April 24 – Breaking Down Walls

Acts 10:1-33; Joshua 7-8; Job 24

When God works, walls that separate people fall down. Barnabas brought Saul to the disciples and walls fell down. Peter, after performing some miracles was praying and God broke down a major wall. A Roman Centurion who sought God was told that God would send Peter to him. Peter, after seeing a strange vision got the command from God. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.’” (Acts 10:19-20) There was a wall between Jews and Gentiles – especially the Roman occupiers. As God prepared to destroy that wall He not only used a Roman – He used a Roman soldier named Cornelius who was sympathetic to Judaism. While Peter seemed puzzled about the situation, he went, found out what God had told Cornelius, and then Peter obeyed God and told Cornelius about Jesus. Robert Frost was right when he let us know that good fences don’t make good neighbors. Walls separate us from God and each other. We build physical walls to separate and protect ourselves; we build virtual walls to protect us from people who aren’t the same as us. God doesn’t love those walls and uses us to break them down. In a world where too many people live behind physical or virtual walls, He uses us to break through to show His love.

Oh Lord – walls are comfortable. We know our boundaries. We have our comfort zone. Yet you call us to break down our walls and the walls of those around us with Your love and grace. Make me uncomfortable today Lord as You lead me to break through walls separating me from another and their relationship with Christ.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 23 – The Persecutor Turned Preacher

Acts 9:26-43; Joshua 5:2-6:27; Job 23

Things must have been tense for the people of the church in Jerusalem. Saul was back in town. Saul, who had kicked down doors and carried followers of Christ off to prison. Saul, who had persecuted the church and had been sent to Damascus. Sure, he wasn’t kicking down the doors now, he was just knocking. “Hey guys, it’s me: Saul. I want to talk to you about Jesus.” The doors stayed shut. Finally, one person listened to him. Maybe he had heard something from friends in Damascus. Maybe people who had seen the change had talked. For some reason, though, Barnabas listened to him. Then “… Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27) I’m sure the first time Saul got into a disciple’s house it was a surprise. They must have thought they were letting Barnabas in. As Saul told his story, things began to change. The church thawed and opened up to him. Saul began proclaiming the gospel in Jerusalem. The focus of persecution shifted to Saul. The church sent Saul home to Tarsus for safety and they experienced peace and growth. We run into those people today: people who attacked the gospel who turn to Christ or even people who were just indifferent who turn to Christ. We can continue keeping them at arm’s length or we can check them out honestly and welcome them into the fellowship. Yes, it may be dangerous – especially in some areas of the world. The reputation of the church may take a hit, especially if the new believer makes mistakes. As followers of Christ, though, we need to be ready to welcome any and all who proclaim the name of Jesus.

Lord God, give me enough faith and confidence in You so that I can welcome those who claim to follow You. Let me show forgiveness and grace when they stumble even as You have shown me such forgiveness and grace on a daily basis. Let the church grow as we all proclaim the story of Jesus.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 22 – Correcting God

Acts 9:1-25; Joshua 3:1-5:1; Job 22

“Uhm, God? Do You really understand what You are doing?” Oh, come on, you know you’ve asked that question before. That question rings through Scripture in different forms as His people seek to make sure that God understands the situation as well as they do. Ananias from Damascus got the message from God that he was supposed to help Saul. Ananias tried to set God straight: “Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’” (Acts 9:13-16) Ananias learned very quickly that God knew what He was doing. Still, he had to step out on faith to go to Saul. When God gives us some tasks, we all wonder if God knows what He’s doing. Ananias went to the most enthusiastic church persecutor to pray with him that he might receive the Holy Spirit and his sight. We know the rest of the story. Saul became Paul and proclaimed the gospel throughout the Roman world. We may not be called to go pray for any “Sauls” but God speaks to us every day so that we might follow Him and reach others with the gospel. How willing are you to follow and obey God?

Lord, You have asked me to do some things that I haven’t been comfortable with. I haven’t always been faithful to Your call. Give me the strength and the faith to obey You in sharing Your love.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 21 – Sharing the Good News

Acts 8:26-40; Joshua 1-2; Job 21

As the church continued under persecution in Jerusalem, Philip went out and proclaimed the gospel. Of course, sometimes that came easy. All Philip had to do in today’s reading was overtake a chariot. He heard this court official reading the book of Isaiah. The official was confused about the meaning and asked Philip to help him understand. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” (Acts 8:35) When people are already reading Scripture, they’re more likely to be open to the gospel. Philip would never have known that if he hadn’t been sensitive to the Spirit leading him. The key to sharing the gospel with others is depending on the Spirit to lead. How often do we fail to share with others because we are afraid of what they might think? How often are we afraid to share with others because we think they might not be interested? How often are we afraid to share with others because we aren’t sure what to say? If we expect God to lead us to the right people and we are sensitive to His leadership we will find that God opens many doors. In some cases, they might be ready to hear the gospel then and there. In other cases we might be opening the door for others to share the gospel in the future. Whatever the situation may be, if we are sensitive and obedient to the Holy Spirit as we go through life, we will find that there are lots of opportunities to share the love of Christ with others.

Oh Lord, so often I get so self-absorbed that I don’t think about sharing Your love with others. So often I begin to fear the idea of sharing with someone who might be unreceptive to your Grace. Guide me today. Open my eyes to Your guidance and give me opportunities to share Your love with people who need You to make a difference in their lives.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 8 (Makeup) – Resurrection Power!

A few weeks ago I was feeling too bad to write. When I realized what the passage was, I decided to wait until today to make that day up. He is risen!

Matthew 28; Deuteronomy 9-10; Job 8

On Friday they had put Him in the grave quickly to avoid working on the Sabbath. On this day, they were coming to finish the job of preparing the body of Jesus for His burial. They had the spices they needed. It would be their last act of love and devotion to the one they had called Lord. Perhaps they were hoping that the Roman soldiers would help roll the stone away so they could get in. Then, as they arrived an angel of the Lord rolled the stone away leaving the guards stupefied and the women amazed and terrified.  “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.’” (Matthew 28:5-7) The terror of the ladies turns to disbelief and then joy in an instant. The grave is empty. Suddenly all the Jesus told them began to make sense. As they ran back to tell the disciples, they actually saw Jesus who repeated the instructions to tell the others. The Resurrection is a game changer. No longer is death to be feared. Jesus had conquered death. If Jesus has conquered death, what else do we need to fear? As followers of Christ we celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday when we gather to worship. Still, on Easter Sunday that celebration becomes even more prominent. Jesus gives us the same command today. We are to spread the word among the disciples, those who follow Jesus. At the same time, we are to make disciples by spreading the gospel message to a world that needs a resurrection. Our world is going through all kinds of difficulties today. Let us not be downhearted by the troubles. Let us experience the joy of the Resurrection and the power of God to overcome anything that lies ahead of us.

What an amazing God You are! I pray that as Your child I might experience the power of the Resurrection each and every day. Help me to live each day with the power to overcome any and all obstacles knowing that You have power over all things – even death.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts, Holiday Special Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 19 – “Just Like Your Dad”

Acts 7:23-8:1a; Deuteronomy 31-32; Job 19

“You’re just like your father.” Someone may talk about looks or behavior, but usually those words are meant as a compliment. Sometimes, perhaps, mothers say those things in exasperation. When there are parts of the father’s life that you claim to be breaking free from, then those words can cut the heart. Stephen, after detailing the sins of their fathers, told the religious authorities “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53) That got them so angry that when Stephen claimed to see Jesus, whom they had crucified, standing at the right hand of God they couldn’t contain themselves and rushed forward to stone him. For Jesus they went through the formality of a trial. Stephen angered them so much they committed murder in the eyes of the Romans. How easily, though, we fall into the patterns we have learned from those who go before us. When those patterns coincide with God’s ways, we are pleased to be like our fathers. When someone points out that those ways are contrary to God, the anger rises and we fight back. What if, instead, we held back our anger and examined ourselves in the light of God’s word. We might find where we need to repent and get right with God. Were someone like Stephen to speak to our lives, we might find we need to make some major adjustments in our lifestyles. That would be alright if it caused us to follow God’s plan instead of ours.

Lord, how often I fall into the trap of thinking that because I do things because of my understanding of Your word that it’s the one right way. Remind me that there may be other ways to understand Your word. Remind me that I might not understand Your word in my human limitations. Help me to take Your correction with grace and change to follow Your way.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 18 – Choices

Acts 7:1-22; Deuteronomy 29-30; Job 18

The time has come and Moses is saying his farewells. He’s led the Israelites out of Egypt and on their 40 year journey across and around the desert. He has led them in great triumphs when they have followed God and he’s led them back from great trials when they failed to follow God. As he continued, he laid down a challenge that confronts every person who hears the word of God: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil…” (Deuteronomy 30:15) We can choose life and good or death and evil. We aren’t mindless robots who have to follow God. The choice is before us. But we can’t, as Deuteronomy 29:19 points out, decide to hear God, do things our own way and expect to live at peace. We all face this decision point when we hear the word of God: will I do what God says or will I do things my own way? Life and good are found in following God’s way. To be honest, there are exceptions when it seems like people who turn against God seem to prosper and when those who appear to follow God suffer great anguish. The truth is that God’s great justice system balances all things. An even greater truth is that we can’t deflect our decision to follow God based on what other people experience. Each and every day we face this decision to follow God or to do things our own way. We are faced with this same choice throughout each and every day. If we begin each day committed to following God no matter what the circumstances may be we will have less difficulty making the little decisions that come up. Today, choose life and good. Today, commit to following God no matter what the consequences or circumstances may be.

Dear Lord, I will face many decisions today. Some may seem minor or inconsequential while others may be difficult or life changing. In all those decisions help me to decide to follow You. Help me to realize that even the small decisions are important in shaping me to be the person You have called me to be.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 17 – Beyond Culture

Acts 6; Deuteronomy 28; Job 17

Problems are usually deeper than what people say they are. Up to now, the early church was gliding along dealing with problems that came from outside the church. The authorities worked hard to stamp out the early church and failed. Now came the internal problems. The problem as described is that some were being neglected. “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” (Acts 6:1) The Hebrews had lived in Israel all along and had all the power, since they had been the ones to have seen and known Jesus. The Hellenists had been affected by the Greek culture and may not have been comfortable with Hebrew if they knew it. The division began. The problem that was the focal point was that when the church took care of its members, those widows who came from the Greek areas weren’t being provided for. The issue, ultimately, was leadership and inclusion. The apostles wisely suggested some new leaders. They had to have a good reputation, be full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. I’ve been a waiter. You can do a good job of waiting on tables without all of those qualities. If the gospel was going to spread, though, it needed to get outside of Jerusalem and into the world dominated by Greek culture. The Romans may have had the military strength, but the Greeks dominated the culture. Unless there was authentic Greek leadership, the gospel would never spread outside areas of Israel. The first seven deacons were chosen. The grumbling stopped and these seven deacons, chosen ostensibly to wait on tables, went out and proclaimed the gospel. The first to be killed for his outspoken faith was one of these seven. Whenever we share with someone from a different cultural background or outlook, the hardest thing to realize is that the best person to reach that culture is a person from that culture. How often do we confuse our culture with our faith? For years I thought I was a Christian because I was an American. Someone had to teach me that following Jesus didn’t happen because I was from America; it happened when I made that decision to follow Jesus. The gospel transcends cultures and we need to trust those whom we share with to be the best people to share with their own culture.

Lord, help me to share Your love and Your word. Your message doesn’t compel people to become Americans. Your message compels Americans to become like You. Your message compels all people to become more like You. Remind me that You came to draw people to You and not to my way of life.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 16 – An Enduring Message of Hope

Acts 5:17-42; Deuteronomy 25-27; Job 16

Trivia questions will often deal with “one hit wonders.” These are people or groups who have had one major success but never duplicated that success. A respected teacher of the law, Gamaliel, gave council to the religious authorities as they dealt with these tenacious disciples. They continued to preach, were arrested, were miraculously released from jail and were back to preaching again. The authorities were ready to kill them when Gamaliel spoke: “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while…. ‘And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God.’” (Acts 5:34,38-39) Left out from the passage were the names of a couple of would be messiahs who gathered a crowd, but quickly faded into oblivion. They were one hit wonders in the messiah business. Gamaliel pointed out that if this Jesus were nothing, His movement would fade away. If it didn’t fade away, then the leaders might be fighting against God. Very wise counsel! Almost 2000 years later, the followers of Jesus continue to proclaim His love and grace. They continue to teach. According to the words of one of the leaders of those opposed to the followers of Jesus – this must be of God. As a follower of Christ I am one of millions upon millions of those who have put their lives into the hands of Jesus since His crucifixion and Resurrection. The message of Jesus is not a “One Hit Wonder.” The message of Jesus has been on top of the charts since the Resurrection and will continue to be so until He returns. You can place your trust in this Messiah who has endured the test of time.

Lord, remind me of Your presence when I am doubtful or hurting. Remind me that You have been with millions of others in far worse situations and that they have triumphed. You are the Messiah – the Promised One of God. May I always teach and preach that joyous truth in all circumstances.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

April 15 – Dangerous Giving

Acts 5:1-16; Deuteronomy 23-24; Job 15

The old saying is that it’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one worries about getting credit. When you want credit or recognition for everything you do, that can gum up the works. Even the early church found that out. Joseph, also called Barnabas, sold a field and brought the money to the apostles to use meet the needs of the church members. Others were doing things like this: for some reason he was mentioned in the Bible. Ananias and Sapphira envied the attention and credit that he got. At the same time, their faith wasn’t quite as strong. They sold “a possession.” Ananias put part of their proceeds in an IRA and brought the rest to the apostles claiming that it was the full price. Imagine the shock and surprise when instead of getting praise for his faith, Peter rebuked him! “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4) If Ananias had told Peter – “We sold it and here are half of the proceeds,” he would have been ok. The problem was, he and the little woman wanted that same credit for having faith that Barnabas had gotten. Their envy, desire for credit and their lying lack of faith caused their deaths. Today is tax day in the US. Most take care of their taxes earlier, but some wait until the due day. If people aren’t truthful when reporting their income to the IRS, they can run into all kinds of trouble. When we think of our giving to support God’s work does our giving even reflect the income that we reported to the IRS? I’m grateful that we aren’t treated like Ananias and Sapphira when we give to support God’s work and God’s people. The work then was important enough to make a statement. Today, the work has increased and we need to be faithful in using what God has given us to support His work.

Oh Lord, there is so much work that needs to be done in Your world. Brothers and sisters are being persecuted for their faith and boldness in proclaiming the gospel. Brothers and sisters are going hungry and without homes. Guide us to give intelligently to support Your work – not wanting any credit from others but desiring only the joy of being faithful to You.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment