We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto!

Did you get the feeling today? By that, I mean the “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!” feeling…

Let’s face facts. Those who hold that the Bible is completely true in all its parts, and absolutely relevant and applicable to our lives today are now in the minority in the United States. Honestly, we probably have been for a while.

So, it’s not always easy to be a Christ-follower. Our world has become increasingly foreign to us. Sometimes we’re not the most popular people. And certainly, our views about things are, at times, totally detested by the majority culture in the United States (and elsewhere around the world).

As our culture moves further and further from a Biblical worldview, we need to look more and more closely at the apostle Paul.  He operated in a world that actually knew nothing about a Biblical worldview. Further, Paul’s world had absolutely no history or cultural memory of such a worldview. Imagine that world for a moment!

We will benefit greatly from studying his approach, because what we will see is that Christians who are both grace-filled and truth-filled can do very well in such a world. Even more, we will see that the Christian faith can not only survive in such a scenario, it can thrive and grow!

The city of Corinth was not exactly the kind of place that put godly morals on prominent display. Just the opposite! But the apostle Paul shows us we need not fear. It’s not necessary to shrink back and be silent. Rather it’s necessary to dive right into the fray.

Withdraw? Not at all! Instead, engage that world.

Notice, however, Paul’s engagement was not a political engagement. It was a law-gospel engagement. He “devoted himself exclusively to preaching.” We have a Savior to offer the world. We have divine truth to extend to our neighbors. We have amazing grace and certain forgiveness to give away. We have life and peace — in this life, and more importantly, in the life to come.

We, like Paul, need to teach and live in God’s grace and God’s truth — gently, winningly, and also pointedly. No, it won’t always be easy. We can expect that people won’t understand or agree with us. Some will actively oppose us. And some will go further than that and become abusive.

But that didn’t stop Paul. And it won’t stop us, either! When it comes to teaching about the truth and love of Jesus, we will not yield, but press on. When it comes to enduring abuse, we will not freak out or become unnerved, but quietly repay evil with good.

“Love!” is always our job description as Christ-followers. Love by sharing truth. And love by showing kindness.

“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth… Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'” (Acts 18:1, 4-6, NIV).

Lord, help me to be bold to proclaim Jesus to a fallen world, to proclaim divine truth to a deceived world, and to proclaim God’s love to a hurting world.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 27, is 1 Kings 18:16 – 19:21, Acts 17:22 – 18:8 and Psalm 78:17-31.

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Powerful Tools and a Thoughtful Process

Paul was now on his second missionary journey. He had developed a methodical process for sharing the gospel.

He knows where he wants to begin. He would start with those who already had a base of knowledge about the true God — the Jews. In this way, he could quickly build up a congregation in a city or town. He would begin with people who were already mature in their faith in God, but simply needed to hear that God’s messianic promises had been fulfilled in Jesus.

He’s willing to invest time. In the case of the Thessalonians, he would devote three weeks showing the Jewish people that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. His goal was to keep the conversation going from one Sabbath to the next, and then to the next.

He’s clear about his approach. Paul doesn’t argue. He doesn’t preach at the people from on high. Rather he simply “reasons with them” using the Scriptures as the basis for his reasoning. He explains the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillments.

And finally, his goal is firmly in mind. He desires to demonstrate clearly — “to prove,” as Luke writes — that Jesus is truly the Messiah.

Generally, whenever we are using a powerful tool or instrument, it’s a good thing to have a process. Doctors have processes as they practice surgery. Special forces have processes as they utilize advanced weaponry to carry out a mission. Contractors have processes as they use heavy machinery or power tools to build homes.

Christians have powerful tools at their disposal too. The Bible. Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. These are supernaturally filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And they have the capability of conveying the Spirit into the hearts of the people who listen to them and put them into practice.

Do you have a process, like Paul did, as you go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)? 

Consider using Paul’s process…

  1. Know where you want to begin. Write down the names of some people you want to start with. Put that list in a place where you will see it regularly. Pray for them. And then, when the timing is right, begin to share your faith with them. Or, like Paul, think of a place that might be conducive to sharing your faith. At CrossWalk we have Bible classes at Starbucks, and guests sometimes just come and join us!
  2. Be willing to invest time. The Holy Spirit often does his work slowly and gradually. Just keep the conversation going. Use today’s conversation to set up the next one.
  3. Be clear about your approach. And there is no one right approach. The power is in the word and sacraments, not the approach. That being said, there is a lot to be said for an approach that is not argumentative or “preachy.” Use Biblical truth and reason with people on the basis of the Scriptures.
  4. Keep the true goal firm in your mind. You want people to hear about Jesus, about his grace, forgiveness, mercy and steadfast love. You may need to set this up by showing people their need for a Savior. But the goal is never to moralize or show someone how to be better in their own strength or wisdom. The goal is always to bring the grace and peace of Jesus to troubled hearts.

“As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said” (Acts 17:2-3, NIV).

Jesus, help me to carry out the Great Commission you have given us to make disciples. Thank you for the powerful tools you have put at my disposal — the word and sacraments. Help me to have a wise and thoughtful process for putting them to use in my life, so that I can glorify you in the world, and share the love of Jesus with others.

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 26, is 1 Kings 16:8 – 18:15, Acts 17:1-21 and Psalm 78:9-16.

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Track Record

Sometimes when we go through really tough times in life, we begin to question God’s love for us, or God’s ability to change things for the better.

Asaph, who wrote Psalm 77, demonstrates a good approach for times like this. He shows us that, as he goes through his own tough times and doubts, he takes the opportunity to step back and remember that God has a track record.

And that track record is one we all ought to examine from time to time. We’ll find a pattern of love. We’ll discover a habit of grace and mercy. We’ll observe a custom of displaying infinite power — for just the right reasons, at just the right time.

Which quite possibly begs the question: Is this the right time for you to remember God’s track record, to consider it, to meditate on it, even?

You can find that amazing track record right here in the Bible!

“I will remember the deeds of the Lordyes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11-15, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, June 23, is 1 Kings 11:14 – 12:24, Acts 15:22-41 and Psalm 77:10-20.

Lord, help me recall your track record. Help me remember your deeds and miracles, your works and might. Most of all, help me remember your grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord and my Savior.

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Worth Fighting For

This is the age-old debate. Is Jesus enough? Or do we need to add something of our own?

Paul and Barnabas were dealing with some people who had come into their home congregation in Antioch to teach the people that Jesus was not enough. They told the people in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1, NIV).

Paul and Barnabas knew this was completely incorrect. They knew the truth. Jesus is enough. He is completely sufficient. And he has taken care of everything we need for salvation.

So they pushed back. Big time. Even to the extent of traveling all the way from Antioch to Jerusalem to defend the truth that it’s all about the grace of God.

They knew well, there’s no ceremony, no tradition, no act of goodness, no performance of duty, and no obedience to the law that’s needed from us. It’s purely and solely by God’s undeserved love and unmerited favor that we are saved.

Jesus has done it all.

How amazing is that?! What peace there is for those who know of God’s grace! And neither Paul nor Barnabas were about to allow anyone to steal that peace from their brothers and sisters in Christ at Antioch.

For them, and for us, the grace of God is always something worth fighting for!

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your amazing grace! Thank you for the peace it brings me. I trust that you have done everything needed to win forgiveness and eternal salvation for me. Help me fight away every thought or suggestion that would attempt to sway my heart or mind away from you, Jesus, and your pure grace.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 22, is 1 Kings 9:10 – 11:13, Acts 15:1-21 and Psalm 77:1-9.

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Living Words

Stephen was held in high regard in the early days of the Christian church. Luke tells us Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8, NIV).

Stephen is trying to get through to people who have hardened their hearts against Christ. So he takes them back in history to the beginnings of their faith — back to Abraham, the Patriarchs and Moses.

What Stephen hopes to do is show them that the Jesus they are rejecting is the very Jesus that had long been prophesied. And in the midst of this history lesson, Stephen says something really interesting. Moses received words from an angel, he says. These words were “living words.”

The author of the book of Hebrews says something very similar: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).

When Moses spoke, or Stephen spoke, or you and I speak of Jesus, we can be confident. Because the words of the gospel are not ordinary words. They’re extraordinary, supernatural words that contain the power to give life, and to change lives for eternity.

There are no other words like these. They contain powerful ideas, but they are so much more than simply a vehicle for the communication of ideas. They are Spirit-produced, and Spirit-conveying words.

What will we do with these words? Hopefully, by God’s grace, we will listen to them, believe them, and allow them to shape our entire life.

These words truly do give life. And they really do change lives. I’ve experienced that. And I hope you will too.

And the cool thing? With these “living words” at our disposal, we don’t have a thing to prove. We’re not forced into the role of God’s defense attorney, needing to “make a case” for him. We’re simply a witness to Jesus, using his living and life-giving word to tell others of his love and power.

“This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us” (Acts 7:37-38, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, June 11, is 2 Samuel 16:15 – 18:18, Acts 7:20-43 and Psalm 72:1-20.

Lord, your word is living and powerful. May it work an unassailable faith in my heart. Give me the joy of sharing these living, active words with others that many people may know Jesus as their Savior and their Lord.

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God-Loved, God-Lover

We move past the four first books of the New Testament called the gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the story of Christianity is not ending. It’s barely beginning.

One of those four authors of the gospels is compelled to tell the rest of the story. Luke wants the entire world — Gentiles as well as Jews — to hear what Jesus taught and did while alive.

But that’s not all! Luke also wants them to know about the things that occur after Jesus dies. He wants people to hear about the resurrection, the 40 day period Jesus was still here — over and over again convincingly proving to people that he had risen from the grave — and Jesus’ ascension into heaven. He desires the whole world to know the story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the dramatic growth of the Christian church in the early years.

So Luke writes a book titled, “The Acts of the Apostles”. It is addressed to a gentleman named Theophilus, a double-entendre name which means both “the one loved by God” and “the one who loves God”. What a great both-and!

This book is a necessary reminder of the power of the resurrection, the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, and the passion of Jesus — and later the apostles — to spread the kingdom of God.

Why a “necessary reminder”?

Because you may be a “Theophilus” as well. You are one who loves God because you were first loved by God. You want to have the entire account of Jesus’ work. You want to hear once again how God loves you, and not only you, but the entire world. You want to be reminded that he still wants us to share his kingdom, and you love to watch the Spirit go to work in our world.

It’s a “necessary reminder” because our world today is a very tough world when it comes to matters of faith and Christ. Please don’t be discouraged or disheartened by that. We can be confident in the Holy Spirit’s power! If he could spread the kingdom aggressively in Luke’s world, he can certainly, through word and sacrament (and through us), do the same today!

Be convinced!

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 3, is 2 Samuel 3:22 – 5:5, Acts 1:1-22 and Psalm 69:13-28.

Lord, I am convinced! I trust that you can and will keep your church alive and thriving, as it was in the days of the early church. May the book of Acts be a strong encouragement to me to keep sharing the gospel with others. I know that I am passionately loved by you. Send me your Spirit through word and sacrament that I may be one who loves you passionately — and shares your love with the world, as Luke did.

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Why the Bible?

People have many theories about why the Bible was written.

Some think of it as merely a collection of spiritual fables. Some think it is an instruction book for improving morality. Some think it’s just good classic literature, helpful for understanding Western culture’s religious thinking and Judeo-Christian ethic.

But the authors, the ones who actually did the writing, tell us that they wrote for an entirely different reason. They had a clear purpose in mind.

They believed firmly that they had met and followed the Son of God, the Savior of the world. They believed they had encountered the one who holds the power over life and death, and the authority to open the gates of eternity to mankind.

They believed Jesus when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So they did not want to keep this information to themselves. They wanted to share it with the world.

So they wrote. And the Bible was the end result. As John the apostle tells us, their purpose was to share life — eternal life.

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 1, is 2 Samuel 1:1 – 2:7, John 20:10-31 and Proverbs 13:20 – 14:4.

Lord, thank you for giving us the Bible. Thank you for John and the other authors who followed you, and recorded your acts. Send me your Spirit that I may believe that you are the Son of God, my Savior, and my Lord, and have eternal life.

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This Is Eternal Life

Jesus is about to be arrested and crucified. He is going to enter a period of the most intense suffering that anyone can imagine. And he knows its coming.

He’s already given his disciples their final instructions and reminders. So what does he do after that?

He prays.

This prayer is perhaps the second most well-known prayer of Jesus, following only The Lord’s Prayer. It’s known world-wide as “The High Priestly Prayer”. It’s a prayer in which Jesus makes intercession for the church of the future.

As Jesus begins this most intense and beautiful prayer of any prayer in the gospel records, he starts with purpose. He reminds God the Father of why he has come — that he might glorify the Father. He also asks the Father to glorify him through what is about to happen, but only so that might complete his task of glorifying the Father.

He points out that the Father granted him the amazing authority to confer eternal life on all those given to him by the Father.

And then Jesus comes with an explanation — in the clearest terms possible — of how eternal life is conferred on us.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV).

Notice how Jesus here cements knowing God to knowing him. The two are inextricably linked. If you want to truly know God, to take hold of him and receive his grace, mercy and help, let no one convince you to look anywhere else than Jesus.

Know God, the Father, through his Son, Jesus Christ. Know Jesus as your Lord, sent by the Father to be your Savior from sin.

And eternal life is yours.

This is the gospel in its purest form! This is the central message of the Christian faith.

Believe it!

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, May 26, is 1 Samuel 17:38 – 18:30, John 16:5 – 17:5 and Psalm 68:1-6.

Father, thank you for sending me your Son to be my Savior. Thank you for glorifying him through his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. In your Spirit’s power, I believe. Please receive me into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ!

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Why Does Jesus Keep Us in Suspense?

Does it seem that Jesus needs to be a little more plain-spoken? That, apparently, was what some of the Jews thought! Jesus was teaching in Solomon’s Colonnade, an area that was used by rabbis inside the confines of the temple.

John reports that Jesus’ teaching drew a crowd. And the crowd had a question: “The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.'” (John 10:24, NIV).

Jesus’ answer reminds me of an experience I had at the gym the other day. I tried to say something to someone about the Cardinals t-shirt he was wearing, and he totally ignored me. Then Julie pointed out the earbuds he was also wearing — totally drowning out everything I was saying to him.

Jesus’ response to the crowd was to say, in effect, “What suspense?! I’ve told you with words. I’ve shown you with actions. If you can’t see who I am, perhaps the problem is not with me! How about you take a look at yourselves? Maybe you should consider pulling the earplugs out of your ears, and take the sleeping mask off your eyes.”

“Then maybe you could wake up to who I really am,” Jesus suggests in so many words. “Meanwhile, the only one keeping you in suspense is you!”

Jesus then appeals to them to have a good look and a good listen: “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38, NIV).

What “earplugs” are we wearing today that keep us from hearing Jesus? What “sleeping masks” do we have on that prevent us from trusting that Jesus is who he claims to be?

  • Are we really concentrated and busy just making this life work?
  • Are we focused on being a moral person so we can consider ourselves “good”?
  • Are we overwhelmed with problems and crises in our life?
  • Is success’s (however we define that!) siren call just too loud to ignore?
  • Does my intellectual prowess mean so much to me that I just can’t allow myself to explore the spiritual?
  • Do my relationships demand so much of me that there is no time for God?

These are just a few of the possibilities. But if you can’t see Jesus for who he claims to be — the Son of God, true God come in the flesh, and your Savior from sin — consider for just a moment that it might not be that Jesus hasn’t shown you clearly who he is.

It might be that you haven’t taken the opportunity to remove the distractions and really have a good look and a good listen.

Our Bible reading for Monday, May 18, is 1 Samuel 1:1 – 2:26, John 10:22-42 and Psalm 63:1-11.

Lord Jesus, I ask you to help me take the blinders off and the cotton out of my ears. I am distracted by many things, but nothing is important enough for me to lose my eternity over. Help me to see you for who you really are: my Savior from sin, my Lord, and my God.

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Five Kinds of Freedom

There are so many things that shackle us in life. There are the expectations of others. There are our own self-expectations.

Then there are our hurts, our habits and our hang-ups. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a loved one, and we’re deep in grief. Maybe we can’t break an addiction’s grip despite multiple attempts to pull away. We might have a fear that we simply can’t shake. Or perhaps we made a mistake in life that seems to just keep haunting us, like a bad horror movie.

I want to remind you of something Jesus once promised, and assure you that he meant that promise. At the time, Jesus was being challenged by the Pharisees every time he taught.

But not everyone was a skeptic. Some of the Jews believed him. He spoke to these Jewish believers and made an important claim.

If they would “hold to” his teaching, they would be free. What did Jesus mean by “hold to”? And what did he mean by “free”?

If we read other places, or even if you see what Jesus says in John chapter 8 to those who claim to be the children of Abraham, to “hold to” is to believe that what a person is teaching is really the truth. I would define it as trusting Jesus’ teaching to the point of actually resting in it for peace and putting it into practice in our lives.

What Jesus meant by freedom is release from bondage to things we don’t want to be enslaved to:

  • Freedom from sins. Our sins no longer cling to us. We are released from them and washed clean… yes, of all of them!
  • Freedom from guilt and shame. We are no longer condemned before God. We are no longer self-condemned either (unless we sadly choose to be…). Instead, we can walk with our head held high, because we have been given a verdict of “not guilty” in God’s courtroom. No matter what anyone else thinks about us, we know what God says!
  • Freedom from the power of sin. The constant temptation to cave in to sin — to return to sin and do whatever it tells us to — gradually also begins to recede as the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus and his teaching. This will never be perfect as long as we are on this side of heaven, but with God’s help our “new man” can gain territory as life progresses! And that’s an awesome gift!
  • Freedom from fear-based emotions such as worry, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, fears of failure or embarrassment, and fears of loss or helplessness or loneliness. The list could go on. It could also include what I like to think of as “compensating” emotions based in pride and selfishness, arrogance and self-empowerment.
  • Freedom from the terrors of death in all its forms — spiritual, physical and most of all, eternal. Because of the teaching of Jesus, I can believe in him as my Savior and my Lord, I can pass through physical death like it’s no more than a doorway, and I can enjoy the adventure of heaven for eternity.

Hold to Jesus’ teaching. Because Jesus’ claims that his teaching is the truth. Or maybe I should say it this way: The Truth. Jesus promises you that when you hold on to The Truth, his truth and his teaching, you will be free!

All we need to do, and with God’s help can do, is rest in it every day and put it into practice in our lives.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'” (John 8:31-32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, May 15, is Judges 20:1 – 21:25, John 8:31-59 and Psalm 61:1-8.

Lord, Jesus, I trust in you and your teaching. Your words and promises are pure gold. Forgive me for the times I have treated them as trash. Cleanse me from my sins of self-trust and self-importance, and help me to simply rest in you and your promises. Send me your Holy Spirit and empower me to put your words into practice in my life so that I may experience all the freedom you promise.

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