Matthew 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to go public with our testimony of faith

Several years ago I had the privilege to witness a water baptism service take place in the Jordan River.  As scripture was read, I imagined the scene centuries before when John the Baptist was baptizing in this river and the Lord Jesus came to be baptized.  It was a moving experience for me and caused me to reflect on my own water baptism.

I was part of a group of four children baptized in our church baptismal tank one Sunday morning.  I was five years old.  We entered the tank together where our pastor was waiting for us; and to this day, a hundred years later, I remember an indescribable presence of the Lord to where the water was stirring even though we stood still and my lips were stammering even though I wasn’t cold.  Little did I understand at the time that the Holy Spirit baptizer was there with us.  My water baptism experience was a glorious encounter with the living God that I will never forget.  I doubt at the age of five that I understood all the ramifications of my submission to water baptism, but really, does anyone? 

@ Matthew 3
“In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’… People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John.  And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.” (1-2,5-6)  The Pharisees and Sadducees who came to watch were not welcomed by John who called them a brood of snakes (help) because they claimed to be repentant of their sins but didn’t live like it. (7-8)  Obviously, water baptism for John was not just something to do on a sunny afternoon.

Paul described it this way to the Romans, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4)  Water baptism is our public declaration to the world that we have died and buried our old way of life through our repentance of sin and have risen to live a walk that is committed to our new life.

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives.” (Romans 6:6)  Water baptism doesn’t save us.  Water baptism is our testimony to the world of the salvation we have received.  And as John was saying to the Pharisees, if we’re not committed to living like a believer, we certainly should not give testimony that we are one.

Water baptism usually comes early in our walk with the Lord, and we rarely know at that time how our public confession of faith will be tested, how we may be ridiculed, ignored or even persecuted or how strongly we may be tempted to fail.  In all of that, we would do well to remember our water baptism, our public declaration that the old man is dead and buried and the new man is alive and well on planet earth.  It just might give us the boost we need to, “Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) 

Moving Forward: Today I’m remembering, once again, the day I publicly confessed that I died to sin and rose to walk in newness of life. I just may need to find someone and go public once again with my testimony.

Tomorrow @ Romans 5-6

Romans 1-2 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He will determine our faith in Him by our deeds

My mom seldom made pies for her large family because of the time factor involved, but one day she made a beautiful blueberry pie.  I watched her roll the pastry dough, mix up the blueberry filling, top the pie and slide it into the oven.  The smell as it baked was almost intoxicating – I love pie.

After dinner mom sliced up big pieces and topped them with vanilla ice cream.  We all took a big bite simultaneously and then one by one our smiles turned to frowns from the bitter filling.  It seems mom mistakenly used baking soda instead of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.  It looked like a blueberry pie and smelled like a blueberry pie, but it sure didn’t taste like one.  The old English phrase comes to mind, “The proof is in the pudding,” or more accurate is the original saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  In our reading today, Paul challenged us with the proof of a believer. 

@ Romans 1
The church in Rome had been around for quite some time, but the Apostles had not had opportunity to visit Rome.  Paul longed to visit the church to strengthen its members in the faith and to teach them, but in the meantime, his letter to them would have to suffice.  His first order of business was to establish their faith.  In this chapter, faith is not the same faith of hope and trust mentioned in Hebrews 11 but is a faith signifying a belief in God.  “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’”(16-17)  Our belief, our faith in God, is what we live by and what brings us to eternal life. 

@ Romans 2
But then Paul made a statement that could be considered contrary to this scripture when he wrote, “He will judge everyone according to what they have done.  He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.(6-7)  We may look like a believer, walk like a believer, go to church like a believer, but He and others will determine if we truly are a believer by what we do.  In other words, the proof is in the pudding.  Our deeds give overwhelming proof of our belief and what is in our hearts.

Paul went on to write that the condition of our hearts is not determined by strict adherence to the law, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit, “One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God.” (28-29)  Only a heart that is submitted to the spirit of God will do the good deeds that the Lord will judge.  Like that old saying, the proof is in the pudding.

Moving Forward:  As I submit my heart to the Lord today, I pray my deeds will prove my faith in God – overwhelming proof!

Tomorrow @ Genesis 1-3

Acts 17-18 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is the known God; and in Him, all things exist

A somber moment in my life was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It’s a monument that honors fallen soldiers of war whose remains had not been identified but who are our heroes just the same.  We would never want to miss out on the opportunity to honor and remember those who so valiantly gave their lives for our freedom.  The Greeks of Paul’s day had a monument to an “Unknown” as well because these pantheistic Greeks did not want to miss out on an opportunity to honor and worship all gods.   In Paul’s visit to Athens, he let them know exactly who their unknown god really was. 

@ Acts 17
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: ‘Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” (22-23)

Paul didn’t try to impress the council with his exhaustive knowledge of Jewish history, but he talked in terms that were relevant to his listeners.  He talked to them about the attributes of the true and living God they had not yet discovered but who was the God of their search.  They had reserved a place for God in their thinking but could not put a name or face to Him so Paul did his best to enlighten them.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” (24-25)  In Verse 16 we learn that Paul was deeply troubled by the many idols he saw everywhere in the city of Athens, but the God they were seeking could not be put on a shelf or displayed on an altar.  Men could not create God in their own fashion because God is the creator “who made the world and everything in it.”

Our world today is similar to Paul’s day in Athens.  Men today are searching for the “unknown” to fill their deep longings inside.  They talk about and worship a God that they do not know, or they create a god that sits on a shelf to serve their purposes when needed.  The true and living God will never live inside the definition of man’s understanding of Him.  Many individuals want to create a God that fits their own image of Him. Paul added, “For in HIM we live and move and exist,” and it’s not the other way around. (28)

Our job is to bring an understanding of God through the message of Jesus Christ to those we meet each day.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us present a relevant message and to touch the hearts of our listeners.  Of course, it’s difficult for us to talk about someone who is unknown to us or to share a testimony we don’t have.  God expects us to be informed and equipped just as Paul was in his day to combat the darkness in our world. 

Moving Forward:  My very existence today is in HIM and my every move is by HIM, and I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to share this truth with others today. 

Tomorrow @ I John 1-3

Zechariah 1-7 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He provides all the power we need to accomplish His will

Traveling in Europe presents an interesting set of challenges for someone from the United States.  Besides the language barrier from country to country, there is the whole electrical outlet mismatch.  I’m able to do without a lot of conveniences, but please don’t ask me to forgo my blower dryer and flat iron – a girl has to do what she can to look her best.  The bottom line is that U.S. appliances have flat prongs conducive to 110 current, and European outlets have round holes for 240 current, a problem similar to a square peg in a round hole.

Now I could try to force my plug into those round holes, I could stand on my head and whistle Dixie and or I could even recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but it’s just not going to fit.  However, with some outside help from a transformer when necessary and a little object called an adapter, I am able to plug right into that current that is much more powerful than I am, and voilà! I have power! 

@ Zechariah 4
After the Israelites returned home to Jerusalem from Babylon, Zerubbabel was put in charge of rebuilding the revered Temple.  The hindrances and opposition were so great that the building was put on hold for ten years because of discouragement and conflict.  God sent along two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage Zerubbabel and the Israelites to finish the project in order to receive the blessing of the Lord.

The refugees had done everything in their power to move past the opposition, but they were unsuccessful.  They needed to plug into a higher source of power to get the job done, the power of the Holy Spirit.  “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him!  And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’?” (6-7)

The Spirit of God is neither enhanced by our strength nor hindered by our weakness, but we do need to plug into the flow of the Spirit to receive His power.  Zechariah’s vision of the lamp and two olive trees depicts an unlimited reservoir of the Holy Spirit that we can plug into for a constant source of power in our lives to do whatever He has called us to do.

We don’t need to rely on our own force and strength that come and go and are often short-circuited when we are weary, but through the Holy Spirit we can plug into an unlimited reservoir of His power that never fails and never flips a breaker.

I join with Paul in praise to the One who provides all the power to us that we will ever need and deserves all the praise for it, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Moving Forward: By His grace, I’m plugged in and flowing in the Spirit today.  With His power and strength, I can do all things! (Philippians 4:13) 

Tomorrow @ Acts 15-16

Acts 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He gives His Holy Spirit to guide our mission in life

When we set out on a mission to buy a new product of any kind, we’re the most successful when we do our homework first.  We check the advertising flyers and then visit the store to touch and hold the product.  Or we scour the internet for consumer reports, special sales and anything that will inform us about the product.  Really, a savvy consumer would not depend on impulse or guesswork to complete a mission like this.  However, as believers, we are on a mission every day and so often we don’t take the time to do our homework.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, the Gospels presents to us our mission, the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15)  When we step out into our world each day, how prepared are we to accomplish our mission? 

@ Acts 13
It’s only right that Paul, the Great Evangelist, the great consumer of souls, would serve as our template for our mission. “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them’…So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit… Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit.”(2,4,9)  Paul did his homework!  He spent time in prayer, worship and fasting to where his will was surrendered to God’s will.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit to where his steps were surrendered to God’s steps.

Throughout Acts, we read how God guided Paul to the right place at the right time. “On the Sabbath [Paul and Barnabas] went to the synagogue for the services.  After the usual readings from the books of Moses and the prophets, those in charge of the service sent them this message: “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.” (15)  I just love when God opens the doors for our mission.  When we are led by the Holy Spirit, we see the open doors, His set-ups, and walk right through them to present the Gospel.

Sometimes we are hindered by the response we receive on our mission.  Once again, Paul was not threatened by the response of his listeners.  Many people, especially Gentiles, accepted his message and received the Lord as their Savior, but many others rejected his message to the point of physical attack, “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.” (14:19)  Paul was not responsible for the response of his listeners.

It’s our responsibility to present the Gospel, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to touch the hearts of men.  Of course, when we surrender our day to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we have Him right there with us, partnering in our mission.  We need not be discouraged when our message is rejected because we have no idea where the Holy Spirit will take it in those hostile lives.  Remember, Paul was present at Stephen’s stoning.  Every day we are challenged to accept our mission, do our homework and follow through with unhindered tenacity. 

Moving Forward: Yes, I’ll accept my mission today. Yes, I will do my homework.  And yes, I will tenaciously complete my mission just like any savvy shopper would do.

Tomorrow @ I Peter 4-5

Acts 1-2 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He has promised us a gift, and He keeps His promises! 

The check is in the mail, the package is on its way or any similar promise will send us running to the mailbox each day until it arrives.  I was working on a project one time and needed additional resources so I contacted an individual with the information and heard the promise, “It’s in the mail.”  After several days, I realized that it wasn’t.  Quite upset by this, random thoughts flooded my mind about the possible hazards in starting one’s car or 1000 camels, but then who hasn’t failed at one time or another to keep a promise?  Well, the answer to that would be God – He always keeps His promises!

@Acts 1 – It’s in the mail!
“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.  John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (4)  Jesus reminded the disciples before He left for Heaven that the promised gift would soon arrive.  I think Luke, the writer of Acts, was the perfect believer to give to us the historical account of Pentecost and the early church.  As a doctor, his writing may not have been very legible to those who had to transcribe his words, but he sure did manage to present a methodical and descriptive accounting of the early church. He let readers know from the start that this baptism in the Holy Spirit was not some fluke.  It was promised by God, and it was expected!

Jesus went on to explain what this Holy Spirit baptism was all about, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(8) Power!  The disciples would be receiving power, taken from the Greek word dunamis where we get our word dynamite.  I, for one, am hesitant to receive a gift of dynamite, but if it’s coming from the Holy Ghost, bring it on!  The baptism of the Holy Spirit is an explosive power, empowering us to be an unstoppable force, obliterating darkness around the world and spreading the light of the Gospel.  Have we used our dynamite power today? 

@Acts 2 – Promise Delivered!
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (1-4)  God’s promised gift was delivered!  The power of the Holy Spirit was the gift and speaking in other tongues was the evidence that the gift had been delivered, the Delivery Confirmation if you will.

The Holy Spirit plays so many roles in our life – convicter, comforter, counselor and teacher – just to name a few, but in Acts 2, He is our baptizer.  Has your Gift been delivered…with your Delivery Confirmation?

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful to have received God’s promised gift long ago, but I’m reminded that it’s not a gift to be placed on a shelf.  It’s a powerful gift to be used every day in sharing His Gospel. 

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 5-7

Numbers 25-28 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He provides the best leadership to guide His sheep

Several years ago I started a new job, and I was the first person to hold the position.  There were no precedents to follow, no one to train me and a lot of what I did at the beginning was hit or miss.  Through the years I developed a job description and worked out most of the kinks and challenges.  In situations like this it’s easy to take ownership, view it as my baby and become protective of it.

The time had come for me to move on and train someone else to fill the position.  Now I had to trust that the leadership would choose someone who would not harm the job that I had developed and worked so hard to make perfect.  As I trained the new employee, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a highly qualified person who would use the equipment and resources to an even greater degree of efficiency than I had done.  And that made my heart sing!  The work would not suffer and would move forward.  Today in our reading, Moses found himself in somewhat the same circumstance, released from a position that he had been the first to hold.

@ Numbers 27
God met with Moses on the mountaintop to show him Canaan, the land he would not enter because of his sin at Meribah.  The 120 year old leader showed his true heart in his response to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (16-17)

Even though Moses had not met Jesus yet, although one day he would do so on the Mount of Transfiguration, he had the compassion of Jesus who said, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)  Jesus had just been called a devil because He delivered a man from the demons that possessed him, but both leaders looked past their own situations and were concerned about the needs of others.

A wise Moses wanted God to choose his successor.  Two men, Joshua and Caleb, had both proven to be led by the Lord and to be worthy of leadership roles, and no doubt there were others who thought themselves worthy of the position.  Sometimes we desire to choose our replacements on the job or in the church; and as parents, we would even like to choose the spouses who will become central in the lives of our grown children. But how much better to leave it to our superiors or the leadership of the Holy Spirit, removing ourselves from the possibility of error.

Of course, God had chosen the perfect replacement for Moses, “The Lord replied, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him.  Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people.’” (18-20)  Our public acceptance of those who follow us in any position provides continuity so the work will not suffer.  This requires a generous heart, without envy or selfishness, regardless of how much of ourselves we have given to it in the past.  This was the heart of Moses, “So Moses did as the Lord commanded.  He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people.” (22-23)

When we find ourselves in a situation similar to Moses, where we will pass on the baton to someone else to fulfill a role we have served, may we do so with a generous heart towards his or her success. In doing this, we will reveal a compassionate heart for those being served, trusting that nothing will suffer in the process.  That should make our hearts sing! 

Moving Forward:  I can serve Him with confidence today knowing that when He provides my next step, He also will provide my successor.  He’s very faithful that way. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 6-10