Acts 21-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He places a resolve in yielded hearts to do His will

I know several missionary families that have left the comforts of home to travel and live in dangerous parts of the world.  Some met with opposition from family and friends at their decision to do so; but with resolve, they moved forward in obedience to God.  Paul, the greatest missionary that has ever lived, faced some opposition in his decision to return to Jerusalem.  When prophets shared a word from the Lord to discourage him from going to Jerusalem, Paul stuck to his resolve.  Was he right?

@ Acts 21
“We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.” (4)  “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit declares, “So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (10-12)

This was Paul’s resolve in response to their warnings, “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lies ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (20:22-24) And so it is with the missionaries that preach the gospel around the world.  They are bound by the Spirit who calls them, and their lives are worth nothing unless they do the work God has assigned them.  Those who love them must understand this.

Were the prophets who warned Paul in error?  Let me just say that the life of the prophet can be as difficult as the life of the missionary.  The responsibility of the prophet to speak only what God has revealed to them, without their personal input and interpretation is a challenge.  Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:20-21, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said.  Hold on to what is good.”  God had revealed truth to the dear brethren who were warning Paul about his trip to Jerusalem, but how he should respond to that truth was between Paul and the Lord.

“Even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture.” (I Corinthians 13:9) Only part of God’s plans for Paul had been revealed to the prophets, and there was a higher purpose in Paul’s trip to Jerusalem.  It was the first step toward his movement to Rome, God’s final purpose and destination for Paul.  Bound by the Spirit, Paul was moving ahead in his calling.

“Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’  When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’  After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem.”(21:13-15) Paul’s companions were not going to desert him now.  They would give aid, comfort, and support to Paul to accomplish his mission.

How could we do any less for those we love who are fulfilling God’s calling on their lives?  To parents, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your children no matter how difficult.  To children, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your parents regardless of personal desires – He will reward you.  The very least we can do for those bound by the Spirit to do God’s will is to not hinder them, and God will bless all our efforts to support and enable them. 

Moving Forward:  Bound by the Spirit to present the gospel, may we not be hindered or discouraged by those who see only part of the picture. 

Tomorrow @ 2 John

Acts 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He gives us the grace we need to reach the most hateful of men

Rising high in the center of beautiful Vienna is the extraordinary St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1160.  It honors the deacon from the early church in Jerusalem, Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr and stoned by the Temple leaders because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  The Church is magnificent in its architecture and Gothic style, but its beauty could never be compared to the radiant face of Stephen as he saw the Lord and prayed as they stoned him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.” (7:59-60) 

@ Acts 8
Stephen preached a great sermon on the day he was killed and gave a historical account of the rejection of God and His Son by Israel’s religious leaders.  Little did he know that the message of Jesus would one day greatly impact one of the bystanders, “Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.” (1)  Saul was one of the haters.

When we step out in obedience to share the love of God in the marketplace, we may be surprised at who is listening to our message and at how it is impacting them.  I think of the story of Nicky Cruz and David Wilkerson.  In the late 1950’s, bold street evangelist David Wilkerson witnessed to the hardened gang members of New York City, and there in the gang was the hardest of them all, Nicky Cruz. Even though Nicky beat him and threatened his life, David expressed God’s great love for Nicky with the heart of one like Stephen, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”

Nicky had a radical conversion, not unlike the Apostle Paul who earlier had approved of Stephen’s stoning.  Nicky went on to preach the Good News around the world drawing many gang members and lost souls to the Lord, and he still is preaching today about the transformation in his life.  As we know, Paul shook the world with his conversion and the Church of the Lord Jesus has never been the same.

We just can’t imagine the impact our witness will have in the lives of complete strangers when we are simply obedient to the Great Commission and present the Good News. No one is too bad, too lost or too hateful to be touched by God’s love through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Never shortchange Him!  It was Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (l Timothy 1:15-16) 

Moving Forward: I won’t let the hateful words or deeds of sinful men stop me from presenting the Good News to them. I may be reaching the next great evangelist!

Tomorrow @ James 1-3

Nahum 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He delivers the good news through His messengers 

@ Nahum 1
A few years ago I had the opportunity to trek up a mountain path to the top of a hill overlooking a multicolored tree-studded valley in the Austrian Alps and see the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.  And yes, it’s good for all to remember that only God is credentialed to be jealous (verse 2).  During that time away, I was privileged to fellowship with missionaries and pastors who minister in the International Churches of Europe.  No one deserved this amazing retreat setting more than they did.  These messengers, with their beautiful feet, know something about delivering a message of good news, just as the messengers prophesied about in Nahum.

The prophet Nahum delivered a message of judgment to the powerful Assyrians in his prophecy.  Assyria’s torment of Israel was coming to an end, and their terrible fate would soon be heralded throughout Israel.  “Look!  A messenger is coming over the mountains with good news!  He is bringing a message of peace.  Celebrate your festivals, O people of Judah, and fulfill all your vows, for your wicked enemies will never invade your land again.” (15)  God was jealous for His people, just as a husband is jealous over his wife and wants no rivals, and the Assyrians would meet their end because they sought to steal God’s people from Him.  The destruction was so complete that the ruins of Assyria’s great cities were not discovered until the 1800’s.  God doesn’t mess around.

As I stood at the top of the hill and looked out across the mountains, I imagined messengers reaching the mountain crest from the other side, shouting their message of good news and peace as they came into view. God is jealous for His creation and has sent his messengers to the nations, over the mountains, through the valleys, and across the oceans to declare the good news, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation.” (Isaiah 52:7)  They come with a message of deliverance from the enemy’s snare, the enemy who will one day be utterly destroyed.  They come with a message of peace and hope.

The path I walked that day was filled with tree roots and rocks, making climbing difficult at times, and I thought of the challenges along the way that our missionaries face as they bring the good news to the nations. I am reminded to pray for a clear path for their beautiful feet, safety along the way and for their resounding message to touch more lives than they have ever imagined. 

Moving Forward:  So thankful today for His messengers who take His message of peace and hope around the world and grateful for those who brought it to me. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 7-8

Philippians 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He empowers us to do what pleases Him 

@ Philippians 1
What a treat it is when we attempt to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time and find ourselves encouraged the most! This is probably how the Philippians felt when they read Paul’s letter to them.  The Philippians were his first congregation on the European continent, and his affection for them is obvious. “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” (3)  I feel this same way about so many people in my life.

The Philippians had supported him throughout his ministry, including his time in prison where he sat writing his letter to them.  I’m sure their hearts were breaking for this father of their faith who had nurtured them and was now in prison for sharing that very faith. Their gifts and messages sent through Epaphroditus – never will I complain about my name again – were no doubt intended to lift his spirits and encourage him.  His response was the joyful letter of Philippians.

Just like a father would do, Paul encouraged them to continue to mature and grow in the Lord regardless of their concern about his prison confinement.  “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives…” (9-10)  Don’t worry about my state of affairs and what I am going through, but press on and you will understand what really matters in life.

“I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (20-21)  We can tell if we have discovered what really matters in life by how tightly we hold on to this world and what it has to offer.  Paul had let go.

Oh, that I would always view the trials I face with the heart and attitude of Paul, “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  For everyone here…knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (12-14)

What if Paul had responded to his chains with depression and fear, disillusioned by his situation?  The local Christians in Rome, who would soon face great persecution themselves, would have no role model of tenacious faith to follow.  There would be no encouraging letter to the Philippians that we so often quote and receive a blessing from today.  Thank you, Paul, for showing us what really matters. 

@ Philippians 2
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (12)  When we reverence God and obey Him, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11) and the power that changed Saul to Paul will empower us to do what pleases Him, to do what really matters.  Just as Paul was not alone sitting in that prison cell, we are not alone in our trial.  We can respond to our testing with the same heart and attitude as Paul because of what God is accomplishing within us. 

Moving Forward:  With God working in me today, I am empowered to face this day with tenacious faith, living His example of one who knows what really matters in life – the eternal side of living. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 7-9

Galatians 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He replaced the law with Christ, focusing on His grace.

This is difficult to admit, particularly to my riding friends, but I’m not terribly fond of motorcycles.  I’ve always found them noisy and smelly, and for one who doesn’t like to wear a hat, a helmet is just not going to happen.  One can safely assume that I’ll probably never be found on a motorcycle, the football field or roller blades.  I tried to indoctrinate my son with my attitude about motorcycles early in his life.  Whenever a motorcycle passed us on the road with its thunderous roar, I would say to him, “Oh yuck, Brady, we don’t like those motorcycles,” and I also shared many subliminal messages.

When our son was a little older, an especially sweet Harley passed us on the road and my husband, the traitor, said to our son, “Brady, look at the cool bike!” And my precious innocent son replied, “Wow! I like it!”  It was then I knew that my years of brainwashing had been in vain. The words of Paul to the Galatians came to mind, “Oh, foolish, Brady!  Who has cast an evil spell on you?”  I knew I had lost the battle. So to the bikers of the world, I acquiesce; but Paul, on the other hand, was not so quick to cave.

“Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you?” (3:1)  Poor Paul.  He had spent a great deal of time discipling the Christians in Turkey on several missionary trips and now to have them fall for the false message of the Judaizers!  “You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all.  You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.” (1:6-7)

In Chapter 2 we learn that the Judaizers were Jews who resisted Paul’s message of freedom from the Jewish law.  To them, belief in Jesus and what He did on the cross was just not quite enough.  They believed that all Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, must follow the law given to Moses, and those who did not follow it should be avoided.

The Apostle Peter, unintentionally I am sure, added validity to their message when he would not eat with Gentiles in front of other Jews in order to keep the peace.  I would love to have been sitting with a cup of coffee over in the corner of the cafe or wherever it was when Paul and Peter had their discussion in Chapter 2.

Paul, seldom concerned about diplomacy, said it straight up, “When I tried to keep the law, it condemned me.  So I died to the law…so that I might live for God.  My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God…For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (2:19-21)  Christ and His Holy Spirit (3:2) living in me are more than enough!

Understanding Paul’s plight, we might say today, “Oh, foolish Americans!  Who has cast an evil spell on you?”  For the Judaizers of today, the law is irrelevant, but then to them, so is Jesus…irrelevant.  The man-made religions of today, the Oprah feel-good ones, may seem more open-minded, more compassionate and inviting, but they have nothing backing them up.

A handful of crisp, new counterfeit $100 bills may look good, feel good in my pocket and may give a sense of prosperity, but when I go to spend them I’ll find that nothing is backing them up!  Of course, some may reason that even authentic dollars do not have much backing them up today, but then that’s a topic for another day.  Convenient, man-made devotion to some higher power is only just that, a counterfeit, and it doesn’t spend well.  Jesus paid with His life, backed by the true and living God, and that we can take to the bank! 

Moving Forward: I resist the trappings of the counterfeits today and depend on Christ crucified, living in me to direct my life.  He’s all that I need and more than enough! 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 33-36

Mark 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He welcomes all who minister in His name

When I’ve worked hard on a project from the beginning, knowing all the ins and outs of it, I tend to take ownership – it’s my baby! Others may come along to work on the project with me, but they always seem to do things differently. I have the tendency to think that without following my expertise, everything could be ruined. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, and we’d almost rather go it alone. Because of this, we can somewhat understand the disciples’ hearts when newcomers on the scene started preaching about their Jesus.

@ Mark 9
“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” (38) He wasn’t in our group sounds cliquish and juvenile, but the disciples were more than likely concerned about protecting the name of Jesus. Perhaps they were questioning why this man wasn’t in their group? What group was he representing? What if he prays in a different style than ours? How will this affect our Lord?

Jesus was not terribly concerned about His reputation in His response. “Don’t stop him!” He said with emphasis. “Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” (39-41) To spread this Gospel, to reach the lost around the world, the disciples were going to need all the help they could get. Many of their encounters had been met with much opposition to the message of Jesus, but this man appeared to have faith in His very name.

We face this same issue in spreading the Gospel today. We need all the help we can get! The churches down the street or other ministries so often have a different style than we do in reaching the lost. Some are hard-sell, some are soft-sell and some, like us, get it just right. While we can appreciate the humor in that statement, why would we ever criticize a genuine move of God just because the method is different than to what we are accustom?

The criterion, according to Jesus, is not the style or method we use, but in whose name we are ministering. (39) Rest assured, He knows who belongs to Him and exposes charlatans and cons in due time. We all answer to Him directly, bypassing the opinions of others, and it’s His acceptance of our methods and results that have eternal value. So, I relinquish any ownership to the message of the Gospel and pray for all who minister in His name.

Moving forward: I’m thankful today for all who minister in the name of Jesus with pure hearts, regardless of style or method.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 15-16

Mark 7-8 (NLT)

Discover His Heart: He calls us to surrender everything so that we may receive everything

I give up! Or, I should say, I gave up! Many, many years ago this reluctant college-bound student knelt at an altar and gave up her plans and aspirations for a career in decor and design in exchange for His plans and aspirations for her. It was a struggle, but He won – and so did I! There’s nothing wrong with a career as a designer. It just wasn’t His plan for my life. The life I’ve walked since that day of surrender hasn’t been without its challenges, but His abiding peace and guidance has been with me every step of the way. I’m so glad I gave up.

@ Mark 8
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” (34) Mark was writing to the Romans who understood the significance of taking up the cross as surrender to Roman power, and it was important for Mark to relay these words of Jesus. Jesus was calling those in the crowd that day to follow Him, to lay down their own aspirations in surrender to His guidance and to accept Him as their Savior. And He is calling each one of us today to do the same.

This challenge from Jesus includes our willingness to allow His will for our lives to take preeminence over our own will. Is the trade worth it? If we think about it, this struggling over decisions and direction in life all on our own and then living through the consequences of wrong choices is not all that appealing. Instead, receiving guidance from One who knows the future and who has our best interests at heart, while offering sweet fellowship here on earth with the promise of eternal life in heaven…well, how do you improve on that? Wisdom would say the trade is worth it.

Jesus took commitment a step further, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (34-37) Jesus taught by example. He gave up – He gave it all through His death on the cross so that we may have eternal life.

At least ten individuals, His disciples, listening to Him that day ended up giving up their lives as martyrs, for His sake and for the sake of the Good News. A sobering thought, to say the least. While our surrendering to Him today does carry this potential, most of us will continue on as businessmen and women, doctors, nurses, sales clerks, grocers, missionaries, ministers or whatever He has guided us to do. But for the sake of our souls we will continue on our journey, ever surrendered to Him “for His sake and for the sake of the Good News.”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  These are the words of Jim Elliot, a man who gave up everything in the jungles of Ecuador for the sake of the Good News!

Moving Forward: With joy I repeat, I gave up! I surrendered it all to Him, and I’ve gained it all! With His help, I’ll never take it back.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 13-14