Week 37 Devotional Guide (September 10-16)

Day 1

Acts 23:23-35

Paul is a really vulnerable position here. He as at the mercy of 2 layers of unjust systems... yet he is using them according to his understanding of them in ways that platform the gospel and preserve his own life. Paul is a citizen of heaven first, but he is not ignorant of the laws of the land and his rights as a legal citizen of Rome. This is a great example to us of being culturally engaged and savvy while not being culturally bound. Paul is leveraging laws and jurisdictions and politically driven realities within the different ruling bodies for gospel advancement and personal protection.

This is what Christian presence demands of us in our own society... that we become thoroughly engaged where we are and well educated as to the intricacies and nuances from the different spheres of culture so that we can leverage our place for gospel purposes. Paul is not a doormat for needless and unjust suffering here. And neither should we be. We are biblically faithful in our Christian witness when we expose injustice, stand up against corruption and tyranny, and assert our rights in a winsome way... That's not unchristian at all.

We should labor for equity and speak out against injustice of all kinds. But how we do this matters. And that we maintain our witness in the midst of that injustice matters. We do our part, and as we see in this situation, God will do what only He can do... which includes his ability to use the arm of even godless governing officials and legal processes to preserve and protect his people and his purposes. So, we humbly do the possible, and then represent him boldly in whatever direction things go. That's what missionaries do... and if you're a Christian, than you are a missionary and called to represent Him in all things and at all times.

  • So what does it look like to leverage your place and position for gospel representation? What does gospel fidelity require of you in in your vocation, location, and social situation? Consider one concrete thing you can do today to explicitly represent Jesus.

Day 2

Acts 24:1-21

There is one word in this whole text that oddly has landed on me today. Paul is on trial for his life. He's been beaten, falsely accused, harshly judged, unjustly imprisoned, publicly ridiculed, and personally attacked all for his devotion to Christ and the gospel in the midst of a religious community to which he once belonged. His life is on the line and with his life, presumably, his ministry is on the line.

Paul is sitting there listening to all these lies and accusations and mischaracterizations, and Acts 23:10 slaps me in the face. Paul responds to these accusations, not aggressively, defiantly, angrily, stubbornly, boldly, or even frustratedly or impatiently. Paul defended himself, not defensively, forcefully or confrontationally. He defended himself cheerfully. That's astonishing to me.

I cringe to think how rarely I would be characterized by cheerfulness, even when things are good. I must confess that even in my upbeat state I'm more often characterized by intensity than cheerfulness. And when I defend myself on something, I'm most assuredly to be characterized by defensivenessness if I'm to be characterized accurately. I'm struck by this thought... that I can legitimately defend myself or even the gospel, without being defensive. And I wonder too, if cheerfulness itself is not it's own defense against accusations.

As the pastor of a church and a parent to 6 children, I have experienced an accusation or two. Oh, how much I long to have a rootedness in Christ and absorption in the Spirit that would empower a cheerful disposition toward those people who think little of me, and toward those words which disparage me. Most days I want to be free from such accusations. Today, Acts 23 has given me a new and greater desire... to be cheerful in the face of such things.

And let me add to this, that I want no part of a frivolous cheerfulness... I want real cheerfulness. I don't want to pretend to be unaffected while my blood boils. I want to be genuinely grounded in the joy of my union with Christ and his more-than-adequate defense of me, so that whatever defense I might offer flows out of a secure standing in the grace of Jesus which defines me.

I'm convinced that my lack of cheerfulness in general is one of the most limiting factors in my effectiveness in ministry. And I'm convinced that a lack of cheerfulness among Christian's is one of the crippling factors in our witness as a whole.

Day 3

Acts 24:22-25:12

There are two separate verses that say very similar things. Felix, the Roman governing official, along with his successor, Festus, are both said to have wanted to "do the Jews a favor." The idea here is that both wanted to be in the good graces of the Pharisees. We aren't told why they wanted this, just that they wanted this. And it's puzzling because they were in authority over the Pharisees and Israel. If anything, you would think the Pharisees would want to do the Roman governor a favor, not the other way way around.

So rather than speculate on the possible reasons or the psychology behind Felix and Festus wanting to please the Pharisees, I just want to acknowledge that that was their desire, and it's something we can all relate to if we're honest. We all want to please different people for different reasons. And we can't always explain why. But something in us deep down wants approval, affirmation, validation, support and the favor of certain people. Sure, some of us are incessant people pleasers... we want everybody to be happy with us. But all of us want certain people to be happy with us. Even those of us wired to not care what people think of us, we care what some people think of us.

Neither Felix nor Festus after him found any evidence against Paul or reason to punish Paul according to any of the charges brought against him. They protected Paul at some level, you could argue. But both left Paul in prison solely to do the Pharisees a solid. That is complete corruption and injustice. And even if we aren't all positioned with official capacity to commit such acts, we are all positioned to treat people equitably and graciously in different arenas. And we are all susceptible to this temptation to treat people unfairly and gracelessly, in the pursuit of someone else's approval. We are all tempted to gain personally and enhance our own standing by the subtle and seemingly harmless treatment of others, which is actually unjust and an assault on their dignity.

Felix and Festus are a vivid example of how we all bend toward exploitation in our relationship to people, whether individuals or groups. And they provide a clear contrast to God's heart toward us and for us.

The gospel reinforces the intrinsic value of every person and the significance of every life. The gospel levels social hierarchy and radically reorients around us around equality and charity. The gospel is so powerful precisely because it perfectly displays the divine design for the use of power, which is to take up the cause of the vulnerable, the marginalized and the oppressed.

We've all been Paul in this scenario. But we've all been Felix and Festus too. This reminds me that I want to consciously fight the impulse to please people of power, status and influence, particularly when it comes to further disgracing and mistreating those who are already more weak and vulnerable.

Day 4

Acts 25:13-27

It's just a remarkable thing when you consider that God has literally set Paul before the most powerful man in the world. Paul is still in chains, but it's as a prisoner that he is sitting before kings and governing officials to proclaim the gospel. We've read previously that everyone in different cities or areas had heard the gospel because of Paul's ministry and the expansion of the church. But God is orchestrating things in such a way as to set Paul before people of incredible power and influence.

I think about where Paul referes to himself as a prisoner for the Lord, or a slave of Christ... I wonder how much these things paint his perspective. Sure, he is a prisoner of the Jews, and the Romans, but he realizes that while he is bound the gospel is being loosed. While he appears on lock down, the grace of Christ is being advanced. And Paul sees God's purposes unfolding despite man's purposes.

Day 5

Acts 26:1-11



One Way Love

"What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of lovable... Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It hs everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that has nothing to do with weights and meassures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called "gifts"... Grace is one-way love. The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience... Take an inventory of yourself. Watch other people about whose happiness you care. You will see it over and over: one-way love lifts up. One-way love cures. One-way love transforms. It is the change agent of life." (Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice, p. 36-37)

We are always in danger of growing callous or cold toward anything with deep meaning which we are exposed to continually or repeatedly. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. But grace is to important an idea... indeed, it's to important a reality to let ourselves harden to it's richness. Grace is to the soul what oxygen is to the body. It is absolutely necessary to the sustaining of life, much less to the flourishing of life. We live on grace. We thrive on grace. We draw energy and hope from grace. We are strengthened by grace. We are healed by grace. Grace imparts meaning. Grace is what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Our souls can only breathe in an environment of grace. Anything else contaminates our lives and suffocates us. And here's the problem: while all of us have a need for grace to survive, we are pathologically disposed to withholding grace from one another. We need one-way love. We were designed to operate on that and out of that. But sin has rewired us to function on conditions of reciprocity. We fixate on even handedness. We demand tit for tat.

Love conditioned on the performance of the other, or the assets contributed by the other, or the benefits that come to us from the other is inherently anti-grace. But it seems right to us. We all want grace and know we need grace, but we are determined to fight for and defend gracelessness. We inject toxins into an atmosphere which we know must stay clean for our survival.

That poison comes into our environment through assumptions like, "I deserve better," "they owe me more", "I can't believe they did that", "how dare you think that of me", "I just wanted...", or other seemingly benign thought patterns and beliefs. Subtly, what's happening beneath the surface, is we are breathing in the air of exploitation that sees the other as a means of gain. I don't mean criminal exploitation. I simply mean that there is a predisposition in every one of us that gladly seeks what we want from another with little or no consideration to them. We are naturally relational predators, seeking to have our needs and desires met by others while giving little or no consideration for what they need or may desire.

Oh sure, on the surface, we care and give and contribute ourselves too. But I've noticed in walking with others what I've also noticed in my own heart: that I tend to always think I'm giving more than my share and never quite receiving what I deserve. This is the natural system of weights and measures which we administrate always in our favor internally, if not externally. This is the contaminated air our spiritual lungs breathe in when they're made for the clean air of grace. And we keep inhaling it to our own demise.

We have been covered by grace in such a way that we no longer need to breathe the poison air of guardedness. We no longer need to breathe the toxic air of "getting mine." Jesus has insulated us from that pollution, and he's purified the atmosphere with the grace of his completed work. He gave himself fully to us, without reservation and without reciprocity. He withheld nothing from us and opens his arms wide to us. There is no self-protection in Jesus nor self-preoccuptation. Only self-emptying, one-way love.

If we'll start to breathe in the clean air of the gospel, we may just find the spiritual lung capacity we need to take back the hill of dysfunctional and damaging relationships which have grown out of the soil of gracelessness. We cannot bask in the one-way love of Christ and then continually love others based on their ability to fulfill our subjective requirements of them. Grace necessarily abandons any claims on others to meet my felt needs and expressed desires. Instead, grace reorients us toward the needs and desires of the other with no expectation or requirement of reciprocity from the other.

May the grace of Christ re-oxygenate your soul today so that you are both breathing in and breathing out one-way love.



Week 36 Devotional Guide (September 3-9)

Day 1

Acts 21:17-36

Paul's Freedom

We actually see, in these verses, Paul embodying some of the themes that are threaded throughout his New Testament letters. Paul emphasized the freedom we've received in Jesus, particularly from the burden of the Law. He stresses salvation by grace alone, through faith, in Christ alone, that this "not the result of works, so that no man may boast." And yet here, he almost betrays these doctrinal distinctives which are so key to Christian theology and an understanding of the biblical gospel. But it's very instructive for us.

Paul's emphasis on freedom is different than our modern American emphasis on freedom. We tend to think of freedom as our individual rights to asserted on our own behalf. Paul sees our freedom as having right which we are empowered to lay down for the good of others. That is a radically different view of freedom. And that's the freedom Paul display here.

He is asked to engage with Jewish religious practices which the gospel has freed him from, and which Paul proclaims as oppressessive, enslaving and anti-gospel. And Paul willingly and humbly does enter into these practices in order to remove barriers to the gospel among the Jewish Christians. Paul does not want to present a stumbling block as he would later write about in the epistles. This is such a good example of how love for his brothers and devotion to the gospel led Paul to do that which he felt free not to do. His focus was the honor and glory of Christ. And what we see here in Acts 21 is Paul didn't just preach or write about that... he lived that.

Paul's Suffering

In the later part, v. 27-36, we see just some of what Paul was willing to suffer on account of the gospel. I just think about our brothers and sisters across the world who suffer like this for identifying with Jesus and proclaiming the gospel. And I think about our own cultural descent and the increasing hostility toward the gospel and Christianity.

We certainly aren't to this point yet, but the insanity of the Jewish leaders, plotting against and violently persecuting Paul for believing and preaching a doctrine counter to their own, is something our culture is moving toward rapidly. For Jews, it was the dogma of Mosaic law. And for us as Christians, we could certainly become consumed with religious conformity to the point of personal cruelty. We must guard against such drift and corruption of the biblical gospel.

But it's our cultural doctrine of tolerance and inclusivism that is reminiscent of the Jewish response here. An ethos of universal acceptance and embrace of all lifetsyles is underneath a hatred and hostility toward Christian conviction on moral matters in general and sexual ethics and identity in particular. To be on the "wrong side" of these issues in todays climate is to subjet oneself to public shaming at the very least. Worse things are coming for God's people in the U.S... it's essential that we are grounded in the grace of God if we are to hold fast to the word of truth against the mounting social pressure to accommodate the culture, and to steadfastly endure with Jesus, whatever the cost.

Day 2

Acts 21:37-22:21

There are lots of little things in this text that I notice... like in v. 38 where the Roman ruler links Paul to the "Assassins in the wilderness," like he's a gang leader or something. This is so common in our culture. So much speculation and rumors linking people to causes and other people and cartonnish portrayal that are aimed to discredit and embarrass people we oppose. I can only imagine the blog articles, tweets and social media posts about Paul in the first century and what they would have said about him. There is a degree of silliness out there that we simply must not participate or get caught up in... Foolish arguments and controversies as Paul would later call them. They're to be avoided now as much as ever.

I appreciate Paul's approach to his own defense too. He speaks the lagnuage of his accusers, and establishes common ground with his accusers, as a precursor to sharing his testimony with his accusers. He even identifies himself with the Jews as one who formerly persecuted and killed Christians. He's not posturing as better than them or even different than them. He's simply saying, "I was just like you... even more zealous than you... but something happened. I encountered someone."

Paul is using his own defense as a defense of the gospel. I love that. You can't shut this guy up. No matter what they do, he's confronting people with the reality of Jesus, crucified and risen. Wherever God gives him an audience, and no matter the context, he's going to bring up Jesus. Nobody has to accept his testimony of Christ, but everybody is going to have to consider his testimony of Christ.

I wonder if Jesus is real enough to you that you can't help but speak of him to others. This isn't about a goal or program or commitment or something we should do... it's about our identity being so bound to Jesus, our hearts being so captured by his glory, and our lives being so tied to his purposes that, like Peter and John in the early part of Acts, "we can't help but speak of what we've seen and heard."

Day 3

Acts 22:22-29

The point at which Paul's Jewish audience stopped listening was the point at which Paul explicitly expanded God's salvation to include the Gentiles, whom the Jews despised. There are all kinds of legal things in play here, and Paul's familiarity with the various laws being enforced or violated by the different governing bodies, and who had what jurisdiction over which aspects of life. I don't want to get bogged down in those things here...

I'm just overwhelmed that the Jews actually were listening to and seemingly considering Paul's testimony until he had the audacity to place Gentiles under the umbrella of redemption. They had a murderous and violent outrage over his suggesting that a salvation they did not believe in was available to and inluded non-Jews.

v. 22 exposes the racism and nationalism that was prominent in first century Israel, as it is among 21st century peoples. This is an evil and dehumanizing instinct that pervades all human societies throughout human history. Some mask it better than others, but we must be aware of this deformity in our own hearts and honest that we too are tempted to diminish the worth of people based on earthly factors. We have an instinct to elevate ourselves above others based on factors such as race, ethnicity, status, success, neighborhood, dress, religion, sexuality, education level, political affiliation, and all manner of other things.

The intrinsic worth and dignity of every person is equal regardless of their standing before God. We are all image bearers of God and our lives have eternal value and earthly significance. Additionally, the scope of redemption and the gospel is as wide as our diversity dares to categorize us. Everyone is within the reach of God's grace. We are all invited to come to Christ, without regard to our past sin or present status or personal stories... we are all welcomed on the same basis: repentance of sin and faith in Christ.

To define anyone outside of the scope of the gospel is to deny the gospel. Period. I think about the language of John's gospel, and how Jesus, over and over again, offers salvation to "anyone" who believes; welcomes "whoever" will come; and promises real life to "everyone" who eats and drinks of him. The gospel is good news for anyone, whoever and everyone, always.

I hope our gospel is big enough to include forgotten people. I hope our gospel offers dignity and deliverance to the most marginalized. I hope the grace we've been given is sufficient for the most morally deficient people in our lives. I hope the grace that we cherish so deeply is the grace that we embody faithfully. If it's not, it's not the gospel and grace of the real Jesus.

Day 4

Acts 22:30-23:11

Paul proves to be quite clever here… it makes me think of Jesus’ urging us to be shrewd as serpents but as innocent as doves. Paul simply uses what he knows about the Sanhedrin against them… that there are doctrinal matters that they are greatly divided on and it’s easy to spark that controversy throw them into upheaval. So Paul frames his testimony before the Roman authorities in such a way as to provoke the Jewish council to this infighting described. Luke points out that Paul knew exactly what he was doing and it worked.

An observation I would make here is that we followers of Jesus are too often prone to playing the part of the Pharisees and the Sadducees here. We are too easily distracted from our main objective of declaring and displaying the gospel, and provoked instead to argue with each other about secondary or peripheral matters of doctrine. This emasculates mission and undermines our witness. That’s why Paul consistently calls us out of such foolishness and fruitlessness. Even if you win the dumb argument you’re having you are likely losing your voice, influence or testimony. Winning an argument or making a point is not worth the price of a compromised witness. We can’t sacrifice relational beauty on the altar of doctrinal clarity. The gospel produces a culture where both are taken very seriously.

Sadly, though sometimes unfairly, the Christian community is known more for it’s doctrinal doggedness and despised for our relational laziness. I think we can learn from what Paul incites among the Jews here, and guard against such pettiness and silliness that causes people not to take us or the gospel seriously.

Just notice v. 11 before you move on… “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” God was very much involved and present with Paul. He was speaking to Paul and ministering to Paul. Paul is drawing strength and courage from the reassurance of God’s protection and plan.

That’s a particular promise to Paul in that moment, but what it tells us more generally is that God is near to his people as they suffer for his sake. And he speaks to us and strengthens us as we endure for his purposes. Jesus promised to always be with us, even to the very end of the age, and Paul is a living testimony of His faithfulness to keep that promise and empower him to keep pouring himself out for the glory of God among the Gentiles.

Day 5

Acts 23:12-22

So, with God’s presence and reassurance, Paul is not fearfully wondering what’s next, he’s confidently moving forward in faith. God did not tell Paul anything about how he would get from Jerusalem to Rome, or what factors would play in. God didn’t tell him it would be painless or easy. He simply told him he wasn’t done with Paul yet. And independently of that, God is positioning other people favorably disposed toward Paul… so Paul’s nephew gets clued into what’s going, outs the Jewish leaders, and the Romans get another example of their corruption and backwards administration of justice.

So, God uses the Roman empire that’s adamantly opposed to Christianity, to protect Paul from the Jewish council who also hates Christianity. And at each step along the way, they keep creating a context for Paul to speak of the gospel and represent Christianity to a wider and more influential group of the very people who oppose Christianity. The gospel they want silenced, they keep giving a platform to have proclaimed. This is God displaying his divine power over earthly forces to use even them and his enemies in service to his purposes.

Whatever you fear, grieve or despise about the cultural moment we find ourselves in, I hope you’ll see it as under the sovereign rule of God and trust that sovereign rule to cover both the means and ends of his good purposes for you, his people and his creation.



Week 35 Devotional Guide (August 27-September 2)

Day 1

Acts 19:11-20

The key verse here to me is v. 20... "The word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily." Despite great opposition. Despite real harm. Despite credible threats. Despite doctrinal corruptions. Despite counterfeit works. Despite everything the kingdom of darkness and the culture rooted in darkness uses to hinder the progress of the gospel and the preservation of God's people, the word continually increases and prevails mightily. The gospel is an unstoppable force.

Our cultural would have us believe that we're on the wrong side of history... that our religion is antiquated... that we're standing in the way of progress... that people too deeply devoted to religion in general, and to Jesus and Christianity in particular, are what's wrong with the world. Pay them no mind Christian... to hold fast to the gospel and cling tightly to Jesus is to be on the right side of history... this is the one thing that's right with the world... and it's the power of Christ and the gospel that will make all things right with the world. We see glimpses of this even in the text, where people are putting away sin, idolatry and darkness and turning to Jesus and his glorious reign over the forces of hell and the grave.

Do not grow weary or fainhearted, you followers of Jesus. Our God is a God who saves and redeems. Our Savior is one who puts our enemies to open shame. He is and will be victorious over all forces of evil and he will reign over all things, and if we're his by faith then we will reign with him. We are the future kings and queens of the universe, so don't get discouraged by forces within you and around you that seek to oppress and oppose you... the times in which we live are indeed dark, but take courage, beloved, your future is very bright.

Day 2

Acts 19:21-41

v. 23... "there arose no little disturbance concerning, the Way..." I love that. The new community which the gospel gives birth to is beautiful and redemptive and attractive to be sure. But don't miss this: a people being truly formed and fueled by the gospel will absolutely be socially and culturally disruptive. In the case of Ephesus, it was particularly disruptive to their economy.

Don't miss the massive impact the gospel is having. This silversmith, Demetrius, who is part of a profitable industry that generates all their revenue from creating and forging idols and fale gods for worship. And he says, not only Ephesus, but all of Asia, is being impacted economically by Paul's preaching ministry and the advancement of the Church. That is awesome!

Can you imagine so many people turning to Jesus and actually following Jesus so that the pornography industry in North American was imperiled, or drug trafficking into the states no longer threatened our society? And you can imagine if it did, and everybody knew that it was the gospel that was causing such a downturn?

The whole city is in an uproar, rioting over the gospel undermining their existing culture and economy. This means that Jesus had become the talk of the town. If you lived in Ephesus, and really, based on their testimony in this passage, if you lived in Asia, you were either coming to faith in Christ, or you had loved ones coming to faith in Christ, or you were having your life affected by people coming to faith in Christ. In any case, the residents of Ephesus could not escape Jesus. He became non-ignorable.

I pray that Jesus, in our day and in our own city and nation, would become non-ingorable all over again. That he would move so powerfully and widely and so deeply as to unsettle the moorings of our society and force us to deal with the reality of the Risen Savior. What a glorious thing that would be. Even if many rejected him. Even if there arose a violent mob against those who follow him and preach him.

The scariest part of our "christianized" nation is the seeming ease with which people ignore Jesus, talk around Jesus, shy away from Jesus, avoid Jesus, and dismiss Jesus. Jesus is the real issue. How we respond to Jesus and what we do with Jesus is the most important thing about us. May God in his mercy do again among us what He did in Ephesus, to make Jesus non-ignorable because of the faithful and fruitful witness of His people.

Day 3

Acts 20:1-16

I remember when I was about 7 or 8 years old, sitting in the front row at our church. We had plastic folding chairs throughout the sanctuary. I leaned forward elbow on my knees, chin leaning on my fist, and there I dozed off while the word was preached. I remember the jolt of falling over and the embarrassment landing on my face, chair on top of me. My dad was the preacher so there was that.

I'm not comparing that to a three story fall by any means. And I didn't die... at least not physically. And I don't mean to trivialize this miracle or make light of it. So, let me acknowledge that this story is first and foremost about a boy dying and being raised to life. The power of Jesus breaks into this moment. And while Paul's preaching didn't have the power to keep the kid awake, the power of God was able to keep the kid alive... more acurately, God's power reclaimed his life. Jesus is all about resurrection.

What I can relate to in this text is that I have dozed off when people are preaching or teaching. And I've been preaching when lots of people have dozed off. Acts 20 helps me not take myself too seriously. Even Paul preached too long and put people to sleep. Acts 20 also helps me take the Bible more seriously. In the midst of the early church's history shaping movement; in the midst of the powerful outpouring of the Spirit in those early days of formation; people still got tired.

We love to romanticize different periods and events and we imagine if we did things today like they did things then, we would be more interested, engaged, changed, and effective. But there is an ordinariness to the early church. An ordinariness that bolsters believableness. There is a realism to the Scriptures that we gloss over and too often miss. The early church, though it was bathed on divine power, had no lack of humanity. God did among them and in spite of them what he is still able to do among us and in spite of us.

Day 4

Acts 20:17-38

This is a really helpful but weighty text for me as an elder. Paul spent three years in Ephesus discipling people and developing leaders and now he's about to leave and his charge to the elders is loaded. I want to just want to create a profile below, from both what is explicit and implicit in the text, of what an elder is supposed to be and do. Here we go.

Elders are...

  • to live among the people (v. 18)
  • humble servants of the Lord (v. 19)
  • to be tender hearted but tough minded and thick skinned (v. 19)
  • bold, courageous and helpful (v. 20)
  • to call everyone to repentance and faith... they're gospel-centered (v. 21)
  • submitted to the Spirit (v. 22)
  • eternity minded and willing to suffer for Christ (v. 23)
  • selfless, steadfast, and grace-filled (v. 24)
  • realistic and not sentimental (v. 25)
  • devoted to the word of God in it's entirety (v. 27)
  • self-aware, self-governing, and self-controlled... they guard their hearts vigilantly and diligently (v. 28)
  • watchful over those they shepherd... they are aware and actively engaged with the church they serve (v. 28)
  • appointed by the Holy Spirit and entrusted to steward a blood bought bride (v. 29)
  • alert to wolves... they guard the gate to the church wisely and aggressively... they are shepherds to the sheep only (v. 29)
  • willing and able to identify those who are predatory and exploitative (v. 30)
  • willing and able to recognize and correct false teaching and doctrine (v. 30)
  • willing and able to root out divisiveness and strife (v. 30)
  • emotionally connected to and affectionate toward the people in their church (v. 31)
  • tireless in their work and tenacious in gospel ministry (v. 31)
  • not controlling or territorial... they hold people with an open hand and ultimately trust the power of God and the grace of God, not their leadership or ability (v. 32)
  • not materialistic (v. 33)
  • diligent (v. 35)
  • committed to strengthening people (v. 35)
  • sacrificially generous (v. 35)
  • prayerful (v. 36)
  • responsible to set a healthy culture of love, affection and unity (v. 37)

This is a massive set of responsibilities. I pray God forms these things more fully in me as a pastor, in our elder team at Generations, and I pray he fills our church with men who aspire to this and are giving themselves to becoming like this. I am absolutely certain that God would do an amazing work among us and through us if we had a culture of men sincerely giving themselves to embodying these realities in our own time and place.

Day 5

Acts 21:1-16

I love the unity of the Spirit displayed in this passage. There are all these people in all these different places who are just opening their lives to Paul and his companions, opening their homes, opening their hearts. Their is a very real hospitality and willingness to be interrupted and intruded upon. And in every cae there is this mutuality of ministry. Paul is always encouraging and teaching and pouring into disciples. But then you also have these people ministering to him and his team. They are all giving to each other, bringing what they have to offer interms of resources and giftedness. They are all making themselves available to build up one another and they are intentionally seeking to encourage and strengthen. This is why the Holy Spirit gifts God's people... for their building up in maturity and unity. And that's what we see hapenning here.

That, and then Paul, willingly walking out what he charged the Ephesian elders with in Acts 20. Knowing that he will be bound and imprisoned in Jerusalem, he is undeterred. He is willing even to die for the sake of Christ, the advancement of the gospel, and the expansion of the church. He is all in in every way. And each place, whether it's a week, or a day, his heart is being knit to the believers they're with, and theirs are being knit to him. This is what Christian love and brotherhood is all about. It's beautiful. This is what we're part of and it's what we can experience together if we'll give ourselves fully to the high call of making disciples and planting churches.



The Finger of God

I'm preaching through Exodus and this last Sunday covered the first 9 plagues which God hit Egypt with, prior to delivering Israel from slavery. Because I tackled so much content in one message I wanted to offer a couple blogs where I could touch on some things I skipped over in my message. They won't be long but they were insights which were meaningful to me in my preparation so I thought i'd pass them along.

The third plague God sent was swarms of Gnats throughout all the land, on people and animals. They were everywhere. And in the decadent culture of Egypt, that loved comfortability the way we 21st Westerners do, it was as if God was completely undermining what they cherished. Gnats everywhere are tiny but they are such a nuisance. They have the ability to ruin a good cookout, or a refreshing day by the pool, or a day playig at the park. They just make ordinary, fun, every day relaxing routines miserable.

This was the first plague which really grabbed the attention of the Egyptians, particularly Pharaoh's diviners and magicians. They were confounded because they could neither duplicate the sign nor undo the sign. They were just stuck living in it and could do nothing about it. It exposed their helplessness and God's power over whatever power they imagined they had. The world’s system is to worship comfort and pursue comfort. God’s design is to use discomfort in order to reveal our need for him so that we might lean more fully on the Comforter… and find our peace and rest in him.

The gnats had such a profound impact that Pharaoh's own magicians - who until now were complicit and allied with him in their rebellion against God - that they confessed to Pharaoh that "This is the finger of God."

What they were saying was that God's is making a divine mark, an undeniable imprint that clearly reveals something of existence and nature. Gnats weren't being used to reveal God's plan for redemption in Jesus by any means, but they were revealing that He is real; He is powerful; He is present; and He is to be taken seriously. They were essentially saying to Pharaoh that this God is not like their puny Egyptian gods... He is making himself known in a visible and tangible and even personal way. Pharaoh, as you know, hardened his heart again.

And this is what we are faced with each and every day. The evidences of God are all around us. The indicators that He is real; He is powerful; He is present; and He is to be taken seriously are everywhere. Romans 1 says that His divine attributes and invisible power can be seen clearly through that which has been made, so that we are without excuse.

We watched a solar eclipse this week. This rare moment in time and space. And yet it was preditcable. We've so advanced in science that we could accurately identify down to the minute, when it would occur in every different place that it would occur. It's really quite remarkable. So here's this moment. Is that in ode to science? Is it a time that we just marvel at the wonder of creation and the wisdom of men? Do we magnify science? Or do we, in worship, see and declare, "This is the finger of God?"

Moses would later receive the 10 Commandments “on tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.” David writes in the Psalms, that Creation is the work of God’s fingers. The evidence of God is everywhere. His fingerprints are all around us, if we will open our eyes and be willing to see them. The alternative is to follow in Pharaoh's footsteps and harden our hearts. When the finger of God is visible around us we will either give him glory or deny him glory. There is no third option.

Creation isn't the only place to look either, by the way. 2 Corinthians 3 says about the church that “you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” The finger prints of God are not just all around us, they are all over us. You are evidence of God’s grace and power, which testify to his glory and supremacy in all things. Your brothers and sisters in Christ bear witness to the infinite wisdom and perfections of Jesus. The local church exists to display the beauties and glories of Christ, which are beheld in the lives of His people as they are being increasingly conformed to the image of God's Son. It's so popular to criticize the local church, but God's desire is that we would read the lives of God's redeemed sons and daughters as letters from Christ. We are to identify and affirm and rejoice in the evidences of Christ's power at work among his people. That won't just happen. We must give ourselves to this practice and celebrate everywhere we see the finger prints of God.