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.

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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.

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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.

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April 14 – Spiritual Power and Wealth

Acts 4:23-37; Deuteronomy 21-22; Job 14

After Peter and John were warned not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus and released they came back to the followers of Jesus and all prayed for boldness in proclaiming the word of God. God answered their prayer.  “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Acts 4:33-35) Two things happened with that power. First, the gospel was proclaimed with great boldness. Second, physical needs were met. When people began to follow Jesus back in those days they were often shunned by family or could lose their jobs. God provided for those people through the generosity of His people. While we in America don’t see that kind of persecution today, we do live in a land where poverty abides with plenty. As Christians it is our responsibility to care for those among us who are in financial poverty. Because we have been so greatly blessed with material things, it really is no sacrifice to care for others, especially our fellow Christians, in financial need. We may find out that those in financial poverty are spiritually wealthy and discover a greater blessing than material goods as we share. Let us not say that we are rich when our wealth is only material and we are, in fact, poor spiritually. The call of God in regards to material wealth on the follower of Christ is to be generous and give with open hands and hearts. I need to grow a lot closer to God to meet that call.

Oh Lord, how easily I think of all the material things I have as “mine.” You have given me great wealth in comparison to the rest of the world. Give me the right attitude about that wealth so that I can use it to empower Your Kingdom and not live in great luxury while my brothers and sisters are in need.

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April 13 – Whadda You Know?

Acts 4:1-22; Deuteronomy 19-20; Job 13

In Deuteronomy 19 the rules for witnesses were established – you need two or three. As Peter and John were put on trial for the “crime” of healing in the name of Jesus that law raised a sticky issue for the very authorities Peter had accused of putting Jesus to death. There were two witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. There were multiple witnesses that the man had been healed in the name of Jesus. There were no witnesses who could bring forth the bones of Jesus. Whether they were thinking of their own reputation or worried about what Rome might do, the religious authorities wanted to stop the spread of this resurrection talk. “And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 3:18-20) They decided to command and then threaten them not to speak about Jesus. That left the disciples with this dilemma: fear the people who put Jesus to death for a short time or joyfully obey their Lord who overcame death. Alright, so it wasn’t really a dilemma. For some reason it seems to be a dilemma today, though – at least for me. How often do I shrink back from sharing about what God has done for me because I’m worried about what people may think or how they might react? I’m not even in fear of death – I’m fearful of my reputation. Oh for the boldness of Peter and John to speak about the things I have seen and heard.

Oh Lord, how often do I fail to speak out when I have a chance to tell others about the way You have changed my life. Give me the boldness and the courage to forget my reputation and rely fully on Your grace and power.

(As I was finishing this, one of the cultural icons of my youth came to mind. May I never have a Sergeant Schultz approach to Christianity!)

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Rwanda Mission Trip

I am going to do something I rarely do: ask for your support. On the menu at the top of the page you will see an item called “Rwanda Trip.” That page is a shameless request for prayer and financial support, if God would so lead you, for a mission trip that my daughter, my wife and I will be going on. Please begin by supporting us with prayer and see how else God would have you support us. Here is the text of that request:

This summer my wife, my daughter and I will be traveling to Rwanda with Africa New Life Ministries and Love 41. Africa New Life Ministries works with children who need all kinds of assistance and provides them an opportunity to get a great education and allows us to participate in that ministry monthly by adopting a child, supporting him/her, praying for them and in turn, getting a great blessing by participating in the life of a child in need. The children take this seriously and consider you to be their parent.

We will be working in many areas that Africa New Life Ministries works and be visiting our children. (My US daughter has a son and we have an African daughter.) There are two things we need for our trip. First and foremost is prayer. The most important thing that you can do is pray for our trip.Please pray for our ability to minister. Pray for our safety and health. Pray for our finances. My daughter is raising her own funds. My wife and I need to raise a total of $8000 for the airfare and expenses.

The second thing we need is financial support. If you are praying for us and feel led to help support our mission, please help donate by one of two methods. First, go to the Africa New Life site, click on Donate and donate to “General and where needed most.” When your tax deductible receipt comes back, please respond by noting that the funds should be applied to the accounts of Bob and Lucy James. If you have no need of a tax deductible receipt and would still like to donate you can support us by going to the PayPal link below. We have many expenses here over and above the $8000 above including inoculations and immunization shots and supplies to buy to bring into the country to support the work. Please be assured that all donations will be used to support the upcoming mission trip my daughter, my wife and I will be taking to Rwanda.

Thank you in advance for your prayers and for any support that you might feel led to give.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or by filling out (and misusing – he said with a smile) the form on the Creative Commons Page.

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April 12 – Repentance and Praising God

Acts 3; Deuteronomy 17-18; Job 12

The story in Acts is familiar. Peter and John are headed for the Temple to pray and a lame man was giving others the chance to show their religious belief by soliciting alms. Peter got his attention and healed him in the name of Jesus. He who had never been able to walk, now was heading into the Temple walking, leaping and praising God. The Temple was probably a wild place anyway, with all the animals walking around and sacrifices happening – but the people recognized this guy who had sat at that corner of the Temple entrance begging for alms and they did a double take. Peter explained it. Peter, having never taken his Dale Carnegie course, blamed the death of Jesus on them and then excused them by calling them ignorant. Finally he attacked their lifestyles as being sinful. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ….” (Acts 3:19-20a)This miracle of God brought healing to one man and the message of healing to all those gathered around. This message of love, even with all the negatives, was designed to draw people back to God through Jesus Christ. He told the people then, and the message is still true today: whatever sins you may have committed, if you return to God there is forgiveness and refreshment that comes from God. How many people will say that they think God can’t forgive them? Peter’s message to the people he accused of wanting a murderer to live so that they could crucify Jesus was that forgiveness was available to all who repent and turn to God. If God would grant them forgiveness, there is no one who cannot be forgiven if they truly repent and are converted from a lifestyle of sin to a life with Jesus Christ.

Lord, I am grateful that You have forgiven my sins. I recognize that so often I still want to go my own way. Help me each day to repent from my self-will and follow Your way. May my life show Your love and grace to others in such a way that it would draw others to You.

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April 11 – Living Proof

Acts 2:14-47; Deuteronomy 15-16; Job 11

Maybe the buzz had died down. Maybe people had just forgotten about it, since the folks who had the most interest had been quiet for seven to ten days. Then came the day of Pentecost and the explosion of the Holy Spirit as He filled the believers gathered together in the upper room. As the people in Jerusalem at the time tried to figure out what was going on, Peter spoke to them. People from all the different nationalities heard this story not in Hebrew which they all should have known, but in their native tongue. Those who were visiting had probably stayed over from their trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. I have no doubt that they had heard the stories of the Resurrection but perhaps had attributed it to the rantings of a few die hard followers of Jesus. Then the explosion of the Holy Spirit came and they heard the story of Jesus not from a few die hard believers, but in a miraculous way from over a hundred people who spread the message. The point on which the message of Peter turned was that This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:32) They had heard. They had seen. They knew. Now they were called to decide. In a beautiful bit of parallelism, three thousand people committed themselves to follow Jesus on the day that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church. (Three thousand died on the day the Law was given.) While we don’t have any living eyewitnesses of the Resurrection the truth is that people have seen what God’s people do. Often they focus on the negative and there are some negatives. The truth is that God’s people live the Resurrection daily and the changed lives we live are proof of God’s presence in our world today. Our lives and our words should remind others that this Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, is still alive and working in our world today.

Lord, let my life and my words lead people to worship You. Even if people don’t know the difference You have made in my life, may they see a difference from those who seek to live without You. Let me truly reflect Your grace to all.

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April 10 – It’s a Miracle!

April 10

Acts 2:1-13; Deuteronomy 13-14; Job 10

 

My pastor has made the point many times that the Old Testament never talks about false prophets. There are the prophets of God and then there are the others. A prophet of God is one who proclaims God’s word and keeps people focused on God. The others can be described like this: “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’–which you have not known–’and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3) In other words, God really isn’t concerned about the miraculous or others signs and wonders; God is concerned about our relationship with Him. Does God still perform miracles? Yes. But if all we do is follow the latest miracle our focus isn’t on God, it’s on the miracle. Sometimes those miracles may come from those following a false god. While Jesus performed miracles when He walked on earth, and still does I might add, He continued to point people to God the Father. Any so-called prophet who does anything but focus on God is to be avoided. In Matthew 7 there are people who perform miracles in the name of Jesus who are seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven and the frightening words of Jesus are “Get lost. I never knew you.” In short, anyone that draws attention to themselves or another god is to be shunned no matter what they say their motivation is. True prophets of God cause people to turn to Him.

Lord, let me always seek You in my own life. Let all that I say and do direct others towards You.

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April 9 – Not My Father’s Gospel

Acts 1; Deuteronomy 11-12; Job 9

The authority of an eyewitness is usually respected. The gospel stories are not built upon something that someone heard from their brother-in-law’s sister’s aunt’s cousin’s babysitter who heard it from a friend. While Matthias is now but a footnote in the history of the gospel, he was selected as an apostle because he was an eyewitness to all the events of the life of Jesus since His baptism. As Moses made his final address to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land he reminded those he was speaking to that they had experienced God’s great miracles themselves. “Know today that I do not speak with your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastening of the Lord your God, His greatness and His mighty hand and His outstretched arm–…but your eyes have seen every great act of the Lord which He did.” (Deuteronomy 11:2,7) They had been children when all those miracles occurred, but they had experienced all the miracles that God had performed on the trip from Egypt and the forty years of travel in the wilderness. Our experience today is necessarily different. Those who proclaim the gospel are not those who have seen and heard Jesus teaching physically on earth. We are not the survivors of some great wilderness trek. The authority by which we spread the gospel, though, is our own experience with Jesus Christ. I know what I was like before my experience with Jesus Christ. I thank God for the way He has changed me. I had my life all mapped out in my mind as I entered college. Jesus invited me to follow Him and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that invitation. You may have seen the shirt or heard someone say, “This is not the life I had planned for.”  Every time I see or hear that, all I can think is, “Thank God for that!” What I share each day comes not from the experience of others – it is a sharing from my heart of how God is speaking to me from His word. When you think about it, our experience with God is really all that any of us have to share. We read others and listen to others, but the ultimate authority of what we have to share comes from our relationship with God.

Dear God, thank You for inviting me to follow You. Please continue to teach me each day and allow me to share my experience with You with others. Give me the boldness to share those experiences of Your love and grace with those I meet.

(Quick note: I will be making up yesterday’s devotional soon. Had a major BP spike and was not able to function much yesterday! Doing well now.)

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