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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It’s Just Not Possible!

Peter and John had healed a crippled man at the temple in Jerusalem. This gentleman was over 40 and had been crippled since birth. And everyone knew him well because he had been a fixture at the temple gate.

The Jewish rulers, elders and teachers of the law were not happy about this. They thought they had stamped out this Christianity “thing” by executing Jesus. But now it appeared that it was all about to crack wide open again. They had to admit, Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16, NIV).

But these Jewish religious leaders were determined to put an end to it. So they summoned Peter and John and told them to stop speaking and teaching about Jesus.

I got to thinking about how impossible obeying this command would have been. I’m writing this from near Glacier National Park. And I’m imagining someone telling me to stop talking about how beautiful the mountains, the lakes, the streams, the sky — the whole landscape! — is here. I don’t know that I would be able to stop exclaiming how beautiful and amazing it is!

Think about Peter and John and the other apostles. They had watched Jesus teach with great power. They had seen him do many miracles. They heard him predict his crucifixion (on multiple occasions), and then be crucified just the way he told them he would be.

Then they had seen him rise from the tomb, as he had also told them he would do. On multiple occasions they witnessed Jesus alive after he had been brutally executed. At his ascension, they watched him rise into the clouds and return to heaven.

Then they experienced Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On top of all that, they had been given the power to do miracles themselves. And here was a man who had been crippled from birth, healthy and whole for the first time in his life of 40-plus years, because of the power of Jesus Christ working through them!

What do you think is going to happen if someone tries to shut them up?

It’s just not going to be possible! They had seen how beautiful and amazing Jesus is!

And the same applies today to those who have witnessed in their own lives the power of forgiveness of sins through Jesus, the transformation from a life of pursuing sin to a life of following Jesus, the healing power of being given a new identity, a new destiny, a new purpose, a new set of possibilities in life and a new community of fellow believers to enjoy.

Shut us up? It’s just not possible! We have seen how beautiful and amazing Jesus is!

“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard'” (Acts 4:18-20, NIV).

Our Bible reading for today is 2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:31, Acts 4:1-22 and Psalm 71:1-8.

Lord, help me to be bold to confess my faith in you, and tell as many people as possible how beautiful and amazing you are.

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What Church Can Look Like

Church comes in for some pretty tough criticism at times. And to an extent, it’s probably understandable. The hard knocks and the accusations are not always without some basis in the facts.

But church can be beautiful. Very beautiful.

Luke gives us a peek into the life of the very first church that sprang into existence in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost. It was shortly after the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the apostles.

What this church looked like should seem somewhat familiar to us. That’s because it’s not very different — if at all — from what love looks like.

By which I mean loving God with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength. And loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

Rooted in the gospel, touched deeply by the grace of God displayed in Christ, and moved to action by the power of the resurrection, these Christians spoke the language of kindness to one another.

And kindness is a language the whole world can understand.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 5, is 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 8:18, Acts 2:22-47 and Proverbs 14:5-14.

Lord, help me by your Holy Spirit’s power to make church a place that personifies love. Fill my church with the love of Christ and the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit. Make me a force of kindness in my own church, to bring about in the 21st century what believers in the 1st century brought about — moved by Christ’s love and the Spirit’s power.

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A Rally Cry

Perhaps some of you saw the news report yesterday regarding the most recent Pew survey entitled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”

The major finding of the study was that “the United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.” Alan Cooperman, Pew’s Director of Religious Research, was quoted as saying, “the trend is big, it’s broad and it’s everywhere.”

My initial response was, “Do we really need a survey to tell us this? Anyone with a pair of eyes or a set of ears could tell you this. It’s written all over the pages of our 21st century American culture.”

But then I got to thinking about the emotions that could be raised by the reports. You see many of those same emotions displayed in the Bible when it appeared to believers that skepticism and unbelief were winning out against faith in Christ.

Just to preview a bit for you, in today’s Bible reading alone…

  • Delilah and her Philistine masters seem to win out against Samson and the Israelites
  • The Israelites’ devotion to God’s order of things is questioned time and time again by the refrain we find in the book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6, NIV).
  • Jesus himself is attacked by the very people who were expected to provide leadership for God’s people in matters of faith
  • David, feeling rejected by God, cries out in the Psalms: “You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; you have been angry—now restore us!” (Psalm 60:1, NIV).

So, this isn’t our first rodeo. For followers of Christ, experiencing setbacks and losses, along with the accompanying feelings of rejection or fears of dismissal, have all been around as long as faith in God has been around.

And that takes us to my favorite verse from today’s reading. Immediately following David’s lament above, he goes on to say this:

“But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow” (Psalm 60:4, NIV).

In other words, for those who remain steadfast in faith, this is a time of opportunity. It’s a call to rally around Jesus Christ as our banner, to fight courageously for the cause of faith, and to proclaim the gospel more boldly and strenuously than ever before.

In ancient sea battles, a banner was unfurled to rally the troops. A banner was lowered on the bow to identify which nation you were fighting for. A banner was proudly displayed to encourage and strengthen the resolve of those who believed in the cause.

In other words, David says, “This is not the time to be discouraged. In fact, it’s prime time to be encouraged, and to fight all the harder for Jesus. It’s an opportunity God is providing to struggle for the sake of the gospel.”

The Bible shows us again and again, “With Jesus at our side, who knows what great things — and great victories — he has planned? After all, didn’t he die, and then come back to life? Hasn’t he promised to return one day with greater glory than we have ever seen?”

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, May 13, is Judges 16:1 – 17:13, John 7:45 – 8:11 and Psalm 60:1-4.

Lord, help me to be bold to share the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ, with others. Rally your church around the cause of loving others with the love of Jesus, and proclaiming in words, in music, in actions and in sacraments the message of your forgiveness, grace and peace.

Oh, and by the way, sandwiched in the Pew research is this little paragraph that may give a measure of encouragement to those who hold to Biblical, historical and conservative Christian beliefs. Does this perhaps foreshadow the direction of Christianity in the U.S.?

“The new survey indicates that churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition – including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church in America, other evangelical denominations and many nondenominational congregations – now have a total of about 62 million adult adherents. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though once the margins of error are taken into account, it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.”

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Take the Truth for a Test Drive

“Seriously. I’m not making this stuff up!”

That’s the forceful claim Jesus makes about what he’s teaching. What provokes such a statement is that the people listening to him are utterly amazed. They can see he’s not an educated man. Yet, what he says is far more educated and wise than anyone they’ve ever heard before.

So Jesus tells them right up front: This teaching doesn’t come from me. It comes from God the Father. He sent me to do his will and to teach his truth.

Then Jesus says something imminently practical. He answers the question, “How can you know for sure if my teaching comes from God?”

Jesus’ answer is, “Try it. Just try it out, and see for yourself. Take my teachings for a test drive.”

His statement is made with no qualifications, no “ifs, ands, or buts.” It’s simply this, “If you choose to do the will of God, you will see.” And this is not something entirely new Jesus is saying. We’ve heard it before, going all the way back to the Psalms: “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8, NIV).

So, if you want to become convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, true God himself, your Savior from sin, your Redeemer and King, then simply try out his teachings and see. Start doing the things that he says to do. Stop doing the things he says not to do. Take his truth out for a spin and see how it drives.

And ask God himself to provide you with faith. You won’t be able to generate it on your own. It’s just not in you. But the power to believe is in the gospel!

After some time, and a few trial runs with Jesus’ teaching (especially the gospel!), you will begin to sense, then to see with greater and greater clarity, that Jesus is who he says he is. You will come to understand that he is teaching you God’s truth.

If there’s any truth to be aligned with, that’s the one… because in the end, God’s truth is the only truth. If there’s any person to be aligned with, he’s the one… because in the end, God’s Son is the only Son of God.

Take him up on his invitation to give his truth a test drive.

“Jesus answered, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him'” (John 7:16-18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, May 12, is Judges 14:1 – 15:20, John 7:14-44 and Proverbs 11:29 – 12:7.

Lord, God, Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes from above. I struggle with faith in your word, in your truth, and in your Son, Jesus. I cannot believe on my own. I need your help. Give me the will and the strength to try your word and your truth out in my life. Use my experience of your word to persuade me that your Son, is my Savior and my Lord.

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What Page Are You On?

It’s so easy — and dangerous — to get consumed with the hopes and desires of the present.

Following Jesus’ bread of life speech, and a realization by many in the crowd that Jesus was not merely around to serve their daily needs or meet their earthly goals, many of those who had been Jesus’ disciples began to turn back and stop following him.

They failed to see that to follow Jesus is to get on Jesus’ page. They just were not willing to go there. It’s important to know that Jesus doesn’t want us on his page because he’s on some sort of power trip. He wants us on his page because that’s what’s truly best for us.

The other day I was in an airport, and I saw a family — a Dad and a Mom with two little girls about 3 or 4 years old. The girls had matching rolling bags that they brought with them. The younger of the two little girls kept wanting to stop to get things out of her bag. This happened several times, with her parents patiently trying to explain that they needed to move their way more quickly through the airport.

The little girl was having none of that, and she was persistent about what she wanted for herself (and apparently her entire family as well) — frequent stops so she could dig around in her bag.

At last, her father simply took hold of the bag, and gently relieved her of it. The response of the little girl was not pretty, as I’m sure you can imagine. She pouted quite loudly for a really, really long time.

Sometimes we behave like that little girl. We want God to hold everything up — including his own gracious plans — for us. After all, in our minds, who’s more important than we are?

Jesus had just made it clear that he had come for his own purpose and glory. This involves the eternal salvation of mankind. So wasting a lot of time baking bread for people (or even just miraculously making it!) wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, he was going to be busy helping people see him as the bread of life. His concerns were far more of an eternal nature.

The people — like the little girl — didn’t like being told someone else’s agenda took precedence. So they turned away. It was just too tough to swallow.

Jesus watches them go, and then turns to his inner circle, the twelve, and ask them, “Do you also want to leave?”

Their answer shows that the disciples — by the Spirit’s power — had gotten on Jesus’ (eternal) page with him.

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68-69, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, May 11, is Judges 12:1 – 13:25, John 6:60 – 7:13 and Psalm 59:9-17.

Lord, I repent for the times when I want to be on my own page, rather than on yours. My mind and heart want to dwell on the present, and on my own worldly needs, rather than on eternity, and your eternal desires for me and for the world around me. Please forgive me! Jesus, I want to be on your page with you. Send me the Spirit, who gives life, through your words. You have the words of eternal life, because you are the Holy One of God.

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Claims of Divinity

Sometimes people who don’t know the Bible very well will make statements like, “Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. And he certainly never claimed to be the Son of God!”

I guess for me the question boils down to this. What actually constitutes a claim to divinity? If others who know you repeatedly and consistently make the claim for you, and you are aware of this, and yet fail to ever once deny those claims, then is that not the very same thing as making the claim yourself?

In John’s gospel, chapter 1, the apostle John brings up one person after another who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. They all verbally stated their recognition of this out loud, often with crowds of people around, and Jesus right there in their presence.

Not once does Jesus say, “No, that’s not true. Don’t make those claims about me.”

So, we’re left with only two possibilities. One is that Jesus was a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur who listened to others verbalize lies and fantastic claims about himself and did nothing to stop it. The other is that Jesus really is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He truly is the Son of God.

Personally, I am already persuaded the latter is the right conclusion. And I think as you continue to read with me through the Bible, you will become convinced of the same — if you’re not already convinced, that is! Certainly, John the Baptist, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael were persuaded!

“The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God,who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me…’ Then John gave this testimony… ‘I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.'”

“The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ).”

“Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”

“Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel'” (John 1:29-30, 32a, 34, 41, 45, 49, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 30, is Joshua 17:1 – 18:28, John 1:29-51 and Proverbs 10:31 – 11:8.

Jesus, I am convinced that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, and that you have taken away all my sins. Please re-convince me of this every day. Then give me your Holy Spirit so that I may walk and live with this truth as the core of my being and my purpose every day, bringing glory to you as King of kings and Lord of lords.

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Eternity On the Line

Luke was a companion of the apostle Paul. It’s likely that Paul and Luke first encountered one another in the city of Antioch, in Syria. We know from the book of Colossians that Luke was a physician.

Luke’s Greek is grammatically excellent and proper. His descriptive references to ancient cities and towns, and his correctness in ancient terminology mark him as a careful scholar.

As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit divinely inspired the words of the gospel Luke wrote. But the Holy Spirit also chose Luke, the careful scholar, to be the one to do the research work that would allow him to provide us with an accurate and well-ordered account of the life of Jesus, our Savior.

God is so good. As Luke writes in the introduction to his gospel, God wants us to have certainty about the things we have been taught. He does not want to leave us hanging.

That’s because a lot is on the line here. Eternity, to be exact.

Our Heavenly Father wants us to be confident. He wants us to know the Bible is trustworthy. And most of all, he wants us to know that his work of sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior is fully reliable. All because he wants our eternity to be secure.

“With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4, NIV).

Lord, thank you for showing us that your word is reliable. As the true author of the Bible, you carefully selected the men who would record your words. And they in turn, carefully did the research so that in the process we are left with an account of the life of Jesus that we can trust is completely trustworthy. So much is on the line. Thank you for such love!

Our Bible reading for Friday, March 13, is Leviticus 26:14 – 27:34, Luke 1:1-25 and Proverbs 7:1-5.

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We Got ‘Em Right Where We Want ‘Em

The children of Israel were headed out of Egypt. But Pharaoh is set to take one last crack at them. He fervently wants to get them to turn around so he can put them back in chains.

He takes a huge multitude of chariots and battle-hardened, veteran charioteers and foot soldiers — strong men who were each respected leaders in their own right — and chases down the Israelites.

The Israelites find themselves trapped between this vast multitude of Pharaoh’s elite and the Red Sea. They are squeezed with very little hope of victory or escape.

Fight? Not a real option. And with the Red Sea at their backs, neither is flight.

The Bible tells us the children of Israel have the normal human response. First fear — or rather as Moses reports it in Exodus 14 — terror. Then finger-pointing and blame. “What is this you did to us, Moses? We were perfectly safe as slaves in Egypt. Now we’re all going to die!”

But Moses, the Israelites’ leader, thinks differently. He is a classic “man of faith.” He knows the God who has put them in this “impossible” situation. He understands that there is no way God will let them down at this point. And he has given up control to God. He realizes that he’s powerless without him, anyway.

In other words, Moses is confident, “We’ve got the Egyptians right where we want them.”

Or more accurately stated, “God’s got them right where he wants them.”

What a great lesson for us too! Fear and worry is not helpful or productive. When the situation seems dire, our best move is to stand firm and watch for God to act.

While you stand and watch, be still in your heart and believe that God has your situation “right where he wants it.”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (‭Exodus‬ ‭14‬:‭13-14,‬ NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, February 13, is Exodus 13:1 – 14:31, Matthew 27:45-66 and Proverbs 4:20-27.

Lord Jesus, help me to stand firm in the face of dire circumstances. Give me confidence in your promises, and faith in your love for me. Allow me to see clearly that I am powerless without you, and therefore the best thing I can do is give control to you. I want to stand firm, and not be afraid.

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Hidden Faults and Willful Sins

David speaks in Psalm 19 about his “hidden faults” and “willful sins.”

Hidden faults are the sins that we tend to keep secret. If sin is “missing the mark,” these are the times we miss the mark so badly, we don’t want anyone else to know. That’s typically because we are so ashamed of how far off-target we were! We don’t want people seeing what crawls around in our dark hearts.

Willful sins are the times we miss the mark because we were intentionally shooting at a completely different target. We stopped caring (at least for a while) about God’s target, set up our own, and took aim at that. We knew the wrong we were doing, and we chose to do it anyway.

David tackles these two types of sin head on.

He starts with confession. He gets authentic and transparent before the Lord. He gets real with himself and God. He identifies the sin and then confesses it, seeking forgiveness.

He continues with a commitment to guard his heart. He asks for the Lord’s help to put safeguards up. He prays for strength to watch where he aims his eyes. He asks for vigilance to catch himself when his thoughts drift. He prayerfully seeks a spirit of self-discipline to avoid willful sins.

Finally, he focuses his eyes forward and thinks about how beautiful a clear conscience is. There’s peace in knowing that he has confessed and been forgiven of his sins. There’s joy in seeking God’s strength and help in living more obediently. The little voice of guilt and shame is silenced and stilled for a time.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13, NIV).

Lord, grant me these three things: 1) Forgive me for my hidden faults and willful sins; 2) Help me guard my heart. In your strength and grace keep me vigilant to ward off sin; and 3) Help me to envision and enjoy what it is like to experience the beauty of a clear conscience, washed clean in the blood of Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, February 10, is Exodus 6:13 – 8:32, Matthew 26:47-68 and Psalm 19:7-14.

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