Paul’s Tweet

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The godly believer focuses on this as life’s circumstances range from monotonous to terrifying.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 36-37; Acts 23:1-11

Selected Verses

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.    Psalm 36:7-9

It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.  Acts 23:6

Reflections

The Psalms offer an antidote for the tendency to complain, to be bored, restless, overwhelmed, or impatient.  This antidote is to meditate on the Lord, His Word, His steadfast love, and His constant providential care.  On the flipside, the antidote includes a healthy dose of fear of the Lord knowing that He will destroy the wicked.  Do not “flatter” yourself that He can’t see you and bring you to account for your sin.  Instead, run to Him for mercy.  Fear Him. Praise Him.  Love Him.  Delight in Him.

Paul must have understood this as his difficulties grew more and more serious.  He used wisdom, even shrewdness, in addressing the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court composed of members with severe theological differences.  In what we would call today a “sound bite” or “tweet”, he summarized the problem, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”   Paul, by this statement, showed that, despite his imprisonment and the constant threats to his life, his hope was undiminished and his focus on the gospel was undistracted.  His trust in the historic resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis for his life and ministry.  His words set off an intense and disorderly debate in the court. He was no longer the focus of their attention, but the subject of hope and the resurrection of the dead took center stage.

Think about it

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[1]   Review this frequently when the circumstances of life are at best monotonous and at worst terrifying.  Are you prepared for this day with its unforeseeable trials or, most likely, its predictable sameness?  Whatever may come, seek to drink from the river of God’s delights.  You are given the task of enjoying Him, today and forever.

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1.

 

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.

Cultural Collision Coming

There is no place for both the true God of heaven and earth and the idols of humankind.  The gospel and popular culture are on a collision course.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 19-21; Acts 19:21-41

Selected Verses

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.  Psalm 21:13

“Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth.  And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”  Acts 19:25-27

Reflections

The Psalmist exemplifies true worship as he praises God for all He is and has done.  He thanks the Lord for His mercy, grace, and goodness to His people and  prays for God to be exalted.  He commits to sing and praise God’s power.  And he desires that God be pleased with his thoughts and words (Psalm 19:14).

On the other hand, Paul was preaching in Ephesus,a stronghold of false worship and idolatry. His message threatened the lucrative business of the silversmiths and others who profited from the cult of Artemis.  One of the tradesmen, Demetrius, called a meeting to warn the community of the danger that would come to them if Paul should succeed in diminishing the worship of this false goddess.  Chaos ensued.  The crowd worked itself up to a frenzy until the town clerk quieted them.

Think about it

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me”  (John 14:6).  We may not impose the gospel by force on unbelievers. But the secular culture convulses when  we proclaim the truth and hearers believe.  We cannot settle for some benign multicultural coexistence because Jesus calls His disciples to tell the good news of life in His name.  They will teach, preach, explain, reason, debate, prove, and live by faith before the watching world.  Force can silence them, but they will not shrink back in fear nor shut up.

Are you prepared for the impact of the gospel on a culture which is increasingly hostile to the exclusivity of the message?  Prepare yourself.  Remember it is enough to please God with the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart.

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.

God Uses People Warts and All

God works in and through people who are imperfect to accomplish His purposes and plans perfectly. If you are His, He has plans to use you warts and all.

Today’s Reading

Job 40-42; Acts 15:22-41

Selected Verses

So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.  And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:9-10

Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.  Acts 15:39b-41

Reflections

The focus of the book of Job has been on his experience of tremendous affliction as evidence to Satan of how a redeemed man serves God whether he prospers or suffers.  Job stood the test and we can all cheer at the end when God reveals Himself to that poor beleaguered man.  God is vindicated by Job whose mouth is shut in humility.  Job has been in our focus, but the three friends of Job were also under God’s watchful eye.  They were in line for some discipline.  They had spoken foolishly and ignorantly.  Job was exonerated, and they were rebuked.  God told Eliphaz to make an offering for their sin and promised to hear Job’s prayer on their behalf.  Eliphaz obeyed and he, Zophar, and Bildad were restored to the Lord.

Paul and Barnabas left Jerusalem unified.  They preached and taught the congregation in Antioch.  Everything was going smoothly,  but then they had a disagreement about taking John Mark on a second missionary journey.  They split up going in different directions.  How did they do? Both seemed to have fruitful ministries.  Paul, we learn later, had a change of heart about John Mark (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Indeed, Peter later would refer to Mark as “his son” (1 Peter 5:13).

Think about it

God works through human instruments.  He used Job, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark despite their imperfections.  Others, named and unnamed, were blessed by their prayers, preaching, teaching and other service for God’s glory.  Can God use you?  Yes, indeed.  He uses all of His people for small and great purposes.  Be alert to the service He has for you today.

Silence before God

It is good and instructive to keep silence before God, to listen to His Word, and to observe His mighty acts. Today we meet some who learned this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 38-39; Acts 15:1-21

Selected Verses

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job 38:1-3

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:11-12

Reflections

Job and his friends have ranted on for thirty-five of the first thirty-seven chapters of the book. The complaining of Job did not relieve him nor vindicate him before his friends. His would-be counselors’ opinions and lectures did not strike home to either help Job or indict him. At last God interrupts the futile discussion and answers Job out of the whirlwind as he seems unable to hear anything soft and gentle. God hurls questions at Job to show him his weakness and ignorance. He can only be silent for he has no answers. He is stilled before the Almighty Creator Who not only knows all things but has made all things.

God was also doing a great work in the days of the Apostles.  Persecution sent the disciples everywhere proclaiming the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Even Gentiles heard and believed. Peter had seen this first. Paul and Barnabas were seeing amazing conversions of Gentiles, too.

What should have been great news, however, was disturbing to some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They could accept Gentile believers but not uncircumcised Gentile believers. The apostles called a counsel to discuss the question and to determine their policy on how Gentile believers should be treated in light of the Law of Moses. Peter was helpful in clarifying the truth of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone for all who believe whether Jews or Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas’ report of the work of God made all the assembly fall silent.  Like Job, they learned to be quiet, to listen, to think, and to observe what God had done.

Think about it

As we saw yesterday, there is a time to “stop and consider.” Stop the endless babble of personal opinion and pomposity. Consider what God has done in Creation and in Salvation. As the prophet wrote: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Stop and Consider

Does the biblical claim that God is our Creator to Whom we owe our lives and praise thrill you or irritate you?  Stop and consider who and what we are.

Today’s Reading

Job 35-37; Acts 14

Selected Verses

Hear this, O Job;
stop and consider the wondrous works of God.  Job 37:14

In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.  Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.  Acts 14:16-17

Reflections

God’s glory is set forth in splendor in His creation.  The Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).  This is a truth as old as time and hard to ignore.  Yet Paul wrote that the unrighteous suppress the obvious truth of God and exchange the truth for a lie (Romans 1:18-25).

Elihu, in his monologue before Job, calls on him to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God.”  Elihu spoke truth displayed in the earliest event of biblical history: Creation.  He may have lacked love and compassion for his suffering friend, but we cannot accuse him of a falsehood at this point.

Paul brings up a similar declaration in his speech to the crowd at Lystra.  He credits God with all the blessings that they had experienced of rains and fruitful seasons, of food and gladness which brought satisfaction to their hearts.  He starts where they are human beings, just like himself, who have received far more than they deserve.

Think about it

God’s power and deity in the things He has made and the blessings He sends is clearly evident. Yet those who refuse to acknowledge Him as God are only angered or irritated by these reminders.  Fallen mankind, apart from God, likes to think that he is the captain of his soul and the master of his fate.  The claims of the Bible refute that view.  But stop and consider that,  “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   If you believe, be sure your praises go to Him often.  He is worthy of all our adoration, all day, every day.  If you doubt this, stop and consider.

Two Truths in Focus

Two truths must be kept clearly in focus at all times if we are to not lose sight of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Do you know what these are?

Today’s Reading

Job 23-25; Acts 10:24-48

Selected Verses

How then can man be in the right before God?  How can he who is born of woman be pure?  Job 25:4

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 10:42-43

Reflections

Bildad sees some things very clearly. God is holy, and man is sinful. But he misses the mercy and grace of God, so he asks, “How then can man be in the right before God?” This pessimistic view is not common in western society today. We are apt to hear more words extolling the greatness of humankind. “How enlightened we are! How noble are our works! God? Who’s that?” We pray to whomever, but only in times of extreme desperation. Then we revert to faith in ourselves and “confidence in confidence alone,” as Julie Andrews sang in “The Sound of Music.” (Although to be fair, I suspect that the real Maria Von Trapp would have sung “I have confidence in God.”)

Peter’s message to Cornelius and his company shows this accurate understanding of the holiness of God and the promise of forgiveness through faith in Christ. Cornelius had been a devout man, but devout men are depraved like all others, corrupted by sin in every part. He sought God and God provided for the centurion to hear the gospel from Peter himself. Not only that, but God sent His Holy Spirit on that group as they listened to the Apostle. Peter was getting the picture. God had sent him to preach to Gentiles. They believed. God sent the Holy Spirit upon them, and Peter immediately baptized them. The Gentiles were being saved. Jesus did die for the world.

Think about it

An accurate understanding of the gospel will keep in focus both the holiness of God that will result in Jesus’ judging the living and the dead, and the grace of God which manifests itself in Christ’s redemption of all who believe in Him.

Be sure you keep a clear vision of the holiness of God and the grace of God. By so doing, you will not lose sight of both the need of humanity and the power of the gospel for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and to the Gentile. Remember: Jesus is both Judge and Redeemer.

Surprise! Role Reversals from God

God in His Providence is able to surprise people by a switch in places either actually or figuratively for their growth in faith and godliness.

Today’s Reading

Job 16-18; Acts 9:1-22

Selected Verses

 I also could speak as you do,
    if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
    and shake my head at you.
 I could strengthen you with my mouth,
    and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.

“If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,
    and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me?  Job 16:4-6

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  Acts 9:13-16

Reflections

Job is weary of his trials which have only been increased by the harsh and hurtful criticisms of his friends. For a moment he imagines switching places with them. He says essentially that if he were in their shoes he could either be critical (as they have been) or he could use his words to strengthen and comfort them. It seems Job is claiming that if given the chance he would not do what they do, but seek to be encouraging to them. Later in Job’s story, we will learn that he does switch places with his friends and he has the opportunity to bless them.

Saul, who supported the stoning of Stephen and helped launch the persecution against the Church, had obtained arrest warrants for the believers in Damascus. On his way to bind others, he himself is stopped and bound in blindness by Jesus Christ. Saul changes immediately and follows the instructions the Lord has given him. Ananias in Damascus seems to know that Saul is coming to arrest them, but God tells him to look up Saul at a certain address and lay hands on him so that he may regain his sight. Ananias is understandably nervous and hesitant. But the Lord assures him that Saul is His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Ironically, the man who was going to lay hands on Ananias to arrest him, had Ananias’ hands laid on him. What a reversal of roles that was!

Think about it

God’s Providence may have peculiar turns, but all is under His wise and sovereign will. You may get a surprise so be ready to trust and glorify God no matter how unexpected and bizarre those role reversals seem to be.

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.