May 25 – Faithfulness in the Midst of Persecution

Romans 1:1-15; 1 Samuel 8; Psalm 54

It’s important to remember that the gospel message was spread throughout the known world not only by Paul, but by every believer as they traveled. Aquila and Priscilla met Paul in Corinth after being expelled from Rome in AD 49 when all Jews and Jewish Christians were expelled from Rome. Five years later they were allowed to return to Rome, but Paul saw in Rome a thriving church and a fertile mission field. The Letter to the Romans was the only one written that didn’t focus on a problem. What do you say to people who haven’t caused you problems? “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” (Romans 1:8) Paul was excited about a church that was growing because of the gospel and the strength of Jesus Christ. Paul probably used the church at Rome to remind people that the gospel was spreading all over the world. Today, I want to thank God for the Church in other parts of the world that are undergoing persecution for their beliefs. There is a thriving church in China that we continue to hear reports of in spite of persecution. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for the church in China. The church that is undergoing severe persecution in the Middle East and we hear of executions and captivity daily of those who follow Jesus Christ. There are people there whose last words glorify Jesus Christ as they are executed. I thank God for the church in the Middle East and the strength and faith they are showing. I could go on, but let me just say that as you hear of Christians being persecuted, executed, exiled or going through other difficult times the natural tendency should be to get angry. Before you get too angry though, take the time to thank God for a church that is so faithful that when they are persecuted the news of their faith is reported all over the world. May their faithfulness inspire us even as we call on God to bring them relief and protection.

Lord God, I thank You for Your people, Your church spread throughout the world. There are those who hate You and hate Your people. I am grateful that they are faithful even unto death, and that their faith is being reported all over the world. Let their faithfulness inspire me and others; some to greater service, others to a relationship with You.

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May 24 – Rememberances

Acts 28:17-31; 1 Samuel 6-7; Psalm 53

Have you ever thought about the words of some of our hymns, or do you just sing them laughing at some of the phraseology? One phrase that always gets most people comes from the song “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” “Here I raise mine Ebenezer….” If we think about that line at all, most of us find some way to relate it to Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Ebenezer, however, is a real place. A great battle took place between the Philistines and the Israelites, well, two actually. It was in the first battle that the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines as they strengthened their rule over Israel. In the second battle, God appeared and drove the Philistines into a panic and the Israelites threw off the yoke of the Philistines. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the LORD helped us.’” (I Samuel 7:12) Ebenezer was a stone set as a marker to remind the people of Israel that God had helped them by defeating the Israelites. It was a reminder for the Israelites if ever they wondered about God’s presence or help in their lives. Often in life, great victories are followed by great challenges. After seeing God do mighty things we face a difficulty and we wonder if God is really helping. Samuel set up Ebenezer for the Israelites to remember God’s presence. We would do well to give ourselves a reminder of God’s presence in our lives for the times when things get difficult, as they will. Remember how God has helped you in the past. He didn’t help you in the past so that He could ignore you now. Find some way to remember how God has helped to get you through the troubled times that will come in the future.

Lord, how often I live in the moment. When things are going well, I know that I have Your love and Your presence. When things aren’t going well, I begin to wonder if You really love me. Remind me each day of Your presence. Remind me each day of Your power and Your desire to help me.

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May 23 – Snake Bit!

Acts 28:1-16; 1 Samuel 4-5; Psalm 52

The ship that was taking Paul to Rome wrecked and all aboard were rescued on the island of Malta. As they were building a fire, a snake bit Paul and the islanders thought that this was God’s way of carrying out the death sentence on Paul. But nothing happened to Paul. And then Paul started ministering. “His [the chief official’s] father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.” (Acts 28:8-9) There are some so-called Christian groups who take this as an example to follow and they deliberately handle poisonous snakes. That’s not the eternal truth in this story. The eternal truth comes from the fact that Paul continued to minister even as he was headed to Rome for a possible death sentence. Have you ever been in a situation when you decided that you wouldn’t help certain people because they had treated you badly? That’s not God’s way. That’s not the call of God on people who say they follow Him. As followers of Christ, we are called to be God’s hands and heart to those we come into contact with – even if they are trying to kill us. We are ambassadors entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation; we are not ambassadors charged with carrying a grudge. It’s not always easy, but it’s always our call.

Lord, I am so petty sometimes. I let seeming personal sleights get in the way of serving You cheerfully by ministering to others. I confess my vanity. I confess my pride. I ask for forgiveness and the power to be Your ambassador of reconciliation. Continue the process of reconciling with me so that I can show Your reconciliation to others.

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May 22 – The Death of Sin

Acts 27:13-44; 1 Samuel 3; Psalm 51

One of the “advancements” of our modern society is that we have eliminated sin. Actions that once caused shame and embarrassment before God and others no longer cause us such shame. In fact, calling attention to such actions is considered a greater “sin.” (Not that sin exists of course.) Furtive actions once taken in secret shame are now broadcast for all to see. Sin has died. We now live in an age of enlightened reason where the only “sin” is to feel sinful or to make someone else feel sinful. There’s only one problem with that: God. We were created to live in relationship with God. And while society seems to think that sin no longer exists, it still breaks God’s heart. David got it right after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) He knew he had been wrong. He was caught up in the lust of the moment, then sought to cover over his sin. The relationship between David, a man after God’s own heart, and God had been shattered. David’s key to restore the relationship with God was not sweeping his sin under the rug; not proclaiming his pride in his adultery; but in coming to God with a broken spirit and a contrite heart. The cure to restoring our relationship with God remains the same today as it ever was. When we sin, and we will, we can come before Him with a broken and contrite heart. The penalty for our sin was suffered by Jesus on the cross. Praise God that He forgives all who come to Him in repentance! God restores our relationship with Him daily. He gives us the power to overcome sin,

Lord God, I recognize that You alone are perfect. I come to You now with my sinful thoughts, deeds and attitudes. I lay them before You and ask You to forgive me and restore my relationship with You. Truly I have sinned against You and need Your forgiveness and strength to restore our relationship.

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May 21 – Let’s Get Real

Acts 27:1-12; 1 Samuel 2:11-36; Psalm 50

Eli was the priest at the main shrine in Israel before the Temple was built. He was a godly man and Samuel was entrusted to his care. His sons, however were problem children. They seemed to think that they had “earned” their position as priests and failed to keep a good relationship with God. They sinned with impunity thinking that because they were priests, they had no one to be accountable to. When that happens, people lose their desire to follow God. God responded through a prophet. “’Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: “I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.” But now the LORD declares: “Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.”’” (I Samuel 2:30) Eli, the father, would suffer the ill effects of the punishment brought on his sons. I read the other day of another minister who was engaged privately in what was a public sin. As so often happens, it appears that he was strident in his ministry against this sin. He resigned in disgrace and his family will suffer. It is heartbreaking to see those who are supposed to be God’s representatives on earth fall. At the same time, it is very easy for those involved in proclaiming the gospel publicly to fail. Any time a person or minister seems to focus on one area of sin or another there may be a problem. Our job, as ministers, is to seek to draw people to a loving God who forgives sin. Banks teach tellers to detect counterfeit money by handling the real thing. We should teach people by example how to have a relationship with God and what it truly looks like to have relationship with Him in our daily life. As people see our focus on God, then we can trust God to deal with their sin problem. And, in truth, He will begin with me.

Lord God, remind me of Your holiness. It’s so easy to focus on the ugliness in the world and point out the errors of others. So often, when we focus on one sin, we ourselves get ensnared in its wiles. Let me keep my focus on You and living a life that is right with You. Help me to lead others to follow You.

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May 20 – Drop the Mic

Acts 26:19-32; 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10; Psalm 49

Some of the best humor in the world is unintended. I think the Bible is full of that unintended humor. You read through it without thinking and you nod, thinking, “Ok, that’s God’s word. I needed to hear that.” Then, you think deeply and you start laughing at the ludicrous nature of the story. One of my favorite examples of that is when Paul is defending himself before King Agrippa who had just called him crazy for his beliefs, then laughed at Paul for trying to draw him to Christ so quickly. “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” (Acts 26:28-29) I can’t imagine but that the whole crowd hushed as Paul, standing before King Agrippa bound and shackled, a prisoner of Rome under threat of death said, “I pray that you could become like me.” The comma in that last phrase was probably quite a long time as Paul realized what he had said, then added, “…except for these chains.” I can also imagine the nervous laughter that filled the hall at Paul’s comment. While we, as followers of Christ, all have our own chains, our enthusiasm for following Jesus ought to give all of us moments like these. I’ve known terminally ill people who have been such a blessing to medical professionals in their last days that they might have said, “I wish that you could become like me, except for this illness.” Some people have “accused” me of using this writing to seek to draw others to follow Jesus. Well, to be honest, that’s one of the reasons I write. This life of walking with Jesus is so great, I wish that you could become like me.”

Lord God, it has been such an amazing life walking with You all these years! Yes, there have been trials and tribulations. Yes, there have been times when I have lost faith and given up. You continued to love me and show me grace. I pray that my words and my life might continue to proclaim to others that aside from my weaknesses, that I would wish that they could become like me and enjoy their relationship with You.

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May 19 – Let There Be Light….

Acts 26:1-18; Ruth 3-4; Psalm 48

Persecution against the followers of Christ has been around since before we were called Christians. Sometimes we in America think we’ve invented the concept of persecution when things don’t go our way. In truth, real persecution makes the problems we suffer here seem like nothing. Paul/Saul described what he used to do to King Agrippa in his defense. Followers of Christ were imprisoned merely for following Christ. They would be killed for their commitment. Yet God took Saul, one of these persecutors, and changed him. “’Then I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” ‘“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied. “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.”’” (Acts 26:15-16) Real persecution is occurring in our world today. Christians are being imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and killed in some areas of the world. The story of Saul’s conversion to Paul gives me hope. As terrible as these persecutions may be in some cases, God can still change those persecuting. And so I pray for those persecuting followers of Christ in the world today. I pray for Saul-like conversions in every pocket of persecution; may the former persecutors become servants and witnesses of the most High God to those with whom they work today.

Oh God, let it be so. Today there are those who would persecute Your people for religious or political reasons. Like Saul, they think they are doing Your work. I pray for those persecuting Your people. I pray for leaders in this persecution to see the light of Jesus. I pray for miraculous conversions so that the persecutors become witnesses of Your grace and glory. I pray for a revival of Your love to take place.

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May 18 – Commitment

Acts 25; Ruth 1-2; Psalm 47

It’s interesting that words shared in almost every Christian wedding ceremony were spoken by a widow to her widowed mother-in-law. “But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’” (Ruth 1:16-17) Those words are an amazing example of faithfulness. Ruth, a non-Israelite lady, felt commitment and loyalty to her mother-in-law even though that commitment and loyalty offered her no hope for the future. Naomi had no more sons for her to marry. Following her mother-in-law back to Israel was not a good career opportunity given the relationship between Israelites and Moabites. Yet something about the relationship between Ruth and Naomi compelled Ruth to follow Naomi. Something about Ruth’s character compelled her to stay with Naomi. It is an amazing example of loyalty and concern. We live in a time when mother-in-law jokes tend to be a staple on the comedy circuit and among friends. We continue to hear about problems between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. Still, some of the most touching words in most Christian wedding ceremonies remain these words from Ruth to Naomi. They set an example of commitment and loyalty that will give strength to any marriage.

Lord, we live in a time when marriages are in trouble. Divorce rates are up. Marriages are seen by many as temporary arrangements if people even bother to get married. Your word reminds us of the commitment that is needed to make marriages succeed in today’s world. I pray for each and every marriage in our world today; first that the husband and wife would commit to You and second that You would give them the strength to commit to each other.

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May 17 – Great Expectations

(I hate when I realize I didn’t write the previous day’s thoughts!)

Acts 24:10-27; Judges 21; Psalm 46

Christianity is an easy religion to believe – until you start thinking about what it really means to follow Christ. When we talk about grace, mercy, and forgiveness there are a few people who think it’s too good to be true. It isn’t. At the same time, God makes demands on our lives once we commit to following Jesus. “As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’” (Acts 24:25) As Paul talked about those demands: righteousness, self-control, and the upcoming judgment it caused Felix, who was hearing the Jews case against Paul, to become uncomfortable. We come to God as unrighteous beings. No one is righteous enough in themselves – that’s why Jesus died on the cross. But God expects us to live in righteousness with Him. At the same time, He gives us the power to live righteously. He expects us, and gives us the power to, change from a life of self-indulgence to a life of self-control. And then there’s that judgment issue. When we commit to follow Christ we don’t get out of judgment, we just change the process. Our judgment is not one that will lead to heaven or hell; our judgment will be based on how we followed God. I’m sure that Paul talked with Felix about judgment in both ways. Following Christ is not an easy lifestyle. For Felix, the truth was inconvenient. Many today look only at what they get out of the relationship with God, not what responsibilities they have. A balanced faith calls us to a life that honors God in all areas.

Oh Lord, if only You wouldn’t make demands on my life. It would be so much easier if I could tell people that I follow You I You didn’t have such great expectations of me. Yet, You give me the power to become the man I’m supposed to be and in the long run, what You demand of me leads to a better life. Remind me of that every day.

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May 16 – Justice

Acts 23:23-24:9; Judges 20; Psalm 45

There is within each of us a sense of justice. Something bad happens in life and our reaction is akin to “That’s just wrong!” That sense of right or wrong is built into human beings by God. I so often hear people talk about being able to be moral people without God, yet, there is no sense of right or wrong without that sense of justice we have hardwired in our inner being. The psalmist recognized that sense of justice in God, and understood the idea that His ability to enforce justice was part of His eternal kingdom. “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” (Psalm 45:6) God is a God of justice and He enforces it in this world in which we live. That being said, He is also a God of mercy. He gives grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it. In truth, He offers grace and mercy to all who will accept it. He offers that grace and mercy because the penalty that justice would call for was taken care of when Jesus died on the cross. There is no one too bad, there is no one who is so awful that they can’t gain forgiveness, grace, and mercy because of the death of Jesus on that cross. Justice is satisfied and God gives grace and mercy to all who call on His name.

Lord God, I deserve justice. I rebel against Your way. I follow after my own desires. I deserve to be shunned by You. Yet You continue so remind me that You love me and You give me grace and mercy because of the death of Jesus Christ. Let me live in Your grace and mercy, and show that grace and mercy to others.

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