brother of Jesus, and the other elders in Jerusalem were deeply concerned: The rumors circulating about Paul were to the effect that he was leading faithful Jews away from the law of Moses and that the Gospel Paul preached undermined the Torah. Zealous Jews were so outraged by this that they were willing to violently persecute the church for blaspheming against God's word.

It is important for us to understand that God's word does not contradict itself. Jesus does not come along to nullify Moses. In fact, Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matt. 5:17) And when Paul wrote Romans 10:4, he did not mean that Christ cancels the law but that He is the proper end or goal ("telos") of the law. It is a serious false teaching to uphold that the Gospel nullifies the Law.

Finally, Paul has elsewhere emphasized the important of cultural accommodation for the sake of the Gospel. Christians must not be offensive. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul wrote:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (ESV)

Paul was willing to humble himself and submit to elements of the ceremonial law that were no longer binding on believers because he did not want to cause offense and wanted to reach his fellow Jews with the Gospel. We should always be willing to bend over backwards to accommodate ourselves to the feelings of others for the sake of the Gospel, just like Paul was doing here in this passage.

Heavenly Father, we love You and we thank You for loving us and giving us eternal life in Your Son. We thank You that we have the privilege of taking Your Gospel to those in need. We ask that You would equip us with wisdom and grace to be faithful and sensitive ambassadors for You in this world. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 24:9-16:

The devising of folly is sin,
    and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.
Father, our hearts are prone to foolish and selfish ways,
    keep us by Your grace from devising folly or from scoffing truth or righteousness.

If you faint in the day of adversity,
    your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
    hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
    and will he not repay man according to his work?
Lord, we are thankful that we see much good in this life,
    but we also know we face much adversity.
We need You to give our hearts courage and faithfulness,
    so we may rescue the perishing and save the stumbling,
        and that our hearts may be faithful to You.

My son, eat honey, for it is good,
    and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.
Know that wisdom is such to your soul;
    if you find it, there will be a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.
Father, how wonderful wisdom truly is,
    and how much we need Your counsel for our souls.

Lie not in wait as a wicked man against the dwelling of the righteous;
    do no violence to his home;
for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
    but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
Lord, let us always have confidence in You,
    for You are our shield and protector.
In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Day 71: Acts 21:1-16 & Prov. 24:1-9 - Did Paul Disobey God in Going to Jerusalem?

Today's Reading: Acts 21:1-16 & Prov. 24:1-9

And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. - Acts 21:4, ESV

Did Paul Disobey God in Going to Jerusalem?

[NOTE: Brent Prentice has a great post on this text here. Ray Stedman takes the opposite position here. You can check several commentaries on here.]

The actions of the Apostle Paul in today's passage seem very unusual. He is warned by the disciples in Tyre not to go to Jerusalem. Luke's language here is very strong: "through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." So, did Paul disobey the Spirit when he decided to go to Jerusalem?

I think it's important to acknowledge that this is a difficult question to answer with certainty. On the surface, it really does look like God is warning Paul not to go to Jerusalem, both in verse 4 and with Agabus' warning in verses 11-12. Not everything the Apostles are recorded as doing in Scripture is necessarily right just because they did it. We do know that these were sinful men capable of stubborn self-will at times, so we shouldn't jump to conclusions.

Still, if we back up and put today's passage in the context of the book of Acts, it seems likely that Paul was being faithful in going to Jerusalem. His friends were being loving in wanting to stop him because they cared for him. He knew what he was facing, and was willing to pay the price to be an ambassador for Christ in Jerusalem.

Why do I think this? We need to keep in mind that none of the messages Paul received in today's passage were new information for him. In Acts 20:22-24, he had told the Ephesians elders:

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (ESV)

Notice that Paul said he was "constrained by the Spirit." He felt like he did not have a choice. If he was going to be faithful, he had to go and he had to accept whatever awaited him. This is why Paul responded the way he did to Agabus' warning and the disciples' pleading in verse 13 by saying, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (ESV)

Heavenly Father, give us the courage to stand for Christ and be willing to accept whatever opposition or consequences we may face. Lord, give us faithful hearts and keep us steadfast until we see You face-to-face. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 24:1-9:

Be not envious of evil men,
    nor desire to be with them,
for their hearts devise violence,
    and their lips talk of trouble.
Heavenly Father, give us contentment with Your good gifts,
    and keep us from envy, which shows ingratitude for Your grace.

By wisdom a house is built,
    and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
    with all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is full of strength,
    and a man of knowledge enhances his might,
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
    and in abundance of counselors there is victory.
Wisdom is too high for a fool;
    in the gate he does not open his mouth.
Lord, we need You to give us wisdom,
    for without Your wisdom we cannot live lives that honor You.
We long to reflect Your character,
    so give us the grace to walk in true and faithful wisdom.

Whoever plans to do evil
    will be called a schemer.
The devising of folly is sin,
    and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.
Father, keep us from deviousness,
    for we know that our hearts are wayward and wicked,
        and we need Your Spirit to rein us in and lead us.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Day 70: Acts 20:17-38 & Prov. 23:29-35 - What are the Obligations of a Faithful Shepherd?

Today's Reading: Acts 20:17-38 & Prov. 23:29-35

Paul's Example: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." - Acts 20:18-21, 26-27, ESV

Paul's Charge: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert . . . " - Acts 20:28-31, ESV

What are the Obligations of a Faithful Shepherd?

While Paul's urgent desire to be in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost prevented him from visiting Ephesus in person, his love for the Ephesian church led him to send for their elders while he was close-by in Miletus. Paul knows he is heading for danger in Jerusalem. He has faced stiff opposition from Jewish leaders in every city he has visited, so he knows Jerusalem will be hostile. He's not sure if he will ever see the Ephesian church again.

So, what is on Paul's heart as he says good-bye to the Ephesian elders and heads toward danger in Jerusalem? He wants to remind them of the good example he set for them and to urge them to follow his example themselves. In this remarkable farewell address from the Apostle Paul, we essentially see the close of his public ministry in the book of Acts. We also hear his heart as a shepherd training other shepherds in shepherding the flock of God.

According to Paul a faithful shepherd must . . .

. . . be humble. Paul served the Lord with all humility. He also calls the elders to pay careful attention to themselves first, even before paying attention to the flock. A faithful shepherd never asks for more of the flock than he asks of himself. He never sends the flock where he himself is not willing to go. He guards his own heart and life (by God's grace) even more zealously than he guards the flock.

. . . be earnest and zealous. Paul served with tears, and now he calls the elders to pay careful attention to the flock. He has such an earnest zeal and calls the elders to the same. Shepherding the people of God is not a game and should not be done flippantly, selfishly or foolishly.

. . . teach the word of God, in all its fullness. Paul says twice that he did not shrink back in his teaching. First, he says, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable." Then, he says, " I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."     

. . . guard the flock against the wolves. Wolves come against the flock from without; they also rise from within. A good shepherd guards against both. This means teaching about errors in the broader church and culture, as well as being willing to confront and discipline anyone spreading error within the church.

Heavenly Father, make Your pastors and elders faithful shepherds. Make us humble, keeping watch over our lives and our lips. Make us earnest and zealous for Your people, the flock You purchased with the blood of Your Son. Give us the wisdom and courage to teach Your whole counsel, all that is profitable to Your people. And make us aware of and prepared to confront ravenous wolves bent on destroying the flock. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Prov. 23:29-35:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.
“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.”

Heavenly Father, You alone must be our Lord and Master. We know our hearts are wicked and we can be foolish, so guard us and keep us from any addiction that would enslave, any besetting sin that would ensnare. May we never be controlled by anything but Your Holy Spirit. Free us to walk with You in love. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Day 69: Acts 20:7-16 & Proverbs 23:19-28 - What Are the Dangers of Falling Asleep in Church?

Today's Reading: Acts 20:7-16 & Proverbs 23:19-28

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. - Acts 20:7-9, ESV

What Are the Dangers of Falling Asleep in Church?

The title of this devotional is a joke, with a purpose: We can often misuse the Scriptures and twist them from their original meaning to serve our own purposes. For example, I could say "Learn from the example of Eutychus and never fall asleep in church!" Of course, you could come back to me and say, "Learn from the example of the Apostle Paul and don't preach too long, unless you have the power to bring people back from he dead." Such potential manipulation of Scripture would be humorous if it weren't a little too close to reality.

When we study Scripture, we observe what is in the text, then we interpret the text and, finally, we apply the text to life. Each text of Scripture is open to a variety of interpretations, most of which are wrong. Even if we can agree on interpretation, the meaning of a text is open to a wide variety of personal applications. A variety of applications can each be valid (unlike a variety of interpretations). but not all of them are. Handling Scripture accurately means taking care at each stage of interpretation and application.

So, how should we understand today's text? Well, in part this text serves as a confirmation of Paul's apostolic authority. Paul is on a journey that will end with him in jail for several years. Many people who opposed Paul's ministry and message used the fact that he was in jail as an opportunity to undermine his credibility and his apostolic credentials. But if Paul could restore Eutychus to life, then he has the authority of an Apostle.

Furthermore, we see the deep concern Paul has for the church at Troas, as he has shown for all of the churches. This shows us where the heart of a God-honoring minister should be: Pastors should be deeply committed to the spiritual well-being of their flocks. It also shows us that the primary way a minister cares for his flock is by preaching and teaching the word of God.

Finally, we see again Paul's decision-making. He is trying to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, and so he decides to sail past Ephesus and not make a stop there. Ephesus was important to Paul, and he knew that if he stopped there, he would spend some time in Asia Minor and this would delay his trip to Jerusalem. Oh, and we do see that some people do fall asleep in church, even under the very best preaching. (Just kidding!)

Heavenly Father, give us wisdom and care that we might handle Your word accurately and faithfully. Your word is truth. Your ways are right. We are Your children and Your servants. May we hear, understand and communicate Your word to others with great care and faithfulness. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prayer Based on Proverbs 23:19-28:

Hear, my son, and be wise,
    and direct your heart in the way.
Be not among drunkards
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and slumber will clothe them with rags.
Listen to your father who gave you life,
    and do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy truth, and do not sell it;
    buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
    he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and mother be glad;
    let her who bore you rejoice.
My son, give me your heart,
    and let your eyes observe my ways.
For a prostitute is a deep pit;
    an adulteress is a narrow well.
She lies in wait like a robber
    and increases the traitors among mankind.

Heavenly Father, we need to listen to You, for You are our true and eternal Father, who has given us eternal life in Your Son, Jesus Christ. We desire to bring You joy, that You may be glad in us. We know You love us, and so You teach us according to wisdom out of Your love. Give us truth and wisdom, instruction and understanding. Let us pursue these things in Your word and among Your people. Keep us from fellowship with wickedness, that we may not be led astray. Use us as a light for those in darkness and as an encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Keep us, we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.