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.

Header image based on "IMS Home" by Drew Valadez, CC By 2.0

Four Qualities Produced By a Vibrant Faith

Every now and then we come across people in the Bible who are not prominent in the Biblical record. Though they play only a small role, a description of them reveals that they are people with a vibrant faith.

One of those was a man named Cornelius. He was a soldier in the Roman army, a commander. And he was a man of faith.

I love the way this man is described as he lived out his faith. The four items that were characteristic of his faith are good for us to know, and think about for ourselves.

Cornelius was…

  • Devout. He was devoted to God and a man of piety. His mind and heart were drawn frequently to God.
  • God-fearing. He held a deep respect for God born of his love for God, a love itself born of God’s love for him.
  • Generous. He gave abundantly to those who were in need as soon as he became aware of their circumstances.
  • Prayerful. Prayer was an important, vital and regular part of Cornelius’ walk in the faith.

“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:1-2, NIV).

Lord, give me your Spirit and the amazing faith-qualities that you gave to Cornelius. Where I have fallen short, I ask for your forgiveness. Thank you for Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Knowing that I am loved faithfully and forgiven constantly only motivates me all the more to desire the qualities of a vibrant faith that Cornelius possessed.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 15, is 2 Samuel 23:8 – 24:25, Acts 9:32 – 10:23a and Psalm 74:1-9.

Header image based on "Forestier: A centurion on the march" by Mike Bishop, CC By 2.0

Do Real Christians Have Doubts?

Do sincere Christians sometimes have doubts?

You be the judge. Let me introduce you to a person named Asaph. Asaph was a poet and a musician at the time of David. He was appointed by David to lead worship and write music for worship at the tabernacle:

“He (David) appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel: Asaph was the chief…” (1 Chronicles 16:4-5, NIV).

Asaph was such a remarkable worship leader that ultimately David even set apart Asaph’s descendants to lead the Israelites in worship. David’s son Solomon would end up building the temple in Jerusalem. And Asaph’s sons would continue to lead worship as it shifted from tent to temple.

Would you think that David would select a man of faith for a ministry like that?

Of course he would! Would such a man ever have doubts? Check out the first 14 verses of Psalm 73, which Asaph wrote:

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.

Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.

They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. (Psalm 73:1-14, NIV)

If you have ever had a few doubts along the way, I pray that you will find comfort in Asaph’s struggles as he viewed the prosperity of unbelievers and wondered how they could be so successful. How could God allow it?

Ultimately, Asaph’s doubts did not win out. Jesus did. The Holy Spirit gained the victory in Asaph’s heart. Asaph ended up writing a full dozen of the Psalms, words of faith that still inspire us today.

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 12, is 2 Samuel 18:19 – 19:43, Acts 7:44 – 8:3 and Psalm 73:1-14.

Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!

Note: The quote on the picture is from Francis Bacon, an English jurist, philosopher, statesman, scientist, orator, and author. Also a Christian! In 1626 Bacon stopped in the snow to conduct an experiment on the preservation of food, fell ill, and died on Easter Sunday. In his will, he included this final prayer: “When I thought most of peace and honor, thy hand [was] heavy on me, and hath humbled me, according to thy former loving kindness. … Just are thy judgments upon my sins. … Be merciful unto me for my Savior’s sake, and receive me into thy bosom.”

Header image based on "Certainty and Doubt" by Celestine Chua, CC By 2.0

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.

Header image based on "Bible" by Nicholas LabyrinthX, CC By-SA 2.0

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.

Header image based on "Glacier National Park sunset" by Bradley Davis, CC By 2.0

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.

Header image based on "Seeking Human Kindness" by Enver Rahmanov, CC by-SA 3.0

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.”

Header image based on "White Flag Concert" by Scott Calleja, CC By 2.0