(Acts 16-19)

The diversity of the church in Philippi really jumped out at me this morning. The first church members there were a wealthy woman, her friends/ employees, a slave girl, and a Roman prison guard and his whole family. They didn’t have much in common socially or economically, but the bond of brother-sisterhood through the blood of Jesus was enough to establish a solid church. Paul wrote the encouraging and powerful book of Philippians to these folks.

The second thing that really jumped out at me today was how Paul appealed to and leveraged to his Roman citizenship in Philippi.But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out” (Acts 16:37). This was Roman colony that would have had all the respect for Roman law and citizenship as Rome itself so his appeal wasn’t ungrounded.

We live in a moment in American history where many Christians are wondering how they need to posture themselves. Some note that we are citizens of Heaven and to them it indicates that they don’t need to worry so much about the affairs/ politics of this world. Others indicate that God has given us an American citizenship and we are to press that to it’s fullest advantage including voting, campaigning for candidates/ issues, signing petitions, boycotting, etc. Some wondered does citizenship in Heaven mean I forfeit the rights of citizenship of my country?

These concepts were never intended to be held in tension. Paul writes the Philippians, (People who understood all the rights and privileges’ of Roman citizenship and who were present when he first made an appeal to his own Roman citizenship ) and uses the concept of citizenship as a metaphor to teach about the rights and privileges of those who are in Christ. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

It was precisely because Paul was a Roman citizen who appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen that the concept of being citizens of heaven could be clearly understood. This is one of those both and concepts. Christians should rejoice that they are citizens in the kingdom of heaven, but we should also use whatever rights and privilege’s that are afforded to us as citizens of our country to promote and further the gospel. In America this means using our rights such as free speech to present the gospel, advocate for the powerless, address corruption, and let our voices be heard. However, there is a way to do all of those things with tact and compassion for those who see things differently than us. I’ve put a few links in the resources today that include organizations/ individuals that write from a biblical/ Christian perspective on political/ theological issues of interest to Christians. I’ll also link to a few good books on Politics/Christianity that I have read and found helpful.

Father, We thank you for the diversity of individuals you have called together in the church. we rejoice that more than anything we have the saving work of Christ in common. We pray that you would use us to be salt and light into our communities to reach others with the gospel. We thank you for our Nation and the freedoms we have. Give us wisdom on how to use our rights and privileges to spread the gospel. These things we ask in Jesus Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Politics According to the Bible* – Wayne Grudem Book

Why Politics Needs Religion* – Brandon Sweetman Book

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*- Affiliate Link

There is Room for Conflict in the Church (Acts 13-15)

The major thing that jumped out at me today is that there is room for conflict in the church. We see a few conflicts in the reading today. The biggest issue that took up a bulk of the reading was the conflict over if new converts to Christianity should be circumcised. It was an issue that was ultimately decided by taking the debate to the Apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem. I’d like to say that the conflict was resolved with a well drafted letter from Jerusalem, but the reality is that this became something that plague Paul’s ministry down the line.

It’s worth noting how Paul and his companions handled the conflict. They took it to the Jerusalem council and left it in the hands of those who had been called as Apostles to decide. These men met, prayed, and discussed the matter and finally resolved the issue. Then a letter was drafted affirming the decision they knew honored the LORD. This should have ended the controversy inside the church, but unfortunately there were those who would follow Paul wherever he went trying to teach gentile converts that they had to be circumcised.

Another conflict arose when Barnabas and Paul wanted to visit the churches they had planted. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul had no confidence in John Mark because he had been abandoned by him before. We are told that this was a sharp contention (15:39) that wasn’t even really resolved, but that ended with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways with separate partners.

Often we picture the early church being conflict free. We imagine that folks prayed about everything and that everything just worked out. The reality is that the early church was filled with drama and issues as good people, called by God, worked through their conflict. Earlier in Acts, deacons were appointed to deal with the drama surrounding feeding widows. Here we see a church council meeting to decide an important theological issue. We also see good friends going separate ways over what seems like a small issue. The early church had just as much conflict as the church does today.

Conflict resolution is part of ministry and a part of God’s church because it’s at the very heart of the gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We forget we were at enmity with God but that He made peace with us through the cross of Christ Jesus. When we see conflict in the church, we should recognize that we live in a fallen world and seek to resolve our conflict in a ways that honors God.

Father, thank you that we get an honest understanding of historical events when we read your word. Thank you that it isn’t dressed up or sugar coated, but that you are straight forward and honest with us about very real conflict that took place in the early church. Thank you that you have made us ambassadors and peacemakers to a lost and fallen world and we get to bring the message of hope to those who have yet to be reconciled to you. We pray that you give us opportunity and wisdom to be peacemakers today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

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An Outward Symbol of an Inner Reality (Acts 10-12)

Quite a few things jumped out at me in the passage we are reading this morning. I’ll keep it limited to three theological observations/ applications for the sake of brevity. First, we see the first mission Paul is entrusted with by the church is to send relief to the church in Jerusalem (11:27-30, 12:25). It is interesting to note that where the gospel started, becomes the place of greatest need. We practice missions in quite a different way these days. Generally a church sends missionaries and money out to the mission field. Here the off shoot of the church in Jerusalem was sending money back to aid those in Jerusalem. It speaks of Jerusalem’s great need as well as the Antioch church’s great love for their fellow believers. Too often in church life we imagine a competition between one another for nickels and noses, yet these churches saw it as their obligation to help one another even to the point of sending people and resources.

The second observation is to note that these events while read swiftly on a page actually occurred over years. We are reading a highlight of the decades that span the infancy of the early church. We know that Paul didn’t start his missionary work right away but spent years in Tarsus and Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). We also note when Peter was set free from prison at the time of the Passover (Acts 12:3-4), which is the same time of year/ festival where Jesus was murdered and rose from the dead, so we know that well over a year has passed between all of these events. Sometimes we can develop apathy towards certain things because it doesn’t seem like God is moving or even moving fast enough. Patience is the word of the day as we note that God moves in his own time. Sometimes it is explosive, but often times it’s slow. What we see recorded in Acts are the highlights of decades of activity. Trust the Lord and keep putting one foot in front of the other on the path he has you on. One day you’ll look back and see just how consistently trusting in him has transformed your character.

Third I want to note that Cornelius and his bunch received the Holy Spirit BEFORE they were baptized. Acts is often used by certain friends to try and establish a gospel plus works based salvation, where individuals MUST be baptized in order to be SAVED. I certainly validate the importance of baptism (I am a Baptist, it’s in the name). When and were possible those who profess Christ should be baptized. It’s the first step of obedience in the LORD and if you don’t take that first step in outwardly trusting God then it’s fair to say your faith is suspect at the very least. That being said, Baptism doesn’t save you, Jesus saves you. In the process of salvation it is clear to me that God must do His work in our hearts first. Water baptism in this instance was clearly an outward symbol of what God had already done in the hearts of Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:47, 11:16-17).

Father, thank you for how you work and move in our lives. I pray that as we look over our years in following you that we see your mighty hand at work in our lives. I pray that you would help us to be confident in your work. I pray that we would work together in unity for the sake of your kingdom and your glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

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The Mystery of the Sovereignty of God in Healing and Raising the Dead (Acts 7-9)

A few things really jumped out at me in the reading today. First, Stephen knew the scriptures (the Old Testament at this point) and used them to point his hearers to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. Stephen outlines how the LORD delivered Israel in the past foreshadowing the coming of a Messiah and that Jesus was exactly that Messiah. His message “cut the the heart” and folks were enraged to have their sins put on display by the scriptures. God’s Word does cut to the heart. Fortunately some people come to Him in repentance, but others reject God’s grace and harden their hearts. I really want to memorize more scripture.

The second thing that jumped out at me in this portion of scripture is that we have the first martyr who is buried by devout men who mourned him (Acts 8:2) and we also have a devout woman raised from the dead (Acts 9:41). The question that comes to my mind is, “Why wasn’t Stephen raised from the dead?” Certainly he was a devout man. Certainly the circumstances of his death were worthy of praise and admiration. Certainly there were apostles close by. He was examined and chosen as a deacon. So why does this woman named Dorcus get to be raised to life and Stephen has to be buried by mourners?

We want everything cut and dry. We want it simple. We want things uniform. We read about miracles of healing and we assume that everyone present got healed. We forget that Jesus only healed one man at a pool filled with sick and dying folks (John 5). We forget that Peter and John healed a man who was lame from birth and sitting at the gate of the temple every day (Acts 3:1-10), that surely they had passed with Jesus before on many occasions (Luke 22:53). We forget that Paul had a thorn in the flesh that was never really removed (2 Corinthians 2:12) and that he had trouble with his eyes (Galatians 4:13-15, 6:11). We forget Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and frequent infirmities ( I Timothy 5:23), why not send him a handkerchief (Acts 19:11-12)?

The LORD is mysterious. There isn’t a simple pattern of behavior that we can accomplish to make God act on our behalf. We can’t blame a lack of faith for a lack of miracle as some do. Stephen had plenty of faith and boldness. Stephen was mourned by godly friends who missed him deeply, but he also saw Jesus that day.

What we do know is that there were times when God healed or raised the dead and there were times that he doesn’t. Today we read about both types of occasions. The conclusion we can draw from the matter-of-fact way that the scripture presents both cases is that God can and does heal, but sometimes he chooses not to. We should recognize that we don’t know the mind of God, but that certainly he has his reasons. Given the way Stephen was martyred and the fact that he was looking into heaven when he died, I suspect Stephen wouldn’t have wanted to come back.

Some things, like healing are worth praying for, but trusting the Lord to decide. Should you be blessed to be miraculously healed, glory to God. Should you not be healed in this life, know that God loves you and his plan may be different than you anticipate and even hope. We all run the race set before us and we shall see His plan unfold before us in due time.

Father, we trust you this day. We pray for those who are sick and infirm. We long for the day when there is no more sickness or disease. We are grateful for when you heal us. We look forward with faith when we struggle through infirmity. We anticipate a day when there is no more striving against a sinful world and we live in your eternal kingdom. Our hope is in you. Our faith is in you. Our love is because you have so loved us. Let us run the race that is set before us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Last Year’s Post

Acts 7: FORGIVENESS

Acts 8: TIME TO GO

Acts 9: HOW TO WORSHIP WITH A MURDERER

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Prayer and Persecution (Acts 4-6)

There were two things that really jumped out at me right away in todays reading. The first thing to notice was how scripture saturated the prayer was in 4:23-31. I taught Psalm 2 in recent memory and so the reference (Psalm 2:1-2) was still fresh on my mind. For a while now I’ve been trying to model my prayers after the Psalms and other various passages of scripture. It was neat to see how this was affirmed in the reading today. I’ll put a link the resources to a Donald Whitney book that has been helpful for me.

The second thing that really stuck out at me was how much opposition the early church faced. Sometimes we can put on rose colored glasses and think that everything was splendid while God was adding to their number each day. It can be easy to forget that the growth came also with much persecution. As much as God was adding to the church, there were those who were dead set against the gospel and who were willing to murder even.

This shouldn’t surprise us that the gospel has such a profound effect on the lives of people. The gospel has a polarizing effect. Some will come to the Lord and some may harden their hearts and persecute the church. It’s admirable that the early Christians saw this undue suffering as a badge of honor (5:41). Today we often view the road of suffering as missing God’s will, but they saw it as being in the center of His will. The day is quickly approaching and in some ways is already here where individuals will be persecuted for believing the gospel.

Father, thank you for the ability to call out to you in prayer. Thank you so much for the many models of prayer we see in the scripture as well as being able to use your Word to craft our thoughts into well versed prayers. Today we ask that you would give us a boldness to be witnesses for you just like those early disciples. Should we suffer for our witness of you, we ask for the humble attitude of the disciples who rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for your name. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Praying the Bible By Don Whitney (Affiliate Link*)

Last Year’s Post

The Cornerstone (Acts 3)

Your Sin isn’t Small (Acts 4)

The Necessary and the Urgent (Acts 5)

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Father, Forgive Them (Luke 22-24)

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Luke 23:34

The point of the gospels is to lead us to the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. These are the historical and theological realities on which the Christian faith hangs. Jesus utters several statements on his way to the crucifixion as well as from the cross that help us understand his mind. He knew exactly what he was doing and exactly what was taking place. He knew He was an innocent man dying at the hands of guilty sinners. Yet, even from great physical and emotional agony He has the presence of mind to care and pray for those who torturing Him.

A seminary professor once told me that ignorance and arrogance look the same in a person. When someone hurts us it is easy to ascribe to them all sorts of arrogant motives. However, many times the injury comes not because someone is maliciously against us, but because they are ignorant of what they are doing. They may not even know they are hurting us. Certainly ignorance isn’t innocence, but it isn’t also necessarily malevolent.

How clearly Jesus sees the issue of sin even from the cross. He is literally in the the midst of paying for their sin as he intercedes for them. They didn’t know what they were doing that day, but they would know one day. And on that day, there would be mercy for all those who would come to Jesus in repentance. He was willing to forgive them even while they were crucifying Him.

As I reflected on this verse this morning I couldn’t help but contemplate the way that I have seen and understood some sins in my own life. There are things I’ve done in the past and that I understand more about now. At the time I thought they were no big deal. I look back and realize I was ignorant. I didn’t see everything rightly. I am thankful that God in His overwhelming grace chose to love me despite my sin. As I contemplate how God loves me, that even while I was sinner Christ would die for me (Romans 5:8), I can’t help but examine how I deal with those who sin against me. Certainly I don’t see with the clarity that Jesus sees sin, but there are moments where others have sinned against me that I need to recognize that sometimes people sin out of ignorance and that at the end of the day, forgiveness is more important than offense.

Father, thank you for loving me so much that while I was still dead in my trespasses and sin that Christ died for me. Thank you for the hope of the resurrection. Thank you for the amazing grace poured out on my life each day. Please continue to cultivate the character of Christ in my life. Let me be quick to forgive. Let me be concerned with the wholeness of others more than I am about perceived offenses today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Last Year’s Post

Never the Less, not my will but yours be done

He was looking for the Kingdom of God

Why was the bible Written?

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Whose Kingdom is it Anyway? (Luke 19-21)

Every night when I tuck our youngest child to sleep we whisper the Lord’s prayer together. Right now it’s the only way she knows to pray. When I started to teach it to her I was worried it would become something she would just vainly parrot from memory. Certainly she doesn’t understand everything she says in that prayer yet. I was worried it would lose meaning, but as we have prayed together every night I have noticed that as I repeat this prayer that the themes are never old. It is always fresh. Some nights I remember I am in need for forgiving others as Jesus teaches in the prayer. Other days I realize I’ve not been seeking His Kingdom to come and His will to be done and so I repent. These simple words that Jesus has given us as a model prayer have served to keep my focus when I have stopped and prayed them with intention.

I have come to admire the first part of the prayer in particular where he teaches us to pray, “YOUR kingdom come, your will be done.” It places the focus back squarely on the Lord. At this point in the prayer I haven’t even asked for daily bread or even the forgiveness of my sins. To pray the rest of the prayer you have to first bow a knee and recognize Jesus as Lord. When Jesus is Lord, everything else falls into place.

The problem in today’s reading was that there were several men who didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah. they didn’t want him to be Lord. They were well known. They were wealthy. They had built small little kingdoms based off of their knowledge of the scriptures. When the real messiah came to town rather than honoring the Lord, they wanted to murder him.

Jesus has made a be-line for Jerusalem. He is headed to the cross and on his way he preaches and shares a few parables aimed at demonstrating the incompetence and cowardice of the religious leaders. In the one parable (Luke 19:11-27) he talks about stewards who are given charge over the masters money and given a task to multiply it through whatever means they might have a mind to. The point is that these men were stewards. They were handling someone else’s resources. Those who handled things well were rewarded, those who didn’t faced severe consequences.

Jesus shares a more explicit parable (Luke 20:9-18) aimed right at the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. He compares the leaders to murderous tenants who had leased a vineyard from a wealthy land owner, but don’t want to share the fruit of their labors. They very obviously step across the boundaries of being tenants to the point that they even murder the land owners son. They forgot their place. It wasn’t their vineyard. It belonged to the master and he would set his house in order.

So often in ministry and life we want to tell the LORD what to do. We forget that we owe Him everything. We are just stewards and tenants. We really are to pray for HIS Kingdom to come and HIS will to be done. The religious leaders had forgotten that along the way. They stopped being good stewards, they had stopped being good tenants, they found themselves complicit in a conspiracy to murder Jesus.

Father, we freely confess and pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We recognize that your kingdom is breaking into this world. We recognize that we are stewards and tenants of the kingdom. We don’t call the shots, you certainly do. Give us grace today to bow a knee, humble trust you and see you move in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

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You Can’t Be Made Righteous By Your Brother’s Faults (Luke 16-18)

Luke 18:9-14 NKJV Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: (10) “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. (12) ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ (13) “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise [his] eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (14) “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Life isn’t fair. It’s full of people who will hurt us. It doesn’t take long for children to play together before the drama of so-and-so did whatever to start to unfold. Tattling is human nature. Its our sin nature that makes us want to point out the sins of others. Somehow we feel that if our sins aren’t as bad as somebody else’s then we are ok.

We should know better. No one else’s sin can make you righteous. No matter how much of a sinner someone else is, it doesn’t make you right before God. We all stand our fall on our own before the Lord.

When we point out the sins of others, we are trying to justify ourselves. We are trying to make ourselves look better. We imagine that if the fault really lies with someone else, well then maybe we aren’t that bad. The problem is that recognizing someone else’s sin never made our own sin disappear.

This is why forgiveness is such a big deal. When we refuse to forgive others we are holding on to a perverted sense of righteousness because we fail to release them from their sins. That kind of righteousness is self-righteousness and it doesn’t save, it damns.

The only way to truly deal with the sin in our lives is not by pointing out the sin in others, but freely confessing our own sin. Two men went to the temple to pray. One was right in his own eyes and in danger of Hell because he was blind to his own sin. The other freely confessed he was a sinner and walked away justified, not by what he had done, but by the God who hears the prayers of the humble.

Father, Help us not to look for the fault in our brothers, but to freely confess and deal with the faults that lie in our own heart. Help us to trust you to judge the faults of others and to see our heart rightly. I pray that we are always swift to come to you for repentance. I rejoice that you have made a way for us to be made righteous through Jesus Christ who takes away our sins when we humbly repent and trust in you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

One who is faithful in very little

We have only done what is our duty

Will He Find Faith On the Earth?

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He Knew (Matthew 25-27)

There is a lot that takes place in these chapters leading up the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What strikes me the most is that Jesus knows everything that is going to happen. He knows the small things like where to have the Passover meal. He knows the bigger details like who will betray him. He knows and cares about what impact everything will have on the disciples. He tells them they will flee. He encourages them to pray. He has already told Peter that he will will deny Him before the rooster crows. Most importantly He knows He is going to the cross. He is going to lay His life down.

On the one hand we are to see the intentionality in which Jesus went to the cross to save us from our sins. This was clearly the purpose.He willingly submitted Himself to the cruelty of death by crucifixion for the sake of offering new life by His resurrection.

I think what is also intreaguing and comforting to me out of all this is that He wasn’t so focused on the crucifixion that he lost sight of his disciples for one moment. Just as he knew and followed the divine plan set before the foundation of the world, He also intimately knew each one of his disciples and demonstrated great care for them through the whole process.

If Jesus cared for His followers then, He certainly cares for His followers now. No matter what we may face in this life, we know that He knows us better than ourselves and what we need more than anything. I am grateful Jesus knows me better than I know myself.

Father, Thank you for the cross. Thank you for your love poured out. Thank you for your purpose in redeeming a people to yourself. Help me to trust you with all my burdens and cares, knowing you care for me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

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It’s not what you do, it’s what has been done for you (Matthew 19-21)

My son and I have been playing an adventure video game. The main character has a backpack that you can load up with stuff. I’m impressed with how much it actually “holds” but it does have a limit. I went to pick up a new item the other day and the game said I couldn’t add anything else until I got rid of something in my back pack. The item I was trying to pick up was way more valuable than the stuff I already had and so I gladly made the trade.

As Jesus deals with the rich young ruler, it becomes apparent that this guy seems to have it all… and that was the problem, he had too much. Too much confidence in his own ability to “do” something to merit eternal life. This guy didn’t need to “do” anything, he just had to recieve what Jesus would do for him. The only way that trade would really take place is if he let go of the stuff he was holding on to. (not because Jesus wanted his money, he said to give it all to the poor!) The only way we can approach Jesus and it do us any good is to come humbly and empty so that he might fill us.

Father, thank you for your amazing gospel of grace. Thank you that it’s not what I can do to earn eternal life that get’s me into the kingdom of heaven, but what you have already done. Help me to be free from distraction and trust in you completely in every way. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

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