1 Thessalonians 5:11 (KJV)

Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (KJV)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

May I Tell You About Jesus?

Acts 16:14
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.

Thoughts for Today:

Here in very clear words is what happens when we witness to others, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message." So what was Paul's responsibility? It was simply to tell Lydia about Jesus. The Lord did the rest.

A pastor friend of mine told me about a mission trip he returned from recently to a small village in South Africa. He was given the opportunity to speak to a group of children who attended a local school. Using the head school master as translator he proceeded to tell them the story of Jesus and the resurrection. When finished, as any good preacher would, he gave an altar call, "Now that you know about Jesus, those of you who would like to accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior, please stand up." To his surprise all forty plus of the young men and women in attendance stood up.

Obviously he was a little concerned that perhaps they hadn't clearly understood him and what a life committed to Jesus Christ would mean, so he went back through the Gospel message one more time, this time with even greater emphasis, detail, and explanation. When satisfied he had thoroughly completed his testimony he said, "If you believe what I've told you is true and you want to follow Jesus, then pray and tell God that you know that you have done things that you know were wrong and God knows are wrong. Ask Him to forgive you because Jesus paid the price for those things that you did wrong. Ask Jesus to come into your life and change you. If you prayed that prayer with me, then stand up." God opened their hearts and all forty stood once again!

Questions to Ponder:

Like Paul, my friend's only job was to speak about Jesus -- it is and always will be the Lord's responsibility to do the rest. That is such a great comfort to me -- I can't mess anything up, nor do I have to have all the right answers -- the Lord will open the hearts of those He chooses (not me). Now that you know you are free from being responsible for the result, what stops you from witnessing?

The next time you are with someone and the Lord urges you to speak, ask this simple question, "May I tell you about Jesus?" Trust the Lord to do the rest. Is there anybody in your life right now God is asking you to talk about Jesus with?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Search for God's Will (part 3): How to Implement a New Direction

Acts 16:9-10
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Thoughts for Today:

We are in the third part of a three part devotion titled The Search for God's Will. Previously you will remember, Paul had begun his second missionary journey with the intended goal of checking in on the churches that had been planted two years previously (Acts 15:36).

As missions often do, it had now morphed into the goal of preaching the gospel in Asia. However, that was not the Lord's will as the Holy Spirit stopped Paul and his mission team from entering Asia as they traveled in Phrygia and Galatia. Undeterred they came to the border of Mysia, where they attempted to enter Bithynia, but now "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to." Still determined they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.

The Bible doesn't tell us exactly how the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus prevented the mission team led by Paul from entering Asia -- just they were not allowed to do so.

One thing I find particularly interesting is how sometime between the eighth and ninth verses the narration of Acts by Luke went from the third person (they and them) to the first person (we and us). This change would indicate that Luke the physician had recently joined the mission. Why would a doctor be needed? Biblical scholars have speculated perhaps Paul had become sick and therefore needed medical attention, which might have been how Jesus or the Spirit had come against the trip. Regardless, we know from our passage today, Paul received a vision, which was then interpreted to mean a change in ministry direction.

There is a lot going on here so let's look at some of the key points in more detail:

* We are more open to a new vision when we are frustrated. Have you ever noticed how stubborn and closed minded we are if everything is going well and orderly in our lives? It is just our nature to believe we are right about everything when things go well. We become unteachable in this state. I believe the Lord allows disappointment, frustration, crisis, illness, etc. to enter our lives so we learn to reach for Him, rather than rest in our own smug self-righteousness.

* The value of rest in order to receive a new vision. What was Paul doing when he received the new vision for the mission? Since it was at night it was probably in a dream, which meant Paul was sleeping or resting. You can be sure he wasn't working hard on something. Why? Because we have a hard time hearing and seeing something new when our attention is too focused.

* Visions come to leaders not groups. Did you notice that Paul received the vision not the group? Did you also notice the group (not just Paul) concluded the vision represented a change in direction for the mission. These are two really important points to realize when either leading or participating in a group. First, a group can't effectively cast a vision; there are just too many people with different talents and passions to collectively choose a goal. Second, groups are best at yes or no decisions, then working on the details of how a goal is going to be achieved.

* Mission objectives get changed one at a time. The "who," "what," "how" and "why" of Paul's mission stayed the same. The only thing that changed is the "where." In other words, just because a new vision is received, doesn't mean everything about the mission must change. In Paul's case everything stayed the same except "where" they were to preach the Gospel.

* Begin immediately but prepare thoroughly. Paul's team "got ready at once." The point is they got "ready," they then "aimed" at their new objective (to leave for Macedonia... to preach the gospel to them), and finally "fired" or executed the new mission objective. A change in direction does not justify a chaotic approach (fire, ready, aim).

These are really important components to a successful mid-course correction of a mission, however I believe the most significant part of this experience was Paul's dream. It was a dream that expressed a need. Clearly Paul's missionaries heart was touched by the need expressed in the dream, and isn't that what mission trips are all about, recognizing a need and being willing to risk personal safety and comfort to serve God by serving our fellow man?

Questions to Ponder:

Asia wasn't where God wanted Paul's missionary team. However, Paul was not wrong by choosing Asia initially because it certainly needed someone to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. Instead God was telling Paul the need was greater somewhere else. We simply have to realize that God is the better evaluator of a greater need than us. Paul allowed God to re-direct the mission, are you? Despite the need you see in your "Asia," does God want you somewhere else? Are you teachable? Is your will or God's will in charge of the mission?

Making A Difference

Elizabeth’s story was moving, to say the least. Following a terribly humiliating experience in Massachusetts, she caught a bus to New Jersey to escape her embarrassment. Weeping uncontrollably, she hardly noticed that the bus had made a stop along the way. A passenger sitting behind her, a total stranger, began making his way off the bus when he suddenly stopped, turned, and walked back to Elizabeth. He saw her tears and handed her his Bible, saying that he thought she might need it. He was right. But not only did she need the Bible, she needed the Christ it speaks of. Elizabeth received Him as a result of this simple act of compassion by a stranger who gave a gift.

Jesus is our example of compassion. In Matthew 9, we read, “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (v.36). Not only did our Lord notice the pain and hurt of broken people, He responded to it by challenging His followers to pray for the Father to send out workers to respond to the hurts and needs of this dying world (v.38).

As we follow Christ’s example, a heart of compassion for shepherdless people can compel us to make a difference in the lives of others.
Father, open my eyes to see the hurts and struggles of others. Then open my heart to respond to
them, so that through me they may see You and Your love. Amen.
A world in despair needs Christians who care
"Our Daily Bread"

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sacrificing Freedom to Win for Christ

Acts 16:3
Paul wanted to take him along on the journey [speaking of Timothy], so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Thoughts for Today:

We know from our previous passage that Timothy's mother was a Jew, yet his father was a Greek. This made Timothy a Jew by birth (as religious bloodlines follow the mother's side of the family). "So why does this matter," you might wonder. "Has Paul finally succumbed to the pressure of the circumcision crowd?" You probably remember from Acts 15 that Paul (and Barnabas) had gone up to Jerusalem to argue against circumcision. Why then, would Paul now be the one to circumcise Timothy?

I think the answer lies in Paul's own words from, Romans 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." Paul modeled this order every time he entered a new town by going first to the local synagogue to worship and teach before beginning his ministry to the Gentiles. If Timothy were to accompany him, then Timothy would need to be circumcised. Paul didn't want Timothy to be a stumbling block to the very people he hoped to win.

The more we examine Paul's later writings the more clarity we gain into Paul's motivation as seen in 1 Corinthians 9:19, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." How many of us would give up our own personal freedom to win someone to Christ? Rather I see many Christian's fighting for their rights -- winning a battle, but losing the war.

Questions to Ponder:

Are you willing to give up your rights so you don't cause someone else to stumble? Are you like Timothy, willing to sacrifice in a real and tangible way (it doesn't get any more real than submitting to circumcision as an adult male) for the benefit of the ministry team you have joined? How much freedom will you give up to win for Christ? What are some possible rights that could cause another person to stumble? Would you be willing to give up any of these rights to prevent another person from stumbling or to win another person to Christ?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fruit That Will Last

Acts 16:1-2
[Speaking of Paul's second missionary trip with Silas] He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.

Thoughts for Today:

Paul now returns to Derbe and then Lystra; to the same people who had stoned him while on his first missionary journey. I wonder if he wasn't just a little wary considering how quickly the crowd had turned ugly which almost cost him his life.
But five years had passed and his ministry had taken hold in the hearts of the people, as evidenced in the life of a young disciple named Timothy.

Jesus tells us in John 15:16, "I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last..." Paul has seen this Scripture become real in Timothy. You see the real test for us is not how many people we can baptize on Sunday, but rather how many people's lives are changed and who are still in service to the Lord -- ten, fifteen, and twenty years later -- fruit that lasts.

Questions to Ponder:

Can you name three young people in whom you have invested? If you can't, get out a sheet of paper and start making a list. There is nothing more rewarding in this life than when a young person returns years later, and allows you to see in them evidence of a seed of faith you planted that has now grown into "fruit that will last."

How do you get started? You might want to start by walking out your front door and meeting the kids in your neighborhood. Kids love adults who are friendly and smile a lot. Try it. Next, help out at Sunday school, volunteer in the nursery, or the youth group. Every church has multiple events to reach un-churched youth; all you have to do is be willing to help. How will you invest in a young person today?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Agreeing to Disagree and Second Chances

Acts 15:37-41
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Thoughts for Today:

If you will remember from Acts 13:13, John Mark (the nephew of Barnabas) left Paul and Barnabas in the middle of their first missionary journey. No explanation was given for his departure, however the strong language of our passage today makes it is clear that Paul considered taking Mark along again to be foolish because Mark had already proven himself to be undependable ("he deserted them in Pamphylia"). A clue perhaps to the reason for Mark's departure is found at the beginning of Acts 13:13 "...Paul and his companions." Up until this time it had always been Barnabas and Paul..., Barnabas and Paul..., it now had become Paul and his companions. I wonder if Mark got a little angry that Paul had taken over the reins of leadership from his Uncle Barnabas and as a result went back to Jerusalem in youthful protest, "I'm not going to work for that guy!"

Clearly age and experience improved their relationship as later in 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul asks for Mark to be sent to him, "...because he is helpful to me in my ministry." That's a pretty big turnaround in Paul's opinion of Mark. So who was right about Mark, Paul or Barnabas? I think they both were. I don't know about you, but I see the Lord's hand at work here. First, Paul goes back out with Silas on his typically intense missionary expedition. While Barnabas takes his nephew Mark with him on his own journey. They agreed to disagree and two missions instead of one were the result.

Questions to Ponder:

Have you ever needed a second chance? How about a third and fourth? Who gave it to you and why? Did you make the best of it? Who in your life has let you down? Would you consider giving him/her another chance? Do you judge others more harshly than yourself?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Questions to Ponder:

When was the last time you checked in on the seeds of faith you planted? How are they doing? Do they need some attention? Many times it is the first person who brought us to Christ that becomes our most influential memory. Who planted the first seed in you? Wouldn't it be meaningful to let that person know how much that seed has grown and how much fruit is being produced? Be an encourager -- make a call today -- Go back and check in!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Speaking Encouragement to Strengthen

Acts 15:30-32
The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.

Thoughts for Today:

As the story goes, on Valentine's Day one year the pastor of a local church decided to offer a ceremony for all married couples to renew their wedding vows. When the pastor asked one of the more elderly men in the congregation if he and his wife would like to participate, the answer was an emphatic, "No." The pastor asked, "But wouldn't you like to express your love to your wife one more time?" The grizzled veteran of marriage answered, "I told her once fifty years ago, 'I love you', and if I ever change my mind I'll let her know." Now that's a funny story, but I've always wondered how the wife must have felt about her husband's answer. Sure the wife had the original ceremony, piece of paper (marriage certificate), ring, and the presence of her husband for fifty years, and certainly actions speak louder than words; but let's face it -- sometimes it is comforting to hear those encouraging words, "I love you," from time to time.

In our passage today, Judas, Silas, with Paul and Barnabas had come to Antioch with a letter of instruction from the church in Jerusalem. The letter did much to clarify to what degree the Mosaic Law would continue to be observed by new Gentile believers (which we have covered in much detail in previous devotions). There are two things I find particularly interesting in the role of Judas and Silas in this event: the first, they "said much," and second, what they said was to, "...encourage and strengthen the brothers." Too often I see people who either say too much or don't speak at all, neither of which are encouraging or strengthening. It's sometimes difficult to understand how the right words of encouragement can be so strengthening, yet how the wrong words (or no words at all) can contribute to such defeat and emptiness.

Questions to Ponder:

Ask your friends, wife (or husband), children and parents, "Do I say too much or not enough? Do my words encourage and strengthen, or do they have the opposite effect? Your words will typically follow your intention when you begin speaking. Therefore the next time, before you speak, ask the Lord to give you words which encourage and strengthen according to His will, just like Judas and Silas.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Causing Friction

Acts 15:17b-18
[James speaking] "Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

Thoughts for Today:

James is saying that if the Law through Moses had the power to save, it would have already done so, "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." He also says, "Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." When you look at this list (food polluted by idols, sexual immorality, meat of strangled animals, and blood), you might think it odd that sexual immorality would be included with the rest, and to a certain degree it is because it deals with a moral issue while the other three are about sensitivity to the Jewish culture. I think James is really saying, "If Gentile believers would abstain from these things, then they would not only please God, but also get along better with us, their Jewish brothers and sisters." I'm sure the Gentile believers were participating in other inappropriate activities; however these were the big four. This compromise, (one of the reasons James is known as James the Just) allowed the church to grow without the constant friction of major cultural differences between the Jews and the Gentiles.

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial." He then further explains in verses 31-32, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jew, Gentile or the church of God." Many times when we violate another person's sensitivity by exercising our own personal freedom, we cause another to stumble; which can lead to friction and a rift within the body of Christ. This is the issue that James and later Paul were addressing.

Questions to Ponder:

Is there a behavior that another Christian displays that really rubs you the wrong way? Does the Bible prohibit this behavior? Could it be that you need to be more tolerant of another's expression of their God given freedom?

Let's say instead others are offended by something you do that you believe is not prohibited by Scripture -- "everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial." Is what you're doing "for the glory of God"? Is it beneficial? Do you need to re-think your approach?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

“Scripture speaks & thoughts are heard by His”

Luke 11:9 (KJV)
And I say unto you,

Ask, and it shall be given you;
seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

You may not give others what you have experienced, but you may cause them to have the desire to seek such an experience for themselves.

Are you showing others the good and joy that your experience has given you ?

Be Content

October 2, 2012by

Contentment is hard to attain.
 I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. —Philippians 4:11

Even the apostle Paul, a hero of the faith, had to learn to be content. It was not a natural character trait for him.
For Paul to write that he was content in every situation is truly amazing. At the time of this writing, he was in jail in Rome. Charged with sedition, treason, and other serious crimes, he had appealed to the highest court: Caesar himself. Without other legal recourse and friends in high places, he had to wait for his case to be heard. It seems as if Paul had the right to be an impatient and unhappy person. Instead, he wrote to the Philippians to say that he had learned to be content.

How did he learn this? One step at a time until he could be satisfied even in uncomfortable environments. He learned to accept whatever came his way (v.12) and to receive with thanks whatever help fellow Christians could give (vv.14-18). And most important, he recognized that God was supplying all he needed (v.19).

Contentment is not natural for any of us. The competitive spirit in us drives us to compare, to complain, and to covet. Few of us are in a predicament such as Paul’s, but we all face difficulties in which we can learn to trust God and be content.
O Lord, give me the grace to be
Content with what You give to me.
No, more than that, let me rejoice
In all You send, for it’s Your choice! —Anon.
Contentment is not possessing everything but giving thanks for everything you possess.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How To Get Respect

Acts 15:13
When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me."

Thoughts for Today:

Taking the floor now was James, the half brother of Jesus, also called James the Just and James the righteous. Hegesippus tells us that James spent so much time in prayer that "his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camel knees." Many Bible historians and commentators believe that James was the head of the church in Jerusalem (which was the center of the new Christian faith). This is further supported by the comment made by Peter when he was miraculously freed from prison and had to flee Jerusalem -- he asks in Acts 12:17 for James to be informed; in our text today as well as in numerous other passages it appears that James at minimum was one of the key leaders if not the leader of the church.

So how did James acquire such great respect and authority? If we asked some of our business leaders or young people today, they would say that respect comes from "personal power." From their perspective, it comes from the power you have over other people, in the sense that you can manipulate or threaten them. But is that really respect, or fear?

Respect comes from the positive of who you are, what you've done, and how you do it; fear comes from the negative. One is the definition of security, the other is based in insecurity. One leader knows who he is, the other is trying to prove something. Which are you?

James the Just, James the Righteous, James the camel-kneed one -- that is the kind of earthly man I respect. How did James rise to this position of great respect? By getting on his knees and staying on his knees -- not asking for power and position -- but asking for wisdom, knowledge and the humility to do the Lord's will, not his own. If you want real respect, follow James' example.

Questions to Ponder:

Are you respect-worthy? How much time each day do you spend in prayer? What do you pray for? Is it for the Lord to take the desire to sin away from you (righteousness or right living)?

Wisdom comes from the ability to look past the surface and the superficial into the heart of a problem. When was the last time you prayed for wisdom? Just means to be fair. That would be an awesome trait to possess; to be known as someone who will make a fair or just decision. So how do we become known for such characteristics? We become known for something because we do it repeatedly; over and over again in our workplaces, our marriages, and our homes.

A big problem in our society is we want respect without being respectful; we want to be thought of as wise but we don't want to be a student first; and we want to be thought just when our position is always every man for himself. Take a long hard look at yourself: What will it take to make you worthy of respect? Start with the example of James -- on your knees.