Acts 19-20 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He blesses us when we share the message of Jesus

Several years ago we took a team of youth to a city in Paraguay to help a pastor establish the first evangelical church in the community.  Expectations were high as our team distributed invitations throughout the city to attend the nightly Tent Crusade and as they prepared their skits and testimonies.

What we didn’t know was that in response to the success of a previous team, the religious leaders of the city who had ruled for over 150 years threatened the success of our mission.  They informed the townspeople that education would be denied the children of any families that attended the Tent. The enemy doesn’t like it when the message of a personal relationship with Jesus invades his domain. 

@ Acts 19
Paul had spent three years in Ephesus establishing a strong church in this city known for its occult practices.  “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles.  When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.” (11-12)  God demonstrated His great Holy power to people who looked to the mystical and supernatural, and we should never limit what God will use to reach the lost of our world. However, all was not a bed of roses for the believers of Ephesus.

“About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis…‘Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business.  But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all.’” (23-26)  The bottom line – Demetrius was losing money because the Ephesians were receiving Christ and no longer needing his idols.  We learn Demetrius was not only a successful businessman, but he also had a knack for inciting riots.

“At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater…” (28-29)  The amphitheater held 25,000, so imagine the t-shirts sold that day!  A mob mentality took over to the point, “Everything was in confusion.  In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.” (32)  Whenever confusion is present, we can be confident that the enemy is close at hand.  Ultimately, a politician, of all things, brought calm to the scene that day, the lives of Paul and his companions were spared, and the church in Ephesus moved forward.

This story answers the question – Is the enemy threatened by our message of Jesus Christ to our world?  Yes, however, Paul did not storm the Temple of Diana or berate her followers.  He simply presented the gospel of Jesus, and its power changed the lives of many Ephesians.  The fear of our message in the town in Paraguay was a threat to the religious leaders because they had seen lives changed that no longer needed to pay for their atonement.  Only a handful braved the edict from the town leaders to attend our services; but undaunted by this news, our team fasted and prayed for a breakthrough and held nightly services as if the tent was packed with people.

As the nights progressed, we noticed people sitting on the fringes of the property listening to the music, so we brought the music out to them.  Before long they were singing and clapping and eventually joined us in the Tent.  We had a great crusade with many accepting the Lord as their Savior because the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any other force.

When we tell the simple message of Jesus to our neighbors, families, and co-workers, we may experience some persecution because it is a threat to the enemy of man’s soul.  Sometimes it’s not easy to take, but be encouraged.  It means we are doing something right, and the enemy considers us a threat.  Jesus said, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right…Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10,12)  He would know. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful for the power of the gospel to change the hearts of men and for His power to stop the enemy’s threats. 

Tomorrow @ I John 4-5

Romans 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has adopted us as His very own

Back in the ’70’s, America was singing and dancing to “We are family…I got all my sisters with me.  We are family…get up ev’ry body and sing.” (Rodgers/Edwards, 1979)  Our post Vietnam/Watergate nation was looking for kinship and trust in somebody.  With the rise in broken homes and families over the past few decades, we find teenagers in a similar search for family.  Symbols and colors have separated youth into alternative families that hold their loyalties and commitment.

Aside from the occasional hermit, most everyone longs to be part of a family, something bigger than themselves, a place of belonging.  When God created the family unit back in the Garden, this desire of connection and belonging became a part of us.  When Jesus came along to redeem us, He sealed the deal with his blood, and we were adopted into God’s family.  We are family! 

@ Romans 8
“You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, ‘Abba Father.’  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (15-16)  Our family has a daddy, and we have inherited His spiritual DNA.  Paul really stepped out on a limb when he addressed God in this familiar way because this Aramaic word “Abba” was not used to reference God in Paul’s day.  Paul wanted us to understand that the Father is our Father, our loving, approachable dad.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” (14,17)  We have siblings!  And although it may be difficult to understand, we adopted siblings are blood relatives thanks to the sacrifice of our elder brother, Jesus, whose blood covers our sin.  “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:5)

As with all families, sometimes we siblings fight and don’t get along, but we would do well to remember of what family we are a part.  Our family is to be known to the world by our love for each other (John 13:35), and some of His “house rules,” help us to behave like His family should, “You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)   These rules alone should keep us too busy to fuss at each other.

I love our family gatherings, on Sundays or whenever, with the Father and our older brother.  We often talk about the great family reunion we all will attend one day.  There’s no worry about being left out or being disinherited because, unless we choose to leave it, we are blood relatives forever.  This is all because Dad loves us.  “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (38-39)  We are family – forever! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that I’m one of His kids, with no fear of abandonment or rejection, so thrilled to be part of His amazing family. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 12-17

Romans 3-4 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He counts us righteous because of our faith

The basket of strawberries caught my eye at the grocery store – plump, deep red, juicy-looking strawberries.  Was it strawberry season? I didn’t think so, but they were so very perfect that I had to buy them.  As I unpacked the basket at home, it didn’t take long to realize that the only good strawberries in the bunch were on top, and the rest were mostly white, hard and awful.  I was ripped off, as they say.  No matter how good the ugliness of those unripe strawberries made the five delicious strawberries look, the unripe ones were still useless to me.  As we read in our scripture today, some would disagree.

@ Romans 3
“But,’ some might say, ‘our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?’” (5)  Of course, in reality, it is just the opposite.  The five ripe luscious strawberries served to show how deficient and unappealing the rest of the strawberries were and how far short they were of what they could have been, but they really couldn’t change their condition.  Paul went on to counteract this false assumption for those who were certainly trying to justify their sin, their unripeness if you will.

Paul took this opportunity to open the dialogue about the Law, something that the Jewish Christians stumbled over again and again.  “Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (20)  Like the ripe strawberries in the analogy, the law shows us our sin, our deficiency but can do nothing to change us.  Sometimes we get uncomfortable reading the Bible because instead of offering comfort and inspiration at the moment, it reveals our sins and shortcomings, those feelings of resentment, pride, hatred, or whatever.  But we can assume it is serving its purpose in those moments as well.

Fortunately, we no longer must keep the requirements of the Law to redeem ourselves, selecting a perfect sacrifice down at the local farmyard and all the bloody mess that would follow.  “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law…We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”(21-23)   After all, those delicious strawberries were at one time hard and pale, but they remained on the vine in the light of the sun and everything changed for them.  Unfortunately, there was no redemption for my unripe strawberries because they had left the vine.  I’m not sure, but I think that will preach. (John 15)

@ Romans 4
Abraham was probably Paul’s favorite example of a faith-filled life, “For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’… And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (3,23-25)  So when the Lord convicts me of sin or my falling short through His Word, I must run to Him in repentance because only He can make me right – ripe and beautiful in His sight.

Moving Forward:  As I remain in His Word today, I pray He will reveal to me my sins and shortcomings so that I may respond with a heart of repentance and be made right with Him through Jesus. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 4-7

Acts 23-25 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He enables us to fulfill our calling

Even though lawyers are often the target of jokes and ridicule, we evidently enjoy observing them work.  At any time of the day, we can watch them wax eloquent in the courts of justice on the ever popular Law and Order, Matlock or the original defender of the accused, Perry Mason.  With so many injustices in the world, apparently seeing justice reign supreme for an hour does our hearts good.

The Apostle Paul was accused of several crimes by the Jewish leaders and spent some time in court himself, but he didn’t hire a high profile overpaid attorney to defend him.  It seems he offered his own defense, and the case moved along in just the direction he wanted it to move.  From scripture we know that Paul was a great defender, not only of himself, but of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

@ Acts 23
“Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: ‘Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!’ Instantly Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. But Paul said to him, ‘God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite!  What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?’” (1-3)  I’m not very savvy about courtroom etiquette, but I’m fairly certain that calling the judge a corrupt hypocrite was not proper protocol. Even though the judge was out of line in his command, Paul did not defend his words to him but quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,’ Paul replied, ‘for the Scriptures say, “You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’” (5)  For Paul, it was prudent to move to the matter at hand.

“Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (6)  With this the courtroom became volatile – Pharisees who believed in the resurrection against Sadducees who did not and everyone calling for the death of Paul.  Paul had a knack for stirring the pot.  I can imagine the judge’s gravel demanded a call to order but with little effect.  Fearing for Paul’s life, the Commander in charge whisked him away to safety to stand before the court in Caesarea and Governor Felix. 

@ Acts 24
Regardless of the plans of the Jewish leaders and the Roman government, Paul was on a mission to present the gospel.  His defense was not for his own life, but for the sake of the mission that Jesus confirmed to him in the lonely jail as he awaited trial, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” (11)  The high priest, Felix, Festus and the angry mob were all witnesses, pawns of God, in the case against Paul.  The Roman jail was his destiny and preaching the gospel to the Romans was his heartbeat.  When Paul appealed to Caesar, the courtroom moved to none other than Rome.

In the meantime, his case held him in Palestine for over two years, and Paul used every opportunity to share about the very One who was the cause for the charges against him.  The ruling governors, the Jewish leaders and finally King Agrippa heard the message of Jesus Christ.  At the end of the day, Paul was not guilty of any of the trumped up charges by the Jewish leaders except one and he boldly admitted to it, “These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors.” (13-14)

I, too, boldly admit that I follow the Way, the gospel of Jesus, and I pray that the evidence is strong enough to convict me.  As in Paul’s day, some may not like it and may bring distractions and accusations my way. However, as a believer in Jesus, I am commissioned with a message of hope to our world just as Paul was.  And let the chips fall where they may. 

Moving Forward:  Today if someone accuses me of being a Christian, I’ll declare, “I follow the Way!”  And just like Paul, I’ll take the opportunity to tell that someone all about it. 

Tomorrow @ 3 John

Acts 19-20 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He blesses us when we share the message of Jesus

Several years ago we took a team of youth to a city in Paraguay to help a pastor establish the first evangelical church in the community.  Expectations were high as our team distributed invitations throughout the city to attend the nightly Tent Crusade and as they prepared their skits and testimonies.

What we didn’t know was that in response to the success of a previous team, the religious leaders of the city who had ruled for over 150 years threatened the success of our mission.  They informed the townspeople that education would be denied the children of any families that attended the Tent. The enemy doesn’t like it when the message of a personal relationship with Jesus invades his domain. 

@ Acts 19
Paul had spent three years in Ephesus establishing a strong church in this city known for its occult practices.  “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles.  When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.” (11-12)  God demonstrated His great Holy power to people who looked to the mystical and supernatural, and we should never limit what God will use to reach the lost of our world. However, all was not a bed of roses for the believers of Ephesus.

“About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis…‘Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business.  But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all.’” (23-26)  The bottom line – Demetrius was losing money because the Ephesians were receiving Christ and no longer needing his idols.  We learn Demetrius was not only a successful businessman, but he also had a knack for inciting riots.

“At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater…” (28-29)  The amphitheater held 25,000, so imagine the t-shirts sold that day!  A mob mentality took over to the point, “Everything was in confusion.  In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.” (32)  Whenever confusion is present, we can be certain that the enemy is close at hand.  Ultimately, a politician, of all things, brought calm to the scene that day, the lives of Paul and his companions were spared and the church in Ephesus moved forward.

This story answers the question – Is the enemy threatened by our message of Jesus Christ to our world?  Yes, however, Paul did not storm the Temple of Diana or berate her followers.  He simply presented the gospel of Jesus, and its power changed the lives of many Ephesians.  The fear of our message in the town in Paraguay was a threat to the religious leaders because they had seen lives changed that no longer needed to pay for their atonement.  Only a handful braved the edict from the town leaders to attend our services; but undaunted by this news, our team fasted and prayed for a breakthrough and held nightly services as if the tent was packed with people.

As the nights progressed, we noticed people sitting on the fringes of the property listening to the music, so we brought the music out to them.  Before long they were singing and clapping and eventually joined us in the Tent.  We had a great crusade with many accepting the Lord as their Savior because the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any other force.

When we tell the simple message of Jesus to our neighbors, families and co-workers, we may experience some persecution because it is a threat to the enemy of man’s soul.  Sometimes it’s not easy to take, but be encouraged.  It means we are doing something right, and the enemy considers us a threat.  Jesus said, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right…Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10,12)  He would know. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful for the power of the gospel to change the hearts of men and for His power to stop the enemy’s threats. 

Tomorrow @ I John 4-5

Romans 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has adopted us as His very own

Back in the ’70’s, America was singing and dancing to “We are family…I got all my sisters with me.  We are family…get up ev’ry body and sing.” (Rodgers/Edwards, 1979)  Our post Vietnam/Watergate nation was looking for kinship and trust in somebody.  With the rise in broken homes and families over the past few decades, we find teenagers in a similar search for family.  Symbols and colors have separated youth into alternative families that hold their loyalties and commitment.

Aside from the occasional hermit, most everyone longs to be part of a family, something bigger than themselves, a place of belonging.  When God created the family unit back in the Garden, this desire of connection and belonging became a part of us.  When Jesus came along to redeem us, He sealed the deal with his blood, and we were adopted into God’s family.  We are family! 

@ Romans 8
“You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, ‘Abba Father.’  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (15-16)  Our family has a daddy, and we have inherited His spiritual DNA.  Paul really stepped out on a limb when he addressed God in this familiar way because this Aramaic word “Abba” was not used to reference God in Paul’s day.  Paul wanted us to understand that the Father is our Father, our loving, approachable dad.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” (14,17)  We have siblings!  And although it may be difficult to understand, we adopted siblings are blood relatives thanks to the sacrifice of our elder brother, Jesus, whose blood covers our sin.  “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:5)

As with all families, sometimes we siblings fight and don’t get along, but we would do well to remember of what family we are a part.  Our family is to be known to the world by our love for each other (John 13:35), and some of His “house rules,” help us to behave like His family should, “You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)   These rules alone should keep us too busy to fuss at each other.

I love our family gatherings, on Sundays or whenever, with the Father and our older brother.  We often talk about the great family reunion we all will attend one day.  There’s no worry about being left out or being disinherited because, unless we choose to leave it, we are blood relatives forever.  This is all because Dad loves us.  “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (38-39)  We are family – forever! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that I’m one of His kids, with no fear of abandonment or rejection, so thrilled to be part of His amazing family. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 12-17

Romans 3-4 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He counts us righteous because of our faith

The basket of strawberries caught my eye at the grocery store – plump, deep red, juicy-looking strawberries.  Was it strawberry season? I didn’t think so, but they were so very perfect that I had to buy them.  As I unpacked the basket at home, it didn’t take long to realize that the only good strawberries in the bunch were on top, and the rest were mostly white, hard and awful.  As they say, I was ripped off.  No matter how good the ugliness of those unripe strawberries made the five delicious strawberries look, the unripe ones were still useless to me.  As we read in our scripture today, some would disagree.

@ Romans 3
“But,’ some might say, ‘our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?’” (5)  Of course, in reality it is just the opposite.  The five ripe luscious strawberries served to show how deficient and unappealing the rest of the strawberries were and how far short they were of what they could have been, but they really couldn’t change their condition.  Paul went on to counteract this false assumption for those who were certainly trying to justify their sin, their unripeness if you will.

Paul took this opportunity to open the dialogue about the Law, something that the Jewish Christians stumbled over again and again.  “Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (20)  Like the ripe strawberries, the law shows us our sin, our deficiency, but can do nothing to change us.  Sometimes we get uncomfortable reading the Bible because instead of offering comfort and inspiration at the moment, it reveals our sins and shortcomings, those feelings of resentment, pride, hatred, or whatever.  But we can assume it is serving its purpose in those moments as well.

Fortunately, we no longer must keep the requirements of the Law to redeem ourselves, selecting a perfect sacrifice down at the local farmyard and all the bloody mess that would follow.  “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law…We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”(21-23)   After all, those delicious strawberries were at one time hard and pale, but they remained on the vine in the light of the sun and everything changed for them.  Unfortunately, there was no redemption for my unripe strawberries because they had left the vine.  I’m not sure, but I think that will preach. (John 15)

@ Romans 4
Abraham was probably Paul’s favorite example of a faith-filled life, “For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’… And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (3,23-25)  So when the Lord convicts me of sin or my falling short through His Word, I must run to Him in repentance because only He can make me right – ripe and beautiful in His sight.

Moving Forward:  As I remain in His Word today, I pray He will reveal to me my sins and shortcomings so that I may respond with a heart of repentance and be made right with Him through Jesus. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 4-7