Monthly Archives: July 2014

Acts 22-28

The book of Acts closes with an emphasis on Paul, with whom Luke traveled during this part of his ministry. Paul has been arrested and the mob has accused him unjustly. When the governors hear him, they are prepared to set him at liberty (26.32). Because he holds dual citizenship—both Roman and Jewish—he has appealed to Caesar, and so he is placed on a ship and sailed toward Italy. A shipwreck strands the party of prisoners and soldiers on Melita for three months, after which an Alexandrian ship takes them to Rome. There, Paul stays under house arrest for two years while waiting to appear before Caesar. He is allowed to come and go as he pleases, and makes a living as a tentmaker in the meantime. Most notable in this section is God’s plan and timing. Paul has totally yielded himself to God’s divine plan for his life (26.15-18), wherever that might take him. For years, he has traveled as a free citizen, and his entire life has been spent engaging the world for the truth of the gospel. Now, as he travels under arrest, his ministry doesn’t stop. He still stands for the gospel, and still maintains a relationship with God that informs and nurtures and guides him (27.21-26). He never knew all of God’s plan, but trusted that God would bring it to bear. He couldn’t have known, when Demetrius first accused him in chapter 19, that he would end up appearing before several political governors, placed on a ship, marooned on an island with barbarous people and venomous snakes, and placed under house arrest in Rome. But all the while, God was watching over him, protecting him, guiding him—leading him ultimately to the center of the cultured world, where the seed of the gospel that he would plant would eventually take over the world.

 

God’s plan is too vast for us to understand. His timing is nothing short of a mystery. But He knows what He’s doing. He’s brought you this far, and He understands that you may have questions. He understands your doubt. He is big enough to handle your temporal attitude problems. He hasn’t forgotten you, and is still guiding and nurturing you; simply listen to Him. He’s speaking to you through His word and His community. He’s brought you here for just a purpose as this. You will never understand His plan on this side of eternity, but know that He’s got one, and it’s way better than you could ever imagine.

 

It’s never “wrong” or “sinful” to question whether or not He knows what He’s doing. We’ve all been in circumstances in which that very question comes to the fore with great ease. But the truster of YHWH will always find the answer to that question in the Word. Today, the answer is found in the meandering journey of Paul. Just as God was moving Paul into position to accomplish something great for the plan of redemption of Man, He’s putting you in position for something, as well. Trust His plan and His timing, and simply be as yielded and devoted to His leading as Paul was.

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Acts 15-21

The dominant theme in today’s readings is the engine behind the explosive growth of the Church in Acts: evangelism. As the Holy Spirit has empowered Christians to spread the gospel, they have fanned out from Jerusalem and spread the gospel. In chapter 16, Paul and his entourage found a local branch of the Church in Lydia’s house. Later in that chapter, Paul and Silas are broken out of jail by the Holy Spirit and the jailer, overwhelmed by this demonstration of the power of their God, also trusts Christ. Paul marches up Mars’ Hill and engages the Athenians—an educated, Hellenistic culture that isn’t particularly open to Paul’s message—in chapter 17. Most interesting about this story is that Paul cites their own poetry and literature to them in defense of his premise. It is evident that he has exegeted their culture as much as he has the scripture. His ability to know that culture and engage it is predicated on God’s own promise to him: “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (18.9-10). Paul is unafraid of his audience. He is convinced of the truth he bears. He is not threatened by their entertainment and poetry and art; he learns it and becomes part of their culture. This gives him the credibility to preach truth to them. We see the same evangelistic fervor with Apollos in 18.24-28, and we note with interest that when Demetrius the silversmith brings charges against Paul for harming his idol-making business, he accuses him of “persuading” (19.26) people to his point of view.

 

The early Church would have found it foreign to sit still. They could no more have kept silent about the truth of God than they could have gone without food and water. Evangelism was in their DNA: it was their entire raison d’etre. They preached truth to others when they were sitting in jail, having dinner at someone’s house, or in the marketplace. They even preached the truth when they stood trial for preaching the truth. It makes me wonder what happened to the American wing of the Church. When did we become a gathering of people who may or may not preach truth if we run into “just the right opportunity?” When did we become “consumers” of truth rather than sharers of it?

 

All of our American churches are wrestling with this problem, because it is a problem of comfort, not theology. We’ve allowed ourselves to be lied to about our place in the Church, our definition of Church, and the mission of the Church. And our fear and sloth are natural consequences of that. But a quick comparison to this early Church will remind us of what we SHOULD be—on fire for the gospel, and unable to keep our mouths shut about it. We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit—we need Him to empower us once again to boldly go forth into our communities and speak truth. This is critical.

 

Bloom where you’re planted today. If you have a voice, it’s for the purpose of speaking the truth of the gospel. Will you let this day slide by without fulfilling your purpose?

Acts 8-14

When I was a kid growing up, my reputation was that of a class clown. Everywhere I went—even among students who hadn’t actually met me—I was known as the kid who was in the principal’s office for some incorrigible behavior. There were kids in my class who had the reputation of being smart. Some had a reputation for being street-tough. Some had the reputation of being argumentative. Others had a reputation for being dishonest. My father was proud of the fact that the Mitchell name was associated with honesty and integrity in our little hometown, and worked to instill that same concern for my reputation. But the reputation of Christians has been tarnished over the last few decades. Perhaps beaten down by the culture that has abandoned Christ, we are no longer consumed with His mission of evangelism and are now consumed with ourselves. Our own lives take precedence over the mission of Christ. We have a reputation as being self-centered and unfeeling. And when we glance at the early Church in Acts and their reputation, we realize that our own is well-deserved.

 

[11.21]

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and there was a great number who believed and turned to the Lord.

 

Throughout the book of Acts, the Church is consumed with her mission. You will notice that her members are quickly made into disciples who quickly make others into disciples. They are not consumed with their own lives, hoping to give God a little something extra one day a week. They are consumed with the mission of the gospel, and thousands are added to the Church each day. In fact, as the mission succeeds in Jerusalem, the Church spreads to Asia Minor. And as that happens, Gentiles begin to get saved. There is initial controversy, as the salvation of the Lord has made the leap across racial and cultural lines to the pagans—but the apostles respond in the Jerusalem conference with acceptance and a renewed sense of mission. Once they accept that God intends to save everyone, they set about following His mission (11.18, 13.46). You’ll also notice, in today’s readings, that the apostles are all filled with the Holy Ghost (13.9). There is a direct connection between the infilling of the Spirit and evangelism. Being filled as they are, they cannot help but witness of the Lord’s salvation and sovereign power. They engage the pagan culture eagerly (14).

 

If the book of Acts teaches us anything, it’s that we need the power of the Holy Spirit. We have become a pneuma-apathetic people: giving lip service to God and ignoring the leading of His Holy Spirit. We need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Ghost on our lives and our churches; then we’ll be able to engage the culture in which God has planted us. This outpouring is for everyone who asks. In light of this, can’t we conclude that our tendency to be consumed with His mission is a function of His Spirit? When we’re consumed with our own lives, and evangelism takes a back seat, we are being led by ourselves. When we’re led by the Spirit, His mission consumes us.

 

When we walk into a room, or go into the community, people should be able to remark of us, “the hand of the Lord is upon them; there seems to be a great number of people believing and turning to the Lord whenever they’re around.” This should be our reputation.

Acts 1-7

The book of Acts was written by Luke, the author of the gospel that bears his name. He was a physician and educated man, and his grammar reflects that. Easily translatable and accessible, the book of Acts details the history of the community that Christ founded. It begins with the moments just prior to His ascension to heaven. He order the disciples to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father—the Holy Spirit, Who will empower them for witness. Then, He bodily ascends into heaven. In chapter 2, when the disciples are gathered in prayer in the upper room—possibly a similar place to the one in which they had listened to the last sermon of their Lord—they were suddenly filled with the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. This powerful experience transforms them; by the end of the chapter, Peter—the one who denied Christ—is suddenly the chief preacher of the gospel. He boldly stands up and declares that Jesus is the Christ and the only means of salvation provided by God. The results are staggering: Peter’s mouth is loosed, his ministry is begun. More than 3,000 are added to the church that day. People are healed, delivered from the influence of demons, and added to the church in the wake of this powerful experience. The disciples, as Jesus had predicted, have been supernaturally empowered to witness for Him. Miracles, healing, and the power of Almighty Sovereign God is upon them. They are mutually devoted to one another (chapters 4-5) and are completely unstoppable (6-7).

 

In 1907, a similar outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell on a small gathering of disciples, and a repeat of the book of Acts took place. This band of disciples immediately fanned out across the nation, then across the world, spreading the gospel. People can share Jesus with one another in personal ways, and should definitely do that. But the supernatural power to witness and evangelize comes with a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and we should not discount this biblical fact. When our churches become small and weak, incapable of sustaining themselves and spreading the gospel, it’s time for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Bible teaches that God has given the Church the gifts that she needs (1 Co 1.7). We need this outpouring in our midst. We need to be supernaturally empowered to passionately fulfill this mission. My earnest prayer this morning, and this week, is that God will visit me and my church in this fashion. He is already doing powerful things in our midst; a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit is just what the Great Physician ordered.

John 15-21

As Jesus’ ministry hurtles toward His destiny as sacrificial Lamb, He prepares to hand off His disciple-making mission to others. In the Upper Room, during dinner, He tells the disciples that they were designed to bear fruit. In fact, if one calls himself a disciple and doesn’t bear fruit, he is considered of no value (15.6). If the disciple is abiding in Jesus, then he will bear fruit—and will have a powerful prayer life (15.7). This prayer life will be so powerful, in fact, that anything he asks for will be done (16.23-24). Such people aren’t asking for self-centered things; as fruit-bearers, their prayer life is focused on their effectiveness in the mission. After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, He appears to the disciples (bodily, since He is not a disembodied spirit) and emphasizes this fruit-bearing teaching again, but in the pastoral language of feeding sheep (21).

 

It’s tragic how we American evangelicals have talked ourselves into believing that all we need is to confess Christ once at an altar and then the rest of our lives are comfort-laden ego trips. We have to be convinced that we need to bear fruit. We have to be reminded that we’re on a mission here. We have to have the sheep-feeding paradigm re-litigated for us. If we were as wrapped up in Jesus’ mission as we are our own comfort and schedules, we’d have the prayer life of a true disciple, and we’d be bearing fruit.

 

Where are you on this spectrum? Are you consumed by His mission, or is that mission a little removed from your schedule? Are you bearing fruit and feeding sheep, or are you a dead branch? If you want the powerful prayer life—asking God for what you need and receiving it—you should be wrapped up in His mission.

John 8-14

Jesus’ ministry is marked by His self-sacrifice in the gospel of John. It is also accented by the fact that Jesus is always eating with people. If Matthew emphasized Jesus’ Jewish roots in His teachings, John emphasizes Jesus’ fully-formed human appetite. He literally spends such a significant time of the book eating that a mature Christian surely cannot avoid contemplating a theology of food on some level. It is clear that Jesus is relational, and not simply a teacher that is removed from His students. It is also abundantly clear that He came to bring life, and this is another emphasis of John. Today’s readings begin with chapter 8, in which Jesus makes claims that would immediately have Him branded as a crazy man—He claims to be God. The notion that He was divine would have been blasphemous to the first-century Jews who didn’t fully understand the scriptural teaching of the Messiah. But He goes on to speak of being the Great Shepherd Who knows His sheep—He is a life-giver and One Who loves His people (10). He literally brings life to one who was actually dead in chapter 11, forming a picture in microcosm of what His mission always was. He emphasizes His divine roots when He again says “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him Who sent Me” (12.44). And as He sits down at the last meal—the one that will take several chapters to cover—He emphasizes those two elements of His mission again: His divinity (14.1-6) and His promise of eternal life (14.3). He promises the disciples that, in the pursuit of His mission, they will ask for anything and receive it—will even perform greater works than He in His absence. And they did: they spread the gospel from Judea to the rest of Asia Minor in their lifetime.

 

Jesus’ mission hasn’t changed, but our understanding of Him has. It is impossible to miss His humanity and deity in the gospel of John, but many of our people DO miss this. This fact alone causes me to believe that many of our people simply aren’t reading John—they’re more influenced by other works and influences that redefine Jesus. Some of those works define Jesus as a “Presence” or “Spirit”—which cannot be true in light of His physical resurrection—and some of those works define Jesus as just an nice teacher of wisdom (which cannot be true based on His claims to divinity in chapter 8). If we don’t understand Who Jesus was and is, then it is entirely possible we’re worshipping a false god. This is why it’s exceedingly important that we become avid students of the Word, and listen to God when He speaks to us through the community of Christ, the Church. When Jesus promised to grant that anything His followers asked, it was in pursuit of His mission. How can we be about His mission if we don’t truly know Him?

 

Take the time to read the Bible today. This devotional is designed to ACCOMPANY your daily scripture reading, not supplant it. Read these chapters for today, meditate on them, take notes of your own, and then read this devotional. Interact with it and with others in the Church, so that you may properly hear the voice of God.

John 1-7

I have often taught about the “sin behind the sin.” The sin of adultery, for example, is really rooted in the sin of not believing that God satisfies our sexual needs. The sin of greed is really rooted in the sin of not believing that God provides for our financial needs. But what of the sin of rejecting Jesus, the Son of God? What’s the “sin behind the sin” here? It’s the willingness to see oneself as the ultimate authority, as opposed to the scripture.

 

31“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

 

 

The gospel of John is written by one of the disciples—he refers to himself in this book as “the one whom Jesus loved”—and is very concerned with establishing the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. Whereas Luke was very concerned with presenting Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man, John is concerned with presenting Him as both God and Man. It begins with a nod to the Old Testament book of Genesis—tying Jesus the Word to the creation story. There are several explicit statements of His deity in this work, and in today’s readings we see several of them. As Jesus’ career unfolds in these chapters, we see that He is a Man on a mission—He has been sent by God to rescue the fallen creation. This mission puts Him on a collision course with the religious leaders of the day, inasmuch as all religious truth must come through them (or so they thought). They portrayed themselves as those who understood the scriptures, but Jesus’ argument in this passage is a powerful rebuttal to this claim, since it is evident that they hadn’t properly studied Moses. Jesus establishes His bona fides by identifying with God the Father, but He defends that reality with scripture. In fact, He even refers to the Old Testament as scripture (5.39). He clearly had a “high view” of scripture.

 

It is sad that many evangelicals no longer have a high view of scripture. Most of us affirm it vocally, no doubt—but we frequently push past it to bury ourselves in other works that interest us more. Jesus believed in the authority of scripture so much that He cited it frequently in defense of premises that He was arguing. We don’t read it much at all, and when we do we think of it as a chore. We hear these stories in the Bible and intrinsically root for Jesus against the Pharisees, but we actually relate better to the Pharisees than Christ. They, too, were convinced of their own rightness. They, too, assumed they knew what they needed to know about scripture.

 

And they got their scripture wrong.

 

The first fundamental truth of the Assemblies of God is that “the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God.” If we truly believe that, what will it look like in our lives? If we see scripture as authoritative, won’t we study it to know it better? Won’t we apply it to our lives? Won’t we help one another understand it? Won’t we become deeper students of it?

 

If not, then we—like the Pharisees before us—are on a collision course with truth. And it won’t end well.