Saturday, May 30: Psalm 44- in God we trust?.

In my country, the USA, we mint all of our money with our national slogan, “IN GOD WE TRUST.” It is printed in all capital letters on coin and paper. Those 4 words are a bold statement.  

Now it is certainly debatable whether it is true.

OT Israel didn’t have an official slogan, but certainly IN YAHWEH WE TRUST could have been their national slogan. I was struck by this as I read the opening of today’s Psalm.

We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever (1-8).

At least this was the way it was supposed to be or had been at the beginning. But apparently it was no longer... for God was punishing them. And the Psalmist, seemingly to my ears a little self-righteously, pleads with God (Yahweh) that Israel is still faithful so, ‘God rescue us and stop punishing us’.

Even though there may have been some self-righteousness in the Psalmist, at least he’s turning in the correct direction… he turned to the Lord.

I fear my country will not do this. In my modern time GOD is now generic, god, almost any higher being as long as god is open to many beliefs with none being better than any other.

I could leave this blog as a national lament, but what Israel and the USA have found to be true nationally is often true for me personally. I profess to TRUST IN GOD, but all too often I live my life as if I do not need God. And this sin is flooding my thoughts right now…

God forgive me. God, I turn back to You. Show me my sin that I might confess it and return to You my Lord and my God. Amen.

 

Friday, May 29: Psalm 43- Words to pray when times are hard.

Who hasn’t prayed, ‘Save me God, vindicate me, come to my rescue. HELP me God.’

I feel safe in saying we all have at one point in our life. And this is precisely what the Psalmist prays. In fact a note in my Bible’s margin tells me that in Hebrew manuscripts this Psalm is a continuation of Psalm 42.

Whether this Psalm is the ending to one prayer or a stand alone prayer doesn’t matter to me. I have been there. I have needed God’s help and prayed such a prayer. I need God’s help regularly and often in life.

When I have perplexing decisions to make, I need God’s help.

I had an important paper to write recently, I needed God’s help to study, synthesize and write the paper

The other day a friend asked for prayer, turns out he had some real enemy footholds (Eph 4:27) in his life. I needed God’s help to know how to pray.

I have had people come at me with vindictive and hurt-filled untruths about me. I needed God’s help to know how to respond or not respond.

I can’t imagine not having the Lord to turn to in times of need. This Psalm gives me words to pray when times are hard.

The closing thought caused me to pause as I meditated this morning.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (5).

Yes, that is it… in times of trouble I must speak to myself, even will myself to trust in God and to make my trust concrete by praising my Savior and my God.

I found my heart bursting into prayer/song…

For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save

From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,

And He gave us life in His perfect will,

And by His good grace, I will praise Him, still.

 

My prayer above comes from a Fernando Ortega song, I Will Praise Him Still, you can listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEpcJv8HYr4. It is a wonderful modern day Psalm.

 

Thursday, May 28: Psalm 42- A decision to praise God.

My thoughts immediately zeroed in on the words of verse 5 as I read along.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will yet praise him,

my Savior and my God.

Then as the Psalm concluded with this refrain repeated again as verse 11, I knew I had found my devotional home for the morning.

I have had those days, weeks, even months, when my heart and life feels like I have been run through a blender. I am beaten and bruised, battered emotionally. Maybe it is people at work or in my family or  maybe a close friend has let me down. Whatever the specifics, I am exhausted and some days even feel like tapping out. There is no sun on the horizon.

David found his answer, his strength in the Lord.

It is almost as if he is talking himself into hope. These words feel like I am looking over David’s shoulder in the morning as he rises for another day. As he puts his feet to the floor he whispers to himself, “Ok, David, Put your hope in God. God will get us through another day. Let’s start with praise. Who is God? He is my Savior, my God. How does that Psalm go? Give thanks to the Lord…”

And so his day begins… by a decision to praise God, his God.

I have lived those days, and David’s way is good. When I don’t feel the delight of the Lord drawing me to Himself, as decision of my will to go there is good. And God always meets me.

My heart may still be heavy when I leave my time with God, but it is lighter because I am reminded that I am not alone. My Savior and my God is with me and I will praise Him still.

Thank you, Lord, for never abandoning me or leaving me alone. Thank You for always being there. My thanks are doubled when days are hard. I know You will NEVER leave or forsake me. Praise be to You Father, Jesus, Spirit, my God three in one. Amen.

 


Wednesday, May 27: Psalm 41- Worship music then and now.

So much of today’s worship music is heavily invested in “I.” They seem to be songs about me draped with a little God language. Or they sound like pop ‘love songs,’ except God is the lover rather than some boyfriend. The majesty and wonder of God seems to be missing.

Older hymns, particularly those that have lasted the test of time, often carry the majesty of God.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!

God in three Persons, bless├Ęd Trinity!

But how many songs would dare sing what David sang in this Psalm?

“Have mercy on me, LORD;

heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

My enemies say of me in malice,

“When will he die and his name perish?”

When one of them comes to see me, he speaks falsely,

while his heart gathers slander;

then he goes out and spreads it around.

All my enemies whisper together against me;

they imagine the worst for me, saying,

“A vile disease has afflicted him;

he will never get up from the place where he lies.”

Even my close friend, someone I trusted,

one who shared my bread, has turned against me (4-9).

And yet that is what David sang and wrote for Israel to sing.

David wrote a Psalm, a worship song for Israel that deals with rejection and pain… a cry to God during a turbulent time of life.

This is one of the reasons Psalms are so good and their message speaks to every generation. They pray and sing about life we have all experienced. And they witness to God in the midst of the storm. They witness to God who can change and stop the storm.

Life isn’t always warm and fuzzy and many Psalms like today’s speak to those hard days.

,

Thank You, Lord God Almighty, for being present all the days of my life… and I mean all, every, no matter what days of life. Thank You and bless You. Praise be to You in Jesus’ name. Amen and Amen.

 

Tuesday, May 26: Psalm 40- God heard, God hears.

Immediately this Psalm spoke to me. After the morass of deep emotions from yesterday’s Psalm, it was as if today’s Psalm was the answer to yesterday.

God came… God answered… God was there in the midst of life!

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him (1-3).

God heard! I wanted to cry with delight. God was there. God hears our cry. He tunes His ears to us and is not distant or far off.

God answered, He reached down to David, He reaches down to me and lifts me from the slimy pit… from the mud and the mire… from the yuck of life!

God is real and God really comes to us and helps us.

I have experienced that truth more times that I could ever count. Even so there are times when I forget and doubt, when the darkness around me seems to engulf me and I feel so alone.

David’s experience and Psalm reminds me, “Yes, God heard my cries in the past and God will hear my cries today.”

God heard, God hears!

My heart is light this morning. Whom or what shall I fear? If God is for me who can be against me? (Romans 8:31ff).

I will join David and pledge myself anew to the Lord.

“Here I am, I have come…. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD, as you know. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly (7-10).

O, God, my heart is light, almost giddy, with love and appreciation for You. You are there. You listen to my cries and You answer. What a great and awesome God.

I love You and I will serve You. Alleluia.

May my lips speak and testify to Your greatness all the days of my life. May my life give to You the honor and praise due to Your name! Alleluia. Amen.

 

Monday, May 25: Psalm 39- Who/what are you living for?.

A penetrating Psalm, it burrowed deeply into my inner self, to my thoughts and soul. Verses 4 and 5 seem to be the tip of the auger for me. Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure… this is so true. If eternity is the view, whether I live 80 or 120 years, they are but a breath compared to eternity.

I live in a world which, on the one hand, is obsessed with health, beauty and youth. Use this supplement, take this drug, try this diet, work this exercise plan, do this, do that so you can live longer and look prettier/skinnier; use this ointment to remove the age lines on your face, color your grey hair away. We have an obsession with youth. Then on the other hand, more people smoke, drink, are workaholics or couch potatoes…it seems these are at odds with each other. We are ‘schizophrenic’ people.

What we don’t really do is consider our lives in light of God. David gets it. God holds his life in His hands. My hope is in you, he sings in verse 7.

It is certainly wise to live as healthily as possible, but is a healthy lifestyle to live longer or to live better? Is it to extend my life so I can live it on my terms or so I can live most faithfully for the Lord who holds my life in His hands? These are some of the questions that I am wrestling with in light of this Psalm.

Am I striving to live a full life for ME or for service to my LORD?

David has me chewing on the deeper things… like….’Who am I living for?!!’

Forty years ago, Lord, I answered Your call to follow You. My path hasn’t been straight; I have veered off your way at times. But my trajectory, I believe, has been toward You. And yet there are mornings like this where You ask me deep questions. Show me course corrections that I need to make right now so that my life is lived faithfully for You. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, May 23: Psalm 38- Honesty with God.

How different the Psalms are. Yesterday’s Psalm was exquisite and rich, upbeat and full of wonder for God. Today’s is mournful. Life has turned.  David’s soul is overwhelmed with guilt (3). He has missed the mark of faithfulness and he is sick about it.

Lord, I pray for this kind of honesty with You… to have a heart that weeps when it has let You down… a heart that feels a measure of Your pain when I fail You. Lord, I could not handle feeling all the pain You feel, but some, I believe I could handle that.

O, Lord, I long for intimacy with You like David displays, an intimacy with You that connects heart with heart…. Yours with mine and mine with Yours.

Lord, even as I pray this, I admit some fear. To know and be known like I am praying for, means that I will have to face things about myself that I likely have never faced.  Hiding from myself, allows me to hide from You (or at least believe I am hiding from You) some wretched place of my heart…

LORD, … do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior (21b-22).

 

Friday, May 22: Psalm 37- Seek peace, do good.

It is quite a shift to be reading Psalms this morning.

What a wonderful song. So rich, so full, so many stopping places to pause and allow the Lord to pour into my soul. It is mornings like these that I am so glad that I read entire chapters rather than a few lines.

David sings bold lines contrasting the God-lovers and the wicked.

It is difficult some days watching the wicked live well, often at the expense of the poor. I want to scream, “It’s not fair.” And it isn’t. Rather than screaming I should probably do more to correct the injustices I see, especially the injustices that grieve God’s heart.

This Psalm reminded me that we do not see the whole story. I latched onto to verses 35-38: I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked.

There will come a day when the wicked are no more. By contrast a future awaits those who seek peace. I know that isn’t always a satisfying answer. But if we truly believe that there is another live after death and that life is an eternity in duration, then these words begin to make sense. The Lord will straighten things out in His time. God will judge and render His verdict in His time!

In the mean time I cannot simply sit by and hope for the next world; I should be bringing what I can of eternity into this world. Throughout this Psalm, the God-lover is called to do good (3), to not fret and do the evil that comes from fretting (8). We are to live with God, to wait, trust, believe and do good.

I can do these things… for the Lord’s love is in me.

O, Lord, I pray for that coming day when Your full righteousness will be revealed. Until that day I will live for You and serve You and work for Your causes in this world. To You be the glory and the honor and the power. Amen.

 

Thursday, May 21: Acts 28- Some believe and some not.

Verse 24 grabbed hold of me as I was reading this chapter. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.

Paul preached his heart out from morning till evening. Verse 23 says and Luke gives this matter of fact summary, Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.

I think it was the matter of fact tone that spoke to me.

I personalize my witnessing and preaching far too much. If people don’t respond favorably I feel badly, I take it personally, as if I’m not good enough or I didn’t do a good enough job. And the truth is this kind of thinking eats at me and at times it even discourages me from witnessing.

But this simple verse poured life into me. My task, my job is to present the truth of Jesus as best I can; God, the Holy Spirit, does the converting. God, the Holy Spirit, penetrates joint and marrow with the truth, opening the hearts of those who will believe.

I am and you are merely the messengers. God is the applier, converter,  the Savior.

Allowing this verse into my heart is setting me free from the tyranny of me…

Lord, I pray that this verse stays with me for the rest of my life and that it will make me a better, bolder testifier for You. Lord, may Your kingdom advance and may my life help it do so. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Wednesday, May 20: Acts 27- Faith in Life.

Life can really throw us curveballs. I was thinking about Paul. Basically this chapter is a travel-log of his trip as a prisoner to Rome. What marveled me is how seamlessly his faith expressed itself during the journey. On multiple occasions Paul spoke up about things God had told him. These don’t seem forced or contrived, just genuine expression of his faith.

Paul wore his faith on his sleeve.

Then there was his character; it clearly has been formed by Christ. I found it interesting that the Centurion Julius was kind to Paul, letting him see friends in Sidon (3) and often accepting Paul’s words and council along the way (see 21-26, 31, 33-37). Apparently Paul ingratiated himself to the centurion because when the ship wreak happened, the centurion saved the life of all the prisoners because he wanted to spare Paul’s life (43). In all this I see Paul living a life where the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23) is evident in his life.

His faith was not only on his sleeve, it was in his heart!

And Paul lived this way through a trying and very difficult time as a prisoner during a rough voyage that ended disastrously.

Watching his example caused me to evaluate my life. Is my faith visible. Can I speak of what I am hearing from the Lord naturally and helpfully? Is my character open and Christ-like?  Do people trust me, even like me? Am I so trusting of God during the dark days of life?

Paul has me thinking… about faith and life. I hope he has you thinking, too.

Lord, to be totally Yours, in good times and bad. This is my prayer, that people will see You in the way I live. Through Jesus, I pray. Amen.

 

Tuesday, May 19: Acts 26- .

I have the picture of Paul standing at Stephen’s martyrdom, but reading verses 9-11 the persecution that he inflicted on Christ-followers was far more extensive than that singular act. I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.

Paul by his own admission put many in prison. There is no record of this in Acts. However, it seems that many of these were put to death with Paul casting a vote against them. To accomplish these many acts of violence against the Church, Paul traveled from synagogue to synagogue confronting people of The Way. It is no wonder that Ananias was surprised and reticent to go to Paul after his Damascus Road conversion and pray for him when the Lord told him to do it (Acts 9:13).

Did Paul really change or was this a rouse to get more names for his ‘hit’ list? Does a leopard change his spots?

Yes, when true conversion has occurred!

Paul had inflicted much more pain and hurt on the Church then I ever realized. He would have been the Church’s public enemy #1. Paul was the mean guard in the Louis Zaparini story Unbroken or Cory TenBoom’s account of her days in Nazi concentration camps. Despite his past, when he bowed a knee to Jesus, his sins were forgiven and his life and how he lived, changed.

The change Paul went through is available to everyone who says ‘Yes’ to Jesus and follows Jesus’ voice.

The change need not be as dramatic as Paul’s.   My life is a testimony to this, but it is no less real.

Have you encountered Jesus? If you haven’t you can right now by speaking with Jesus through prayer. Ask Jesus to be the leader of your life and begin following Him by reading His Word, the Bible, and finding a group of Christ-followers you can met with and learn from regularly.

Lord, I pray for everyone who reads this blog, that they will open their life to You as Paul did years ago on the Road to Damascus. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

 

PS I noticed the way King Agrippa acted after Paul’s speech. It fit with the musings I had yesterday. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”  (31-32)

 

Monday, May 18: Acts 25- Pass the buck.

It seems to me that no leader wanted to make a decision when it came to Paul. Apparently there was no definitive rule of law, so a political leader could allow someone to languish in jail without proof as a ‘favor’ to some person or group. Passing the buck allows these leaders to avoid facing the cost of a decision.

Recalling yesterday’s chapter, as I read this chapter and anticipated the next chapter, I want to shout, “Make a decision. Decide. Do something other than pass the buck!”

In part my frustration in warranted. Certainly Festus is right in wanting to have coherent charges to send with Paul when he is sent to Rome. The last thing he wanted to do was send a frivolous case to the emperor.

In part my frustration accused me. How often in matters of faith do I avoid making a decision because it might cost me? A nudge from God to go up and speak with someone.  Really, God, what would the person think???

A nudge to give an extra gift to meet some need? Delay and maybe the need will be met?

Avoiding responsibility… avoiding faith decision… they are similar actions in different arenas.

And so I pondered avoidance… avoidance of the call of God I hear in my life.

Have you ever avoided making a faith decision?

Maybe you have been dabbling in faith with Jesus but have never made the decision to go ‘all in.’ Maybe God is calling you into some faith adventure and you are avoiding the decision. How about today making the decision God is placing before you?

Think about it.

Lord, may all my decisions today be ones that say ‘YES’ to You and Your call. Amen.

 

Saturday, May 16: Acts 24- Two years.

Two years, 24 months, 104 weeks, 730 days Paul was in prison in Caesarea waiting for his case to be decided. Paul, a man of action, was cooped up and we know very little about this time. It is almost like there is a blank 2 years in Paul’s life, as far as we are concerned.

Sometimes life is like that… it is blank. It is filled with many days that all seem like the one before. Nothing exciting, nothing particularly special, nothing to mark one day from the rest… just living, breathing and doing whatever we do during the day.

Maybe Paul, who had a measure of freedom during this time, visited with friends and talked with them about life and faith and following Jesus. Maybe he sat many days alone under guard. We don’t know.

Maybe he was able to worship with other believers on the Lord’s Day and other times, and maybe not. We do not know.

Maybe he had parchments and could study during these days or maybe he had nothing to help pass the hours. We don’t know.

As I thought about this, all I know for certain is that Paul held onto his faith. He remained strong and vibrant in faith and he never lost trust in the Lord. Somehow God would redeem this time. After all God was still in control and somehow this was part of the Lord’s plan for Paul’s life.

I thought, no matter the season of life I am in, whether I am feeling used of God or not, whether I feel like I have a purpose or not, I am a son of God and my highest good is to keep on loving God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. As the famous catechism states:

What is the chief end of humanity? To love God and to enjoy Him forever. And this can be done no matter what is happing or not happening around me in life!

Thank you, Lord God, that You control my days and every day is an opportunity to live with You and for You. May I do that well today. Amen.

 

 

Friday, May 15: Acts 23- Dedication.

I wondered what it was like to have a death threat against myself due to the Gospel. That is what Paul faced. It is pretty remote chance that I would face a death threat for being a Christian and this caused me to realize how easy I have it in my walk with Jesus. I have never suffered for the Gospel; no one is trying to kill me because I live for Jesus. My life is so different than so many of the NT heroes I read about.

As I pondered this, I thought this doesn’t make me less of a Christ-follower. My call and my world are simply different than Paul’s.

Where I went in my time with Jesus was to questions of dedication. Am I willing to show the dedication Paul showed… that I keep going with Jesus, no matter the obstacles?

My world is very different than his.  My obstacles to faithfulness are very different than his. However, I can demonstrate the same depth of dedication and faithfulness in my life that Paul showed in his. This I can do…

I thought about things I need to do to show my dedication.  I won’t list them here but I invite you to think about what you would need to do in your life to show the dedication to Jesus and the advance of the Gospel of Jesus that Paul showed with his.

Think about it…

Lord, to be wholly Yours in the 21st century… 21st century United States world. It is not easy. Forgive me for all the ways I let you down, for all the ways I give in to cultural pressures because it is easier than living more obviously for Jesus.

Help me, Jesus, to live with integrity… so that people see that I am following You and therefore live differently. Praise to You, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Thursday, May 14: Acts 22- The power of citizenship.

Towards the end of the chapter, as Paul is about to be flogged, he mentions that he is a citizen of Rome. Immediately the chain of events changes. He is not flogged, in fact, the Centurion is concerned he is in trouble for putting a Roman Citizen in chains without cause.

The Power of Citizenship.

During the dialogue between Paul and the centurion we come to find out Paul was born a citizen, which gives him a leg up on the centurion ,who bought his citizenship. Paul was not just a citizen, he was born a citizen!

This got me thinking about citizenship and all the benefits of citizenship today. How hard it is for immigrants to become a citizen and so on…

The spiritual nature of citizenship then came to the forefront of my thinking. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, we become citizens of a ‘new country,’ the kingdom of the Son God loves (Colossians 1:9). And being part of that kingdom has incredible benefits.

I just finished teaching about the authority we have in Jesus as children of God, co-heirs with Jesus and citizens of God’s kingdom. There is power in our citizenship in God’s kingdom. There are blessings which come with our citizenship in God’s kingdom (Ephesians 1). It makes a difference if you are part of God’s kingdom.

Have you been transferred (Colossians 1:9) into God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus? Have you confessed Jesus as Lord of your life?   If you have, then you are a citizen of God’s kingdom. And that is GREAT NEWS!

Lord, thank you for transporting me into Your kingdom. Help me appropriate all the blessings and authority and power that comes with being part of your kingdom. I pray this not for my sake… that I might have a cushy life. NO, I pray this so that I might be your agent and ambassador extending Your kingdom to the ends of the earth. In Jesus’ name and for the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I pray. Amen.

 

Wednesday, May 13: Acts 21- The body of Christ is a precious gift from God .

It was a small detail in the account of Paul’s travels that caught hold of my heart and thoughts this morning, and so I pondered… we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. … We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day (Acts 213-4, 7).

Paul lands in 2 cities, Tyre and Ptolemais. Tyre is mentioned in the OT and Gospels and Acts 12 but Ptolemais is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. But never does the Bible mention any disciples of Jesus going to these cities, so how did people of the faith get to these cities? The account mentions that Paul sought out the disciples and stayed with them.

This small detail reminded me that God was doing much more during the days of Acts than is recorded in the book. Acts basically follows Peter and then Paul, but early on the church of Jerusalem was scattered and each began to witness to Jesus wherever they went. Maybe one of those unnamed disciples shared Jesus and as a result planted God’s church in Tyre or Ptolemais. Maybe someone who heard the teaching of Jesus brought it to Tyre.  We know Jesus went to the area of Tyre and Sidon himself and performed at least one miracle there (Mark 7:24-30).

What hit me is that God was working in and through many more people and in many other cities, countries and lands than we read in Acts.

The work of God is BIGGER than I know because the work of God happens as regular believers witness to their faith where they live and travel.  This continues to be true to this very day.

The extension of God’s kingdom is happening through many people –a few big names, but mostly unamed people living faithfully for Jesus.

Gathering with sisters and brothers is a precious gift of God, even when we have never met them before. There is a connection between true followers of Jesus that goes beyond years of knowing one another.  The Holy Spirit provides this bond. I have found this to be true in my travels. The body of Christ is a precious gift from God.

Lord, thank you for my calling to extend Your Gospel to the ends of the earth and the church You have given us. Bless You, Lord, for our calling and Your body. Halleluiah! Amen.

 

Tuesday, May 12: Acts 20- Keep watch over yourselves.

So many thoughts and musings swirl after reading this chapter. As a pastor/elder/leader, Paul’s word to the Ephesian elders hits me square in the chest. Staying true to the written Word of God is not easy these days as many purporting to be followers of Jesus teach truths not found in the Scriptures.

But where I lingered most was on four words spoken by Paul to the elders that seems applicable to every Christ follower. Verse 28, Keep watch over yourselves…

Yes, teachers hold an important place in the church, expounding upon the Word of God. Yes, church leaders chart the direction and course for the church as a whole, BUT each of us remains responsible to watch over our own lives. At the end of the day, we live our lives and we bear the responsibility for the ways we lived, rightly and wrongly. And we will each stand before the Lord and answer for every word from our mouths, thought in our heads and action of our life. Each of us, alone, standing before the Lord, face to face with the one who gave His life so that we could live…

It is this thought which dominated my time with Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit this morning.

·         Have I used my gifts well and to the best of my abilities?

·         Have I spent the time necessary to get to know God and His ways so that I can follow Him closely?

·         Have I learned to hear His voice among the voices of life that clamber for my attention?

·         Have I been obedient to God’s Word and the Spirit’s leading?

·         Have I worked to make Jesus’ name known and followed around the world?

So many questions erupt in my thoughts…

Have I? Have you?

We will stand and give account to the Lord some day… think about this.

O, Lord, I have fallen so far short of what I could have, should have done. All I can do right now is beg Your forgiveness and pledge a new my life to You. Today… I live for You. This is my prayer and one I hope to pray every day till I see You face to face. Amen.

 

Monday, May 11: Acts 19- Faith that changes how we live.

I read these accounts and my eyes opened wide. Life was so different back in the NT times. People had a passion for the spiritual. Who today would riot because they thought their god was being dissed by newcomers to town? Who would run around casting demons out of others in the name of a god they didn’t believe in or the name of a missionary who served this god? Not in my world!!

In my world some people have room for spiritual things… but very few would think of it in any exclusive way. And there is little passion to share your faith with another in order to convert them. Faith in my western world has been flattened. Faith, when one has it, rarely really affects how one lives.

We are a long way from NT times.

The question I am wrestling with is, ‘How can I live passionately for Jesus in such a way that my life and witness draws others to faith in Jesus, a faith in Jesus that honestly impacts life and how we live?’

Our cultural influence is so strong and it says, ‘if you want to have a faith it’s okay, as long as your faith doesn’t really change how you live’.  So when I think about being a witness that draws others to faith in Jesus, that impacts life, it can’t simply be sharing information. It has to grip the heart where true change occurs. And people in my world rarely go to those places. All too often faith is more a window dressing rather than a life impacting.

So this morning I am struggling with how to live so that my life makes a lasting spiritual impact on others… like the impact I see in this chapter where people would willingly renounce former practices even if that renunciation might cost them significantly and monetarily (see 18-19).

Lord, I am far from perfect. I have many areas where I still need to change. Even so, Lord, how can I live so that my life witnesses to a life change that draws people to You? I need help navigating my world in an impactful way. I pray this is Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Saturday, May 9: Acts 18- How well do you know the way of God.

How well do you know the way of God? Seriously, could you explain the Christian faith accurately to someone interested?

Priscilla and Aquila were Jews from Rome who were discipled by Paul in Corinth. They grew readily in the faith and became trusted companions and coworkers with Paul. After Paul leaves Corinth, Apollos arrives. Apollos was a good speaker and teacher but like many in the early days his faith was incomplete. There were many gaps in his understanding. In verse 26 we read that Apollos began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

I was touched by the line above. These disciples of Paul, likely believers no more than two years, take it upon themselves to instruct and explain the faith to Apollos.

What a great picture of discipleship… Pricilla and Aquila were committed to know the way of Jesus. They talked and learned and shared Jesus as a matter of course of life. Rather than remaining babes, who need to be constantly instructed by another, Priscilla and Aquila took it upon themselves to begin helping others grow in their faith.

My thoughts circle back to my opening questions. How well do you know the way of God? Seriously, could you explain the Christian faith accurately to someone interested?

Could you be a Priscilla or Aquila to someone else and help them grow in their faith and understating of God more adequately?

Think about it… I am.

Lord, help me to be a man who helps others grow in their faith in You. I pray this in Your name, Jesus. Amen.

 

Friday, May 8: Acts 17- A role of the Holy Spirit.

Paul was relentless in preaching the Gospel. Trouble in Thessalonica move on to Berea. Agitators show up in Berea, head to Athens. Five people interested in knowing more, work with them.

I found myself wondering about Thessalonica and Berea. Paul was only there a short time. In Berea he left his younger associates for a little while, but apparently not very long. So I wondered who instructed and helped the new Believers? Seemingly no one… at least no one of whom we know. So I am back to musing. Who helped the new Believers grow and remain solid in their faith?

The only answer I could come up with is God, the Holy Spirit.

Didn’t Jesus say the Spirit would lead us into all truth (John 16:13)? I guess Paul took Jesus at his Word.

Now I am not advocating a church planting scheme where the evangelist/pastor moves on after a few weeks and leaves the fledging church without help. In some of the cases Paul had no choice but to leave and we know he corresponded with Thessalonica. But I am realizing that we underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit who guards and guides His church and we need to trust the Spirit to do that like Paul apparently did.

What I am realizing is that the Spirit is more important and capable than I sometime give C

Him credit.

Lord, sometime I think I try to play the role of the Spirit. Help me to learn to listen to You better, Lord, as a church leader and to trust that You are in control. I pray this is Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Thursday, May 7: Acts 16- Believe in Jesus.

The final story of the chapter has Paul and Silas in prison. After a dramatic event the jailer cries out to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (30-31).

The essence of the Christian faith is so simple… Believe in Jesus. That’s it. Believe in Jesus. The jailer and his household make their belief public through baptism. But it is the simple faith of a person desperate for God that saves them.

Have you made a simple confession faith and belief in Jesus? If you earnestly have, then you, too, are saved. Thanks be to God we are now brothers and sisters in faith.

Lord Jesus, thank You for making our entrance into Your kingdom so simple and absolutely free… Faith in You. I pray, Lord, that the whole world believes and I offer my life to You as a tool to bring faith in You to the corners of the world. Halleluiah. Amen.

 

Wednesday, May 6: Acts 15- God's work, not mine.

Chapter 15 marks one of the most important moments in the life of the early church. The account of this chapter details how the message of Jesus can and will spread in every culture of the world. It was settled; no human culture is to be the incubator of Christianity… not Judaism, which was the immediate situation before them, and therefore not any culture. Faith in Christ was allowed to thrive in the Gentile world without believers first needing to become Jews. And that is God’s model to this day; new converts need not step out of their culture into another in order to follow Jesus! Rather the Spirit of Jesus will work through one’s culture, exposing what is not compatible with faith in Jesus, and what is no problem…

So far my musings have involved my thoughts but as I was reading, a few words from verse 4 latched onto my inner being. Here Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Those 3 words touched me, reminding me that any good that happens as a result of my life is God’s work not mine. I love the imagery of God working through me. I find that image liberating! I have to work hard and faithfully. I need to live for Jesus and seek to have His life and character fill me and change me, but all the results… people being encouraged, people coming to faith, people being healed or touched in some wonderful way… were all God’s doing. God is Lord, not me!

But this also means I have to give God the credit, too. I cannot strut around as if I am someone special because of God working through me. I love Barnabas and Paul’s humility as they reported everything God had done through them. The emphasis is on God not themselves… And this is a lesson I need to take to heart…

Lord, I pray that I can rightly give You all praise and honor when YOU work through me to bring some grace into another’s life. Please, Lord, may I truly live believing that it is ALL ABOUT YOU. I pray this through Jesus, my Lord, Who rescued and saved me. Amen.

 

Tuesday, May 5: Acts 14- No cost too great.

As I watched and listened to Barnabas and Paul, I witnessed two men for whom no cost was too great to spread the name of Jesus throughout the world. They were constantly on the road in new cities, facing danger and challenges everywhere they traveled. Fleeing for their lives from one city, they immediately begin preaching in the next. Paul was even stoned in Lystra. Despite being stoned, he and Barnabas moved on to Derbe where they immediately began preaching. Paul must have been quite a sight since he was the chief speaker of the duo.

Nothing seemed to deter them. A problem here, they move on to there, and so on.

My life, in reflection shows little, if any, willingness to pay a great cost for the Gospel. I certainly have not faced one-tenth of one percent the cost these men have faced. Why I wonder? I know I have been asked to walk a different road, but I am hard pressed to say I have truly sacrificed for the Gospel, much less suffered.

Questions circle. Self-examination continues…

Lord God, have I been disobedient? Have I missed Your cues and calls or is it more simply that my walk of faith is so very different than theirs?

Lord, have I done all You have asked of me? Show me where I have been lax, afraid, unfaithful. Show me, Lord, so that in the coming decades, or as long as You give me to live, I will be faithful. That I will witness and preach to everyone You bring to me and I will support Your causes and Your church faithfully with time, talent and finances, so that Your Gospel reaches the farthest shores and deepest inlands of the earth. To Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit, I pray through Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Monday, May 4: Acts 13- Sent.

The church of Jesus Christ enters a new era with this chapter. Yes, the church has been growing both in number and outreach. The message of Jesus has spread from Jews to Samaritans and to Gentiles. With the Holy Spirit sending Barnabas and Saul, the church becomes a ‘sent people’. No longer is the church to be content to wait for people to come to them or to simply tell people they meet at home or in travels. Now they are intentionally to go and seek people… to travel to them with the express intention of witnessing to and explaining the good news of Jesus.

Listen to Luke’s chapter opening: 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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…(2-4).

When Barnabas and Saul arrived at the places the Lord told them, they preached ‘Jesus’, offering people an opportunity to put their faith in Him. Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses (38-39).

This remains our task, the task of the church to witness to every nation (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8: tribe, language, people group), so that some might become disciples, too.

Questions fly in my head about how much I am engaged in the advance of the Gospel…

Did the Lord take you to a similar place?   Think about it.

Lord, pressing Your Gospel to the ends of the earth is our mandate. Show me what role I play to make Your dream come true. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, May 2: Acts 12- A life in God's hands.

Peter has been serving the Lord and His church since the beginning. God used him to bring many to faith. He has been arrested for his faith and has testified to religious leaders. But this imprisonment was different. Herod had his friend, and apostle, James killed and now Peter was imprisoned awaiting the same fate. Only the festival of the Passover delayed his death. Herod was currying favor with the Jews so he would certainly wait till after the festival to put Peter to death.

The church, naturally, was praying. They had seen God deliver brothers before. But they had also seen brothers executed. God’s answer to their prayers was God’s alone.

The night before his impending execution, God intervenes and leads Peter to safety, miraculously walking right past guards and through locked doors! Once free, he goes to where the church is earnestly praying; they are shocked! Peter shares his miraculous story and then goes elsewhere, likely for his and everyone else’s safety.

I met a man from Africa, a Muslim from a chieftain family, who converted and was imprisoned to be killed as an example to others who would convert. He, too, was escorted out of prison by an angel, like Peter. I have never experienced anything like this but I believe it.

And as I sat this morning I realized that my life is every bit as much in God’s hands as Peter and my African acquaintance was. Every day I get in a car and drive the highways. Countless accidents could happen to me or diseases attack me or this or that. But I am still alive… and this by the grace of God. God’s hand sustains me just as God’s hand led Peter from prison.

This morning as the sun rises I am readying myself to live another day by God’s grace. And my prayer as I begin my day is that I live it for Jesus, the Father and Spirit.

Lord may this be so… Amen.

 

Friday, May 1: Acts 11- Changing my beliefs for the sake of the gospel.

I found myself pondering the first story of this chapter. Peter defends his action of going into a Gentile’s house, sharing the Gospel and baptizing Gentiles into faith in Jesus.

It sounds fairly innocent for us living in the 21st century, but it represents a radical departure from the Jewish faith roots for the early disciples.

Peter and the others were steeped in the Jewish faith, which meant no cavorting with Gentiles. Entering their homes or eating with them was strictly forbidden. And, yet, that is precisely what God is asking them to do.

If the disciples are to take the message of Jesus to every nation, then this chasm had to be bridged. But we cannot assume it was easy. And this account shows us how difficult it was and how amazing those early followers of Jesus were to accept the change this readily.

How hard it can be for me and others to accept the changes the Gospel compels in my life!

Willingly crossing cultural and ethnic boundaries for the sake of the Gospel… that’s what Peter and the early Christians did. Am I willing to do the same? Are you?

Lord, help me to have the faith of Peter and the others in this chapter… to drop whatever You ask me to drop in my culture for the sake of the Gospel. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.