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Week 26 Devotional Guide (June 25-July 1)

Day 1

Acts 3:1-10

This a a very brief story, but what a story. 3 Things I notice here...

  1. Peter and John weren't going to the synogogue to look for a guy to heal. They weren't attending some conference for supernatural ministry to learn how to pray for people effectively. They weren't out "seeking signs" as Jesus warned against in the gospels. They are going, v. 1 says, for prayer. We tend to make a pursuit of the sensational to the neglect of the simple. God doesn't call us to miraculous healing. He does call us to prayer. He doesn't call us to supernatural accomplishments. He does call us to humble dependence. Obedience in the small, seemingly unremarkable things is the best thing for us to pursue.

  2. Peter and John both took notice of the man and looked him in the eye. That is, they saw him and his humanity and dignity. They saw him as a person, not as a problem or project. They weren't dismissive toward him but were attentive to him. They treated him as worthy of their time and attention and as worthy of Christ's love. Just that alone creates room for meaningful ministry.

  3. They weren't going to the temple to minister to him, but God had a different agenda, and they were willing to adjust theirs to align with God's. This is huge for us. Our natural inclination is to have our own agenda and ask and expect for God to accommodate that. We assume our agenda is right and good and we don't want to get distracted from it or let other things disrupt it. The trouble is, much of ministry, and much of God's agenda unfolds in the distractions of life. Our willingness to be flexible with what the Holy Spirit is doing has a significant bearing on our usefulness to the Holy Spirit.

  4. They took their divine authorization seriously. They bold and assertive with their faith, but that came from the authority they received from "Jesus of Nazareth." We don't know what led up to this moment, but there's no indication they had any guarantee when Peter commanded the lame man to rise up and walk. But that the Holy Spirit did something in that moment that was supernatural is beyond question. Not only did the man rise and walk, he lept up and ran. But that began with the willingness of the Apostles to step up and speak up in faith, and ask God to do what only he could do. Sometimes, the healing may not come, but take notice... it came in full here. That's awesome! And the Holy Spirit can and does replicate that, so that, as in this text, people are filled with wonder and amazement at the power of God and the glory of God.

So, I'll ask this... are you bold enough to ask God to heal people in your life who are physically ailing? If not, why not? What holds you back from pleading with him to do that? Do we expect or believe the Spirit can do supernatural things to heal? If not, why not? This should not be our ministry obsession, in the sense that we are always "seeking signs." But as we walk in simple obedience to God, prayerful dependence upon God, the love of God for our neighbor, and a willingness to be used by God wherever we find ourselves and wherever needs are made known, why would prayer for and expectation of the supernatural not be normative?

As stated in the preface to Acts from last week, we shouldn't expect everything to happen all of the time. But neither should we expect nothing all the time. We should expect for the Spirit to do everything some of the time and to do something all of the time.

Last word on this. A man who had been lame from birth... he'd never walked. He'd never run. He'd never hike a mountain. He never played a sport. He's been utterly dependent on other for so much physical and material care. Peter and John, as ambassadors of Jesus of Nazareth, and operating in the authority given to them by Him, show up, minister to him personally, and Jesus heals him by the power of the Spirit, and in an instant, the man's whole life is radically changed. Just let that land today. Let that sink in. What a glorious God!

Day 2

Acts 3:11-26

Day 3

Acts 4:1-22

Day 4

Acts 4:23-31

Day 5

Acts 4:32-37

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Week 25 Devotional Guide (June 18-24)

Preface: Acts is the sequel to Luke's written account of Jesus' life and ministry. The closing of Luke's gospel gives a brief reference to Jesus' ascension, which is where Acts begins, but with more detail. While it's called Acts as a shortened version of "The Acts of the Apostles," it could probably be more accurately titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

You will be tempted to read through this with western lenses that filter out much of activity attritubed to the Holy Spirit and categorized as supernatural. We live in a naturalistic society that loves the supernatural in our entertainment but scoffs at the supernatural in reality. The American church has some growing to do in our understnding of and dependency upon the Holy Spirit. We tend toward two extremes:

  1. The overemphasis on signs and wonders and the sensational, which can lead to fraudulent expressions and run away emotionalism in the name of the Holy Spirit.

  2. The underemphasis of the Spirit's necessity for all of life and ministry for the Christian, and the discounting of the Spirit's power to bring the coming realities of Christ's Kingdom into the present reality of earth.

I have one friend who characterizes these extremes in the context of ministry as always expecting the Spirit to do everything and never expecting the Spirit to do anything. Instead, he says, I think rightly, that we should always expect the Spirit to do something and expect that sometimes the Spirit will do everything. In other words, when we are ministering to people, witnessing to the resurrected Jesus, praying for healing, etc., the book of Acts teaches us that the Holy Spirit is altogether able and interested in joining his power to our obedience in order to glorify Jesus. So we should long for that, expect that, ask for that, believe for it, acknolwedge it when it happens, and trust the grace and wisdom of God when it doesn't seem to.

For God is often doing things behind the scenes, in secret places, that we're unaware of. So we trust him. My request, as we walk through Acts, is that you would keep eyes wide open to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts and my hope is that He would begin to awaken belief and expectation in your heart that might lead to an energized and confident obedience.

Day 1

Acts 1:1-11

Jesus' parting instructions to the disciples was to wait for something that they did not understand and had no point of reference. in v. 4-5 Jesus says the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father, which he delivered to them. So Jesus' promise of the Spirit came directly from the Father. And v. 8 tells us that only on the fulfilling of this promise; only at the empowering of the Holy Spirit are the disciples
to leave Jerusalem. But once the Spirit is poured out, then they are to go forth in the Spirit's power for the very distinct purpose of bearing witness to the ultimate reality of Jesus, as the resurrected Lord, God and King. And they are commanded and empowered to go and do this, not just in Jerusalem, but also in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit does many things for us to be sure, but all that he does is to the chief end of accomplishing God's mission... that is, to embolden and empower the Church to make Christ and His Kingdom visible through word and deed, for the salvation of guilty sinners.

Could it be that we have a watered down experience of the Spirit's presence and power because we aren't sold on or surrendered to Christ's mission? Could it be that we experience a dearth of the Holy Spirit because we want him for our agenda and aren't interested in His agenda? We are called and commissioned to make disciples; to be ambassadors of Christ. That Spirit is sent by the Father to accomplish that task, not to make us feel better about not giving ourselves to that task.

When it comes to Spirit-empowerment, there are 3 things I'll point out:

1) Waiting on the Spirit precedes moving in the Spirit.

We must resist the urge in our busy society to always be active and always be doing something. Productivity can be a distraction from and barrier to experiencing the presence and power of the Spirit. We have to be willing to sit in prayerful stillness and silence, and wait upon the Lord.

2) The Spirit catalyzes movement

The Spirit has no part in stagnation. When the Spirit lands on us, he generates spiritual movement, both in terms of personal progress and gospel advancement.

3) The Spirit responds to and reinforces preoccupation with Jesus

The resurrection of Christ fixated the disciples on Jesus. They were obsessed with Jesus. Waiting for and responding to what Jesus promised is far less difficult when your whole life is oriented around him. The more deeply we are consumed by the reality of Christ, and him crucified and raised from the dead, the more likely we will be experience the reality of the Holy Spirit.

Day 2

Acts 1:12-26

Based on what Jesus told them to do, and the description of what they did, it's plain to see that waiting isn't not a passive thing of isolating oneself and doing nothing. Waiting involves at least three things here:

1) Being together - followers of Jesus draw strength from one another, and discern God's will and direction together. It is right and good to surround yourself with like-minded community who are pursuing the same thing as you.

2) Prayer - one of the best things we can when waiting is maintain a prayerful posture. Here, they were devoted to prayer. For the record, opening and closing meetings with prayer probably doesn't classify as devotion to prayer.

3) Scripture - Peter gets up during their time of prayer, and he brings Scripture into their waiting. Even here, we see him starting to understand Scripture in light of it's primary theme... the person and work of Jesus. Studying and wrestling with what God has revealed in His Word to us, is a worthy pursuit in waiting. Scripture can help enhance our preoccupation with Jesus and delight in Jesus, and fill our hearts with greater love for Jesus, which the Spirit loves to honor and deepen.

Day 3

Acts 2:1-13

One of the most important things to hold on to with all of Acts 2 is these things actually happened. We are not reading some fanciful fairy tale or feel good stories. Luke is telling us what really took place among real people in a real place and at a real time in history. Again, this is where we have to dispense with some of naturalistic worldviews that have been nurtured by the American education system and American culture. Part of you and part of me doesn't want to take this seriously. We are inclined to read over it, maybe gloss over, maybe think, "that's cool", but not internalize the reality and significance of what's unfolding here. Just read through it a second time. Slowly. Let it land.

The Holy Spirit is showing up and being poured out in a totally different way than ever before. We are seeing the power and presence of God fall on man and change the game for all humanity. The newness of life and the living waters promised by Jesus was now being sent to refresh and nourish parched, dehydrated souls. Heaven was coming down to earth.

Specifically, it's hard to know what to make of the visual which Luke's presents here. It's mysterious. It's strange. I think we can be honest about that. But let's also be honest that God has permission to operate in the mysterious and strange. He is able to do things that we don't understand fully. We can tend to fixate on the sensational and mysterious aspects here, trying visualize the scene described. There certainly is nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to focus on the clear impact of the Spirit, rather than uncertain appearance of things.

Here's what is obvious... when the Spirit fell and filled the disciples they were speaking in different tongues. People from every ethnic group represented in Jerusalem, and whatever they were saying or sounding like, each person listening was hearing the gospel proclaimed, and the works of God declared in their own native tongue… their heart language. This is utterly miraculous and altogether spectacular. But not just because of the Spirit’s translation to each person, but because of the nature of what he was translating.

The Spirit doesn’t show up and show off to draw attention and wow people and get ooh’s and aah’s. The Holy Spirit is not an entertainer or performer. He doesn’t need applause or fanfare or hype. He’s not an insecure pubescent child craving attention and desperate for acknowledgment. The Holy Spirit is God. And when the Spirit powerfully enters into the affairs of man it is very specifically to magnify, glorify and exalt Jesus. He doesn’t translate the weather report or the evening news. The Spirit is bearing witness to the glories of God and the work of Jesus Christ to redeem humanity. The wonder and awe and amazement that the Spirit awakens in people is specifically because He is revealing something about the nature of God, the Kingdom of God or the work of God. Any authentic ministry of the Spirit confronts people with the reality of God. As we in the remainder of Acts 2, many people respond to the Spirit with openness, receptivity, repentance and faith. Others, as v. 13 says, will mock the word of God, the work of God and the people of God. In either case, they respond to God.

To be where the Holy Spirit is presently working is to encounter God. Nothing less than that. And to encounter God always compels a response. Either we will welcome and surrender and yield in His presence, or we will stiffen our necks and harden our hearts. Every time we encounter God through the presence of the Spirit, we will either grow more pliable and moldable or we will grow more stubborn and resistant to the Lord.

I wonder by that measure, if you are growing more or less responsive to the Spirit? More or less dependent upon the Lord? More or less enthralled with Jesus? More or less dead to sin? More or less aligned with the world and the spirit of the age? More or less aware of Christ’s Kingdom and the Spirit of God?

We’ll see tomorrow a little more about how we might discern if the Spirit is present and working among us.

Day 4

Acts 2:14-41

Okay, the Holy Spirit has fallen at Pentacost, and it's creating enough of a stir among the believers that others in Jerusalem are gathering to see what's going on. They're hearing of the gospel and "the mighty works of God" in their own tongues even though their languages aren't being spoken. Some of them are believing in Jesus and others are mocking them, suggesting they're drunk.

Peter is the one to start preaching and communicating to the large crowd while filled with the Spirit and I want to draw out some observations of that.

1. The Spirit Gives Clarity - Notice that people are confused about what's going on and they are asking questions or making speculations. But as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, when talking about the gifts of the Spirit (specifically about tongues and prophecy), he says that God is a God of order. One thing that authenticates a genuine move of the Spirit is clarity in general, and theological clarity in particular. The Spirit doesn't perpetuate confusion, or blur lines, or create chaos. Nobody's drunk, Peter tells them... and rather than thinking what they want, he tells them what is actually going on.

2. The Spirit Teaches the Bible - Right away, Peter explains what is happening by teaching the Bible. He goes to Joel 2, and Psalms twice. He doesn't preach his own wisdom, or come up with some clever ideas, he goes straight to God's Word, and connets their experience to Scripture.

3. The Spirit Exalts Christ - Peter then connects Scripture, specifically the OT, to Jesus Christ. Being filled with the Spirit, he testifies to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Spirit does not glorify itself or the people that he ministers to or through. The Spirit glorifies Jesus.

4. The Spirit Convicts Men - Many of those listening were "cut to the heart." The Holy Spirit uses God's People proclaiming God's Word the finished work of God's Son to accomplish God's Mission. As clear as the Spirit is about the truth of God, the Spirit is equally clear about the condition of man. He reveals God's grace and mercy, but also reveals our guild and need for grace.

5. The Spirit Converts Sinners - Peter tells them to repent, be forgiven, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Spirit, all by faith. The Spirit gives new life to dead souls.

Two other things I'll point out here for good measure. The third hour referred to in v. 15, is 9 a.m. The Spirit also seems to clarify that God's people have no business being drunk before 9 a.m. Make a not of that (of course I'm being playful here). Lastly, and more seriously, Peter characterizes the time in whch they lived as a "crooked generation." But we live in our own crooked generation, our own twisted culture that distorts truth, resists God's authority, and does what is right in their own eyes. We all need to be saved from the crooked generation in which we live.

Day 5

Acts 2:42-47

This is everybody's favorite passage on community that shapes our ideal picture of what life together can be like within the local church. But we can't lose sight of what Peter preaches earlier in the chapter. The wonderful portrait of an interdependent community, acring for one another and sharing life together at a deep and intimate level, is birthed by a shared devotion to the gospel preach in v. 22-41. We cannot create this kind of community by our own efforts and willpower. This kind of community is created by God's power through the gospel.

The attractiveness of this community in v. 44-47 grows out of the shared devotions we see in v. 42-43. That is that biblical community is a bi-product of shared faith and shared pursuits, which include as a priority...

DEVOTION TO THE GOSPEL

The teaching of the Apostle's had an overwhelming emphasis on the Gospel and on repentance of sin and faith in Jesus and his finished worked. So we are devoted to learning and applying the gospel specifically to our hearts and lives, but also to the Scriptures more generally, because that is what the Apostle's were deriving their teaching from and it's the place where their teaching is preserved. And this is all what happens among people who have received, been filled with and are walking in the Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not come to move us on from the Word of God, or beyond the Word of God but more deeply into the Word of God.

DEVOTION TO FELLOWSHIP

The greek word for fellowship is Koinonia… it means participation or sharing. What Luke is describing is a group of people whose lives were intertwined. That doesn’t happen incidentally, they devoted themselves to it. They decided to rearrange and reorient their lives so as to more deeply involve and impact one another. Christian Community is supposed to be like that. Sunday Attendance and a midweek bible study is not what the early church was devoted to. You can do both those things and never enter into life giving community. Because attending even two things a week, you can still pretend, and be guarded and put your best foot forward. You don’t have to let anybody in really. You can still live a compartmentalized life.

Acts 2 community is about lives that are bound to one another. When one is hurting, the others feel that and carry that. When one is rejoicing the others are entering into that. My struggle becomes your struggle. My progress is tied to your progress. And that’s uncomfortable for a lot of us. We don’t want to carry that load with others, and we don’t want to feel needy ourselves. But devoting ourselves to this sort of interconnectedness and interdependence is essential to experience the realities described in v. 44-47.

DEVOTION TO THE PRAYERS

This has the connotation not just of praying for one another, but more getting together for the purpose of praying with one another. Praying for our needs and health and finances and those things is totally legitimate, but what dominated the prayers of the early church, were prayers for the Kingdom of God to advance. They had experienced the outpouring of the Spirit and they were longing for his presence to come again in power. We need more prayers that get beyond our needs, to the need of our neighborhoods, and our city and our nation and our world, and that is a fresh outpouring of the Spirit… for him to move in power.

I could go on all day about this passage but I'll stop there. I know you want the benefits of community as I do. The benefits are easy to enjoy and see as beautiful. What's difficult is devoting ourselves to the process. I wonder wher eyou are on that.

  • Are you devoting yourself to learning through the Apostolic witness and teaching (the gospel and Scripture)?

  • Are you devoted to a radical reorienting and rearranging of your life to be connected to Christ's body, the church?

  • Are you devoted prayers, personally and together, that go beyond personal felt need to a urgent plea for heaven to invade earth and for the Spirit to move again today as in the Apostle's day?

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Week 24 Devotional Guide (June 11-17)

Day 1

1 Samuel 28

The most often given command in the Bible is some version of “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” The narrative of Saul’s life as King over Israel is a tragic portrayal of what living in fear can do to a person. At every key point; every moment of crisis; every point of struggle and adversity; Saul seems to respond in fear and act out of fear. And each time he does, he distances himself from God, distances himself from people, and distances himself from his own desired outcomes.

God calls us to a life of faith, trust in him and dependency upon him, in 1 Samuel 28, as in much of this whole book, Saul refuses to trust God and tries to take control over his situation. Rather than depend on God, he reacts in direct defiance of God.

- What are you afraid of, anxious about, worried about or concerned about right now?

- What is your natural instinct in how to respond?

- If you had faith in the goodness and grace of God, how would you respond?

- What would you do if you really believed God and took God at his word?

Day 2

1 Samuel 29

We know that David foreshadows Jesus in many different ways and that’s evident again in this text. There’s this strange scenario in which David finds himself positioned with the Philistines, ready to go into battle against Israel only to have the Philistine commander distrust him and send he and his men away.

v. 9, Achish, says to David, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’” He affirms David’s character, integrity and even usefulness, but denies his participation. This seems like a common thing we do with Jesus. We affirm his perfections, his holiness, his wisdom, his love, his grace, even his example and his power to help us. But we also are mindful of other people’s rejection of him and an impulse to “go it alone.” We acknowledge our need intellectually but don’t feel desperation deeply.

I wonder if you affirm the righteousness and perfections of Jesus today, but internally or even outwardly, you leave him out of the battles your facing. I wonder if you know in your head that you need his help and involvement, but in your heart your resistant to his power and authority and what his involvement might mean for the status quo in your life.

What reasons do you have for going into your battles without Jesus, who is willing and able to fight your battles with you? Will you trust him enough to invite him into your struggle and surrender to what his involvement may mean?

Day 3

1 Samuel 30:1-15

Okay, so this is going to seem weird perhaps, but it's where I am today and what I noticed most in this passage. There are two quick things that have nothing to do with each other.

1) In the midst of pain and distress, people tend to blame leaders and authority figures.

We do this with political and civic leaders, corporate leaders, military leaders, social leaders, family leaders and spiritual leaders. In every sphere, when things get difficult, and our situation erodes; when life gets more uncomfortable and painful; we tend to want to deflect responsibility and blame authorities. In some cases that's deserved and legitimate, but in many cases it's not. David had nothing to do with the present situation, but because everyone is distressed and in anguish, they want someone to blame and hold responsible, and we tend to point at people in positions of responsibility, even when they aren't at fault.

This is both a caution for those of us who want to point the finger at leaders, and a caution for those who aspire to leadership and romanticize the role.

2) In the midst of pain and distress, pay attention to physical need.

David is refreshed and strengthened by water and food. In difficulty and distress we tend to neglect self care. We can pour ourselves into a problem or fixing something, or searching for answers or just grieving and all kinds of other things. We get physically, mentally and emotionally fatigued. Our bodies break down. Our faculties get foggy. Our emotions overwhelm us. Pain and anxiety is exhausting. Pay attention to your body. Eat well. Stay hydrated. Get rest. Stay active. We are integrated beings and our emotional and spiritual battles wear on our bodies. We need the nourishment that comes from Christ, to be sure, but we sometimes need the nourishment that comes from a glass of water and a sandwich. Just saying.

Day 4

1 Samuel 30:16-31

I love that in this text, when others wanted to withold the spoils of war from those who were too exhausted to go and fight, David spoke up for them and said they were as much partakers in the victory as those who fought.

Resting isn't weakness, friends. Admitting when you have nothing left isn't cowardice. Acknoweleding we've reached our limits isn't shameful. In fact, there is strength in such awareness and honesty. Owning and living into our limitations is courageous and life giving. The only way we'll ever find renewal is when we admit our need for renewal. We'll only experience the restoration of body and soul when we make a priority and intentional pursuit of restoration. It's God's mercy and grace that meet us there and do their work, but it's our responsibility to seek him, and seek refreshing in him.

As well, it's worth noting that many of us will want to compare ourselves to others, and our capacity to theirs. We'll want to place a moral value on such things, when there is none. We are responsible to steward the gifts, abilities, aptitudes and capacity that God gives us. But we are not positioned to judge others based on what God has imparted to us. We will all hit the proverbial wall at different points, for different reasons, and to different effect. Let's love each other and encoruage each other whenever our brothers and sisters find themselves there. Let's use our strength to strengthen the weak, not insult them. Let's use our stamina to uphold our brothers, not step on them.

Lastly, David is again giving us a glimpse of God's heart, revealed in Christ, who, as it Isaiah 53:12 says, poured out his own life unto death, yet divided his portion and the spoils with many. That is to say that only Jesus atoned for sin throught he cross, and only Jesus conquered sin through the ressurection, but he shares his inheritance equally with all those who did nothing except believed on him. God is a generous God. That Jesus shares the spoils of God's riches, secured through his defeat of darkness, with all those who were at that time children of darkness is an unimaginable grace. Praise God that we who sit back and do nothing gain everything which our great King fought for and won.

Day 5

1 Samuel 31

So, Saul pursued David all these years, and yet Saul lies slain and David lives on. God's plans cannot be thwarted. Not by the most powerful man in any nation or the most powerful earthly forces. He is God. And what he intends and declares he accomplishes, by his providence and through people. It's remarkable to think that David outlives Saul. Even the thought of the Philistines cutting off his head the next day is this vivid picture of how od rejected Saul as king and stripped the throne from him years before. And than he meets this unseemly end.

Take heart Christian... "The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save..." (Zepheniah 3:17)

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Week 23 Devotional Guide (June 4-10)

Day 1

1 Samuel 24

This chapter displays the softness of David's heart. David has every reason to end Saul's life. He has been wrongly accused and unjustly targeted by Saul; he has been relentlessly pursued even after fleeing by Saul; his life is under constant threat because of Saul; and he is the anointed king who would inherit the throne should Saul die. Still, David is compelled by the Lord to honor the position and authority of Saul, and he refrains from taking into his own hands what is firmly within God's hand. This is waiting on God's timing and trusting in God's sovereignty and faithfulness, rather than asserting control. It's really remarkable.

The thing about Saul that stands out to me is how even he recognizes and acknowledges the distinctiveness of David's character. He is, in the moment, exposed, convicted and broken over David's mercy. But within a short time he is actually pursuing him again.

This reflects our own experiences and the difference between true repentance and worldly sorry over our sin. True repentance goes beyond an emotional moment, a humiliating and painful experience of exposure, to ongoing change and transformation. True repentance adopts change and puts away the sinful practice that is exposed. We separate ourselves from it and begin to give ourselves to a new pattern and new direction.

Many of us have moments of emotional upheaval when we're caught, suffer consequences, see our brokenness, feel the weight of our wrong, etc. But like Saul, many of us stop at worldly sorrow, a sort of disappointment in ourselves and surface level wishing to be better. We are frustrated by our failure to live up to our self ideal, but not genuinely pained by the grief we've caused others and the guilt we bear before God. Thus, like Saul, as soon as we get some distance from the emotional moment, whether in a day or a week or whatever, we resume our sinful patterns and willful self-deception. Repentance is short-circuited and it's largely because we only go so far as to feel how our sin has adversely affected us or disordered our lives and internal world. We have never explored or felt the gravity of our rebellion against God, our assault on his glory and the impact on others. If our grief over our sin is still primarily about us, then we are not repentant.

This passage is a great example of false repentance, or qhat 2 Corinthians calls worldly sorrow, that leads to death.

Day 2

1 Samuel 25:1-22

The first three short verses here are brief and matter of fact but communicate so much.

First, as it relates to Samuel. This is a man of profound importance in Israel’s history. He is the one who oversaw and made this peaceful transition of government, from the Judges to a monarchy. He was the one at the highest seat of authority in Israel, who, in obedience to God and in compliance with the will of the people, not only identified and anointed Saul to be king, but also took a more diminished position and lent his wholehearted support to Saul in the transition. That’s massive. He was a godly and influential man, strategically and sovereignly used by God in redemptive history. And yet, his death is recounted with such brevity. “Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him and buried him in his house at Ramah.” That’s it. It’s nothing. It’s a footnote.

I point this out just to highlight the smallness of our lives. Our years are a blip. Our lives come and go and the world keeps spinning. None of us are likely to play as significant a role as Samuel and yet he only got two short sentences dedicated to his passing. This is not to cause us despair over our insignificance, but rather to put our lives in perspective. God doesn’t need us to legitimize him. We need God to legitimize our lives. Life is vanity and chasing after the wind and we are easily and quickly forgotten as Solomon points out in Ecclesiastes. The only thing that brings real value and real lasting impact is living for a transcendent purpose, and specifically for God’s redemptive purposes and ultimate glory.

Second, in v. 2-3 we get this introduction to Abigail and Nabal, and a description of a sweet, wise, beautiful woman who is abused and oppressed by a cruel and spiteful man. This is all to common throughout history and the abuses and misuses of male strength to the suppression and suffering of women across the world. It’s a tragic commentary which too many women can relate to and too few men are aware of and sympathetic to. This is an indictment on ungodly, evil forms of patriarchy which runs rampant throughout the world and it’s a reality God’s people should be aggressively seeking to undo and root out.

Not only should we men seek to aggressively put to death these abusive, indulgent and exploitative impulses in our hearts and lives, but we should also be committed to expose and fight against any such patterns in the lives of those around us and in the cultures in which we live. This is an affront to God, an assault on his image bearers, and a tragic dehumanizing of those men who actually perpetrate such abuses. God’s men are to be those that stand up for the vulnerable, not subjugate them. We must be those that protect the weak, not prey upon them. And we must be those that oppose oppressors, not empower them.

We’ll look more at the narrative tomorrow.

Day 3

1 Samuel 25:23-44

I’ve been preaching through a series at Generations on interpersonal conflict and so part of what I appreciate in this text is the wisdom and, as David acknowledges, the discernment of Abigail. Her husband is an arrogant low life with no integrity that treats, apparently, everybody horribly. And Nabal is responsible for a developments that are about to precipitate an attack from David and his men. And in hearing about it, Abigail, without defending one ounce of Nabal’s corruption and guilt, is willing to search for and take responsibility that she bears in order to make peace with David. She is wise, humble, courageous and sacrificial. She is really is a great example of, when conflict is exploding around you and you have almost no part to play in it, how even then you can legitimately and sincerely take responsibility for whatever small role you may have in the conflict.

For Abigail, it was just to acknowledge that she wasn’t aware of David and his men, and how they served Nabal’s workers and protected his possessions, and in not being aware, she also neglected to appreciate them in any way. She easily could have gone to David and said, “this has nothing to do with me, it’s my jacked up husband who did this, please spare me…” And she would have been justified at some level. But instead she doesn’t look to blame or dishonor anyone. She takes responsibility, sucks the hostility out of the room, makes peace with David, who allows God to sovereignly deal with Nabal on his own terms, and Abigail is released from her oppression by her husbands death. Obviously, not every situation works out favorably. But Abigail is a great example of how to handle conflict in a direct, personal, humble and production way that makes room for resolution in a peaceful way.

And I guess let’s just acknowledge David’s being persuadable to put away his anger and trust Nabal to God instead of taking matters into his own hands.

Day 4

1 Samuel 26

Day 5

1 Samuel 27

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Week 22 Devotional Guide (May 28 - June 3)

Day 1

1 Samuel 21:1-9

This passage is one explicitly referenced by Jesus in three of the gospel accounts, so I don’t want to overthink this. The Mosaic Law forbade anyone other than the priests to eat the bread of the presence, but David leverages his authority in 1 Samuel 21 break this law and nourish his own need and the needs of his fellow soldiers. When Jesus references this story in Matthew 12, Luke 6 and Mark 2, it’s in defending the disciple’s from the accusations of the Pharisees for their having violated a technicality in Sabbath law. Jesus himself comes under fire in those passages for allowing his followers to undermine the law. He points the Pharisees to David in this passage.

The point for Jesus is two fold really… 1) The law exists to serve people and facilitate their needs, not the other other way around. Jesus is saying legitimizing David’s decision in this text, to break the law in this way in order to meet a real human need. 2) Jesus is the true and better David, who has all authority in heaven and on earth. If David and his followers could violate a technicality in the Mosaic Law to meet human need, how much more does the Sovereign Lord, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ have the right to apply the Law in a more liberal way that meets human need. David’s position in Israel gave him the authority to apply, or in this case, overrule the law, and Jesus’ position as the Son of God, gives him authority to apply the Law in a fresh way.

I wonder if there is any religious minutia or pet doctrines you apply narrowly or legalistically. I wonder if you have experienced the blunt end of other people’s legalism.

  • Is there any standard, practice, rule or “law” in your life personally, or within your family system or the people you walk closely with that is too legalistically or rigidly applied?

  • Framed differently, are there any rules that you adhere to or impose on others that are wise and intended to lead to life, but which in the enforcement of them, they are actually choking life out of you and others?

Day 2

1 Samuel 21:10-22:5

I love this passage at the start of chapter 22. Look at the words of v. 2 again: “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.” I love this. This is David. But this is Jesus.

Are we not those who are in distress about life and loss and uncertainty and turmoil? Are we not those who are in debt because of our sin and guilt? Are we not those who are bitter in soul over pains, disappointments, hurts, frustrations, and unmet longings and desires? And has Jesus not gathered us to himself? Has he not found us all in this place of need and desperation, this place of vulnerability and weariness? And he gathered us to himself, to one another, to give us a new start. He has repurposed us for glory. He is now our captain, our commanding officer from whom we take orders and whose authority we submit to and follow. David characterizes to these 400 men what Jesus represents and is to the whole world if only we’ll hold fast to him and throw our lot in with Him who has gathered us to himself and his kingdom. This is such beautiful gospel declaration.

  • Take today to recall what it is Christ has gathered you out of, the places from which he has called you, the state in which he found you and united him to himself.

  • Reflect and rejoice today in that he is your captain. Surrender to him yet again with glad and full hearts as you are privileged to join the ranks of the Risen Christ and take orders from one so loving, gracious, powerful and transcendent as he.

Look at this text and see beyond the Son of Jesse to the Son of God; beyond David hiding in a cave to our being hidden in Christ; beyond the anointed King of Israel to the enthroned King of Glory. Pause today to behold Jesus, the one who gives refuge to the weak, and significance to forgotten.

Day 3

1 Samuel 22:6-23

Pride is really sadistic. What we’re seeing play out in Saul, the evil, vengeful, violent and murderous rage is the unchecked, ignored seeds of pride growing for a long time. Saul is willing to kill in order to protect his power and his ego.

  • What are you willing to do to protect your cherished sins? What are you willing to do to protect your self-image and self-ideal?

On the contrary, we see what loyalty to something bigger than yourself creates. We see courage in the face of threats. Whereas Saul is willing to kill to protect himself, we see these priests, other than Doeg, willing to die to protect another from injustice and oppression.

  • What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of the vulnerable? What are you willing to suffer for the sake of Christ?

These are important questions to ask and answer honestly and regularly.

Day 4

1 Samuel 23:1-14

David shows this dependent approach to leadership rather than a self-reliant approach to leadership in this text. It says that David know Saul's intentions, and he knew his own vulnerabilties, and yet repeatedly in this passage, David goes to the Lord for wisdom and direction. He doesn't depend on his instincts or experience or knowledge. He's mindful of them, but he doesn't just trust them overtly. Instead, he takes what he knows to the Lord in prayer and seeks God's leading. This may seem subtle or small, but to me this is huge. I tend to instinctively run to the Lord when I'm confused, or don't understand, or when I'm overwhelmed. But when I have a clear understanding of things, or I know and can anticipate something, I instinctively trust my gut and skip the step of seeking the Lord. I can easily fall into the trap of trusting my wisdom and thinking myself wise, rather than trusting in God's wisdom and knowing myself to be easily fooled.

David went to God expectantly and he heard from God, or received direction from Him explicitly. I don't know the mechanics of that in the moment for David, but this is the heart of our God. He wants us to run to him with questions and need, where he can speak and minister to us exactly what we need for where we are. I wonder if you are self-aware enough to know your need and God-conscious enough to run to him with your need. I wonder if you depend more readily on your gut and your instincts than on God's personal involvement with you.

Day 5

1 Samuel 23:15-29

There are a number of subtle things that I'm aware of in this text.

  1. Weariness - David is running and fleeing for his life and it's exhausting. As I'm reading the repetitive nature of these passages I'm just starting to feel the fatigue that David and his men were experiencing. Whether you're trying to avoid the attack of an earthly enemy who wants your death or demise; or whether you are experiencing the oppression of a very real spiritual enemy who wants you fearful and faithless; weariness sets in and threatens our souls. Sustained obedience to Christ just like sustained success in anything, requires dogged determination and perseverance through great pain and struggle.

  2. Protection - We see God faithfully protecting David and his men over and over again. They are doing what is humanly possible to stay alive, to hide out, to keep moving forward. But apart from God's merciful and sovereign intervention, they're efforts would be in vain. God protects his own promises and he will protect his people. That doesn't mean that we sit passively by and wait for him to do everything. We do what we can. We do the impossible. God does what only he can do. He does the impossible.

  3. Renewal - David is wandering and fleeing and hiding out in the wilderness. He's isolated. He's exposed. He's weakened mentally, emotionally, and no doubt, spiritually. And Jonathan shows up. The son of his pursuer, but his friend. And it says in b. 16, Jonathan "rose and went to David at Horesh, and stregnthened his hand in God." I love that. We don't know what Jonathan did. But we do know Jonathan went to him. He was present with him. Face to face. We do know that his presence and anything he offered renewed David's strength. That is David was re-energized and re-oxygenated. Brothers and sisters, this is what Christian friendship and community is all about. Weary, weakened and wandering people being present with one another in a way that replenishes. And notice that phrase... "strengthened his hand IN GOD." Jonathan didn't strengthen him with superficial or sentimental well wishing. He was a representative of God himself. Jonathan was a conduit for the power of God to refill David's depleted soul. Our encouragement of one another is not to be cheap and shallow... it's powerful and deep. We are positioned by God to bring his peace and grace to bear in mattering ways in the ordinary flow of life, through our presence and personal engagement with each other. That's an awesome privilege and responsibility.

Who has been a replenishing friend and presence in your life recently? Go tell them that and thank them. Whom has God positioned you to renew and encourage in a personal and present way? Go to them and be present and ask God to use you to pour his grace on them.

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