Thursday, January 31, 2013

1 John 4:1

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

I once heard a great preacher say, “What the church needs most is discernment.” Christians all too often lack the spiritual discipline of discernment. When we get to 1 John 4, John knows this and he instructs the church to become a discerning people. Often, however, spiritual immaturity becomes the seed-bed for toxic theology and faulty thinking. The longer I have Graham and Cecelia, the more I realize that parenting and childhood are simply two great parables of the Christian life. There is a lot that can be learned about yourself and your natural tendencies spiritually when you carefully watch a one-year old.  As babies grow and mature, eventually the “shovel technique” is perfected and they begin to grab anything and everything and shovel it into their mouths. Whether it is a cookie, or a toy, or a piece of garbage they find near them on the ground, anything and everything goes straight to the mouth. Babies, physical ones and spiritual ones, are a pretty undiscerning crowd. Without proper training both will ultimately be devastated by the ingestion of all sorts of strange things. Spiritually speaking, this toxic lack of discernment has been a filter-down side-effect of years of poor biblical interpretation and the inculcation of extra-biblical teaching. At times the spiritually immature are excited through the means of humor, empathy, or guilt, and are left with an emotional buzz. Perceiving this buzz as “the moving of the Spirit,” they then seek only the “high” that the buzz brought, and never actually feel the weightier things of truth that are presented from God’s Word. They find that their “favorite preachers” are the ones who bring this buzz. Sadly, the undiscerning walk away from the church-substitute “comedy hour,” invigorated and excited that they “have heard from the Lord,” but never truly changed or helped. For this reason, people must be trained. Theology must be learned. It is not good enough to attend church. You must learn what you believe. You must know what God says. You must understand His truth so that when a substitute is presented you can be able to easily distinguish it. You must learn what “the proclamation of God’s word” truly is and what it isn’t.

Food For Thought: Why do many people fail to realize that certain “preachers” are not actually preaching God’s Word?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1 John 3:23-24

And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

Love is the rule. Faith is the pre-requisite. Love without faith in Jesus is purposeless. There is no price tag on heaven. There is no waiting line to get in. There is no check-sheet you must accomplish to earn it. There is only one way. Ironically, the one thing that we need to be able to get into heaven is actually based on the premise that we aren’t doing anything. In spite of a culture and a natural mindset often of “I must accomplish”, when it comes to heaven, the “I must accomplish” mentality must get checked at the door. Ephesians 2:8 says that we are saved “by grace…through faith.” God saves us, based upon nothing that we have done, but simply because we believe in the accomplishments of Jesus as our only hope and chance of salvation. When we get to 1 John 3, John doesn’t miss the golden opportunity to rightly shape the theology of those who have been following his teaching over the last several paragraphs. Often, Christian groups make “being a Christian” about everything except for the one true thing that “being a Christian” is. They get enamored by strategies and programs that will guarantee larger church congregations. They emphasize community involvement with their members. They set up donation centers where people can give their time, money, or goods to the poor. They love, and love, and love, but they forget the central reason behind all of it…that men can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. That others can come and not just get a full belly, or a new coat, or a new pen, but rather that others can come and be eternally saved by the truth of Jesus. Sadly, many well-meaning people are so blinded by the gleam of their good works that they miss the necessity of their faith in Jesus. Depending eternally on their involvement and faithfulness, they become some of the kindest people in hell. God’s prerequisite is still faith. Live with love, from a heart of confident faith in Jesus. Realize that your love is a reflection of His. Understand that the primary purpose for your actions of love is that the pre-requisite of faith may take place in the hearts of others and that ultimately they may see your good works and glorify the Father by them.

Food For Thought: What must someone do to go to heaven? In a proper understanding of theology, where do good works come in?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

1 John 3:16-22

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

Imagine that it is five degrees below zero and the wind is blowing at thirty miles an hour. It has been snowing for the better part of the night and there is about a foot of snow covering everything. There is a knock at the door and I open the door to see a little old man curled over wrapping his arms tightly against his body as he shakes uncontrollably. He mutters something through chattering teeth and frozen jaws that sounds like “I…I….I…heard that you were a Christian….I have been….. out here all night, and I…. am free…..zing.” I am ecstatic. Glowing with pride for my Christian testimony and how well I have served God in front of others, I proceed to quiz the man as he shivers on my porch, “Well, I’m glad you made it to my house, but before we go any further, I would like to ask you if you have ever made Jesus Christ your personal Savior?” In disbelief the man coughs and sputters, “I haven’t….eaten for two days….and my toes are fro…zen, can you please….help.” Beaming with the opportunity to use my favorite line of scripture, I quote Peter, “Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee,” I then reach to my secret stash of gospel tracts behind the door and grab the “Everybody Needs a Home” one. Before closing the door and sending him back into the cold empty handed, I take a moment to pray with him. Hopefully, by now, something in you is screaming “LET HIM IN THE HOUSE!! GET HIM A WARM BLANKET!!! GET HIM SOME HOT SOUP AND A CUP OF HOT COCOA!!!” I can say I love the lost, but if they never see it, how will they ever believe it. I can tell them that God loves them like I do, but I think far too rarely that just isn’t the case. He actually gave His life for them…I won’t even give them my parking space. It has been aptly said and still remains true, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Now, go show the love of God.

Food For Thought: Read James 2:15-16. What does James say that agrees with the assessment John gives here in 1 John 3?

Monday, January 28, 2013

1 John 3:11-15

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

The point of 1 John is to reveal the true nature of believers. When John wrote this book, he included several things that would be characteristic of someone who truly had been converted by the power of the Spirit. One of those key things is that Christians will respond in love. Christ had left his disciples with one last commandment before He went to the cross to die for them, namely, that they love. He had told them to love. This is a true mark of a Christian. Attending church is good. Memorizing hymns is fantastic. Wearing nicer clothes to church than what you wear when mowing the lawn makes for good practice. But a true mark of Christianity is the transformed inside. John uses the illustration of Cain here in 1 John 3. Often Cain is seen as this Old Testament guy who was just a murderer and wicked. But when you read Genesis, you will find that Cain was a pretty religious guy. As a matter of fact, all of his frustration towards Abel had come from the church service where they had shown up to worship God. By all outward measures, Cain was a serious follower of God, but time revealed what was on the inside. When Cain did not receive the recognition he felt he was due, and when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s, Cain showed his true colors. In a murderous fit, he executed his ignorant anger against a misunderstood God on his own brother. John warns Christians in 1 John 3 of others who reveal this hatred toward them. His desire is that Christians be true followers of Jesus and not just religious impostors. He tells the Christian that we should love others and care for them. Hatred is for the fakers. Real Christians love. Look to Jesus as the great example. Let His self-less life and altruistic death stand as a testament to us of how we genuinely should live daily. Vengeance is not ours. Vindication is not required. Self-preoccupation and self-exaltation are meaningless. Let love be the rule of your life.

Food For Thought: What was the deep-seated problem of Cain’s life that caused him to become a murderer?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

1 John 3:7-10

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that commiteth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

In 1 John 3:7-10, John highlights a truth that has existed since the beginning. We have to go all the way back to the creation account to find it, but let’s go there anyway. Genesis 1-3 reads as the introductory part of the grand text of Scripture. In this pinnacle text all of the key players of history are assigned characteristics that they live by for the rest of the book.

Character One (in His Autobiography) - God

He shows up in the story as the One Who is in control. He tells the truth. As a matter of fact, He is the only One Who tells the truth. Because He only tells the truth, He told Adam that if Adam sinned, death would be the result. That is truth. Justice…sure, but in a deeper sense, that is truth from the mouth of an only true God.

Character Two – Man

He assumes the dependent role. He must rely on the Providence of a Sovereign God. He must trust the truth provided by the only Wise God. Without faith he is hopeless and helpless. Without a relationship with the massive Creator, the man has no purpose in the story.

Character Three – Satan

From His introduction in the beginning he is breathing a perversion of God’s truth, deceiving with every vile breath. He lies and corrupts the truth. He says that death will not be the result of disobedience. He knew the truth, yet sought to destroy the man with his lies.

The story ensues, and because he lacked faith, the man was cursed in his disobedience. As you read the story carefully, you will find that the only One in the story Who tried to help the man was God. Man rejected Him, and faced the promised consequence, not simply as punishment, but in a much deeper sense as the forewarned outcome. Satan, the deceiver had accomplished his devastating work of destroying the relationship between man and the Creator. Just when the story seems to be one of tragedy, God, the One Who only tells the truth and has man’s best interests at heart, makes one more promise.

Character Four – The Promised One (Messiah)

One day the evil work of Satan will be undone and Satan himself will be destroyed. A promised one would come and bring salvation from the curse that Satan cunningly devised to capitalize on the lusts of man.

Satan deceives and offers hurt. It has always been this way. God lovingly only offers truth, and a meaningful life inside of that truth.

Food For Thought: Who are the four key characters of history? Which one only seeks destruction through lies? Which one(s) seek to liberate and offer hope with truth?

Friday, January 25, 2013

1 John 3:4-6

Whosoever commiteth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Sin is corrosive. It does not exist without a host. It is a perversion of something else. Just as a sore cannot exist apart from flesh, and rust cannot exist in the absence of some type of metal, sin cannot exist without something to destroy. Sin is not a thing, it is the destruction and degradation of a thing. More specifically, sin has been the perversion and violation of God’s perfect design since the start of human history. Sin, like a rot has decayed the good that God placed on this planet. Through the self-will and self-serving desires of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin entered the world and brought its side-kick, death. The blackening, molding, putrefying work of sin has continued ravishing the earth and its inhabitants for centuries. Throughout history it has been accelerated by the dark, natural desires of corrupt men; and sadly, even now, the curse and devastation is perpetuated by our own desires and lusts. Greed, sexual lust, and pride corrupt the hearts and bind the lives of all men. Where God prescribes merciful “giving” as the best way, the sin-bent heart of man has sought “getting” as its sole aim. Where God has offered perfection and beauty in the simplicity of monogamy, self-destroying man has sought the complications of polygamous lusts and uncommitted relations. Where God has shown that humility heals and offers the way of peace, the arrogant and self-justifying heart of iniquitous man degrades others and ends in exacerbation and conflagration. Sin offers ache.
But thank God for Jesus. As John says in today’s text, Jesus showed up “to take away sin.” The tumor can be excised. The malignity can be decimated. Jesus has come to a sick and broken world and drawn the malady into His own body so that we can be liberated from its control. He Who was sinless willingly took on sin and was brutalized for us. Not only did He offer us a future that was gloriously bright and beautiful, but He offers us a present that through faith in Him and Spirit-led obedience to God’s design can be much brighter. No longer must sin reign in your mortal body, but rather you can find victory in Jesus, the sin destroyer.

Food For Thought: Explain what sin is in your own words.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

1 John 3:1-3

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not ye appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

We have hope. Toward the closing of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that the day will come when sin and death will no longer be dominating forces. The pain and suffering that sin and death now bring will one day be undone. The tragedies of this life will become the glories of the next. Separation now only means the guarantee of reunion later. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we know that the dead are not done. The last chapter for those who have passed has not been written, rather, the unending story of all those who put their faith in the accomplishment of Jesus has simply begun. We have hope. And as we get into today’s text, we find John tells of another of the great truths that awaits us in the future with Jesus – one day, “we shall be like him.” The massive transformation work of Jesus has simply begun, and He who has begun a work in us will on that day see it to completion. The soul purifying, and sin extracting work of the Holy Spirit of Jesus has been proceeding and we have been conforming to His image, but the day will come when that work will be accomplished. It is only then that this corruptible will put on incorruption, and this mortal will put on immortality. Sin and death will shriek away. The scars of the centuries will be healed. From the most heinous to the most overlooked, all sins will be gone. Knowing that sin has begun its last chapter, John encourages us to “purify ourselves” even now. Sin offers nothing. It has no future. It has already been defeated and is now subject to the victorious power of the Spirit. One day it will be completely annihilated, and until that day it will accomplish nothing but destruction in the hearts and lives of those who harbor it. There is no reason to enjoin ourselves to the losing side. The game has been called, and sin and death are hopeless. Now let’s strive to prune the branches of sin that have grown themselves into our lives. With John, having the hope of ultimate victory, purify yourself.

Food For Thought: Knowing that sin and death are defeated, and that one day we will be transformed into holy and pure beings, what does the Apostle John tell us to do now?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Advent Archive: Obadiah

Obadiah tells the story of the descendents of Esau, the brother of the patriarch Jacob. For centuries Edom had consistently attacked and bothered the nation of Israel, and God was no longer extending mercy. Now judgment was coming. Edom had always existed with a bit of arrogance. You see, they lived in the mountains and caves to the south of Israel. This position was a naturally easy position for defense and for warring against other nations. Edom also had a considerable number of allies. Because of their prosperity they had gathered several nations around them as their “friends.” Edom didn’t just have a good location and plenty of friends, they also had a phenomenal economy. Their food production was exceptional and they had need of nothing. However, they continued to harass Israel. In spite of the longsuffering kindness of God, they continued to mock and fight against God’s people. Obadiah eventually comes to them as the mouth-piece of God and tells them that no matter how secure they were in geography, politics, or economy, they would be brought low and destroyed because of their contrariness to His working in His people. God does not take it lightly that someone would interfere with the work He is trying to accomplish in His children. So, how are you doing? Do you ever interfere with the work of God? Are you the type of friend that God desires you to be? Or are you the type of friend that is contrary to the work of God in other’s lives? Let Obadiah’s warning to Edom be a sound warning to us.

Food For Thought: Why did God punish the nation of Edom? Why do you think that God did not just destroy the nation of Edom hundreds of years earlier?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Advent Archive: Philemon

If you didn't quite catch the story of Philemon and Onesimus, I'll give you a summary of the events. Onesimus was Philemon's runaway slave--a person worthy of death for this crime. He stole some money from Philemon and ran to Rome to disappear. Along the way, God, in His sovereignty, causes Onesimus to run into Paul the Apostle. After hearing the gospel, he is transformed to the point that even if it cost him his life, he wants to go back to Philemon and apologize because it is the right thing to do. To help Onesimus, Paul wrote this letter to Philemon and sent it with a messenger ahead of the runaway to help Philemon understand that his slave has been converted and is now his Christian brother. Paul says that he has heard of the great faith Philemon has, and knows Onesimus has done him wrong. He asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus and treat him as his equal. Paul finishes by saying that he will personally repay any debt that Onesimus owes to Philemon.

This really is a lot to ask of Philemon, isn't it? Paul is asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus for running away, stealing his money, and embarrassing him. He's asking him to not only just forgive him, but to treat him now like family. Paul even goes as far to say that he will take all the punishment that Onesimus deserves and pay Philemon back himself, letting Onesimus get away with it all. I wonder if it made Philemon mad. I wonder if he thought, "How dare this Paul ask this of me! Doesn't he know the wrong that's been done to me?" But I bet that Philemon was reminded that he was just like Onesimus; he was a slave worthy of death until Jesus came along, changed his life, and asked God to forgive him and make him an heir. I don't think God put this letter in the Bible just for an entertaining drama--it's the gospel! We ARE Onesimus and this is what Jesus did for us. We sat under the just wrath of a Rightly, Judging God, but Jesus offered Himself in our place to redeem us. Just as Paul mediated between Onesimus and Philemon, there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus.

Food For Thought: On what grounds should Philemon forgive Onesimus? What theological truth can help us forgive others well?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 28

“The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they WILL hear it.” God seeks and God saves. God’s design is not exclusive to hair color, skin color, social status, economic status, popularity level, or any other factor. In God’s economy, there are two types, the redeemed and the unredeemed. Christ died to redeem all of mankind to Himself, and whoever believes on Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life. God’s salvation has been extended to the whole world. Sadly, the news has not gotten to the whole world yet. As Christians we exist to relieve suffering of those around us and primarily eternal suffering. The only way to relieve eternal suffering is to spread the gospel to those who currently do not know it. Furthermore, we should spread the gospel to those who have no access to it. Currently 2.4 billion people in the world have no access to the gospel. This is like you owning a large food company while people at the end of the street are starving to death. What spiritual gluttony we have. I pray that God will call you to take His gospel to those who have not yet heard. But what if they don’t listen when you go to tell them? If I were you, I wouldn’t bother with that thought, just go back to Acts 28:28 and see that when they hear this gospel, they will receive it. You can then go in boldness to share Christ with them. However, if we sit here as spiritual gluttons, the reachable unreached will continue to fill up hell.

Food For Thought: What phrase form Acts 28 points towards a confidence we should have in proclaiming the gospel to others?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 27

Hope is a curious thing. According to Acts 27, there were 267 men aboard the ship that was headed with Paul to Rome. Paul was simply a prisoner on the boat. As the boat sailed, a horrible series of winds and waves and ultimately a massive storm tossed the large boat around like a little toy. Paul had found confidence through the two week ordeal, but those around him were obviously panicked. The evidence of this confidence in hope was that every time that Paul is mentioned in the passage, he is reasoning with the ship’s captain or with the head of the soldiers. When everyone else is frantic, Paul goes to the Centurion and says “don’t let anyone leave the boat, because if they don’t leave they will live. But if they leave they will die.” Although for the first few days Paul’s advice is ignored, no doubt the stability of his confidence had such an impact that before long the ship’s captain was willing to cut off the life boat, and dump the food in the ocean at Paul’s advice. From a position where nobody listened to him, to a position where the leaders did his every command, Paul remained unwaveringly the same. Paul had a hope that they didn’t. To Paul, there was nothing to lose…to die is gain. The hope of a secure eternity gave Paul a confidence to remain level-headed in the midst of turmoil. Eventually, the hope of an eternity with God turned to a witnessing confidence when God sent His messenger to tell Paul that the men from the ship would be saved as a result of this ordeal. Paul’s hope had become a springboard for his witness. Do you have the same hope? Do you live like the men straining to hold on to the things of life? Or do you look fully in the face of adversity and rest in the hope of a future with God?

Food For Thought: Why was Paul able to be confident in the face of adversity? What are some circumstances through which you would need to have the same confidence in our God ?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 26

Imagine that I came to you and told you that I had bought you a ticket to go visit Six Flags and that I was going to take you in the church van to Six Flags, some day. You would be pretty excited, right? However, although you would be excited, you would probably get busy over the next several weeks and the excitement would wear off. Maybe the first couple of days after you found out the good news, you would tell your close friends and family, but even after a couple weeks, you would find other things to talk about. Now, imagine that I owned Six Flags. Imagine that I called you up one day and said, “I want you to come work for me. I want you to be the representative for Six Flags. I will give you unlimited tickets, it is just your job to get them to people.” You would no doubt be excited. You would tell whoever you could about your new job. You would give out tickets like candy, and if someone didn’t accept a ticket, you would work hard to get them to see that you just care and that they would love it. “Purpose” is what defines how involved and how excited we are about something. You see, if you simply had a ticket, your purpose is very short-ended; but if you work for Six Flags full time, your purpose is un-ending. Paul had this same perspective to Christianity. In Acts 26:16-18, Paul tells how that Jesus didn’t just save him, He called him to work for Him. Jesus didn’t just purchase an eternity for Paul, He purchased Paul’s very life with His blood, and Paul now saw himself as an employee and representative of the Kingdom of God. Now, how do you view yourself? As one who simply holds a ticket to heaven, or as one who is called of God with the purpose to grow the Kingdom of God?

Food For Thought: What is the difference between being converted and being a servant of God?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 25

-Alan O’brien

If you were to read the end of Acts without seeing the providence of God, I can see how you would become completely frustrated! Poor Paul is getting bounced around between people who hate him and authorities who have nothing to convict him of but won’t set him free. I want you to notice Paul’s blameless testimony. In Acts 23-24, Paul was taken to Caesarea in a magnificent display of God’s providence and was “judged” by Felix. Paul’s accusers tried to pin something to his character but to no avail. He was blameless as he had done nothing wrong. Instead of letting him go, Felix left him in prison for 2 years! In Acts 25, Festus comes on the scene and has no clue how to judge Paul because he himself was not Jewish and didn’t understand the Jewish culture. So Paul waited patiently, again, knowing that God was still in control. As a Christian, people could persecute you and say evil against you and it could be true if it’s characteristic of your life. However, Christ expects us to live a blameless life and Paul knew that and worked hard at it. Our lives should be lived in a way that would prove accusations to be false. Paul rebuked these people over and over again without saying one word of rebuke simply by having a blameless life before them giving them nothing to truly accuse him of, which pointed out that their hearts weren’t right. Friend, understand that a Christian should be a model-citizen.

Food For Thought: What did Paul do to constantly prove that any accusations against his character were false?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 24

In Paul’s two letters to Timothy, he tells him to make sure that he is “blameless.” This is the idea that no matter what negative thing someone else says about you, no one will believe them because the reputation of your character is so clear to those around you that they would never imagine you doing the heinous things charged. The beauty of Paul’s teaching is that he would not instruct something that he didn’t personally live out. You see, in Acts 24 Paul is called before the Roman governor Felix and is charged of wrongdoing by a Jewish lawyer Tertullus. Paul however had the perfect defense…his reputation based upon his personal character. You see, all Paul had to do to start the refutation of the charges wasn’t to undermine Tertullus’ reputation or to say that he was a liar. Rather, Paul just said “ask anybody who grew up with me or has known me my whole life, they will tell you that I am blameless. As a matter of fact, ask anyone who was there that day that I am being charged for, they will tell you too.” Blameless. There wasn’t a moment when Paul let his guard down and blew it. He was always aware that he was a servant of Christ who should remain blameless. Why? Well, as far as I can see from the text, it allowed him to faithfully and clearly present the gospel to a group of people most likely would never before or never after have a chance to hear it. Why should you be blameless? For your own applause? No, for the same reason as Paul, so that the proclamation of the gospel would be able to find opportunity through your life.

Food For Thought: How does Paul’s example go against the modern pop culture attitude of “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, I’ll just do what I want to do!”?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 23

-Amber Allen

There won't be a lot of personal application in this one. Sometimes when I read scripture, I read something that just makes me contemplate for awhile. There are two things in this chapter that did that, so I thought I'd share them. First I noticed the Sadducees; they are staunchly against the resurrection, and it made me think, why? The fact that these men put Jesus to death probably has a big part in that. If they murdered Jesus and He were to raise from the dead, they would be held responsible as murderers of God and not just supporters of capital punishment. No wonder they didn't "believe" in the dead resurrecting. If it were true, they'd be in some hot water. The second thing I noticed was these 40 people that vowed not to eat until they killed Paul. The funny thing is, after this trial, Paul completes two more missionary journeys, writes multiple books of the Bible, and dies 8 years or so later...hmmm....did they starve to death? This would be like army men saying, "We're not gonna eat until we kill Osama Bin Laden!" (in 2001). What a silly vow, huh? I don't know what happened to them, but that sure is a silly thing to say when you're mad. Scripture really comes alive when you stop and think about it for awhile. As you read tomorrow's chapter, let me challenge you to stop and contemplate part of it in depth to help it become real to you.

Food For Thought: What reason did Mrs. Amber give for why the resurrection would be “inconvenient” for the people in Acts 23?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 22

Racism comes in every color. We often think that racism is a white thing. We think that in America, the guys with rebel flags, coon dogs, and big trucks are the world’s racists. Everybody in the world gets along and is color blind, except for the redneck-bigots who hate, and hate, and hate. We view the tobacco-spitting as symbolic of the “dark evil words” that these uneducated, narrow-minded, prejudiced extremists use in such a loose way, spewing here and there, in front of children, at the dinner table, out with their friends…these are the world’s racists. Sadly, the racial supremacy view is not novel to the South. As a matter of fact, thousands of years before the Georgians started their bigotry people were already using hate speech and committing hate crimes based upon skin color. This is not God’s design. This is filthy, sin-smothered, human arrogance and pride. This racial pride played out in Acts 22, when a lynch-mob attacked Paul because he said that God wanted to send a saving, redeeming Messiah, not just to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Racism isn’t new. Instead of viewing themselves as God’s people, they viewed Him as their god. Be careful that you don’t package God in your mind as what fits your desires. Read His word and let Him reveal His true nature and character to you.
P.S. He doesn’t like racism.
Food For Thought: What in Acts 22 indicates that God does not a big fan of racism?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 21

Many people think that if you live to please God, He will enrich your coasts and you will live a very long, comfy life. They present it as one of the perks of being a Christian. As if God has a giant red velvet Christmas bag and in it is wealth, health, fame, and long life, and that He at random looks for Christians who have been “naughty or nice” and gives the “nice” Christians the good presents, but the “naughty” Christians He gives poverty, and sickness, and death. This “Santa Claus” view of God’s grace is all wrong, not because God doesn’t give out good things. James rather argues that “every good and perfect gift” is from God. No, the problem isn’t that God doesn’t graciously give, rather, the jaded view is that God graciously gives with the express purpose of making “the good Christian’s” lives comfortable. This just isn’t the case. As a matter of fact, God often calls the Christians to do the hard things. “Go ye into all the world” includes Yemen, and the Maldives where Christians are imprisoned. The command is still “Go.” This sound understanding of God’s design and purpose for His people, not as a God who supplies couches and footrests, but as a God who saves men’s souls from eternal damnation through the gospel of Jesus even at the expense of some Christian’s comfort, was what drove Paul to ignore the warning of Agabus in Acts 21, and continue on to Jerusalem. Paul’s life was valuable for one reason: He was called according to the purpose of God. This drove Him to proclaim Christ, what is driving you?

Food For Thought: Why did Agabus warn Paul? Why did Paul not heed the warning?

Advent Archive: Acts 20

There are very few people in the world who actually think they are bad people. This idea of “I am pretty good” is at its roots the pride and arrogant flaw of human nature. Even when we are confronted with our shortcomings and sins, often, instead of repenting and reconciling, we seek to excuse and rationalize. We inherently think that at some level we are good and that those around us should constantly view us as such. Unfortunately, this pride subsequently decimates a God-centered, gospel-based value system. The premise that we have when excusing or rationalizing our shortcomings is that we are excessively valuable and therefore that value must not be tarnished in any way. However, God does not see us as worthy by our own goodness. This is the point of the gospel  - that we are worthless, but He Who was infinitely valuable became our “propitiation” (big word that most simply put means “switched places”) and consumed the due wrath of God that was being pointed at us. This is why in Acts 20:24, Paul says, “neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course.” In essence, “My life is not valuable, my goal is valuable. If accomplishing my goal (exalting Christ, through spreading the Gospel, to build the Kingdom) costs me my life, I have lost nothing valuable and have gained that which is of infinite value.”  I pray that we become people with a proper value system. Who see Christ as infinitely worthy, and do not count our lives or reputations or our own names as the most valuable thing.
 Food For Thought: What does the gospel say about our natural state? How can the gospel be good news then?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 19

- Alan O'brien
Acts 19 is clearly about the Word of God prevailing over a pagan society. I love this! Paul visits Ephesus for the first time as part of his third missionary journey. When he got there he went to the synagogue to teach and did so for 3 months! Then the Bible says that some were hardened to the Gospel and would not believe so they kicked him out. He then spent 2 years teaching about Jesus in a nearby school and developed quite the gathering of Jews and Greeks.
God performed miracles through Paul that drew even more attention than before. As Paul preached the Gospel in Ephesus, the Word of God grew mightily began to completely change peoples’ hearts and lives to the point that they were burning everything they had from their old lifestyles. That, my friends, is something only the Gospel can do!
A man named Demetrius rose up who was a seller of statues. He was furious with Paul because Jesus was prevailing over the old pagan beliefs and people were getting saved and not buying idols any more. Demetrius and his boys were about to go out of business, so, he started a crazy riot. You have to go read about how silly this riot was. People were yelling and screaming at each other and they didn’t have a clue what they were yelling about. It is very funny, but extremely sad at the same time.
In Acts 19, notice this comparison of Paul vs. Demetrius:
One was eternally minded; the other was temporally minded.
One sought the benefit of others; the other sought his own benefit.
One sought to install in people a heart of love for God; the other sought to provoke wrath.

Food For Thought: When the gospel is presented, do all who hear it accept it? What reactions were shown in Acts 19?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 17, part 2

In Acts 17:22 Paul is presenting the gospel on Mars Hill, the Greek theistic garden on the top of Athens. One of Paul’s major points to the Greeks was that according to verse 22 they were “too superstitious.” With pantheistic mysticism they ascribed a god to everything around them. There was a tree god. There was a sheep god. There was a rain god. There was a sun god. There was probably even a squirrel god. They were so superstitious that even after they had made a god to everything they could imagine, they realized that they may have missed one. So, they made a god named “the unknown god,” just to be safe. Paul’s indictment truly exposed their problem. They were living in a land of Karma - where if you do good and respect the right “god” then life will go well. They had created gods to worship just so that they would be able to live peaceable lives and not have to fear the death of their crops or livestock. They viewed sacrifice to their gods as obliging their gods to being nice to them. This is Karma. This is foolishness. However, often we live in the same superstition that was so foolish for the Athenians. We treat God as a god that we can order around. When we aren’t praying “demands” to Him, we are living our lives in such a way that superstitiously we think He will be bound to blessing us. This is not the God of scripture. We do not bind Him to anything. Scripture says “He is in the heavens and He does whatever He pleases.” The good news for us is that He is right, good, and holy and therefore “what He pleases” will only always be what is good for us.
Food For Thought: How do we sometimes live in ways that make us look like the Athenians and their appeasement of the gods than like Christians with a Biblical perspective of a Sovereign God?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 17

-Amber Allen

I can just imagine how Paul felt as he walked through Athens the first time. He would have seen countless statues of gods the people worshipped. They had gods for the sun, the water, love, and the roads; they had gods for everything. In fact, they were so worried they might have missed one, that they even made an altar to "the unknown god." Undoubtedly, this would have made Paul grieve for the state of the people and perhaps even a little angry that Jehovah God, Creator of the universe, was being reduced to an unknown. But what an example Paul becomes to us; he doesn't just remain sad and leave, he boldly goes to the gathering place of the city where all the people are and preaches Christ. He doesn't cram hell-fire and brimstone down their throats, but he also doesn’t leave them in their ignorance. He knows they are reasoners, and so he carefully presents the gospel in a simple, well-reasoned way. His words are fitly chosen and stir my heart each time I read them. Read verses 24 through 31 again and picture yourself in front of all those Greek philosophers. May God grant each of us the boldness that Paul had.
Food For Thought: What do you think the reaction of the Athenians would have been if Paul had come with a fiery, condemning message? What does this tell us about the necessity of variance in our own gospel presentation?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 16

Acts 16 holds the story of a woman named Lydia, “a seller of purple.” This is vital, because up until this point in the story of the young Church, the major players and influencers have all been men. As a matter of fact, the major female member of the Church mentioned to this point in Acts is Saphira who came to Peter and lied about giving to the Lord and subsequently was smitten dead by the Holy Spirit. When Lydia comes on the scene, it is a relief and it speaks to the utter confirmation that Christianity is not a male thing. The church is not just trans-cultural, it is trans-gender and as a matter of fact, Paul encourages Lydia in her personal walk and her spiritual growth. This passage stands as a monumental passage for a couple of reasons. First, this was the first direct female convert who was named, and second, it was the first confirmed convert in the continent of Europe. Up until this point, the gospel had largely been a Middle Eastern phenomenon, but now the news had crossed the sea and was now infiltrating Europe, where God would eventually call out His reformers and subsequently the rebirth of Christianity into what we know of it as today. But how did the gospel start in Europe? It started with a woman convert. Certainly, one point for the ladies team on this one. God’s gospel is for all the world. Christ died for all, Jew and Greek, male and female. Praise be to the God who offers salvation to the whole world.
 Food For Thought: What was the gender of the first convert in Europe? What implication does this have about Christianity in regards to gender?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 15

Acts 15:26 gives an excellent description of what faith looks like in our testimony. The passage says of Paul and Barnabas, two men of the faith, that they had “hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is truly what faith is about: treasuring God, and the Kingdom of God above all else, even life itself. The church leaders had seen these two men exhibit their faith in their reckless abandonment of what everyone else held so dear. Self-preservation is a natural human instinct. However, when it comes to faith, the call to hazard our lives for the sake of the gospel is sometimes what separates the little leaguers from the varsity crowd. This is the difference between the dinky dinosaur ride at the theme park and the massive gut-wrenching barrel-roll filled roller coaster. Stepping out from the kiddy rides takes serious faith. This is the same thought here. That serious faith is needed to hazard one’s life, and admittedly not everyone has that kind of faith. However, these men had a testimony that said they had that kind of faith. They were willing to lay down everything for the cause of Jesus. They saw that He laid down His very life for them, so what was the difference for them to hazard their own for Him. Oh, that we would have young people of reckless abandon for Jesus, who view Him as their ultimate treasure and not their own life.
Food For Thought: Read what Paul says in Acts 20:24. What phrase from that verse shows the “throw it all on the table” kind of trust in God that he had?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 14

Paul’s life can be summed up in a book named “The Great Redemptive Disappointments.” When he recounts his own story later in life, he will tell of all of the disappointments and shortcomings, the trials and tribulations, the disasters and sorrows. It is greatly redeemed though, because as he recounts, he will certainly point out that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to compare with the glory which will be revealed. Trials bring dark nights of pain, but that is ok, for joy comes in the morning. Acts 14 tells of the joy and sorrow that Paul faced. He entered a town called Lystra, no doubt praying that God would give him favor in the eyes of the people. When he showed up, he rejoiced at the cordial reception of the people. Soon, though, that joy turned to horror as he realized that the kindness of the people was coming from their thinking he was a god. He quickly tore his clothes to reveal that he was just human. Apparently, this disappointed them greatly. So greatly, that they eventually picked up stones and stoned him right there. So from one moment to the next, Paul went from ultimate acceptance, to utter rejection. What a tragic experience. However, Paul was unstoppable. After they left him for dead, he got up and went on to the next town to preach the gospel. This great disappointment was certainly redeemed in the Apostle Paul’s life. How do we do? Do we let failure cripple us? Do we lose sight of the ultimate when the immediate turns unfavorable? May we see Paul and with boldness through circumstance, press on.
Food For Thought: Read what Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39. What do you imagine Paul was thinking as he was being stoned to death?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 13

-Alan Obrien
Acts 13 is a long chapter – 52 verses – and a lot happens in here! One of the biggest things to note is that in this chapter Paul’s ministry begins. Up until this point, Acts has primarily focused on Peter. But from here on out the focus of the book will be what God is doing through the converted church-murderer, Paul! That excites me because if God is willing to use “Saul” and turn him into “Paul,” He is capable of doing some pretty amazing stuff with you and me! But what made Paul so great? Notice with me, like in the last devotional I wrote on Acts 7, that as Stephen boldly preached Christ, Paul will now do the same. I want you to notice what happens when the Gospel is preached. The Gospel is a unique tool in the hand of God. Paul told us in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. What Stephen and Paul both knew was that they in and of themselves had no ability to save anyone. They understood that only the preached Gospel could bring people to Christ. So they preached it boldly and unashamedly! When you read through Acts 13, notice the way some believe and some don’t. The ones who don’t believe get very angry and end up blaspheming God (v.45). As for the ones who do listen and believe, they love the Gospel and find an indescribable joy in Christ (v.48, 52)!
Food For Thought: Which one are you? Do you love the Gospel? Has it brought joy into your life yet?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 12

-Amber Allen
This is a super-cool and super-gruesome chapter, all at the same time. Acts 12 gives the miraculous account of Peter being liberated from a jail cell by an angel alongside the events of James being murdered, the jail keepers being put to death, and Herod falling down dead and being eaten by worms. But even though the Bible holds no details back on these adventurous accounts, the main theme of this chapter is not just miracles and murders but rather how in control our sovereign God is. You have to wonder why the Lord let James be killed by Herod, but performs a miracle to let Peter escape. I wonder why the jail keepers had to lose their lives over which something they had no control. I wonder why, after all the countless, horrible deeds Herod does, God took his life over a haughty speech. The actions are not ours to judge or question. God gives and God takes as He pleases. Every move He makes is fair and just. So, it was the perfect thing for James to die, for Peter to escape, and for Herod to get eaten by worms. These are all the fairest and most perfect moves for the accounts to take. It's a call to us to trust that God is in control in everything, and that His ways are perfect.
Food For Thought: Read Mark 10:35-40. In what way was this fulfilled in Acts 12?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Advent Archive: Acts 11

-Amber Allen
I think when you first read the beginning of Acts 10, you get a very low view of the Jewish men. They get onto Peter for having meals with non-Jewish people, and it makes you think they have really adopted a "holier-than-thou" attitude, doesn't it? If you keep reading though, Peter goes on to explain how he had this dream about the animals, and although he thought they were unclean, God said to eat them because He had sanctioned them as clean. Peter then took this dream to mean that it was 'ok' to fellowship with the Gentiles, because God gave the 'ok.' So although at first it looks like these men really have a super low view of the Gentiles, we see that it took a dream and a direct message from the Spirit for Peter to be 'ok' with it. The men really had more of a problem with the breaking of the Jewish rule then with Peter fellowshipping with non-believers. Even though these men are just concerned with following the law and are not projecting their superiority, their philosophy is really sad. The rules that they have spent their lives following mean more to them than people--than sinners dying and going to hell. It would be as sad as a doctor letting someone die on the operating table because something about the procedure violated his medical rule book. Today, let's be glad that we don’t have to live in the blindness of the law and that as grace-recipients we can become grace-bearers and share the good news of Jesus with anyone and everyone.
Food For Thought: Before his vision, was Peter any different than his Jewish counterparts, or did it take the opinion-shattering revelation of a loving God to free him? In what ways are we sometimes overly judgmental on those around us? What should our reaction to them be instead?