11/9/15 “Receiving God’s Word with All Readiness” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 14-17)

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men” (Acts 17:10-12).

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is incredibly powerful, but are we ready to receive it?

You may be tempted to say, “Of course I am ready to receive it”! However, as the opening passage above implies, not everyone is ready to receive God’s Word. The passage above speaks about how Paul on his 2nd missionary journey came to Berea, entered the Jewish synagogue, and spoke to people who “received the word with all readiness” (Acts 17:11). However, earlier on his 1st missionary journey as Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14) when he preached a 2nd time in the synagogue there, the text says, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:45). On this occasion, there were some who certainly did not receive God’s Word with “readiness of mind”.

Jesus warned many would hear God’s Word, but not understand it. On one occasion His disciples wanted to know why He kept speaking to the people in parables. Jesus said, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them’ ” (Matthew 13:13-15).The people’s inability to understand the parables was not because God’s Word was too difficult, but that they did not receive it with “readiness of mind”!

Contrary to this, the people in the synagogue of Berea did receive God’s Word with “readiness of mind” (Acts 17:11). What does this mean? The text helps to explain: First, these folks are described as being fair-minded or noble minded (Acts 17:11). They received God’s Word with an open mind. Second, they had an inquisitive mind that wanted to search for and discover God’s truth. They “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). To them studying God’s Word was not just a routine to be practiced or to be able to prove a point they wanted to make, but searching the Scriptures was done with a desire of seeking the wonderful truths found in them that they could apply to their lives to better their relationship with God!

I want to be ready to receive God’s Word. I realize there is the temptation to allow other things such as negative feelings towards others or even towards God, becoming entangled in the world and its cares, or giving in to my own closed-minded, stubborn will to cloud my mind so that I am not ready to receive God’s Word. Today, I will follow the example of the noble-minded Bereans who received God’s Word with all readiness as they searched the Scriptures daily!

“Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18).

11/8/15 “Praying Without Expecting an Answer” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 10-13)

“And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, ‘You are beside yourself!’ Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, ‘It is his angel.’ Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished” (Acts 12:13-16).

We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are also told that God hears and answers our prayers (James 5:14-16). When you pray, do you look in faith to see how God answers your prayers or have you found yourself just praying about the same things over and over again, but not really observing how God may be answering your prayers?

In the 12th chapter of the book of Acts, Luke records for us a situation where some Christians had been praying. The church at Jerusalem was being persecuted by Herod who had killed the apostle James, had Peter arrested, and was planning on bringing Peter before the people to have him put to death after the Passover feast (Acts 12:1-4). What did the Christians do during this time when Peter was imprisoned? “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). The Christians were “praying without ceasing” on Peter’s behalf!

God answers this prayer by sending an angel who woke Peter up from between the 2 guards before whom he was sleeping, led Peter out of the prison, and down a street, and then the angel departed from Peter (Acts 12:6-10). Peter realizes God had delivered him and comes to the house of Mary where many Christians had gathered to pray on his behalf (Acts 12:11-12).

Peter knocks at the door of the gate. A girl named Rhoda goes to answer his call, but when she recognizes his voice, in her excitement she forgets to open the gate to let Peter in the house. She runs and announces that Peter is at the gate (Acts 12:13-14). God has answered their prayers! How do these Christians react when they see that their petitions on Peter’s behalf have been answered?

“But they said to her, ‘You are beside yourself!’ Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, ‘It is his angel’ ” (Acts 12:15). They think she is crazy! Yet, was it not really them who were “beside” themselves for praying to God and then not believing God would actually answer their prayers and deliver Peter? As Peter continues knocking, they finally open the door and are “astonished” to see him (Acts 12:16). Even though the disciples were well aware of God’s promises to answer their prayers (Matthew 7:7-11), these disciples were actually “astonished” when God did it.

Do I pray and then look in faith to see how God answers my prayers or do I has my prayer life simply become an empty ritual of mouthing out words to God? God had done a marvelous work in answering the prayers of the disciples lifted up to Him on Peter’s behalf and God continues to answer our prayers today. One of the blessings of being a Christian is to be able to lift up our petitions unto God knowing how much He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) and then to look by faith for His answers. I do not want my prayer life to become an empty ritual. Today, when I lift up my prayers unto the Lord, I will look in faith to see how God is working to answer my prayers!

And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:7-8)?

11/7/15 “Jesus’ Plans for the Chief of Sinners” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 7-9)

“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake’ ” (Acts 9:15-16).

Have you ever found yourself looking at certain people, presupposing they would never respond positively in obedience to the gospel message, and thinking there is no way God could use them in His service? Perhaps, you have thought of yourself that because of your past, your weaknesses, and your failures that you are unworthy of God and there is no way God could use you?

The opening passage above shows the utter folly of such thinking. Saul of Tarsus was a man who had made havoc on Christians in the early church in Jerusalem as he had them arrested, put in prison, and even consented to their deaths as was the case with Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3). Not content with persecuting Christians in Jerusalem, he even went to the ancient city of Damascus to bring Christians from there back to Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9:2-3). He is described as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). Saul was not a person that many of us would describe as the ideal candidate with whom we should share the gospel message! In fact, Saul would later describe himself at this time in his life as the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

However, Jesus Himself reached out to this man! He confronts Saul on the road to Damascus and says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Having been temporarily blinded, Saul humbly asks Jesus, “Lord what do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Saul is told to go to Damascus where he will be told what he must do (Acts 9:6). Saul is then led to Damascus (Acts 9:8-9).

In Damascus, Jesus tells a Christian named Ananias to go to Saul (Acts 9:10-12). At first, Ananias questions the wisdom of this. He says, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). Ananias did not believe Saul was the ideal candidate who upon hearing the gospel message would respond in obedience to it. However, not only did Jesus want to give Saul the opportunity to obey the gospel and be saved, He also had huge plans for Saul to become His “chosen vessel” to bear Jesus’ name to the “Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Not everything would be easy for Saul as he would have to “suffer” for Jesus’ name sake (Acts 9:16), but few men in history have glorified God as much as Saul, who would later become known as Paul (Acts 13:9). God had huge plans for this “chief of sinners”!

What are God’s plans for each of us? God has huge plans for each of us, but we often limit God’s plans for us because unlike Saul, we fail to be humble enough to say, “Lord what do you want me to do?” (cf. Acts 9:6). At other times, we fail to give others the opportunity for God to work in their lives because we refuse to share the gospel with them. We look at some and assume, “Oh, they are so worldly, wicked, mean, etc…, they would never obey the gospel”.

I am so glad that Jesus reached out to this “chief of sinners” because the apostle Paul made a major impact on the lives of countless people by his inspired writings, his ministry, and his Christian example. He is one of the people in heaven I can’t wait to meet. If Jesus was willing to reach out to Saul, he certainly is willing to reach out to me and any others with whom I come in contact. Today, I will remember that “The Gospel is For All” and will rejoice that Jesus reached out to me!

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

11/6/15 “Lying To God and to Ourselves” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 4-6)

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God’ ” (Acts 5:1-4).

Most of us like to believe we always think and act honestly, but do we? For example, do some of us tell ourselves we are in great shape, but when we are actually examined by a doctor we are told we need to lose some weight, exercise more, and starting eating a better diet? In such cases were we not actually lying to ourselves by saying we were in great shape?

In the passage above we see a couple who not only were being dishonest with themselves, but also with God (Acts 5:1-9). During this time, we see that some Christians who had sold their lands and gave it to the apostles in order to help needy brethren (Acts 4:34-37). This was commendable, but it was not commanded. The Christians did not have to sell their land, but it was a gracious gesture by those who did as they sought to demonstrate their love for their needy brethren (cf. John 13:34-35).

One Christian couple who also sold their land was Ananias and Sapphira. After selling their land, they kept back part of the proceeds for themselves and laid the rest at the apostles’ feet (Acts 5:1-2). However, they had given the appearance that the money they gave to the apostles was the full price of the land (Acts 5:3-4, 8). Ananias and Sapphira had conspired to give this false appearance regarding the land they had sold (Acts 5:9). When the apostle Peter confronts them about this, Peter says they had not just lied to men, but they had lied to God (Acts 5:3-4). As a result both, Ananias and Sapphira drop dead before Peter and great fear comes upon the whole church (Acts 5:5, 10-11).

Why did God reveal this account of what Ananias and Sapphira did in the New Testament Scriptures? Why did Ananias and Sapphira do this? Did they really think they could get away with trying to deceive God? Part of the reason this account is given to us is to warn us of our tendency, at times, to lie to ourselves and, in doing so, to even be dishonest with God.

Remember, Ananias and Sapphira were Christians. As Christians, do some of us lie to ourselves and to God? For example, do I tell myself I am a faithful Christian, but lie to myself because I harbor hate in my heart for others (cf. 1 John 2:10-11)? Do I sing to God on Sunday saying, “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”, when I have no intention of coming to other assemblies of the church to encourage my brethren to keep up the faith (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25)? Am I dishonest with God saying I love Him, but ignore and refuse to submit to certain commandments He has given me (cf. John 14:15; 15:14)? Do I worship with my brethren at church singing, “Love, One Another for Love is of God…” when, in my heart, there are some of them I can stand and refuse to forgive (cf. Matthew 6:14-15)?

I am not calling for sinless perfection among Christians, but I am calling for us to be honest with ourselves and with God. We are told to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). I want to be honest with myself and with God. Today, as I go forth to serve God I refuse to lie to myself by pretending I am something I am not, but will examine myself in the faith!

“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

11/5/15 “Incredible Mistake, Amazing Grace” (Daily Bible Reading: Acts 1-3)

“ ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ ”(Acts 2:36-37).

What is the greatest mistake you have ever made? Wouldn’t it be great if that mistake you made could be instantly repaired by someone else stepping in and correcting the fault you had created?

Following ascension of Jesus into heaven, the apostles had been gathered together in Jerusalem awaiting Promise of the Holy Spirit upon them (Acts 1:4-5, 8). The Promise came as the apostles were all filled with the Holy Spirit on day of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Jewish crowd which had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost was amazed as they heard the apostles begin speaking in other languages or tongues (Acts 2:5-12). They wondered, what did all of this mean?

Peter reminds them that what they see as the apostles speak to them in different languages is the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Joel (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32). Moreover, Peter tells the crowd that the apostles ability to speak in tongues was made possible because Jesus, who has now ascended into heaven, had poured out these gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles just as He had promised them He would do (Acts 2:33; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7, 13).

As Peter is explaining this to the crowd, Peter reminds them of the incredible mistake they made. They had crucified God’s Son (Acts 2:22-23; Acts 2:36). Although they had put Jesus to death, God had raised His Son from the dead (Acts 2:24). The apostles had seen the resurrected Christ (Acts 2:32). Further proof of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which the crowd had seen (Acts 2:33). Peter concludes, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

How would you have felt if you were in the crowd that day? Many in Peter’s audience had been among the mob which when Pilate had asked “What shall I do with Jesus?” they had said “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” (Mark 15:12-13; Luke 23:21). They must have felt sick to their stomach to now realize they had mistakenly murdered God’s Son. What an incredible mistake!

Realizing their error and cut to the heart as they recognized their incredible mistake, they ask Peter and the other apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Was there any hope for them after they had made such a costly mistake? Yes, there was! There was an opportunity for them to experience God’s amazing grace that could wipe out their mistake. Peter told them what they needed to do to enjoy God’s gift of grace to them: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). 3000 of them obeyed the gospel and rejoiced in God’s amazing grace (Acts 2:41)!

The story of the gospel never grows old. All of us have made incredible mistakes. We have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23). In effect, our sins caused Christ to have to die (1 Peter 1:18-19). However, God gives us the opportunity to have our sins forgiven as we obey the gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15-16). Today, I rejoice that although I have made terrible mistakes by my own sin, I can experience God’s amazing grace as I hear and obey the gospel of Christ!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

11/4/15 “Can The Lord Still Use Me When I Have Failed Him?” (Daily Bible Reading: John 19-21)

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep’ (John 21:17).

How many times have you failed the Lord in your walk with Him? If you are like me, you have failed him more times than you can count. How do you feel after you have messed up? Do you ever wonder if the Lord now looks at your service as less-than-acceptable because of your past failures?

Following Jesus’ arrest, Peter, in order to save his own skin, three times denied having a relationship with Jesus (John 18:17, 25-27). Peter had miserably failed Jesus. After hearing the roster crow, Peter remembered how Jesus had warned him how Peter would give into this temptation. Immediately following his third denial of the Lord, Peter saw Jesus look at him (Luke 22:61). Peter felt absolutely horrible about how he had failed the Lord and went out and wept bitterly about his failing the Lord in this hour of trial (Luke 22:62).

Can you imagine the self-image Peter would have had of himself at this time? For 3 years he had followed the Lord and been one of Jesus’ closest friends. He had been privileged to be one of the few to see Jesus’ transfiguration and to be asked to watch and pray with Jesus at Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 17:1; 26:36-37). Now, when Jesus needed him most, Peter had greatly failed Jesus!

Following the resurrection of Jesus, Peter had heard about and seen the empty tomb of Jesus (John 20:1-7). He had also seen the resurrected Christ (John 20:19-21; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Peter had again seen Jesus as Jesus performed another great miracle regarding a great catch of fish (John 21:4-6). However, because of his past failures, was Peter now regulated to just being an “observer” of the great works of the Lord? Was he now longer considered worthy to become a great “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17) and servant for the Lord because of the terrible mistakes he had committed?

In the opening passage above, 3 times Jesus questions Peter’s love for Him (John 21:15-17). 3 times Peter says he does. Was it painful for Peter to have Jesus keep questioning Peter’s love for Him? Yes, it was. After the third time, John records that “Peter was grieved” about this (John 21:17).

Why would Jesus have Peter answer 3 times that he loved the Lord? Each time as Peter answers these questions of the Lord, Peter responds with a term meaning that he loved the Lord as one loves a brother. Peter does not use the term for love which denotes the higher form or “agape” type of love we are to have for one another as Christians. It appears, because of what he had done in the past, Peter had begun to doubt his own love for the Lord. Jesus was helping Peter to remember that Peter did still love the Lord. Furthermore, Jesus expressed His confidence in Peter’s ability to serve the Lord as He tells Peter He has great work for him to do in feeding and tending his sheep (John 21:15, 16,17). Though Peter had failed in the past, Jesus still believed in Peter!

This is comforting to me as a disciple of Christ. Do I fail the Lord at times? Yes, I do. However, if I am humble of repent of my failures, Jesus can still use me to do great service for Him. Today, I rejoice that God does not hold my past failures against me. He forgives me and can still use me, with all my faults, to do great works for Him!

“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16).

11/3/15 “I Have Glorified You on the Earth” (Daily Bible Reading: John 15-18)

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:1-4).

What would you be praying about if you knew you were about to die and had less than 24 hours left to live on this earth? Would you pray that God would give you more time? Would you pray that God would remove the threat of death from your life?

It is understandable that a person would want their life to be prolonged and the threat of death removed. After all, immediately before His arrest, Jesus prayed “if it is possible let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). If there was any other way for God to accomplish man’s salvation besides Jesus’ having to die, Jesus prayed that this might be done (Matthew 26:39, 42). However, God’s answer was there was no other way to save man (John 3:16).

However, just before praying to God about removing the suffering He was about to experience from Him, Jesus prayed another prayer that the apostle John records for us (John 17:1-26). In this prayer Jesus shares with His Father how He had kept God’s Will on earth (John 17:4). He had done this by faithfully imparting to His disciples God’s Word (John 17:6), by manifesting to them that He had come from God (John 17:6-8), encouraging His disciples to remain faithful to God (John 17:12), and by showing them how to love one another with God’s love (John 17:23).

Furthermore, not only did Jesus pray that He had glorified His Father on the earth, but He also asks His Father to glorify Him as He is about to enter into this incredible trial which will end with His being nailed to the cross. Jesus says, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Jesus requests His Father to glorify Him by helping to keep His disciples faithful to God as Jesus was about to depart from them (John 17:11, 15), by keeping them united with one another (John 17:20-23), and loving one another (John 17:26). Jesus knew He would be glorified not only by His Father restoring to Him the glory He had before He came to the earth (John 17:5), but also through the continued ministry of His disciples who carried on His great work after He left them as they continued to adhere to the truths He taught them and live lives that followed His example (John 17:10, 17-19).

I would love to pray as I lay on my deathbed, “Father, I have glorified You on the earth”. Of course, I would not pray this prayer out of arrogance because I know that God has saved me by His wonderful grace and by my responding to that grace by placing my faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). I also realize that my being able to say I have glorified God on this earth means not only that I have sought to follow God’s truth myself, but also that I have treated my brethren with love striving to work with them in a spirit of unity. On my deathbed, I pray that I have lived such a faithful life to God that I could have confidence and say, “Father, I have glorified You on the earth” (John 17:4). Today, I will strive to live a life that glorifies the Lord (Matthew 5:16)!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

11/2/15 “Loving One Another” (Daily Bible Reading: John 12-14)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

How does the world know that we are the disciples of Christ? Is it because we know the truth and are able to explain God’s truth to them? Does the world know we are the true followers of Christ because we engage in the proper form of worship, have the correct form of leadership in the church, and follow what Jesus said we must do to be saved?

As the opening verses above clearly show, Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). Jesus says that His disciples were to love one another the way in which He had showed love to them (John 13:34). Earlier, John records how Jesus had loved His disciples to the very end of His earthly ministry (John 13:1).

If we are to love one another the same way in which Jesus loved His disciples, how did Jesus show love to His disciples? The 13th chapter of John further describes how Jesus showed love to His disciples. Following their supper together, Jesus rises, lays aside His garments, girds himself with a towel, pours water in a basin and begins to go around the room washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:2-5). He showed love to His disciples by serving them. After washing their feet, Jesus sits down and says, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).

Among those disciples whose feet Jesus had washed was Judas (John 13:21-30). Even though Jesus was deeply troubled because He knew Judas was about to betray Him (John 13:21), Jesus still showed Judas love by washing His feet. Jesus not only taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45), He gave us a powerful example of showing love to one’s enemies (John 13:5, 12). How many of us have matured in the faith enough to love our enemies the way Jesus did in this passage? How often do we allow the pain from past hurts caused by others to hinder us from following Jesus’ example to still show them love by serving them as Jesus served Judas?

Why did Jesus do this? Did Judas really deserve to be loved by Jesus? Judas did not DESERVE to be loved by Jesus, but Jesus DECIDED to love Judas. Jesus wanted His disciples to be different than the world. He wanted them to love one another in a way far superior than the love typically found in the world. It was essential that Jesus give them an example of the superior way in which they were to love one another so He washed Judas’ feet. Jesus did not want His disciples just to love those who earned or merited their love. Jesus wanted His disciples to love all men because that is what they chose to do!

I am amazed at this example Jesus gave at how we are to love one another. Today, I will love others, even my enemies, not because they earn it, but because, as a disciple of Jesus, I choose to!

“Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; ‘for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).

11/1/15 “Lazarus, Come Forth” (Daily Bible Reading: John 9-11)

“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ " (John 11:41-43).

What is the one aspect of Christianity that makes it unique among the world religions? Like other religions, Christianity has a “moral code” by which its adherents are to live; but, unlike other religions, a basic tenet of Christianity is the belief in a resurrection of the body from the grave. How much time do you spend thinking about the resurrection of the body?

As Jesus neared the end of His earthly ministry, He hears that His friend Lazarus is sick (John 11:1-3). In fact, Lazarus’ sickness resulted in his death (John 11:14). Martha, Lazarus’ sister, meets Jesus and mentions to Him how if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died (John 11:21). However, Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Martha thought Jesus was speaking about the resurrection at the last day (John 11:24), but Jesus knew Lazarus was going to be raised from the dead much sooner than this for the purposes of glorifying God (John 11:4; 40). Jesus reminded Martha of a very significant truth as he said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

As the sisters take Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus commands that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb be removed. Martha doubts the reason for doing this as she is concerned about the terrible stench that will come forth from there as her dead brother’s body had been decomposing in the tomb for 4 days (John 11:39). However, something far greater was going to come from the tomb than the smell of her dead brother. Lazarus himself came forth as Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43-44).

What an amazing sight this must have been to behold by those who had come to the tomb of Lazarus that day! They saw Lazarus come out of that tomb bound hand and foot with grave clothes, but alive! Many of the Jews believed on Jesus because of this great miracle (John 11:45; cf. 12:9-10). God was glorified (John 11:4, 40).

The account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a great reminder to us about the resurrection of our own bodies from the grave. Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice  and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Christianity is not just another religion that abides by a moral code. It is far more than that. It gives us living hope of life beyond the grave. When a faithful Christian loved one passes from this life, I can look forward to seeing them again in heaven following the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Today, I rejoice that God has giving me a living hope and I look forward to the day when Jesus calls me to come forth from the grave!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

10/31/15 “Treatment of Sinners: Condemnation or Compassion?” (Daily Bible Reading: John 4-8)

“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ " (John 8:3-5).

Without doubt there is a lot of sin going on in our world. How do you react as you hear about how more and more sinful our society has become? How do you treat those so heavily engrossed in sin?

As the apostle John records Jesus’ earthly ministry, he notes how Jesus began to encounter opposition because He had healed a man on the Sabbath day (John 5:1-16; 7:21-24). As the opening text above shows, in order to try to entrap Him (John 8:6), the religious leaders who opposed Jesus now bring to Him a woman caught in the sin of adultery (John 8:3-5). How does Jesus react to her? Does He treat her with condemnation or with compassion?

Jesus reacts by stooping down and writing on the ground with His finger. John tells us that it appeared to some that He did not hear them, so they continue to ask Him what should be done with this sinful woman (John 8:6-7). Jesus stood up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Jesus then stooped down again and wrote (John 8:8).

Those who had brought the woman to Jesus began to leave one by one as they were convicted of how callously they had treated her who had be taken captive in sin and how they had used her for their own purposes to try to get at Jesus. This left Jesus and the woman alone together (John 8:9).

As Jesus raised Himself up from the ground and hearing the woman respond to a question He had asked her regarding the location of her accusers and whether or not there was anyone left to condemn her (John 8:10), Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Why didn’t Jesus condemn her? Clearly she had sinned. Was not the sin she had committed wrong?

Sin is wrong. It separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). Those who die in sin will be forever separated from God (Romans 6:23; John 8:24). Clearly the woman was guilty and if she had remained in this state of sin she would be forever separated from God. But what did this woman need from Jesus at this hour? Did she need to hear Him add to her pain, at having been exposed and embarrassed for having committed the sin of adultery, by proclaiming His condemnation of her as well or did she need something else from Jesus at this hour?

Jesus knew this woman did not need Him to point out her sin. Everyone else had done that. She was well aware of her sin. Jesus knew this woman needed someone to be able to sympathize with her struggle with sin. She desperately desired someone to treat her with some compassion. The Hebrew writer reminds us that Jesus is compassionate towards those who have fallen in sin: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

All of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). As I look at other sinners who struggle with sin, I pray I may remember not to look down on them harshly in a condemning way. Today, I rejoice that Christ chooses to treat me with compassion not condemnation when I sin!

“Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22).

10/30/15 “Born Again” (Daily Bible Reading: John 1-3)

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ ” (John 3:1-3).

One of the amazing things to see in life is the birth of a baby. I will never forget the amazing sight of video-taping the birth of my 2nd daughter as she was delivered via C-section from my wife’s womb.

However, as the text above shows, when Nicodemus came to Jesus, Jesus spoke of an experience all of us must go through if we are to enter into the kingdom of God. We must be “born again” (John 3:3). What does this mean? Nicodemus had a hard time understanding this. Initially, he thought Jesus was talking about one literally reentering his mother’s womb to be born again (John 3:4).

One of the interesting aspects in studying the Gospel of John is that in this Gospel account, Jesus is constantly trying to get us to think in spiritual terms, not physical terms. For example, He speaks of the water He gives which causes one to never thirst again (John 4:14). He also speaks of Himself as the bread of life (John 6:35). Jesus is not saying He gives literal water or that He is literal bread in either of these passages. He is speaking regarding what He has to offer is that which alone provides the spiritual nourishment that can satisfy our souls. Later, He says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

As Jesus answers Nicodemus’ question about whether Nicodemus must literally reenter his mother’s womb to be “born again”, Jesus answers, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Jesus is not talking about a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth that involves both the Spirit and water. What does this mean?

The Holy Spirit is involved in the spiritual rebirth through His teachings as disclosed in the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). What does the Holy Spirit teach regarding what a person must do be saved? One must believe in Jesus to be God’s Son (John 3:16), confess Jesus as their Lord (Romans 10:9-10), repent of their past sins (Luke 13:3), be baptized for the remission of those sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38), and remain faithful to God all the days of their life (Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:7-8). When one submits to the teachings of the Spirit, He is born of the Spirit.

Jesus also mentions one must be born not only of the Spirit, but also of water. Being born of water refers to baptism which is the point in God’s plan of salvation where a person goes from being out of Christ to becoming a part of Christ (Galatians 3:27). As one in faith submits to baptism, that person goes from having no contact with Christ to contacting the blood of Christ which has the power to wash away one’s sins (Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38; 22:16). As one is buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life, he is imitating Christ death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).

Like the physical birth of my daughters, I will never forget the day of my spiritual rebirth when I obeyed the gospel and was baptized into Christ. Today, if you have not been born again I pray that you will. If you have been born again remember and rejoice in it!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

10/29/15 “Forgive Them” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 23-24)

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots” (Luke 23:33-34).

How do you handle it when you have been mistreated and hurt by others? Do you find yourself seeking revenge and crying out for justice or do you muster the strength to be able to forgive those who have wronged you and to show them love? The former is the human reaction to being hurt when we have been wronged by someone. The latter is the godly reaction to being hurt by others.

I can think of no greater example of forgiving those who have wronged you than that of Jesus as He endured the cross. The events leading up to Jesus’ death show the incredible injustice and mistreatment He endured. He was betrayed by one of His close friends, Judas (Luke 22:47-48). His other close friends had abandoned Him during His hour of trial (Matthew 26:56). He had been wrongfully accused by His countrymen and who wanted Him to be sentenced to death (Luke 22:70-71; 23:20-21). Because he wanted to please the people, Pilate, who knew Jesus to be innocent, allowed injustice to occur by giving in to the people’s desire to sentence Jesus to death (Mark 15:9-15). Furthermore, Jesus endured being mocked, spit upon, and the incredible painful scourging at the hands of the soldiers who held Him captive (Matthew 27:26-30). Finally, Jesus was taken and nailed to a cross as He was crucified (Luke 23:33).

If anyone had the “right” to cry out for revenge and bemoan His being treated unjustly, it was Jesus at this moment. However, is that what He did? Did He call upon His Heavenly Father to send 12 legions of angels to come and rescue Him and reap revenge on those who had treated Him this way (cf. Matthew 26:53)? Did He harbor hatred in His heart to those who had hurt Him? No, Jesus opened His mouth and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples to forgive those who had wronged them: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Understanding forgiveness was so foreign to His disciples that some of the questioned about whether or not they should be willing to forgive everyone who wronged them: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’ ” (Matthew 18:21-22). Now as He hung upon the cross Jesus gives us a powerful example of His teaching on forgiving others!

As Christians, we are to follow Christ’s example and practice this type of forgiveness towards those who have hurt us. Instead of clinging on to our hurt, pain, desires for justice, and thoughts of revenge, we need to release those negative feelings by letting go of them as we forgive others. One of the early Christians, Stephen, learned from Christ’s powerful example when He said regarding those who were in the process of stoning him to death, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). I acknowledge that I will have to suffer hurt, pain, and injustice committed against me by others in this life. However, I do not have to react by harboring hate, bitterness, and revenge in my heart. Today, I will follow the example of Christ and practice forgiveness!

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

10/28/15 “The Faith Our Giving Reflects” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 20-22)

“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had’ ” (Luke 21:1-4).

What does God think about our financial giving? Since He created the world and all that is in it, does not everything in it belong to Him anyway? Why then does He command us to give (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:7)? God is concerned about our giving because it reflects our faith in Him.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem shortly before his arrest, trial, and death, He was in the temple. Thoughts of His own impending death and what would become of His disciples as He left them must have weighed heavily on His mind. He was also spending a lot of His last hours on this earth doing some final teaching there in the temple at Jerusalem. What is interesting is in the midst of all these things He still took notice of people giving their gifts into the treasury at the temple.

As He observes this, He sees that the rich put in their gifts (Luke 21:1). Mark adds that the rich put in much (Mark 12:41). The rich had given the large donations. It was there contributions that made up the majority of the money that flowed into the coffers at the temple. However, did Jesus “pat them on the back” for this? Actually, Jesus what Jesus noticed was not the amount of their giving, but the fact that they had “given out of their abundance” (Luke 21:4; Mark 12:44). They had given their leftovers.

More importantly, Jesus noticed a poor widow whose giving probably went totally unobserved by everyone else in the temple. Jesus saw her put in her “two mites” (Luke 21:2) which make up a quadrans (Mark 12:42) whose value today would be only a fraction of a penny. How could what she put into the treasury really help the work of the Lord? It was so small compared to the overall budget of the temple. Yet, Jesus says she “has put in more than all” (Luke 21:3). Why would He say this?

Widows in Jesus’ day were very destitute. There was no Social Security system on which that they could rely. In fact, Jesus mentions widows were often taken advantage of as their houses had been “devoured” by the scribes (Mark 12:40). This poor widow could have “played the victim” and said, “I cannot afford to give”, but she did not. Although she experienced poverty, she “put in all the livelihood that she had” (Luke 21:4; cf. Mark 12:44). She had taken the monies that were essential to her earthly survival and given them to God.

Why did she do this? Did she not know that she needed some money to survive for her earthly existence? She knew she needed God more than money. She knew that her dependence on God was more essential than her dependence on finances. She placed her faith in God’s ability to sustain her. Jesus took notice of this widow because He loves to see when people place their faith in God!

God is not concerned with our giving because He needs the finances so churches can operate and meet budgets. God cares about our giving because it reflects our faith in Him and is indicative of the value we place upon having a relationship with Him. Today, I will consider my giving and honor God by not giving “out of my abundance”, but “out of my livelihood” as I place my faith in Him to sustain me on my earthly journey as I look forward to my heavenly home!

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

10/27/15 “Hiding God’s Peace from Ourselves” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 17-19)

“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’ ” (Luke 19:41-42).

Imagine if someone gave you a map which gave you directions to find a treasure of great value. Would you use the map or would you cast it aside and spend the rest of your life trying to find the treasure without any guidance? Of course, you would use the map!

As Jesus comes to Jerusalem, He speaks of how the citizens of that city had missed out on a great treasure that had been made available to them. The great treasure was God’s peace (Luke 19:52). God wanted to have peace between Himself and His people. He wanted them to know the blessings of having the peace of God in their hearts. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Being able to live a life free of anxiety and worry by having God’s peace guard and reign in our hearts is a great treasure.

Why didn’t they enjoy this treasure? It was “hidden from their eyes” (Luke 19:42). Had God hidden it from them so they could not find His peace? No, they had hidden it from themselves because they rejected God and His Will for them. Earlier in His ministry as He was explaining why He spoke to the people in parables, Jesus said, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them' ” (Matthew 13:13-15). Had the people had open hearts, which were receptive to listening to and obeying God, they could have easily found God’s treasure of peace for themselves which God wanted them to have.

How did Jesus feel about these people not finding God’s peace? He wept for them (Luke 19:41). Jesus knew that because they had rejected God and His peace, terrible judgment awaited them as Jerusalem would soon be destroyed by her enemies (Luke 19:43-44).

God knows that terrible judgment awaits those today who reject Him and His Will (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). He is longsuffering as He waits for men to repent and seek the peace which He longs to give them. Jesus sent His disciples throughout the world to make the way known to all men about how to find God’s peace (Mark 16:15-16). Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It still breaks God’s heart today for men to reject Him and to hide God’s peace from their eyes.

I realize having God’s peace in my life is a great treasure. I will not allow this treasure to be “hidden from my eyes” because I stubbornly resist God’s Will for me. Today, I will keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to God that I may know His peace which surpasses all understanding!

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

10/26/15 “Deciding to Run from or to Our Father” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 14-16)

“But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants” ’ ” (Luke 15:17-19).

Do you like having to make decisions? Some do not like making decisions because they are afraid of making the wrong decision. However, a large part of our lives involves our having to make decisions. Most importantly all of us have to decide, “Am I going to run to God or away from God?”?

Christ spoke about a parable about of young man who made 2 critical decisions in his life. His first decision was to leave his father. As Christ began this parable He said, “"A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood” (Luke 15:11-12). After making this decision to leave his father, the young man then foolishly wasted the inheritance given to him (Luke 15:13). Furthermore, he began to experience the consequences of his poor decision as he begins to suffer great poverty and destitution (Luke 15:14). Desperately, he begins working for a pig farmer and was so hungry that he actually longed for the food which the swine ate, but no one gave him anything (Luke 15:15-16). This young man now finds himself in a terrible situation as a result of his bad decision to run away from his father. He had underestimated how difficult life would be apart from his father.

However, to the young man’s credit, he does not foolishly cling to his past decisions. Instead “he came to himself” and begins to consider making another decision (Luke 15:17). He considers and decides to return to his father (Luke 15:18-19). He shows poverty of spirit (cf. Matthew 5:3) as he is realizes his own sin and how undeserving he is as he is willing to be treated as simply a hired servant of his father. However, just as he had underestimated how difficult life would be apart from his father, he now underestimates the love and compassion of his father as he returns home. Christ says, “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The young man acknowledges his sin which he had committed against his father, but the father is so overjoyed at his son having come home that begins to throw a feast (Luke 15:21-24).

When a person chooses to run away from God, like the prodigal son, they will often experience how difficult life is to live apart from their Heavenly Father. Removing oneself from God’s care, often results in one finding themselves struggling to survive in a world that leaves them lonely and scared as they realize how many in the world will not give them anything (cf. Luke 15:16).

The great news is God does not wash His hands of us when we make such a foolish decision as to run away from Him. Like the father of the prodigal son, He lovingly waits for us to “come to our senses” (cf. Luke 15:17), acknowledge our sins (cf. Luke 15:18-19), and decide to turn back to Him. When we do so, we often underestimate the incredible grace, mercy, and forgiveness that will await us as God opens His loving arms to us. I rejoice that I do not have to be “stuck” in the bad decisions I have made in the past. Today, I will decide not to run away from, but to my Heavenly Father”!

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

10/25/15 “Take Heed and Beware of Covetousness” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 11-13)

“Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’ " (Luke 12:13-15).

Every day we are bombarded with advertisements on TV, radio, in the newspaper, and on billboards that are encouraging us to buy something. It seems like every month technological advances give us the opportunity to purchase the latest innovation in cell phones, computer notebooks, etc. How do you deal with this advertising assault? Do you find yourself longing to have all these material goods?

Jesus understood the human desire to have “things”. He spent much of His ministry speaking about money and the human desire for it (cf. Matthew 6:19-21; 19:23-24). Luke records for us that while Jesus was in the process of teaching some spiritual lessons to a large crowd who had come out to hear him (Luke 12:1-12), one from the crowd allowed his concern about material things to distract him, as he says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).

How did Jesus respond to this man’s concern? Certainly, Jesus was wise and powerful enough to help this man had He so chosen. After telling the man, that it was not His role to act as a judge or an arbitrator over this man and his brother, Jesus gets to heart of spiritual matter that the man needed to address within himself: “"Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).

Why are we tempted to think that our lives consist in the abundance of things we possess? We can place so much emphasis upon material things and that we begin to trust in them. In Luke’s account, Jesus goes on to tell the story of the rich man who felt like he needed to build bigger barns to store all his material goods (Luke 12:16-21). He thought the abundance of material goods would enable him to be able to be at ease, eat, drink, and be merry (Luke 12:19). It was not good enough for him to be content with the abundance he already had. He needed more and more so he built bigger barns (Luke 12:17-18)! Furthermore, if we allow our attitude towards material things to become skewed, we can become anxious over not having enough of them. Jesus reminds us, “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing” (Luke 12:23).

What does Jesus suggest we do with regard to the temptation of covetousness? First, acknowledge that it is a temptation of which we need to beware (Luke 12:15). Second, keep a proper perspective of life and remember that life is much more than the accumulation of material goods (Luke 12:23). Third, free ourselves from the bondage of worry by reminding ourselves that God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and He will take care to ensure our material needs are met as well (Luke 12:24, 27). Finally, keep our spiritual eyes focused on God and things above: “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you” (Luke 12:31).

I have been blessed by God to live in a free and prosperous nation. In the United States most enjoy a standard of living that far surpasses the rest of the world. However, there is a huge temptation of trusting in the accumulation of material goods. Today, I will practice contentment and take heed and beware of covetousness!

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

10/24/15 “Distracted With Much Serving” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 6-10)

“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me’ ” (Luke 10:38-40).

Do you ever feel burned out? Sometimes, we get so busy in our lives that we find ourselves feeling exhausted from all the activities going on in our lives. In such circumstances we might do well to heed the title of a song sung by the rock band, the Eagles: “Learn to Be Still”.

Jesus wants His disciples to be servants. Remember He said to His disciples, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28). However, can a Christian be involved in too much service? Spiritually, do we need to “Learn to Be Still”?

Luke records an event in Jesus’ life where He is invited to the home of Martha. It was commendable for her to be “welcoming Him into her house” (Luke 10:38). Later, Martha’s brother Lazarus would become terribly sick and Martha would demonstrate great faith in Jesus’ power to heal him (John 11:3, 20-22). Jesus had great love for Martha (John 11:5). On this occasion record by Luke, Martha was even taking time to serve Jesus (Luke 10:40). There is much commendable about Martha.

However, Luke notes that Martha became “distracted by much serving” (Luke 10:40). In fact, she was so engrossed with serving that she became upset that her sister Mary was not engaged in what Martha judged to be her “fair share” of serving. Instead of being engaged in a lot of service like Martha, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to His Word (Luke 10:39). Martha must have thought, “How dare my sister not lift a finger to help me while I am doing all this work”. Martha even accuses Jesus of not caring that she was “pulling more weight” in service than her sister. She says to Jesus, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve along? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40). Martha pleads with Jesus to tell her sister to “get up and get to work!”

How does Jesus respond? Does He tell Mary to get up and start serving? Unexpectedly, in Martha’s eyes, Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). While it had been commendable for Martha to be a servant, Martha had allowed her service to overwhelm her to the point she began to be judgmental of others who were trying to take time to gain spiritual nourishment at the feet of Jesus. Martha herself need to “Learn to be Still”.

We have been called to be servants. The apostle Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). However, we should not become so engrossed in service that we don’t have time to meditate and listen to God. I rejoice that God doesn’t want me to suffer from spiritual burnout by being so focused on service that I don’t have time to “recharge my batteries”. Today, I will also take time to “Learn to Be Still” and sit at the feet of the Lord!

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).

10/23/15 “He Saw Their Faith” (Daily Bible Reading: Luke 3-5)

“Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you’ ” (Luke 5:18-20).

How can you know the faith another person has? Can a person’s faith be seen or is just something that they keep inside and is known only between themselves and God?

Luke records an instance where Jesus saw the faith of some individuals who came to Him. Jesus had been teaching and multitudes were following Him. He had been healing many of their infirmities (Luke 5:15). In fact, the crowds following Him were so great that many had difficulty being able to get close to Him (cf. Mark 2:1-2). There were 4 men who wanted to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, but they were unable to get close enough for Jesus to heal Him (Mark 2:3). Did they lose faith and just give up because the obstacles appeared too great to bring their friend close to Jesus?

No, they displayed their faith in Jesus by continue to persist in their efforts to reach Jesus and they went up on top of the roof in the house where Jesus was teaching, uncovered the roof, lowered their friend on the bed on which he had been laying, and thus placed him in the presence of Jesus (Luke 5:18-19; cf. Mark 2:4). It was an amazing sight which certainly caught the attention of everyone’s eye in the room where Jesus had been teaching.

How did Jesus react to this? He “saw their faith” (Luke 5:20; Mark 2:5). He then says to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). After correcting the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus then says to the paralyzed man, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house (Luke 5:24; Mark 2:11). Then man gets up, takes up his bed, and departed to his own house, glorifying God (Luke 5:25; Mark 2:12).

James reminds us of how our faith needs to been seen not just hidden deep inside of us. He writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18). Jesus reminds us of how our actions in serving God display our faith and will lead to others glorifying God: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Can Jesus see my faith? Opportunities arise each day for us to allow Jesus and others to “see our faith”. We can let our faith be seen by serving others and by submitting ourselves to God’s commands (John 14:15). We also show our faith by courageously standing up for God’s principles and continuing to persist in prayer as we commit the things that are heavy on our hearts over to God’s care (1 Peter 5:7). Like the paralytic and his friends, I want Jesus to be able to see my faith! Today, I will strive to have a faith that not only does exist, but also can be seen!

“But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:20-23).

10/22/15 “Questions about God’s Will” (Daily Bible Reading: Mark 16-Luke 2)

“‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’" (Luke 1:31-34).

How do you respond to commands or statements made by God in the Scriptures? Do you respond in faith, doubt, or even by questioning God? If you question how God is goes about carrying out His Will, does this necessarily mean you doubt His ability to carry out what He has said He will do?

In the 1st chapter of the gospel of Luke we see two situations where a person had questions following the revealing of God’s Will to them. First, through the Angel of the Lord, God reveals to Zacharias that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, whose name would be called John (Luke 1:11-13). Because Zacharias and Elizabeth were old, Zacharias questions God’s Will. “And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years’ ” (Luke 1:18). There was nothing necessarily wrong with Zacharias wondering how God would accomplish this task. However, what was a problem was that Zacharias doubted God could accomplish this. The angel of the Lord rebukes Zacharias for his doubt in God: “But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time” (Luke 1:20). Because he doubted God’s ability to carry out His Will Zacharias would be unable to speak until after his son John was born (Luke 1:57-64).

Later in the same chapter, the angel Gabriel comes to a virgin named Mary and reveals God’s Will to her: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Like Zacharias above, she also questions how God is going to accomplish His Will regarding this since she is a virgin. She says, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel reveals to her how God carry this out. “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’ ” (Luke 1:35).

Why was Zacharias rebuked for questioning God’s Will, but Mary was not? The reason for the difference is Zacharias doubted God (cf. Luke 1:20), but Mary did not. Although, as a virgin, Mary wondered how God would carry out His Will for her to bear a child, she nonetheless had faith that He could do it. In her response to the hearing of God’s Will for her she says, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38; cf. Luke 1:45; 46-49).

Wondering how God is going to accomplish His Will is not a bad thing. For example, have you wondered at how God is going to resurrect people who have been cremated, blown apart in battle, or eaten by fish at the bottom of the ocean? I have wondered about such things; however, without a doubt, I believe God can do it. That is they key! There is nothing wrong with wondering how God will accomplish His Will, but we must not doubt His ability to carry out His Word. Today, I will not doubt God’s ability, but I will place my faith in Him and rejoice that nothing is impossible for God!

“For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

10/21/15 “Of Critics and Servants” (Daily Bible Reading: Mark 13-15)

“And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply” (Mark 14:3-5).

Remember John Steinback’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men”? It tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place trying to find work during the depression era in California. The book describes how during adversity some men rise to act like men while others fall and act like mice.

When it comes to our service to God, are there some who rise up to act like men while others of us fall to act like mice? Better yet, are there some of us who go about focused on doing our best to serve God, while others sit back and act as critics as they pass judgment on those who do serve?

As the opening verses above indicate, shortly before His arrest, a woman comes to Jesus and pours fragrant oil of spikenard upon His head (Mark 14:3). She had done this in faith as she was anointing His body in preparation for His burial following His death (Mark 14:8). Jesus praised her forth this: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:9).

However, there were some among the disciples who began to act like “mice”. Instead of seeing the good she was doing in serving the Lord, they began to place themselves in positions of judgment and started being critical of how something better could have been done. They felt like she had “wasted” the oil (Mark 14:4). They thought the oil could have been sold and the proceeds from it could have been given to the poor (Mark 14:5). The apostle John tells us the real reason Judas had said this. It was because he was a thief and took money out of the money box (John 12:4-6).

Jesus strongly rebuked them for criticizing her: “"Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always” (Mark 14:6-7). In His ministry, Jesus stressed how we have not been called to be critics, but we have been called to be servants: “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).

It is tempting to sit back and make suggestions how another person could better serve God. However, we act like “mice” when we give into such temptations and act this way. It is far better to act like “men” and focus on finding our unique service we can do for God and use our energies in carrying it out to His glory. Today, I do not want to be a “critic”. I want to be a “servant”. I will follow this godly lady’s example and do what I can to serve the Lord!

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18).