April 27 – What’s In a Name?

Acts 11:19-30; Joshua 13-14; Job 27

You know how nicknames start. Ours was probably meant as an insult at first. We were originally known as “Followers of the Way,” or “Followers of Christ.” As the gospel spread in Antioch, though, the Church leaders sent Barnabas to check them out. He saw that he needed help in teaching these new followers of Christ and he brought Paul into the city. As the church grew, they probably encountered some opposition and their enemies decided to poke fun at these people who were followers of Christ. They decided that they were trying to be just like Christ. They were “little Christs.” “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) Now, the name means nothing more than people who go to certain kinds of places of worship; or worse, are born in certain areas of the world. It’s time to reclaim the meaning of the title of “Christian.” We do that by following Christ. We do that by being so focused on our relationship with God and His forgiveness through Jesus that when people look at us, they see Christ. We do that by being so in tune with God that we minister to our fallen world by meeting needs like Jesus would; caring for people like Jesus would; and spreading God’s love to those the world scorns like Jesus would. We reclaim the meaning of the name of “Christian” by being “little Christs.”

Lord God, what is in a name? We who once gladly bore the name “Christian” and accepted the responsibilities and the persecution it once engendered, now bear it as a meaningless title. Let me follow You so closely that people who see me would think that I truly was living as a “Christian.”

(PS – yes – still a day behind!)

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April 26 – The Vastness of God

(Note: I delayed writing this yesterday until after church – then never wrote it. That’s why the date seems wrong. I will write today’s thoughts later today.)

Acts 11:1-18; Joshua 11-12; Job 26

Have you ever had someone tell you what God wants you to do or not do? Usually when someone does that, especially when the advice is unsolicited, it’s a backhanded way of insulting you. They want to let you know that what you are doing now isn’t working and you need to stop and do something different; but it sounds so much more authoritative if the direction comes from God. As Job dealt with his friends, they continued to tell Job what God wanted him to do. In response, Job listed a number of things that God does. Any one of those things would show greatness far beyond human ability. All of them together are a breathtaking description of the majesty of God. Then Job tells his friends that this is just the beginning of our understanding of God. “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” (Job 26:14) How can we understand the depth of who God is? How arrogant we are when we claim to speak for God when our finite minds can’t even begin to imagine the vastness of His nature. We get hints of God’s will through His word. Perhaps we have an understanding of what He wants for us but then we make a lesson we have learned become a universal truth. Or perhaps we take the other side of the coin and depend on others to tell us about God and what He wants. I share here how God speaks to me, but I always expect you to examine the Scriptures and to seek God’s guidance on your own. As amazing and powerful as God is, as vast as the universe is that God created and controls, I continue to be overwhelmed by the fact that He knows me and loves me. I cannot comprehend why He cares about me. At the same time, I realize that He deals with each person in His own way and for me to do anything other than to share how He speaks to me would be arrogance. For me to depend on someone else to tell me what God desires would be spiritual laziness and an abdication of my responsibility before God.

Lord, I listen to others who proclaim Your word and recognize that they help me. Still, You call me to seek You and Your will through study and prayer. Never let me be so lazy as to trust what others say without seeking You myself. At the same time, never let me be so arrogant as to tell others Your plans without causing them to seek Your guidance on their own.

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April 25 – Not the Culture Club

Acts 10:34-48; Joshua 9-10; Job 25

There is a bit of cultural arrogance in every culture. “The way we do it is best,” is at least thought by just about everyone at one time or another. It really gets bad when our cultural arrogance moves to a spiritual arrogance that gives the impression that God loves us more because our culture is better. Peter got a great shock when he showed up at the house of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Cornelius wasn’t a Jew, but God apparently still loved him! “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’” (Acts 10:34-35) The Jews did have a special relationship with God. Many, though, depended on that relationship rather than on developing their own relationship with God. They even fought against the Messiah, Jesus, when He appeared. Sometimes as we travel our country and our world our arrogance begins showing. We think that we have an exclusive relationship with God that is there because we are Americans. We would never preach a gospel of prosperity but we would live as if our prosperity was an indicator of our faithfulness. When we truly begin to listen to followers of Christ who have a different cultural background here in our own country and in other countries across the world we learn that God doesn’t respect a specific culture. Some of the most financially impoverished are spiritually wealthy. And, if we are honest, some of the most financially wealthy are the most spiritually impoverished. God neither seeks nor protects our financial status. God seeks our hearts. Do we fear God? Do we do what is right in God’s eyes? Those are the criteria that God has when He judges faithfulness.

O Lord, help me never to depend on my financial status or my status as an American when I seek You. Let me come humbly to You as a sinner, brought into a relationship with You by grace. Remind me that all of those who come to You do so by way of the cross. Help me to learn and grow from each and every person You place in my path.

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April 24 – Spiritual Guidance From Han Solo

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

In the movie Star Wars: A New Hope – the first movie which is also known as Star Wars 4 – Han Solo utters some amazing spiritual advice. As the Millennium Falcon escapes the Death Star, a battle ensues. Luke shoots one of the TIE fighters and cheers. Han Solo responds, “That’s great kid!” Then he added these immortal words: “Don’t get cocky!” Joshua had led the people to a great conquest over the city of Jericho. As they came to occupy the Promised Land, the next city along the way was Ai. Joshua prepared for battle: “Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, ‘Go up and spy out the region.’ So the men went up and spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, ‘Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.’” (Joshua 7:2-3) Joshua’s preparation was prudent in the normal sense, but these battles were not normal; they were supposed to be under the direction of God. We don’t see Joshua seeking God for guidance. Instead, he sought the guidance of the spies. You would think Joshua would remember the problems with spies! So these spies came back, flush from their victory over Jericho and, not having Han Solo as a spiritual advisor, got cocky. This one was easy. They just needed a few thousand guys. There was no reason to weary the whole army. Except, there was sin in the land. Except, God had not been consulted. The easy victory turned into a major defeat. When we have great spiritual victories, it’s easy to begin to think that we did it ourselves, or that God needed us to pull this victory off. We approach the next battle ahead of us full of self-confidence and fail to rely on God. Then we go down to defeat and wonder why God deserted us. In truth, we never sought God’s guidance. As we approach the battles God has laid out before us, may we remember the advice of Han Solo – “Don’t get cocky” – and remember to seek God’s guidance and direction in any and all endeavors.

Dear God, remind me that I am to depend on You at all times. It’s so easy to experience a spiritual victory and then ask You to sit on the sidelines for the next battle. It’s so easy to say, “Don’t worry God! I got this.” Remind me to seek Your guidance each and every day for the battles I will face.

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April 23 – Encouragers

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

Teamwork is a concept we don’t really understand in the United States. Sure, we root for our favorite sports teams, but let’s face it – we’re individualists. Some of us change “favorite teams” as often as our favorite sports figure changes them through free agency. Sometimes we forget how much of sharing the gospel is actually a “team” effort. The early church had to work together to share, to support and to protect each other. So, when Saul began to follow Jesus, after persecuting followers of Jesus, there was some skepticism among the believers. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27) Barnabas is one of the heroes of the Church, and yet he’s so often mentioned only in passing. He recognized what God had done in Saul and had enough faith to welcome him and bring him to the apostles. He truly was an encourager. While we don’t usually have to deal with people who persecuted followers of Christ in our own churches, there are people who encounter Jesus and have changed lives all the time. Some will be people we have a hard time accepting because of their previous lifestyle. In truth, God can make drastic changes in people and draw them to Himself. May we all be as loving and as accepting as Barnabas and welcome them with open arms and work together with our team at church to help them grow.

Lord, let me be like Barnabas. Let me welcome those who earlier fought against You. Let me welcome those whose lives have undergone radical transformations. Use me to help those people feel accepted and welcomed into Your kingdom and Your church. Make me like Barnabas, I pray.

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April 22 – Hopeless Cases

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

Have you ever seen a “hopeless case?” You know the kind of person I mean. From a Christian perspective a “hopeless case” is someone so evil and so enmeshed in their religious beliefs that there is no way that God can break through their shell. Take, for example, someone like Saul. He watched and gave moral support while Stephan was killed. He was so inspired by that killing that he began his own career of persecuting Christians. He did so well that others began to believe that he could eradicate this group and they sent him to Syria to deal with followers of Christ there. He was hopeless. Then God intervened. Saul was considered so hopeless that followers of Christ weren’t praying for an opportunity to talk with him; they were probably praying that they didn’t see him. One such man, Ananias got a call from God in the midst of his prayer and it wasn’t what he wanted. He let God know that God had made a mistake – Saul was this guy arresting followers of Jesus. Isn’t it funny how often we let God know that He doesn’t understand the situation? “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” (Acts 9:15-16) Saul wasn’t a hopeless case – at least not in God’s eyes. Somewhere in each of our lives there’s a Saul – the kind of person who we think is a hopeless case. Around the world, there are hopeless cases who are arresting followers of Jesus and killing them. Today, I resolve to pray for those hopeless cases in my life and in the lives of others around the world. And I pray that God would use me to share His love and grace with them as they come into a restored relationship with Jesus.

Lord God, why am I so arrogant as to call people that You died for hopeless. In truth, I’m sure that some considered me hopeless at one time. Remind me that we are not as those without hope – that our hope, our confidence and trust in You – should always guide us. I pray for those that others would consider hopeless in my life. Remind me that in You, there is hope for them. I pray especially for those hopeless cases who are persecuting Your people today – especially those in ISIS. Use them to carry Your name before their people as You meet them on the roads in Syria and around the world.

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April 21 – Be Strong and Courageous

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

I always laugh when people talk about my “religion being a crutch.” They imply that following God is for the weak minded who can’t think on their own. Have you ever run into someone like that? In truth, if we are really following God’s plan for our life we can’t be weak. We will encounter all kinds of difficulties and opposition. The command God gave Joshua reminds us that we must be strong and courageous. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Three times God calls on Joshua to be strong and courageous – and then the call is echoed by the people. We may face physical opposition as many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do today. They face death, enslavement and torture. To them God says, “Be strong and courageous.” We face intellectual and mental opposition as people try to silence us and our beliefs through ridicule or faulty logic. To us God says, “Be strong and courageous.” We face opposition from those within the faith who would use their faith not as a reason to be obedient to God but for personal gain. We face opposition from those within the faith who would substitute their feelings for the truth of God’s word. God says again, “Be strong and courageous.” Following Jesus is not a job for the weak in heart. Today, remember that when you face any opposition whether it be a minor annoyance or the threat of loss of life, God says, “Be strong and courageous.”

Lord, it’s far too easy to be silent or to give in than to stand for You. Your truth will prevail no matter what I do or how I react. Make me the kind of man who will always be strong and courageous for You.

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April 20 – Passion!

Acts 8:1b-25; Deuteronomy 33-34; Job 20

The death of Stephen was a watershed moment. Until that time, the new followers of Christ were tolerated in Jerusalem. His preaching, which cut the heart of the Jewish leaders when he accused them of crucifying Jesus and all the prophets before Him, created such a stir that not only did they murder him, they began a persecution of the followers of Christ. The followers, who had enjoyed favor because of the miracles, the good works, and the community they showed, became pariahs and most were forced out of Jerusalem. If the persecutors thought this would end the church, they were greatly mistaken. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4) Christianity did not thrive on paid preachers. Christianity grew because each and every person who was a follower of Jesus shared their story and they talked about how Jesus had risen from the dead. They didn’t do it for money (see Acts 8:20), they focused on Jesus because they were passionate about their faith. I wonder sometimes if I have lost that sense of passion. Oh, I go on special trips to share my faith, but then, I am supposed to do that during those times. Why am I less passionate in my every day dealings with people? Have we forgotten the price? How can we see the stories of Christians being killed because they wouldn’t renounce their faith and shake our heads in horror without their courage giving us strength to share our faith with others? Followers of Christ arise. Be His love. Be His forgiveness. Let others see Jesus in all that you say and do.

Lord God, it’s easy to sit back quietly in safety and mouth platitudes about my belief in You. Give me the grace and the strength to share Your love, grace and forgiveness with a passion. Help me to care enough about others that I tell them about Your salvation so that they will recognize that there is nothing more important in my life.

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April 19 – Bad Times

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

Ever had one of those days when nothing seemed to go right? You didn’t have enough sleep the night before, you’re running late to work, you take the shortcut only to find out that traffic is backed up because of a major accident, and you miss that meeting you were supposed to go to. When it seems like Murphy was an optimist, we get to the point where we blame God for all of our troubles. When we think about it though, most of our troubles are self-generated. As we think about all that God has done, if we are honest, we have to admit that He is doing things the right way. “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4) God is great and He even works with us and in us on the days when everything is going wrong. We may be learning patience or tolerance. We may be learning to trust Him even when everything is going wrong. Faith doesn’t mean that we trust God all the time; we all have those days. Faith means that you get back to trusting Him sooner rather than later. Faith means that even when things are going wrong in our eyes, we can trust God enough to praise Him and celebrate His greatness. We recognize that all of His world are perfect and that He is a just God. Even when it seems like the universe is against us, God is on our side – and that gives us a majority. We can overcome and we can be strong.

Lord, remind me of Your presence during the worst of days. I know that I will praise You on the best of days. Lord, remind me of Your presence on the best of days. I know that I will forget You during good times. Lord, help me to remember You and recognize Your presence each and every day.

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April 18 – Choose Life

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

We live in a society that seems to be addicted to sin. Living contrary to God’s will was once considered shameful, now calling attention to God’s standards is the greatest sin in society. Sin is no longer seen as personal choice, it is seen as “fun” at best and an addiction that can’t be helped at its worst. As a society we mock God’s laws and we mock the principles He’s given us for everyday life. God has set before us the path to life: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19) Life is found in our restored relationship with God. Our relationship with God is restored through faith in Jesus Christ. In truth, no one can live according to God’s standards all the time. Yet so willingly we embrace our sin that has deadly consequences. We celebrate promiscuous lifestyles as enjoying our bodies and the freedoms God gave us, but we turn away from those in suffering because of diseases that have resulted from it. We celebrate using intoxicants but shake our heads in horror when someone who is intoxicated kills innocent people because of actions they take while intoxicated – or we shun the person who has become so addicted to their particular intoxicant that all they live for is their next “fix.” I could go on, but I won’t. I will say that even as I point out society’s faults, I recognize my own. I seek to “be good” and yet under the right circumstances have the desire to return to the sins of my past. The only hope for me; the only hope for society, is a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ. His death on the cross paid the spiritual penalty for our sins and made a restored relationship with God possible. The Comforter, the Friend, the Holy Spirit shows us our sin and empowers us to overcome. Today I choose life – not because I am better than others, but because I recognize the power of God in my life to keep me in a restored relationship with Him in spite of me.

Lord God, just like Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips. I need Your cleansing power in my life. I need Your presence to guide me in the path of life each and every day. As I draw closer to You, may I be an example to others of Your love and grace.

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