April 27 – “Christians”

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

In October, 1993 the sports world was rocked by the announcement that Michael Jordan was retiring from basketball. He had just finished leading the Chicago Bulls to their third straight championship. Most thought Jordan still had many great years in front of him – but he walked away from the game. When he signed a baseball contract people were shocked, if not slightly amused. He struggled, but played the 1994 season in the Chicago White Sox system. Then, as baseball was about to go on strike in March 1995, he used a fax and two words to electrify the sports world: “I’m back.” He played a few games using the number 45, but then he tore down his old jersey from the “retired numbers” section and came back as #23. While the Bulls lost in the playoffs that year, Jordan followed his previous “three-peat” by leading the Bulls to their second “three-peat” during the 1995-96, 1996-97, and 1997-1998 seasons.

Jordan’s return to basketball was a shocker, but a return with an even greater impact was the return of Saul to proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Saul, upon his conversion tore up the league, so to speak, in Damascus and in Jerusalem. Both places got too hot to handle Saul, and he was shipped back home to rest and to end the death threats. Barnabas, dare we call him Saul’s agent, meanwhile, got sent to Antioch because the news of an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit reached the leaders in Jerusalem. Barnabas was excited and strengthened the new believers and helped lead many others to Christ. He needed help, though, and knew just who could help. Just across the bay, Saul was sitting in Tarsus waiting for God’s leadership. “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 4:25-26)

I don’t think I’m telling any surprises when I note that Saul not only did great things in Antioch, he also changed the known world with the message of Jesus Christ, establishing many churches in his evangelistic efforts. He and Barnabas made a great team. As taught the many people that were coming to know Jesus in Antioch, people started making fun of “those people” who were following Christ: they mockingly called them “Christians” or “little Christs.” As happens with mocking nick names, the disciples heard that name and wore it with pride. I can just imagine the first kid to get called a “little Christ” going home, fighting the tears, and telling his mom what he was called. I can imagine the mom, thinking about it, breaking into a wide grin, and saying, “what an amazing compliment!” I believe the name “Christian” was first meant in a mocking way, but the early Christians realized that the people who mocked them recognized that they were living like Christ and they took it as a testimony to their changed lives.

It’s time to reclaim that lost meaning of the name “Christian.” Our lives should be so in tune with God; so much like how Jesus would live that when people look at us they’ll call us “Christians” and really mean it, whether in admiration or in mockery. What will that look like? We who claim the name of Jesus have splintered on a lot of beliefs and actions, but I think Matthew 25:35-36 gives a good explanation of how we ought to act: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Christianity is a relationship with Christ but if we truly have that relationship with Jesus, it will affect our everyday life.

Oh Lord, I need to walk in Your footsteps each and every day. Make my life so much like yours that people automatically recognize Your presence in my life.

PS – This showed up about 12 hours late because of an asthma flare up. I apologize

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

April 26 – Comfort

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

There are a lot of things people say when they’re trying to comfort people who are grieving. Some of them are appropriate. Too often though, well-meaning words make me cringe. You know the kinds of things people say: “He’s in a better place,” or “There’s a reason for everything.” Think about what someone is saying: he used to be with you, but now he’s better off; or put away your grief because this (problem, death, illness) has a rational excuse for happening. Perhaps the most cringe-worthy phrase is when someone tries to comfort the parent of a child who has died by saying “God needed another angel.” Really? With all those angels in heaven, God couldn’t spend time with them so He had to take a child from parents who are perhaps left childless or at least with one less child? And no, they can’t just “have another one” because another one doesn’t fill up the hole that the deceased child leaves.

I have no doubt that each of those phrases, and others like them, are designed to show love and comfort for someone who’s grieving and I applaud those people for being there. At the same time, though, we need to be careful as we deal with people who are grieving. The most important thing we can do is be there. People don’t always need to hear our words, but they always need to feel our heart. Job had that problem with his friends. When they first came over, they did the right thing – they sat in silence. After that, they decided to “help” Job by confronting him about his sin. They “knew” that if Job would just recognize his sin and confess it to God, things would get better. After everyone had their say a couple of times, Job got a little sarcastic. “Then Job replied: ‘How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble! What advice you have offered to one without wisdom! And what great insight you have displayed!’” (Job 26:1-3)

Job is one of the most difficult books of the Bible for me to read. First, God allows Satan to take Job beyond the limits of human endurance because Job was the most righteous man on earth. That may be one of the reasons I never wanted to be the most righteous man on earth – I’d settle for second on that list. Then, the friends seek to comfort Job with words that are laughable (from the outside) in context – and yet, if we were to read much of what was said by the friends without the context of the story of Job, most of us would nod our heads at the sage advice being given. Of course bad things that happen to us are related to our sins. Of course we need to confess our sins to God to bring redemption. Except, of course, that wasn’t what happened in Job’s case. Job was righteous in God’s eyes and he suffered in ways we can’t even imagine. If the story of Job doesn’t mess with your theology, you really have to examine your theology!

But, back to the issue at hand. How do we deal with people in their struggles and their grief? Let’s begin with the obvious: show up. Be there for your friend. If they are the kind that likes hugs, hug them. If they don’t like hugs, any physical touch that they’re ok with is important. Never invade their personal space in a way that bothers them, but that physical touch is important if they are ok with it. Let them know about your love and your availability. Pray with them if it’s appropriate, or at least pray for them. People dealing with grief don’t need sermons, and, this is a hard one for us guys, they don’t really need solutions. What they need and want is our presence and our prayers. The truth is that you don’t always need to break the silence of grief. Sometimes, the most respectful thing we can do is honor that silence and honor the person grieving.

Oh Lord, remind me that sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do is shut up and be there for people who are hurting. Let me be a comfort to others when they’re hurting, and not a thorn in the flesh.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

April 25 – Paradigm Shifts

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

In AD 312, Constantine was facing a battle for control of the Western Roman Empire. He had a vision of a cross in the sky hearing the words, “In this sign, you shall conquer.” When you see a cross with the three letters “IHS” it refers to the vision of Constantine: IHS means “in hoc signo” or, “in this sign.” Constantine won that battle at the Tiber River, became the emperor of the Western Empire, and a year later signed the Edict of Milan along with the Emperor of the Eastern Empire. The Edict of Milan ended the persecution of Christianity and other religions in the Roman Empire and opened the door to many freedoms for the church. It wasn’t long before the Church moved from being persecuted to becoming the dominant force in society.

This was not only a paradigm shift for the Church, it was a paradigm shift for the whole world. The Church moved from becoming the persecuted minority religion to the dominant, ruling force in the world. It would be easy to make the argument that in many ways the Church failed to live up to the potential such power had. In fact, political power in many ways has hurt the Church. Society today is taking a long look at the future and there seems to be a trend towards finding ways to subjugate the Church’s influence in the world. If that happens, the gospel will still be proclaimed. God will speak to men like Cornelius who sought after the gospel and brought Peter to explain it to a houseful of Gentiles. The paradigm shift began at his house. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” (Acts 10:44)

As you read the book of Acts, there is a common feature to changes in the plans of the Church. The Holy Spirit appears in a special way to the first batch of new believers from a group. Philip had many converts in Samaria and when the apostles came down to check on what was going on, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Samaritan believers. Here, Peter’s speaking to a bunch of Gentiles and in the middle of the sermon, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message of salvation. To a Jew at that time, arguments were held over who the number one enemy of Israel was: the Samaritans or the Romans. God ended that question as far as the Church was concerned by sending the Holy Spirit to indwell people from both groups. It was a paradigm shift for Christianity taking it from an obscure sect of Judaism to a vibrant religion based on the ability of anyone to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ by receiving forgiveness of sins through His name.

As the culture changes in today’s world many in the Church are fighting the loss of social and political power. We see that in the news. We see that in our everyday interactions with people. There’s nothing wrong with followers of Christ seeking the right to live out their beliefs without government interference. The death of those rights, though, does not mean the death of the church. The death of those rights means that God’s people will have to deal with the paradigm shift and find ways to continue to proclaim the love of God and the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus. We may moan the loss of power, but if we spend all of our time doing that and not working towards being able to share the word of God in any situation, we will lose out on a golden opportunity to touch the lives of people for Jesus. Our circumstances may change. Our method of proclamation may change. Our message remains the same. “No matter who you are; no matter what you’ve done; there is hope for you in the name of Jesus.”

Lord, times are changing. Prepare our hearts for the differences that You know about already. Help me to be ready to proclaim Your message of forgiveness and grace in the name of Jesus to all people.

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

April 24 – Seeing Through God’s Eyes

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

It’s Prom Season again. Every year about this time social media feeds fill up with pictures of seniors in high school who clean up in ways we could never imagine. Some of them actually look like real people! A tradition has grown up in our social media culture: asking celebrities to prom. There was even a TV show called “Once Upon a Prom” where people applied to have a celebrity take them to prom. Shaun White, Olympic Gold Medalist Snowboarder, was the target of an elaborate invitation plan with a video, a poem in honor of the invite and some well-timed tweets. Carly Monzano, who attended an all girls school tried her best, but got no response. On prom night, Shaun crashed the party with his band, played a few numbers, then danced with Carly and posed for lots of pictures.

Carly and Shaun lived in different circles and except for this “promposal” would probably have never met. We all have our circles, don’t we? These days, we don’t even know our neighbors because we don’t walk around, we don’t talk with the people outside. We may wave at them in passing, but we don’t really know them because our circles are different. We go to different churches (or don’t go), we have different jobs, and we have different hobbies so our paths don’t meet. It’s not that we don’t like the other folks, it’s just that our paths don’t cross. Peter had a different problem. There were people that he couldn’t meet because the religious law forbade it. Then God. “He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.’” (Acts 10:28)

Jews and Gentiles did not mix in the days of the early church, especially if those Gentiles were Roman soldiers. Oh, if the Roman soldiers, or any other Gentiles appreciated Judaism enough that they were civil and donated money, they’d let them sit in the back of the synagogue, but they wouldn’t go out to Luby’s together after the Sabbath Service. So, when Peter took a nap before lunch, ok, the spiritual way to put that is that he went to the roof to pray and fell into a trance, his vision was disturbing. In the vision, God showed Peter all the animals that he wasn’t supposed to eat and told Peter to pig out, so to speak. Peter wasn’t sure what to make of the vision, but then the Spirit told him that three guys were waiting to speak to him. He may have been happy to skip lunch that day. The three guys told them the story of Cornelius, one of those Roman soldiers who was good, and the vision he had from God that told them to look for Peter at this house and bring him to Cornelius. Peter showed up and began his “how to win friends and influence people in the Gentile world” tour by letting them know, that “I’m not supposed to be here, but I can’t call you insulting names, so, what’s up?”

An interesting thing about the Bible is that an admonition to any person usually applies to all of us. For instance, when Jesus told the apostles to go into all the world proclaiming the gospel, the message wasn’t limited to the apostles – we have inherited the same command. When God tells Peter not to turn his nose up at other people, we get the same message. While we pay lip service to that idea, how often do we look down on people in, and out of the church? We think they don’t realize it, because we hide it so well, but they do notice. Perhaps we look down on them for their sin because it’s different from ours. Perhaps we look down on them because their life situation is not as good as ours, often because of the sins of others. We look down on other people for two reasons: 1) we don’t see them as God sees them; and 2) we don’t see ourselves as God sees us. Maybe if we realized the mercy and grace God has shown us and realized that God shows that same mercy and grace to others, we’d be able to see them as God does and walk alongside them instead of looking down at them.

Oh Lord, how often do I think too highly of myself, too little of others, and not enough of You. Help me to fix my eyes on You and love others as You do at all times.

Edit: Been trying to get this pic to show in the comments, but it isn’t working right. I’ve sent a link back to the creator. I hope that’s ok!

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

April 23 – The Key to Growth

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

In the early 1930’s Japan’s civilian government gave way to a militaristic one. The military government furthered Japan’s ambition to be the major economic power in the Asian Pacific region. In the process, years of good diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States went down the drain.  This led to World War II, the atomic bomb, and then the peace. After the war ended, Japan was able to concentrate on manufacturing and has become one of the major economic powers in the world. When at one time the phrase “Made in Japan” was a signal to avoid the product, now it’s a sign of quality. It’s amazing how much happened in peace time that superseded what Japan hoped for by going to war. War left destruction in its wake; Peace brought prosperity.

The church never wanted to go to war, but it found itself in a war as the Jewish leaders fought against the spread of the gospel. Stephen was killed and persecution broke out with one of the leaders of the persecution being Saul – whom we know of as Paul. Saul was heading to Damascus to destroy the growing church there when he was amazed by grace and ended up as a follower of Christ. He became such a strong preacher of the gospel that he had to be smuggled out of Damascus because of death threats. When he went to Jerusalem, the death threats started there, and eventually they sent him off to Tarsus. With that, the persecution settled down for a bit, with great results. “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)

Saul’s conversion took the wind out of the persecution. What had been a general persecution of all the followers of Christ changed to a focus on Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem. Perhaps the rulers thought that if they could get Saul out of the picture, the church would fail. They marshaled their resources at Saul and took aim – and missed when the early church arranged for Saul to go to Tarsus. For a while, then, the Jewish leaders lost their focus and peace broke out for the church. The church didn’t make the mistake of thinking that this peace was permanent; they didn’t make the mistake of thinking that this peace came from them. What they did do was live in the fear of the Lord and seek God’s guidance as they continued. The result of that was encouragement from the Holy Spirit and more people coming to know Jesus.

It’s easy to look at the amazing things that happen during persecution and note that the church does grow during persecution. I believe that it grows because God’s people cling to the Lord in those difficult times. They seek guidance and their witness is evident to those outside the church. The key ingredient in that growth though, is not persecution, but living in fear of the Lord instead of the fear of man. When peace breaks out and the society as a whole prospers, the church doesn’t always seem to grow. Perhaps the reason for that is not that society is prospering, but because we live more in fear of what others think than what God does. We being to live in our own strength and act as if our prosperity is self-generated. We have too many self-made successes and not enough God-inspired successes. The formula for success for the church and for individual Christians must always begin with living in fear of the Lord. Think about your actions today – do they happen because of the fear of the Lord, or worry about what others may think. Your success as a child of God, and the church’s success as the people of God, depends on your motivation being to please God. Once you live like that, everything else, good or bad, is put into proper context.

Oh Lord, how easily I fall back into a state where I worry more about what others think than what You want. Help me to live each day in the fear of the Lord, looking for Your guidance by the power of Your Spirit. As I do that, let others see Your amazing grace and seek Your grace for themselves.

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

April 22 – Hard to Reconcile

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

In April of 1994 one of the most horrific modern examples of genocide began in Rwanda. During a 100 day period members of the Hutu tribe systematically killed members of the Tutsi tribe, or those of mixed heritage, or Hutu who were sympathetic to the Tutsi. Weapons were guns, machetes, clubs, or anything that could be used to bash a head in. In Jabiro, a town once known for harmony between the two tribes, the Tutsi were driven out by May. When the slaughter stopped, Tutsi people began coming back to where their homes used to be. Tutsi homes had been destroyed by the Hutu genocidaires while Hutu homes had been destroyed by the army that took control. One older Tutsi woman recounted coming back to her banana plantation that had been destroyed. Hutu neighbors fed them. People who had stolen furniture returned it, asking forgiveness. Reconciliation began.

Imagine how hard it must have been for that old woman to trust her Hutu neighbors. But trust she did. The reconciliation that happened in Jabiro was representative of the reconciliation that has occurred in the whole nation. In Rwanda now, there are no claims of being Hutu or Tutsi the people are all Rwandan. It’s hard to trust those who have tried to kill you. Saul had become a terror to Christians, seeking to imprison and threaten them. In his zeal, he got permission to go after the young church in Damascus. On the road to Damascus, Paul met Jesus. He was blinded by the encounter and had to be led into Damascus where he stayed without eating for three days. God spoke to a believer named Ananias and told him to welcome Saul into the faith. Ananias hesitated. He reminded God of what Saul had done to believers. God told Ananias what Saul would do for Him. “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 9:17)

Reconciliation happened when Ananias reached out to Saul. Imagine the fear that Ananias must have dealt with. His trust overcame his fear, though and we had a world changing event. Saul the persecutor had become Saul the preacher. We now know him as Paul. The Jews who knew why Saul had come to Damascus were confounded as Saul appeared in the synagogues preaching about Jesus. Saul turned the heat up in Damascus with his preaching and before too long it got too hot for Saul in Damascus. He faced the first of what would become many death threats. So, the disciples smuggled Saul out of Damascus to protect him. Reconciliation with the Christians in Jerusalem would take a while longer, but it happened eventually because one man took the risk to bring it about.

Reconciliation is always difficult. As I look at Christians around the world who are persecuted, I not only pray for the persecuted church, I pray for her persecutors. I pray that the church and those who used to persecute the church will be able to reconcile – and sooner rather than later. On a smaller scale, reconciliation needs to happen every day among people in the church. We sin against each other. We get hurt feelings. We stop talking to each other and the fellowship of God’s people is fractured. Reconciliation happens when one of the people who was hurt is willing to forgive the other person and extend a hand of fellowship to the one who hurt them. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s necessary. As society changes and becomes less friendly towards churches and Christians, we need to be reconciled to each other so that we can have the peace and the strength to bring Christ’s reconciliation to the world.

Oh Lord, I pray for my brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution, even death because of their commitment to You. I pray for their persecutors that they would experience Your mercy and grace. I pray that Your church might be reconciled to each other so that we can offer the gift of reconciliation to the world.

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

April 21 – All Roads

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

There is an old saying that all roads lead to Rome. The way it’s used today is that there are many ways to get to the same place. In ancient history, though, Rome built great roads. These roads allowed its legions to march out to battle. It’s much easier marching on stone than in the muck of a dirt road. As a result, every road the Romans constructed would eventually lead back to Rome. Of course, if you’re a contrarian, like I am sometimes, you could point out that all roads also lead away from Rome. Many people adapt this phrase to make a religious statement that all roads lead to heaven. A quick look at society should be enough to help us realize how false that statement is.

Universalism is not a core belief of Christians, although, some Christians believe it. Orthodox Christian belief is that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. His death on the cross, the blood spilled as He died, and His resurrection were all caused by God to lead to the forgiveness of our sins and to allow us to have a relationship with Him. While all roads may not lead to heaven, it may be appropriate to say that all Scriptural truths lead to Jesus. A deacon by the name of Philip showed that truth one day while he was traveling. A eunuch from Ethiopia was trying to read the Scriptures and was confused. The Holy Spirit led Philip to this man who asked about what he was reading. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35)

The passage the eunuch was reading from was Isaiah 53 and it dealt with the Messiah as the suffering servant. It was hard for many Jews and followers of Judaism to reconcile the idea that the Messiah might suffer. The Messiah was supposed to be a conquering hero. He was supposed to wipe out the conquering Roman army and lead Israel to greatness again. Yet, here was this passage talking about one who was led like a sheep to be slaughtered. As Philip joined the eunuch, he took this passage and told him the story about Jesus. As terrible as the story in Scripture seems, there is a happy ending. Because Jesus was led as a sheep to slaughter, we can have a relationship with God. We can be forgiven. Somewhere in that story, the issue of baptism must have come up because when they came to some water along the road, the eunuch asked to be baptized. His life was changed through the retelling of the story of good news about Jesus.

I’m sure that some of you were thinking of exceptions to my statement about all Scripture leading to Jesus. Perhaps the genealogies came to mind. In spite of that, the basic truths about Scripture lead to Jesus. One of those truths is that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. As nice as it would be if heaven had no standards for entrance, that one standard alone is enough. The kingdom of heaven is exclusive in that the only way that leads in is the way of Jesus Christ. There are nice people in other religions, but the kingdom of heaven is exclusively for Christians. On the other hand, the forgiveness God offers through Jesus is not limited to a specific group of people: anyone who believes can receive God’s forgiveness. All you need to do is what the Ethiopian Eunuch did: repent of your sins and ask Jesus to take control of your life. When you do that, you’ll want to follow Jesus in baptism, not that the act of baptism saves anyone. We live in a world that needs to hear this simple message. Most of us won’t be called to join a chariot ride in progress, but we do have neighbors, friends, and co-workers who need to hear this message of forgiveness and grace. We can share the love of Jesus without being obnoxious and let others know about God’s amazing forgiveness.

Oh Lord, so many are looking at life and not understanding. Some read Your Scriptures and have no comprehension of the meaning. Help me to be a messenger who shows Your love and grace clearly.

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

April 20 – Money Can’t Buy….

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

What do people value? If you google the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness” and look at the images, you’ll discover what money can buy that’s pretty much the same things as happiness, or what money can buy to make your misery feel a little less bad. Humans have become so accustomed to everything having “monetary value” that in putting a price on everything, we have devalued the invaluable. The environment can be destroyed because a company can make more money that way. People are seen as commodities to be used, used up, and traded to increase one’s net worth. All for the pursuit of money. Very few of these people are content with what life brings.

We see evangelists and pastors today who are truly living high off the hog. Their books and “tapes” are making them millions and they live in huge mansions, protected by gates and security officers. Hmmmm. Some of the evangelists are less honest in their approach and offer you specially blessed items that will cause, maybe even force, God to answer your prayers or provide healing, if you send them enough money. The early church used money to minister to others and did so fairly effectively. They cared for widows and orphans. They made sure that people who lost their jobs because of faith were taken care of. They didn’t, however, sell their souls to gain money. “But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.” (Acts 8:12-14)

So what does this story have to do with money? Simon was well known in Samaria as a miracle worker, or a magician. People called him “The Great Power of God.” He probably made a pretty good living as a miracle worker. Then, because of the persecution, Philip came along and started preaching the gospel accompanied by healing and miracles. The magician saw what was going on and believed and was baptized. Then, when the other apostles came to check out this Samaritan revival and their prayers were used to fill believers with the Holy Spirit, he was beside himself and offered the apostles good money to gain that same power. Think of all the people in the church that could have been helped with that money. Peter saw an ulterior motive: Simon was going to use this gift as leverage to gain money. He rebuked him.

What will people do for money or applause. Ananias and Sapphira lied about money to gain applause. Simon offered cash to gain a gift of God to extort money from people spiritually. The leaders of the early church maintained their integrity in regards to money by calling out Ananias and Sapphira and their attempt to gain praise, and by refusing to accept a gift that would have commercialized the power of God. How people handle money is a great way to judge their character. “Oh, but we shouldn’t judge!” We don’t have the right to make ultimate judgments about people, but I make judgments about the kind of people I want to be around. When someone, Christian or non-Christian, uses money to keep score and abuses people and/or this world we live in to gain money, I don’t want to be around them. On the other hand, when they realize that wealth is a gift from God to be used to help others and further His kingdom, I can be around people like that: they will help me grow closer to God. Perhaps the attitude we need to have is that “Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy opportunities to care for others, which is pretty much the same thing.”

Lord, how easy it is to compare myself with other people who have all the latest gadgets, that I want, and live a luxurious lifestyle and then that I don’t have enough. Remind me that unless I am content in my relationship with You, I’ll never have enough. Help me to remember that when I’m content in my relationship with You, I’ll never be able to give enough.

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

April 19 – Forgiveness

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

Charles Roberts was an angry person. For nine years that anger had festered as he blamed God, and himself, for his newborn daughter’s death. On October 2, 2006, he snapped. He entered an Amish school house, released the boys, the female adults, and a pregnant school girl, and held fifteen female students hostage. After police arrived, he started shooting and the end result was that five of the hostages were killed. He also killed himself. In an incredible show of forgiveness, the Amish community not only attended Roberts’ funeral, they also provided financial support to his widow.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when Christians show “incredible forgiveness.” Jesus, on the cross, called for forgiveness for those who had condemned and crucified Him. But that was Jesus. That’s why He was going to the cross, wasn’t it? Do we really expect “ordinary people” to show such extraordinary forgiveness? The answer, of course is “no.” But then, God’s people have never been ordinary. Once someone has entered into a relationship with God, they can never be called ordinary again. There are some great perks to being considered extraordinary because of our relationship with God, but one of the responsibilities that must be the hardest is that our forgiveness must be extraordinary. Stephen was an extraordinary witness for God, but his last sermon enraged the Jewish leaders. They took him outside the city and stoned him. After he prayed for the Lord to take his spirit, he showed extraordinary forgiveness. “Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60)

I saw recently where someone described this as the prayer that saved Paul, formerly known as Saul. Saul was the coat holder for the Sanhedrin as they rushed to judgment. Saul later became an agent of the persecution of the early church. The last words Saul heard from Stephen were for forgiveness. I can’t help but think that these words of Stephen played on his mind every time he arrested Christians until that glorious day when he encountered Jesus. In truth, the incredible words of forgiveness uttered by Stephen are part of a tale that has been repeated by Christians down through the ages. Not only have his words been repeated, though, Christians down through the ages have forgiven others for some of the most vile crimes imaginable. Hardened criminals who would laugh in the face of a victim who talked of hatred towards the person who ruined their life have been known to break down in tears when told that they were forgiven by their victim or the family members.

Forgiveness is a magical key to people’s hearts. We have been able to receive God’s forgiveness and enter into a relationship with Him because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. If God gave us so much forgiveness, we ought to be able to forgive others more easily. At least, you might think that. How often do we accept God’s forgiveness, and then not show it to the driver who cuts us off in traffic, or the telephone solicitor who shouldn’t have our number, or the customer service person who can’t seem to get things straight on the phone? Our chances to forgive might be summed up by one of my favorite sayings from the old comic strip Pogo: “We are faced with an insurmountable opportunity.” The glorious thing about forgiveness is that this is one amazing way to be like Jesus who continues to forgive us. There is no end to the number of people we can forgive – even if that sometimes means we have to forgive ourselves. Our world is saturated by sin and by those who sin against us. If we sought to avenge every petty act of sin against us, it would be dreary. When we hold grudges, it affects us. Take on our insurmountable opportunity to forgive others. Let our lives reflect the forgiveness that God shows so well, that we forgive each slight or sin against us without reservation.

Oh Lord, forgiveness is so hard. I can make excuses as to why I don’t forgive others, but the examples of Jesus and Stephen remind me that I’ve had it easy. Help me to forgive others and show Your love each day.

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

April 18 – Simple Instructions

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

Back in the dark ages, someone invented a machine called the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). To use this machine, you would connect it to your TV and put a tape into the machine. If the tape was blank, you would record a TV program. If the tape was already recorded on, you could watch anything from movies to instructional videos to home movies. These VCR machines had a really cool feature in that you could program them to record TV programs that aired when you were out of the house. Many people couldn’t use that feature, though, because it required setting the clock on the VCR and those people couldn’t follow the simple directions they needed to set the clock. The result was that in many homes, the clock on the VCR flashed the incorrect time all day long.

Simple instructions. You would think that people could follow them, but for some reason, they either can’t or won’t follow them. If you search the internet for things like “mess up simple instructions” you’ll find a whole host of people complaining about adults who mess them up and how to help your kids avoid messing up. While following God is not easy, the instructions are fairly simple. “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach… For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:11,16)

Moses was preparing the people of Israel to enter the promised land. He wasn’t entering because He messed up on some instructions God gave him. In this final message to his people, though, he sought to protect them and future generations from what was to come. In other words, if they wanted to live in the land and not be destroyed, they needed to follow God’s simple instructions. They were to love God, obey Him, and follow His teachings. Simple instructions, but awfully hard to follow. If you read Stephen’s defense in Acts 7, he gives the history of the people of Israel not following these instructions. The people of Israel continued to follow after false gods, they continued to disobey God, they continued to ignore the pleas to repent delivered by God’s prophets. The instructions, so simple to read and understand what needs to be done, were nearly impossible for God’s people to follow because there were so many forces pulling them away.

Dare I be too hard on the Israelites? I probably had better do some reflection first. Not only do I have the same instructions, I have a written (and electronic) copy of God’s word that can remind me while the Israelites didn’t have easy access to God’s word. When I mess up the Simple Instructions, I have forgiveness because Jesus Christ died on the cross in my place. I have the power to overcome sins through the Holy Spirit who dwells in me. I have a strong support system of fellow Christians who can help me love and obey God. And what do I do? I still mess up. I keep needed to go back and ask forgiveness. I need to ask for power to overcome my sins. And, Amazing God that He is, He continues to love me and show mercy to me. Do I deserve this? No. God has blessed me with His love and forgiveness not because of any good thing I’ve done, but because of His grace. But aren’t I a good person? Perhaps I give that impression on the outside, but on the inside, I fight sin battles and lose all the time; I struggle with my sin and am constantly needing to ask forgiveness when I fail. Christians aren’t Christians because we are “good” or “nice,” we follow God because we recognize that we can’t follow simple instructions to love and obey God without His help – and even then we have problems. Thank God for His mercy and grace.

Lord, I just can’t seem to follow simple instructions. I say that I love You, but then I’m drawn to other things instead of spending time with You. I know I should obey Your word, but so many things entice me to do things my own way. Thank You for the mercy and grace that You show me each day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment