May 23 – When Bad Things Happen

Acts 28:1-16; 1 Samuel 4; 1 Samuel 5; Psalm 52
Dr. Albert Mehrabian did a research study that showed that when feelings were communicated, only 7% of the communication was through words, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language. Then, people jumped to the wrong conclusion that this applied not just to feelings, but to all of communication. As a result, you may hear people say that 55% of communication is body language. People make a living reading body language in meetings where facts are being conveyed and everyone takes what these body language readers say as absolute truth. By jumping to conclusions, people extended the study from one part of communication to all of communication and they often make mistakes reading the situation.

When you begin a conversation with a foregone conclusion, it’s easy to make mistakes in understanding what the other person is trying to say. There’s an old joke about wives holding up two dresses and asking the husband which one he likes better. When the husband replies that he likes the one on the left, the wife gets upset because he thinks she looks bad in the one on the right. The people on the island of Malta had a belief that when bad things happened, God was (or in their case, the gods were) punishing the person. When a snake came out of a pile of wood that Paul had gathered and bit him, they were sure he was bad news. “When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.'” (Acts 28:4)

It’s an easy conclusion to draw. Something bad happens and it must be that God is punishing that person. The people of Malta jumped to that conclusion when they saw the snake bite Paul. Then, things changed. Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. When the people of Malta saw that nothing bad happened to him, they decided that he must be one of the gods. When Paul started sharing the healing power of Jesus with them, they honored them. It’s interesting that when their first conclusion jump was shown to be wrong, they immediately jumped to the opposite conclusion – which was also wrong. Paul didn’t let either wrong conclusion bother him; he just preached Christ and healed the people on the island.

We shake our heads at the conclusions of those on the island of Malta, but how often do we engage in the same thing? Someone goes through a difficult time, and we let them know that God’s punishing them. We wonder what they did wrong. Worse, we may use some kind of variation of telling people that “karma” will exact revenge. Just for the record, “karma” is not a Christian principle. It comes from Buddhist and Hindu thought and relates to your actions in all of your various lives. It’s not true that “what goes around, comes around.” What’s true is that while there are often consequences for our actions, sometimes the things that happen to us just happen. When we do wrong, there is always the opportunity for forgiveness from God.We don’t serve an eternal revenge seeking God who tries to get back at us for every perceived slight; we serve a loving God who seeks to bring us into a loving relationship with Him and He forgives us when we do wrong so that we can enjoy His love.

Lord, help me to seek Your grace in my dealings with others. When they are going through difficult times, don’t let me rub salt in their wounds, instead, let me share Your mercy.

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May 27 – Whom Do You Serve?

Romans 2:1-3:8; 1 Samuel 10:17-11:15; Psalm 56

If I were to ask you to name a good person in this world, you could probably come up with a few names. You would recognize them by their selfless service to others, their care and concern for those who need extra support, and the overall joy they bring to others. Were I to ask you about someone you thought was evil, you might throw me the newspaper or tell me to look at a news website. We seem to focus on evil in this world. Disaster sells newspapers. Bad news gets internet clicks. If you want to see someone who’s nice to dogs and cats, find a click bait site. If you want an extended look at the evil person who just engaged in the latest horrific crime, go to a news website.

We sometimes see the same kinds of things at school. There are some kids who want attention, any kind of attention, so badly that if they can’t get attention for the good things they do, they’ll get the negative attention that comes with disrupting class. I wish I could say that I recognized that as a teacher, but I didn’t always do so. Some kids are so good, that they receive honors and recognition. Paul, after talking about judging others, he was against it, talked about the two kinds of people in this world. “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:7-8)

This is the beginning of a complicated argument by Paul about faith and works. Ultimately, the key to being able to do good is faith in Christ and a relationship with God. He has just talked about the hypocrisy of judging others in that so often when we judge, it’s because we’re guilty of the same sin. This is the turning point of that argument. God will give you what you deserve. If you are doing good, you will gain eternal life. If you are self-seeking, you can look for wrath and anger. The quick and easy take away from this is that the argument that God will save everyone is completely invalid. Paul did not believe in or teach universalism. As you understand all of Paul’s teaching though, the truth is that until we are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we can’t do good. We are all self-seeking and self-serving, without Christ in our lives.

That may seem like a harsh statement, but even people who do good things often do so because it makes them feel good. I volunteer in a couple of different places. I feel good when I leave, knowing that I’ve helped others. The question is, do I volunteer for the good feelings or because I have been led to volunteer by the grace of God? I like to think that my volunteering is because God has led me. When God gives me abilities, time, and/or money do I use it to satisfy myself, or do I realize that He gives these gifts so that I can help others? The two kinds of people Paul talked about in this passage must be looked at in terms of their relationship with Christ. Those who are doing good seek that glory, honor, and immortality because they are in a proper relationship with God and they are seeking to serve Him. If things aren’t right between you and God, you can’t be doing things His way. Others, including many who claim to follow Christ, are serving themselves and not God.  Perhaps we need to put it this way: if we are in a good relationship with God, it will change our lives, and our overall outlook on life. We will seek ways to care for others; we will seek ways to live a life that exemplifies God’s mercy and grace.

Lord, remind me that all that I do shows my relationship with You. When I sin, it is because I am doing things my way. Keep me from self-service and help me to focus on serving others because of my love for You.

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May 26 – Live By Faith

Romans 1:16-32; 1 Samuel 9:1-10:16; Psalm 55

Core Values guide companies in their work. When a company has strong core values, every decision they make takes those values into account. Strong core values can prevent companies from making mistakes that ruin their reputation and end up destroying the company. When companies and employees fail to live up to those values, the business begins to slide. Profit allows companies to stay in business, so most companies include profit as a part of their values. It’s a funny thing, though, but when making money becomes the prime core value the company looks at, the company goes downhill.

Just as businesses need to follow their core values, so do churches and people. You will see that most churches have mission statements. Activities and ministries of the church should relate to the mission statement. People have core values too. We don’t normally write them down, because, hey, we’re just living, but we have those core values. Paul, writing to the Romans, shared a core value that every Christian should have. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17)

This verse explains why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel (vs. 16). The gospel reveals the righteousness of God that is available to all people. That righteousness is found in living by faith. This passage and passages in Galatians brought Martin Luther to the point of breaking with the Roman Catholic Church as he realized that God deals with us through faith alone. No amount of good works can make God happy. If we want to live in a righteous relationship with God, it must be through faith. Micah deals with this same concept in chapter 6. If you are trying to make God happy, there is nothing you can do. Paul quoted the book of Habakkuk (2:4) as a reminder to the Jews that this doctrine of righteousness by faith alone was not new. There are a lot of things that I “do” as a Christian, but not one of them would please God if I wasn’t living by faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6) I’m sharing these different passages because living by faith is a core value for Christians and this belief appears throughout God’s word.

Living by faith produces changes in the way we live. It affects our dealings with other people. The counter example to living by faith is shown in the rest of Romans 1. (vs. 18-32) The descent into wickedness leads to horrible behaviors. That descent is caused because people are not living by faith. They have decided that they can do things on their own. They don’t honor or recognize God as God. The lowest point of living without faith is found in vs. 32: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” That last verse is a pretty accurate description of our world today, including many who claim the name of Jesus as Savior. When you live by faith and you see wickedness, the knee jerk reaction is to look at the behaviors of wickedness and try to change them. The cure for wickedness is not a behavior change though, it’s a faith change. We need to show people who are caught in their sin the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ. Our lives should show the joy of living by faith. If you don’t have the joy; if following Christ is drudgery, then stop trying to please God with your efforts and begin living by faith. Trust God. Trust Him to lead you and guide you in your daily life. Experience joy in His presence throughout each day.

Lord God, living by faith is such an exhilarating experience. Thank You for the joy of experiencing Your presence each day. I pray that my joy may show others how to live by faith.

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May 25 – What’s Your Reputation?

Romans 1:1-15; 1 Samuel 8; Psalm 54
“Where’s the beef?” If the first thing you thought of was a Wendy’s burger, you’ve been influenced by advertising – or “branding” as they call it today. I’m going to give you a few commercial slogans and see how well you do on guessing the companies. “We bring good things to life.” Anybody know that one? Anybody sing that one after you read it? Who wants you to “Be all that you can be.”? Who tries harder? Who puts you in good hands? And last but not least: “Things go better with…” what? The answers, if you didn’t get them, are GE, The US Army, Avis, Allstate, and, finally, Coke. 
Companies create these advertising slogans hoping that they’ll catch on and be recognizable for years. It’s a small part of building up their reputation. Companies build their reputation a step at a time building a customer base so that they can have a long period of profitability. Reputations are important in business, and they are important for Christians and churches also. Paul was hoping to go to Rome. The book of Romans is unique to Paul’s letters in two ways: 1) he hadn’t visited them; and 2) there doesn’t seem to be a pressing problem. What did he know about the Roman church? What was its reputation? “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” (Romans 1:9)
in the ancient world, all roads did lead to Rome. The gospel made it to Rome before Paul because Christians traveled for business. Some soldiers became followers of Christ and returned to Rome. Those who followed Jesus couldn’t stay quiet about their faith. A church grew in Rome. Paul noted the reputation of the church: their faith was being reported around the world. In other words, if people happened to talk about the church at Rome, their strong faith was mentioned. If someone was getting ready to visit Rome, they might be told to find out about that church. It probably was a reputation that spread mainly among the churches – but if people talked about the church in Rome, they talked about their faith. That’s a good reputation to have.
Christians and churches build good reputations over a long period of time and service to the community. A few Christians and a few churches have discovered how easy it is to lose that reputation. I won’t mention them by name, but you can think of some Christians who disgraced themselves at the height of fame by some notorious sin. You can think of churches that have established the reputation that causes you to say immediately, “I would never go there.” When we think of those examples, though, they should remind us of how difficult it is to maintain a reputation for being a person of God, or the people of God, in a world that lives on spreading gossip and dirt. We have to build our reputation as followers of Christ, as people of faith one small step at a time and we maintain that reputation by staying true to the faith we have received. Do people think of your faith when they think of you, or are you known for something else? When people think about your church, do they see it as a loving community of faith serving the local area, or do they see it as a building whose doors are heard to be through? Build your reputation in Christ by loving and serving others in faithfulness to God’s call and you’ll never spoil your reputation. 
Oh Lord, keep me safe in Your love. Help me to stay true to the faith in my words and in my deeds. Let me bring honor to Your reputation in all that I do. 

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May 24 – Listen

Acts 28:17-31; 1 Samuel 6; 1 Samuel 7; Psalm 53
You may have heard, or used the old phrase, “I could agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” We laugh at that first, then, we start thinking about that phrase and perhaps we are aghast at how rude it seems to be. (Unless we use it, of course. Then it’s just the blunt truth.) When you really think about it, though, in order to make that statement, you have to understand what the other person is thinking. To do that you have to listen to them. Listening to understand the other person and their point of view seems to be a lost art these days. Too often we don’t listen, or if we do, it’s only to find something about what the other person says that we can argue about. 
Wouldn’t it be great if we would learn to listen to other people so that we could understand them again? What a great example followers of Christ would be if we would start the trend of listening to others, especially those we disagree with, so that we could understand their point of view, before we started telling them how wrong they were. Listening is a great opportunity to get to know people and one of the best ways to approach others in listening was shown by the Jews in Rome. Paul called the local Jewish leaders to him and explained his situation. They noted that they hadn’t heard anything about him. Then they said, “But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.” (Acts 28:22)
How easy it would have been for the Jews to attack Paul without listening to him. They had heard stories about Christianity and the followers of Jesus. It seems like most of them were negative. Instead they took a more honorable path and asked for Paul to share his views. Paul, a prisoner of Rome; Paul speaking about a sect, still, of Judaism that had caused Jewish leaders in the main Jewish city to imprison Paul. Yet they were willing to listen. They gave Paul time to speak to a large number of the Jewish people. Not everyone believed, but some did. The results of the Jews listening were that some believed who might not have had the chance to hear the gospel otherwise. Because they listened, God was glorified as people came to faith in Jesus.  
We live in different times now. One of the problems many people have with Christians is that we don’t listen to them. We have our canned spiel to protect people from the fate of hell and we don’t have any idea about the needs of the people we preach at. Perhaps we need to examine ourselves and our methods. If we are going to bring to them a word from God, and the gospel truly is a word from God, we need to listen to God to hear what He has to say. God doesn’t always speak in canned spiels. In order to listen to God’s message for that other person, we need to know and understand them. Often, our canned spiels fly in the face of the other person’s need. If we listen to them and to God, we will be able to speak with them compassionately. If we listen to them, we will earn the right to share the love of God with them. Here’s the challenge: the next time you are ready to share the love and mercy of Jesus with someone, spend enough time with them to listen to them first. Know their hearts. Know their fears. Know their dreams. Then, listen to God and hear how He wants to meet their needs. Then be obedient to Him as you share.
Lord, I need to learn to listen to You and to others. Even when I pray, I often tell you everything I want to say and then sign off without listening to You. Help me to listen to You, and as I listen to You, help me listen to and understand others.

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May 22 – Joy

Acts 27:13-44; 1 Samuel 3; Psalm 51
“Where does your joy come from?” Have you ever been asked that question? People who know what we have gone through over the last year and a half will ask us that question. I’ll talk to them about my faith; I’ll talk to them about the forgiveness of God and they’ll usually agree with me about having faith and knowing God’s forgiveness. Then they’ll say, “But I don’t have that joy.” I don’t know how to answer that. Perhaps the problem people have is not really walking with the source of all joy.

It would be easy to think that joy would come from a sense of completeness, or, even, perfection. The problem with that view is that no one is perfect, or even complete on earth. We all make mistakes. We all sin. Some of the worst sinners in the Bible were Paul and David. Paul became a great evangelist, and David not only became King of Israel, he was called “a man after God’s own heart” by God Himself. When David sinned, he knew how to confess and make things right again. Listen to these words: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)
Psalm 51 is an amazing confession. In that Psalm, David not only let God know that he was wrong, he continued by asking God to forgive him. Sometimes, even when we’re forgiven, there’s still a tentative relationship with the other person. David went beyond asking for God’s forgiveness, he asked God to restore the joy of his salvation. He understood that forgiveness and his relationship with God needed the joy that comes from walking with God. So many people live in fear of what God’s going to do to them that they accept his forgiveness, but then do their best to avoid talking with Him or spending any kind of time with Him. They aren’t able to forgive themselves, so while they might say out loud that God has forgiven them, deep in their hearts they don’t believe it.

Are you experiencing joy in your walk with God? Have you experienced the mercy of God through Jesus and the grace to overcome your sin? Or are you letting the past consume you in guilt. Perhaps you know that God has forgiven you, but you can’t quite forgive yourself. Perhaps you can’t forgive yourself because you’ve asked for God’s forgiveness for the same sin again and again. Have joy, oh Christian! God keeps forgiving. Forgive yourself – if God forgave you, follow and obey Him. He knew what He was doing when He forgave you. Trust His judgment enough to realize that if He forgave you, He wants you to forgive yourself. Then, don’t stop there in your relationship with God. Ask Him to restore the joy of your salvation. Ask Him to keep walking with you so that you can experience His presence, because His presence is the source of all joy.

Oh Lord, restore the joy of my salvation. Remind me of Your forgiveness and Your presence. Let my joy lead others to see the joy that they are looking for.

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May 21 – Honoring God

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

Eric Liddell was the son of missionaries in China. He went to school in London and then university in Edinburg. He was known as a follower of Jesus and a great athlete. He used his athletic ability to reach people for Jesus. He was on a fast track for the Olympics in the 100 meters, only to discover that heats would be run on a Sunday. He didn’t believe in competing on a Sunday, so he trained for the 400 meters instead, since that race would be held on a weekday. On the morning of the race, the team masseur handed him a slip of paper that reminded Liddell that “he who honors me, I will honor.” While not an exact quote from the Bible, it was inspiration.

You may remember that story from the movie “Chariots of Fire” and you may also remember that Liddell won the race. After the Olympics, he returned to China where he lived until his death in a Japanese internment camp in 1945. While the story fictionalized some of the process, and didn’t spend a lot of time on his life after the Olympics, it should inspire all of us to remember that honoring God should come first in our lives. Eli, the prophet who raised Samuel, had sons who not only weren’t honoring God as priests, they were actively dishonoring God and refused correction. A prophet spoke to Eli about this: “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family 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.” (1 Samuel 2:30)

The sons of Eli not only didn’t pay reverence to God, they used their capacity as priests to intimidate the people who were trying to worship Him. They would take more than the prescribed portion of the sacrifice for themselves. They slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. (This was before the Temple was built, of course.) In short, Hophni and Phineas were some of the worst examples of humanity around, and Eli couldn’t control them. Oh, he tried. He spoke to them and let them know that they were a disgrace, but they just laughed in his face. The full prophecy speaks to the upcoming death of the two sons, who probably would have laughed in the prophet’s face if they had heard the proclamation. They didn’t care about others and they certainly didn’t care about God. They used their “job” as a chance to fleece the flock, and they were proud of their actions.

You can read forward in the story if you don’t know what happens. The two sons of Eli laughed at any criticism. They didn’t understand their need to honor God. There are many among us today who behave the same way. Many are outside the church. They flaunt their sin and the natural reaction those of us who seek to honor God seems to be to attack their life choices. The only sin people who don’t know Jesus are accountable for is their failure to believe. We need to show these people the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. We can’t expect people who don’t know God to honor Him. We should be able to expect God’s people to honor Him in their life choices. Instead, we have many preachers who fleece the flock; we have many Christians who engage in sinful behavior and seek to justify themselves in front of others rather than honoring God; we ourselves stray from God’s plan to do things in our own stubborn way. We see that missionaries, like Liddell, have had to suffer because they put God first and we aren’t going to have any of that. So we indulge ourselves in getting rich, gaining power, or any kind of excess and baptize it by reminding people that God wants us to have the good life. He doesn’t. God wants us to honor Him at all times. Stay true to His word and follow Him.

Lord, let me be willing to honor You not matter what the cost.

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May 20 – Faith Leads to Works

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

Rosaria Butterfield was a tenured professor at Syracuse University. She was opposed to Christian beliefs as an atheist and was working on a book to “expose” the Christian right from her viewpoint. As she approached the Bible to tear it down, God spoke to her. She became a Christian, and is known for a book called “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith.” In that book, she describes her journey from atheism to Christianity. She has since developed a ministry to college students and speaks at churches and universities about her experience, often with her husband who is a Presbyterian pastor.

Mrs. Butterfield is an example of someone who met Jesus and had a life changing experience. Jesus made such a difference in her life that she seeks ways to show His love and grace to others. Paul was a lot like that. As he testified before King Agrippa, he talked about his conversion and then he talked about the call on his life from God. “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:19-20)

As Paul described the change that overcame his life once he surrendered to the call of God, he talked a lot about his sins. It’s interesting to me that he confessed to voting to put people to death, which was a crime in ancient Rome, if followed through, since only the Romans had the right to put someone to death. At the same time, though, he talked about how his life had changed. His testimony was so strong that Agrippa, near the end, accused Paul of trying to lead him to Christ – a charge Paul admitted. His call from God, which he tried to stay faithful to, was to preach that people should repent and turn to God, and that they should show their repentance, their new-found faith, by their deeds. During the first century, there was a lot of wicked behavior and the best witness for Christ was the changed lives of the believers. There was no debate over faith and works in Paul’s ministry, according to him. A Christian needed to have faith, and to let that faith change his life.

I can look back on my life and realize how God changed me. I remember being told by friends and family that they couldn’t believe how I had changed. Many were waiting for me to fall back into my old ways for a long time. Repentance, true repentance, causes our world views and our lives to change. If a person says that they believe in Jesus, but they continue to live in their old sin, I wonder if they have dealt with their need to repent of their old way of life. Following Jesus is not meant to be fire insurance; following Jesus is meant to be a life changing experience that happens because we’re walking with Him daily. Every day, when I read God’s word, and then write about it, I examine my life based on the teachings of all that I read (linked at the top), not just the verses I write about. I ask myself daily if I am being faithful to God’s call on my life, based on what I’ve read. (That’s one of the major reasons I link my daily Bible reading at the top.) Let me challenge you to examine your life in light of God’s word. Read the whole passage that I read every day. Ask God what you need to learn from it. Ask God how your life needs to change. And remember, if you do that, you aren’t alone; we’re on this journey together.

Lord, You have changed me, but there is still so far for me to go. Teach me from Your word every day. Let my life reflect how You are working in me so that others can experience the joy of walking with Your daily.

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May 19 – There’s No Such Thing as “Too Bad”

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

One of the most frustrating things I deal with when talking with people about Jesus is that they try to tell me that they’re “not good enough” to follow Jesus. There are things in their lives that are so bad that God wouldn’t want to forgive them. Those deep, dark secrets in their lives drag them down and keep them from believing that God could love them. They hear the words that God will forgive them and develop a relationship with them, but they won’t believe it for themselves. It may work for others, but not for them. And so, they smile and nod, tell you that they’ll consider the good news of Jesus Christ, but walk away believing that there’s no way that God could love them.

How bad do you have to be for you to be outside of the mercy and grace of God? I don’t know. All I can say is that I have never met, nor heard of, anyone in that situation. “But what about <insert name of horrible, awful person here>? Could God forgive them?” Yes. If they truly repented of their sins and turned to God through Jesus Christ, He would forgive them. If you want an example of someone who was bad and evil who was forgiven, look no farther than Paul. “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” (Acts 26:9-10)

How bad was Saul? He held the robes when Stephen was stoned. He voted to put some Christians to death, even though Rome did not allow the Jews to put anyone to death. He attacked and arrested followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and worked to track down Christians in foreign countries. Saul was a scourge to Christians. He was public enemy number one in the Christian world. Ananias was afraid to visit him, until God assured him it was ok. The church in Damascus thought his conversion was a ruse at first and they didn’t want Saul around. The church in Jerusalem wouldn’t have anything to do with Saul at first…what better way to gain information about who the Christians were and where they met than to pretend to be one of them. Saul was so bad, that in the eyes of most, it was impossible for him to become a follower of Christ. Yet, we remember him as Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the author of many letters in the New Testament.

So how are you? Are you really so bad that God can’t forgive you? “Yes, I am.” Who have you killed? Who have you treated cruelly as you put them in prison? What could you do worse than that? If God’s mercy and grace can forgive Saul, later Paul, then I can’t imagine a sin that you might have committed that is so great that He can’t forgive you. No matter who you are; no matter what you have done; when you recognize your sin, and turn to God in true repentance and ask for forgiveness, He will give it to you. The mercy and grace of God is amazing and extends far beyond you or I could imagine. Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him while He was on the cross. Is your sin worse than the category of “crucifying the Savior of the world?” I doubt it. God loves you. He gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for you. All He wants is for you to turn to Him in repentance and receive His forgiveness.

Oh Lord, my heart goes out to every person today who thinks that they have committed sins so terrible that You can’t forgive them. Speak to them. Show them how much You love them. Let them experience Your mercy and grace. May they turn to You in repentance and become one of Your children.

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May 18 – Scandalous!

Acts 25; Ruth 1-2; Psalm 47

Religious disputes are the worst, aren’t they? You see it on a small scale when churches split. There are anecdotal tales among Baptists about churches splitting over a vote on the color of the new carpet, on worship styles and music in the church. I saw a story about a church in another denomination where they split because the people in that church wanted a “freer worship experience.” As I looked a little more closely, one of the commentators talked about people wanting to clap in a church where that wasn’t normally done. When a church gets into a dispute, it causes all kinds of tension and anxiety because the people who are right really don’t want to be controlled by the people who are wrong. Who’s in the right, you may ask? That’s part of the problem.

As the early church grew it began to spread out and reach more people, including Gentiles. At first the early Christians had some issues with it, but instead of trying to put off the dispute on this issue, they met it head on, but they still had to deal with a bigger problem looming in the background: the Jews who saw people following Jesus as a threat to Judaism. The Jews in Jerusalem fought against the followers of Jesus with every weapon at their disposal. They rejoiced in the killing of James, the brother of John. They had a group that vowed to eat or drink nothing until Paul was killed, hoping to ambush him and kill him when he was in Roman custody. They failed, but brought a case before Festus who described his dilemma to King Agrippa like this: “Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.” (Acts 25:19)

Festus had a dilemma because Paul, taking advantage of his Roman citizenship, appealed to Caesar, hoping to have his case heard in Rome, rather than Jerusalem. Call it an early request to change the venue because he knew that the jury would be stacked against him in the Jewish capital. Festus had been expecting some terrible crime for this prisoner that the Jews sought to execute, instead what he found himself in was the middle of a religious dispute. In the last half of the sentence, he described the trouble that the world has with Christians – we are about “a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.” The resurrection was scandalous for Jews back then, it still is today. It flies in the face of science. It is an affront to the beliefs of other religions. We follow a dead man named Jesus whom we claim is still alive. He walked the earth 2000 years ago, He was crucified, and He rose from the dead. He still lives today. That belief is scandalous and incredible. Yet that is the core belief of Christianity.

We also believe that the risen Jesus lives in us through the Holy Spirit who empowers all believers. We believe that when we put our trust in this outrageous claim that God establishes a relationship with us. We are forgiven. We become united with each other and with those saints who have gone before us. We believe, get this, that our religious commitment is the exclusive way to approach and fellowship with God. At the same time, we believe that the opportunity for faith is available for anyone. We believe that God doesn’t care about your background, your current sin pattern, or anything else you’ve done: He will accept anyone who turns to Him through Jesus Christ and grant forgiveness for the past, and grace to overcome the power of sin in the present. We aren’t perfect, see paragraph on church splits, but we are forgiven, and when we do it right, the fellowship we share is beyond human understanding.

Oh Lord, how do we tell people the scandalous truth of the gospel? How do we explain that You, God the Son, walked on earth, died for our sins, and rose again, to a skeptical world? Give us the strength to do that. Give us the ability to love other followers of Christ and show Your mercy to all.

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