The Best Encouragers

A friend who knows how to encourage is always a wonderful thing.  But do you know what kind of person makes the best encourager?

Today’s reading

Psalms 22-24; Acts 20:1-16

Selected Verses

 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. Psalm 22:22-24

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

Reflections

Sufferers make the best encouragers because they are more in touch with the realities of both earth and heaven than others whose lives are more comfortable and secure.

The writer of Psalm 22 expresses great agony and great trust in the Lord through all of his sufferings. He never loses sight of either his pain or his God but shows that godly perspective which sees the here and now and the “there and then.” The words of this Psalm were on Jesus’ lips on the cross and, no doubt, comforted Him as He suffered and died.

Paul was certainly a suffering encourager. He had just endured jail time in Philippi,  ridicule in Athens, and the riot in Ephesus. The Jews were working on a plot to assassinate him (Acts 20:3), yet he went about encouraging the believers. What could stop the progress of the gospel ministry through Asia and Europe? Not riots; nor assassination plots; nor beatings and imprisonments. Nothing. Paul was in a unique position, as the lightning rod for the gospel, to reassure the saints that the preaching of the gospel could not be stopped. Adverse circumstances would not change the truth of the gospel nor the mandate of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19,20).

Think about it

If you would be an encourager, learn God’s word and be ready to suffer. God is able to strengthen you for that ministry which is always in great demand.

Midnight in a Roman Jail

Those who know the Lord God of heaven and earth have joy and peace unaffected by their outward circumstances because their confidence is in Him alone.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 4-6; Acts 16:16-40

Selected Verses

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4:7-8

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.  Acts 16:25-26

Reflections

What do you do while you are held in stocks in a Roman jail at midnight? If you are Paul and Silas, you pray and sing hymns to God. Meanwhile, the other prisoners and, we may assume, the sentries and guards listen in. How can we account for such incongruous behavior? These Christian missionaries have what the Psalmist calls joy that the Lord has placed in their hearts. They have peace that allows them to trust God in a place that, for anyone else, could not be called safe. They pray and sing because that was what they normally did when they had time on their hands. Perhaps they were not comfortable enough to sleep, but they were peaceful and joyful enough to pray and sing.

God answered them in a dramatic way, with a great earthquake. The prison was rocked, the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. Who was running that place? The same One to Whom Paul and Silas prayed and sang. God is in control. He is always in control, at all times and in all places. He watches over His people down through the centuries, in David’s time, in Paul’s day, and right to us in this twenty-first century.

Think about it

Have you learned to have peace and joy no matter what adversity comes your way? Could you pray and sing in prison at midnight? Could you have joy when your grain and wine has run out? Can you lie down and sleep with an army encamped against you? David, Paul, and Silas could. Learn to trust in God, as they did.

Can we have a Barnabas or two?

Here we meet a man who demonstrated that wise words spoken by one filled with the Holy Spirit can be used by God to accomplish great good for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Job 26-28; Acts 11

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said:

 “How you have helped him who has no power!
“How you have saved the arm that has no strength!
“How you have counseled him who has no wisdom,
and plentifully declared sound knowledge!”  Job 26:1-3

They sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  Acts 11:22-24

Reflections

Job complains again about the ineffectiveness of his friends’ counsel and advice in the face of his great and obvious need.  He has no power or strength and no answers as to why he is suffering.  He needs to hear truth, but they accuse him and ply simplistic views based on “recrimination theology” that God judges without mercy and grace giving to each his just desserts, no more, no less. Wisdom is a treasure not found in this conversation.  He ends today’s reading with the observation, “ Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (28:28).

Barnabas goes to Antioch to check out a report that Hellenists (Greek-speaking, uncircumcised Gentiles) were being converted.  They had heard and believed the gospel from the refugees who had been scattered by the persecution.  In contrast to Job’s friends, Barnabas, full of the Holy Spirit, exhorts and encourages them “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” As a result, “a great many people were added to the Lord.”  Despite Peter’s testimony to God’s work among the gentiles, the church is in uncharted territory with this spiritual awakening among non-Jews.  They want to understand how God is at work in new ways.  Barnabas is a man who had shown, by his openness to the converted Saul, that he is a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  His mission to Antioch is eminently successful, blessing the church there and bringing glory to God.

Think about it

If we are to be used by God with our words, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.  We need to be people who fear God, holding Him in awe and reverence.  Pray that you will be a “Barnabas” for the world in which you live. Job needed one and so do we.

Strength for Today; Hope for Tomorrow

God, who is unchanging, gives His people strength to do His will today and hope that someday our struggles and burdens will end when we see Him.

Today’s Reading

Job 19-20; Acts 9:23-43

Selected Verses

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-27

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.  Acts 9:31

Reflections

Job continues his complaint against God in vivid terms. He has been abandoned by everyone he knows. But suddenly he seems to recall that he has a Redeemer, One who will save him. That Redeemer is alive and will reveal Himself after Job has finally died. God has stripped poor Job of every comfort and dignity of this life, but there will come a meeting. Job will see his Redeemer.

The church had been devastated with persecution, but God had turned it to good by sending out His people to proclaim the good news of Jesus throughout the nearby nations. Saul went after them but found Jesus himself. He then became a preacher of the gospel he had been seeking to silence. He had to flee for his life from his former allies. Meanwhile a measure of peace came to the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The church grew spiritually and numerically. The disciples were “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Think about it

No matter what your situation today, seek to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. If you are suffering, like Job, remember that your Redeemer is alive. He awaits you when this life is over. As the old hymn goes,

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

(from “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by T.O.Chisholm 1866-1960)

When Believers Suffer

Believers are not automatically sheltered from suffering, but God is sovereign, good, and trustworthy whether or not He reveals His purpose for it.

Today’s Reading

Job 10-12; Acts 8:1-25

Selected Verses

I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Job 10:2

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. So there was much joy in that city.  Acts 8:4, 5, 8

Reflections

To Job, his suffering seemed like condemnation from God. It felt like God was punishing him and he wondered why. His assumption was wrong. God was not punishing him, so the question why could not be answered by some failure in Job.  He was truly left in the dark for quite some time. His friends did not help with their comments and mixed-up analyses. Some of what they said was true, but they certainly had less insight into what God was doing than even Job.

Job says some wise things in the midst of his pain. For example, “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.” (12:5)   In other words, suffering is ready to pounce on you when you slip, but those who have no suffering look with disdain on those who do. We are truly sustained by God’s mercy and grace. Our heart beats and our lungs breathe at His will.

Some who suffer for their faith get a glimpse of why it is. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem due to the severe persecution that began with the stoning of Stephen. They naturally told the good news of Christ and the hope of the resurrection wherever they went. Philip, one of the seven men chosen with Stephen to wait on tables, saw powerful results from his preaching in Samaria so “there was much joy in that city.” Ask one of those Samaritans why they thought God allowed a persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. You would probably get an enthusiastic answer to the effect that the persecution brought them the gospel and life eternal.

Think about it

God is free to do with us what He will. He is also free to reveal His reasons or not. He calls us to walk by faith, even in the dark. But He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Walk on in pain, if that is your lot today. He had a purpose for Job and the disciples in Jerusalem. He knows what He is doing with you, too.

The Danger of Forsaking the Fear of the Almighty

When people lose their reverent fear of God, they are capable of all manner of atrocities toward other human beings made in His image.

Today’s Reading

Job 4-6; Acts 7:20-43

Selected Verses

He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.  Job 6:14

This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.”  Acts 7:37

Reflections

Job’s friends sat quietly with him. They listened when he finally broke his silence. Then Eliphaz spoke. He lectured about God’s discipline of His children assuming that Job deserved to be corrected. He missed the truth and failed to comfort his suffering friend. Job responded with continued lament for his condition but then complained about the lack of support from his friends. He considered that Eliphaz had withheld kindness from a friend.

How can anyone cold-heartedly turn his back on a loved one in his moment of extreme anguish? Why wouldn’t common decency make a person feel sympathy towards even a complete stranger in dire straits? Job says these attitudes are proof of having forsaken the fear of the Almighty. It takes extreme arrogance to think that the Omnipotent God of Creation and Providence could never bring him to the same condition. One has to be overly self-assured and proud to feel immune from God’s powerful hand.

The authorities that examined Stephen in Acts 7 seem to have a similar problem. They accuse him falsely and demand an explanation, but they are about to get more than they bargained for. Stephen is giving them a summary of the history of Israel, tracing the theme of their rebellion against Moses, God’s chosen leader.  Moses, whom they accuse Stephen of blaspheming, foretold that a prophet like himself would be sent to them. But these leaders continue the policies of their forefathers, rejecting the ones whom God sends to deliver them. They, like Eliphaz, have forsaken the fear of God.

Think about it

What part does the fear of God play in your life? Does fear of God drive you to confession of sin, of eager obedience, and of love for others? Fear of God is not an outdated, Old Testament concept, but is part of the mindset that has been renewed by God. Peter wrote, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:16-17).  Practice those things and never forsake the fear of the Almighty.

Nobodies Made Famous by God

Those whom God chooses and uses for His purposes need not hold high standing in their society. Here we meet two ordinary men–nobodies until God used them.

Today’s Reading

Esther 7-10; Acts 6

Selected Verses

And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.  Esther 8:2

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2-3

Reflections

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther, becoming her guardian and raising her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

The apostles assigned Stephen to a group of seven servants whose task was to serve tables and wait on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

Think about it

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams as they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

Generosity and Contentment: How we know we’re saved

Faith alone saves but since it is invisible how do we know we are saved? Here are two concrete evidences.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 4-6; Acts 2:14-47

Selected Verses

Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.  I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.  Nehemiah 5:12-13

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44-45

Reflections

The Reformation restored focus on justification by faith alone—faith that expresses itself in good works and good attitudes. In today’s reading we have examples from Nehemiah’s day and from the times of the early Church.

The Jews had suffered greatly through the captivity. When the exiles returned to Judah, some were destitute. Others had managed to accumulate some wealth. The poor had to sell their children into slavery to other Jews just to pay their taxes.

When Nehemiah learned about this he was furious. He called the people together and immediately rebuked those who had engaged in this abusive practice. The response was good because the loan sharks recognized that they had violated God’s law and they stood in fear of Him. Nehemiah’s bold and swift leadership averted the crisis. The wall building resumed amidst joy and unity.

In the early Church, members differed widely in their material wealth. Yet the power of the gospel and presence of the Holy Spirit so moved them that they voluntarily looked out for one another. There seemed to be no need to exhort them to share with one another, at least not at this point.

Think about it

John Calvin wrote that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone, i.e. it is accompanied by good works like generosity and good attitudes, like contentment.  Does your use of material resources reflect trust in God and love for others? Are you generous with what you have? If you have less than others, do you resent your lack or are you content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-10)? Flee from the love of money. Be as generous as you are able. Learn contentment. Saving faith bears fruit in generosity and contentment.

Emotional Engagement

The life of faith is not a cold, intellectual exercise.  The presence of God manifested by His mighty works brings deep emotional engagement to the believer.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 1-3; Acts 2:1-13

Selected Verses

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  Nehemiah 1:11

And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?”  Acts 2:6-7

Reflections

News of the ruined walls of his beloved Jerusalem devastated Nehemiah.  True, Cyrus had ordered the rebuilding of the temple. Exiles had been allowed to return to do that work.  Now, decades later, Nehemiah learns that the city is defenseless.  He goes to God in prayer, a prayer that reveals his deep knowledge of the Lord.  Nehemiah mentions a fascinating characteristic of God’s servants that they delight to fear His name.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples gathered together on the day of Pentecost, suddenly they begin to preach to the crowds in various languages.  And the people are able to understand them perfectly.   God was manifesting Himself at that time and place through His apostles.  The work of God, so dramatically revealed, stirred up all kinds of emotions in these devout men: bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, and perplexity.

Think about it

Do you think of a committed Christian as one who is cold and stoic?  We see in Scripture that believers most certainly feel deeply the power and presence of God. Do you think of fear as being antithetical to delight?  “How can someone delight to fear God’s name?” you may ask.  Yet the knowledge of Almighty God brings a proper fear and awe to the heart of the believer that is joyful.  The fear comes because we know Him to be Almighty, but that knowledge is also accompanied by joy in knowing that He can and will fulfill His Word and keep us safe until He gets us home to glory.  Fear God.  Delight in the fear of Him.  Be amazed.  Enjoy emotional engagement with God. Just don’t be cold.

What to do when obedience brings ridicule

The price of obedience to God can be extremely high.  Obedience must be by faith, because it does not always bring instant positive reinforcement.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 29-31; John 18:1-23

Selected Verses

So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.  However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.  The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.  2 Chronicles 30:10-12

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” John 18:22-23

Reflections

Hezekiah set out to turn Judah and Israel back to the Lord.  After cleansing the temple and consecrating the priests, his next step was to celebrate the long-neglected Passover.  The king sent out couriers to the northern kingdom inviting them to join in the feast, but it seems the typical response was to laugh them to scorn.

There were exceptions, of course, as “some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.”  Why did these few respond?  The next verse says it was the hand of God which “was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.”  It is God Who works in human hearts to bring about obedience and faith.  Otherwise, people mock and scorn the Lord’s messengers as they did the couriers of the king.

Jesus’ obedience was the most costly of anyone in all of human history.  In His trial before Annas, He was questioned about matters of public knowledge as they searched for grounds on which to charge Him.  Jesus spoke the truth but was struck for it.  This was only the beginning of the sufferings, mocking, and abuse He would receive.

Think about it

When you obey God and suffer for it, are you tempted to second-guess your action?  Do you expect to have your obedience to God instantly rewarded?  Neither Hezekiah’s couriers nor Jesus did.  Obey by faith and be ready to follow the steps of your Savior who suffered for you.  His reward was not instant, but it was great and it was eternal.  Your reward may be delayed, too, but it will come in God’s time.