Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The God of Our Perceptions

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 15 Mark 16 Exodus 5 Exodus 6 Psalms 24

Most of us have at least some awareness of the gap between perception and reality, and yet we often allow ourselves to be caught in the trap of allowing our perception to become our reality. Why? Because we fail to question our perceptions and accept them as the unquestionable reality. When it comes to our relationship with God we may at times find ourselves prone to accept our perceptions, which we have concluded to be reality, and question God when it should be the other way around. This may be at play for Moses and Aaron in Exodus chapter 5 and following.

God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and appointed him to return to Egypt and be His instrument to free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. After considerable protest, Moses headed back to Egypt and was met on the way by his brother Aaron who the Lord had sent to be his partner in this venture. Arriving in Egypt, they went to Pharoah and announced, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival for Me in the wilderness." (Exodus 5:1) Perception then came into play. What was Moses' perception of what would happen when he made this announcement at God's direction? God had not told him how this would all play out, but Moses no doubt perceived in his own mind how it would go down.

We are not told what Moses thought would happen, but if I were in his place my perception would be that since God had sent me I would go in to Pharoah and make this announcement and with God's intervention Pharoah would consent and grant the request. It might take some persuasion and God might have to demonstrate His power in some way, but Pharoah would consent. What happened instead? Pharoah said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why are you causing the people to neglect their work? Get to your labors!" (Exodus 5:4) Then Pharoah instructed his overseers to withdraw the provision of straw for the making of bricks and require the Israelites to get their own straw while also keeping up with the required quotas. Rather than freeing the Israelites, Moses had made things harder for them.

What would most of us be thinking at this point? "God must not be in this," or "I must have misunderstood God," or a number of similar thoughts. What did Moses do? He went back to God and questioned why God had even sent him. Here is where faith can falter, and it is at least in part because we have been led astray by our perceptions. When God doesn't act according to our perceptions, what then? There is this popular idea in Christian circles that if God is in a thing all will go smoothly. If they don't go smoothly this becomes our "sign" that God must not be in the endeavor.

How did God respond to Moses when he questioned why God had sent him? God said, "'Now you are going to see what I will do to Pharaoh: he will let them go because of My strong hand; he will drive them out of his land because of My strong hand.'" Then God spoke to Moses, telling him, 'I am Yahweh.'" (Exodus 6:1-2) It was in the less-than-smooth turn of events that God's power would be demonstrated, and both Moses and Pharoah would know, "I am Yahweh." Moses was then ready to set aside his perceptions and fears and see what God would do.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Whose Voice Will Get Space In Our Head?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 13 Mark 14 Mark 15 Exodus 3 Exodus 4 Psalms 23

Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush strikes a familiar cord for me. I can hear my voice in the voice of Moses as he makes one protest after another to the Lord for being incapable of doing what God was assigning him to do. The assignment? "I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:10) Scary business going before the head of state of a large nation. Particularly when with his last encounter with Pharaoh, Pharaoh wanted to kill him. Was Moses just to waltz in before the man and not expect to be arrested on the spot?

Moses did not raise this objection, though. His first objection was his lack of ability, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exo 3:11) Moses' next concern was a lack of authority which he raised in two objections. The first was, "If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what should I tell them?" The Israelites were living in a culture that recognized multiple gods. Moses seemed concerned with rightly identifying the God who had sent him. Along with this he objected, "What if they won't believe me and will not obey me but say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?" It is one thing to identify the God sending him, but altogether different to validate that he was indeed sent by this God. Further objections included his lack of eloquence to speak, and also pleading with the Lord to, "send someone else." (Exo 4:13)

By this point the Lord had lost patience with Moses. But God wasn't surprised by Moses' hesitance nor his objections, for He said to Moses, "Isn't Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, he is on his way now to meet you." (Exo 4:14) Before God even spoke to Moses He had started Aaron on his way to meet Moses.

I empathize with Moses in all this for I have seldom felt adequate for the assignments the Lord has given me, suffering somewhat from low self-esteem. This is what I sense of Moses. But too much sympathy with Moses, or even myself, is not helpful. Low self-esteem or not, when allowed to control us it becomes disobedience. Moses' issue, or mine, or anyone else's, was, and is, an issue of focus. Focusing on his inadequacies, or at least perceived inadequacies, rather than on God's adequacy. The Lord said to Moses, "Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?"

This brings a little perspective to the conversation. Suddenly Moses' objections become ridiculous. To whom was Moses raising His objections after all? The One who made him and gave him his abilities. God knew what he was capable of better than he himself. Plus, God could instill in him whatever additional capabilities required for the assignment. So what was Moses' problem? Lack of faith would be at the top of the list. But it probably also included an unwillingness to get out of his comfort zone. In other words, he simply didn't want to do it.

Having said all this, I haven't lost my empathy for Moses in his objections. I simply must tell it like it is for my own benefit. Fear, lack of faith, low self-esteem - whatever it is - cannot be allowed to rule the day! After all, it is the Creator of the universe who invites us to partner with Him. To object further is to listen to the voice of Satan rather than the voice of God.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Following Jesus Wherever He leads

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 10 Mark 11 Mark 12 Exodus 1 Exodus 2 Psalms 22 Proverbs 8

Mark chapter 10 gives an account of a rich young man who came to Jesus with the question, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus questioned him about the law and the young man confirmed that he had kept the law since he was a youth. We should note that the young man realized something was lacking though he wasn't sure what. Jesus, of course, knew what he lacked. His trust was in his wealth rather than in God. When Jesus told him the thing he lacked was to give away his wealth, he wasn't telling him he could buy eternal life or that he must become poor. He was pointing out instead where the man's trust was placed. His unwillingness to give up his wealth made this clear.

After the young man went away, a conversation broke out between Jesus and His disciples concerning the kingdom of God and of the man's unwillingness to turn loose of his wealth. Evidently contrasting himself to the rich young man, Peter pointed out to Jesus that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus assured him that they had not done this in vain. In telling Peter this, Jesus pointed out that wealth is not the only hindrance to following Jesus. Family can also be a hindrance as can fear of persecution and the difficulties that may arise in following Him. But we do not turn loose of our grasp and dependence on anything to follow Jesus that is not returned to us many times over. Jesus assured Peter that whatever we may turn loose of to follow Him - house, family members, or fields - it will be returned to us 100 times more. We don't have to wait for the age to come to receive this return. We can have it now. But in addition we also have eternal life in the age to come.

We read this and the questions start coming. "Does this mean that if we give up possessions we will get back even more?" Or, we ask, "what does it mean that if we leave behind family members we will receive back 100 times more?" Many more questions could be asked. The response to these questions, however, is that these returns are more spiritual and emotional than physical. Do we leave behind house? Our needs for shelter will be met in abundance. Do we leave behind bonds that tie us to family members? These bonds will be replaced many times over with spiritual bonds to many others. And then come the objections, "But I don't want to give up my material goods or my family bonds, etc." With our objections we find ourselves in the same place as this rich young man - sorrowfully walking away from Jesus because these things are more important to us than to follow Him.

Is this about actually giving up these things? Is this what Jesus requires of us? First and foremost it is about turning loose of our dependence on anything that keeps us from follow Jesus. If we have any doubt about how dependent we are on anything else we need only to think about giving them up to learn how dependent we are. Like the smoker who says, "I can quit anytime I want," until he actually tries to quit. Then his dependence becomes apparent.

Following Jesus means following wherever He leads, not just where we want to follow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Salt of the Earth

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 7 Mark 8 Mark 9 Genesis 49 Genesis 50 Psalms 21
    "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men." (Matthew 5:13)
    "This is our Lord’s but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you make it salty? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:49-50)
    "Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty?" (Luke 14:34)

The above three verses referring to Jesus' followers as being salt are the only such references in the New Testament. Though each of these references has a similar meaning each has a different context, expanding its meaning. To bring this meaning into focus let's consider the attributes of salt. We know of salt as a preservative, as a flavor enhancement, as a disinfectant, and as a promoter of health.

Next let's consider the context in which these three references to Jesus' followers as salt are used. The first reference, in Matthew, is spoken by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount and is given in the context of persecution. The second reference, which comes from Mark, is given in the context of avoiding sin that will tear us down. And finally, the third reference, from Luke, comes in the context of what is required of Jesus' disciples. They are to place Jesus above family, above their own life, and above possessions.

So what meaning do we bring away from all this about being salt? First we must recognize that as followers of Christ we are the salt that has been placed in the world by Christ. It is not that as His followers we have been "salted" by the gospel, but rather that we are the salt of the gospel to the world. The difference between these two perspectives is that the first is a benefit to the follower and the second is a benefit to those who are not followers. We are to be a preservative of the gospel in the world, a disinfectant against sin, a promoter of spiritual health, and enhancement to life. To do this we cannot fall under persecution, become easy prey to sin, or be distracted by the cares or pleasures of life. In so doing, we lose our saltiness and are no longer of benefit to the gospel or to others or to ourselves.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Receptivity: The Key that Unlocks the Secrets of God

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 4 Mark 5 Mark 6 Genesis 47 Genesis 48 Psalms 20 Proverbs 7

Though it seems obvious enough, we need periodically to remind ourselves that the things of God are only discerned spiritually. While having the things of God explained to one who does not know, intellectual understanding will only be partial. So how is the one who is not spiritual to understand the things of God? And the answer to this is also obvious. Those who are not spiritual come to understand spiritual things by responding to what little understanding they are initially given. So by having the things of God explained to them, the non-spiritual person is given the opportunity to respond to that little bit of understanding they are given. It is their response to either accept or reject, seek more or turn away, that either opens or closes the door to more understanding. Those who do understand spiritual things will not force the door open for those who do not understand simply through intellectual reasoning.

Jesus explained to His disciples that "the secret of the kingdom of God" is not revealed to those who are outside. For them these secrets are told in parables which are not understood upon the simple hearing of them. They are not intended to understand though they look and look and listen and listen. Intellectual pursuit of the secrets of the kingdom of God does not crack open the secrets. As Jesus explained this to His disciples He went on to explain to them the meaning of the parable of the sower which He had earlier told to a large crowd gathered around Him, hoping to give the disciples further understanding of what He was trying to tell them.

In the parable, a sower spread the seed he was sowing over the ground and the ground on which it fell varied. Some seed fell on rocky ground and was unable to put down good roots and thus was scorched by the sun. Other seed fell among thorns and was choked out. And yet other seed was snatched away by birds. But there was seed that fell on good ground, and this seed yielded a crop 30 to 100 times what was sown.

What was the difference between the seed that produced and that which didn't? The receptivity of the soil! In other words, the receptivity of the heart of the hearer of God's word. When Jesus was alone with His disciples and explained the parable to them, He explained that the seed snatched away by birds was representative of Satan taking away from some the word that is planted in them. The seed that fell on rocky ground represented those who do not allow God's word to take root in their lives, so it soon withers. Finally, the seed that fell among thorns represented those who initially receive God's word but allow various distractions to choke it so that it becomes unfruitful. These are distractions such as worries, pursuit of wealth, and the desire for other things besides the things of God.

Those in whom the seed produced a crop were those who welcomed the word. This makes it clear that the conditions which kept the seed from being fruitful in the others were not conditions over which they had no control. They submitted themselves to those conditions whereas those in whom the seed was fruitful submitted themselves to the word of God they heard. Herein lies the source of spiritual understanding.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Illiteracy of The Literate

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Mark 1 Mark 2 Mark 3 Genesis 45 Genesis 46 Psalms 19

God's existence is proclaimed outwardly to mankind in two primary forms: one without words and the other with words. With either form, there are those who are illiterate.

Psalms 19 begins with the declaration, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands." There are no people on planet earth who have not "heard" this declaration of God's glory, even though, as the psalmist says, "There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard." But their message is clear for all to recognize proclaiming, "There is a Creator God whose powers are endless." The apostle Paul stated in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans that, "what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them." How has God revealed Himself to mankind? "From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made." Those, Paul says, who say or act as if there is no God do so "without excuse." Their atheistic position is held in opposition to what has been clearly revealed.

This is a form of illiteracy - an inability to read what has been revealed through creation. The saddest part about this form of illiteracy is that it is for the most part willful. Many who have this form of illiteracy are quite literate in regard to the written word. But claiming to be wise, they foolishly cast a blind eye upon God's handiwork and attribute it to one form of chance or another. Whatever the form to which God's creation is attributed, greater faith is required to accept it than to simply accept that there is a God and He is behind it all. Failing at an explanation for God's origin that is understandable to them, they fabricate an explanation for creation they can understand, ignoring the obvious.

Psalms 19 goes on to mention the second primary form of outward proclamation about God which is the written word. Between these two forms, no one should be ignorant of God.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Fruitful Christian

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
2 Peter 1 2 Peter 2 2 Peter 3 Genesis 43 Genesis 44

What makes up the life of a fruitful or mature follower of Christ? Drawing from various passages of scripture we might piece together a possible description of the life of a fruitful follower. The apostle Peter has done this for us, however, in the 1st chapter his 2nd epistle, verses 3-9.

First Peter gives our motivation for being fruitful: God, through Christ, "has given us everything required for life and godliness." Through what He has given us we are further given "very great and precious promises." The result is that we "share in the divine nature," enabling us to rise above "the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires."

So verses 3-4 describe God's part. What He has provided us and what it does for us. Verses 5-9 then describe our part. God may have given us "very great and precious promises," but they do not automatically produce their intended results without a response on our part. Peter tells us what our response should be, starting in verse 5. We entered into this life in Christ through faith. Now, he says, we need to supplement this faith with some actions beginning with goodness. But our faith and goodness need to be informed, so we need to suppliment them with knowledge. But if we are to further act on the knowledge we gain we must then suppliment our faith, goodness, and knowledge with self-control that puts knowledge into action. Knowledge without action is of little benefit and may even be dangerous.

But for the follower of Christ to be fully fruitful his faith, goodness, knowledge and self-control must be supplimented with endurance which causes him to go the course and not fall short. Add to this godliness and the follower has rounded out the necessary inward characteristics. Peter then moves on to the necessary outward characteristics. These include brotherly affection and love. Then you have the full package. A follower of Christ who is useful and fruitful.

Fruitfulness is the goal, then, we strive for. It provides much of our motivation to keep on striving. But there is also a reverse motivation in terms of what we are avoiding. Peter describes this in verse 9. By supplimenting our faith with these various characteristics and striving for fruitfulness we are avoiding being blind and shortsighted, and we are not forgetting our cleansing from past sins.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events (Part 3)

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 Peter 4 1 Peter 5 Genesis 41 Genesis 42 Psalms 18

Chapters 41 & 42 bring the saga of Joseph near its conclusion, though there is more yet to transpire. In these two chapters, though, we begin to see God's purpose behind the seeming random events in Joseph's life. Finally his life is no longer spiraling downward from one bad experience to another but instead takes an upward turn. Though two years had transpired since he interpreted the dreams for the two servants of Pharoah who had been sent to prison, the servant who had been returned to Pharoah's service, as Joseph predicted, finally remembered what Joseph had done for him.

One night Pharoah had two rather unusual dreams that troubled him once he awoke the next morning. He sent for his magicians and wise men, but none could interpret the dreams for him. Finally, Pharoah's chief cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him and told Pharoah. Pharoah sent for him and Joseph successfully interpreted his dreams. But Joseph was clear, "I am not able to," he told Pharaoh concerning his ability to interpret dreams. But he went on to say, "It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." (41:16) Joseph told Pharaoh that his two dreams meant the same thing, 7 years of abundance were coming followed by 7 years of famine. Joseph advised him to find a wise man who could guide the nation to use the years of abundance to prepare for the years of famine. Pharoah did not consider this long before appointing Joseph to be that wise man, making him second in command to himself over the whole nation. What a jump! From prison to 2nd in command!

We learn from this whole account how God can guide the affairs of men to accomplish great things and fulfill His own purposes. But we are prone to think God no longer works though individuals as He did then. Could this not be in large part because we do not look beyond the seeming randomness of the events of our own lives to recognize God's hand in them? It could also be that we have not been as cooperative with God as Joseph was throughout the seeming randomness of our lives. Rather than giving every situation, whether good or bad, our best and treating it as if it were from God, we may get caught up in pitying ourselves and slinging accusations at God for the bad stuff that happens.

With every bad experience life threw at Joseph, God gave him a whole new set of options from which to choose. It was up to Joseph to make good choices from the options presented to him. This he did, cooperating with what God was doing and allowing God to bring about the outcome toward which He was directing Joseph. While the credit for this outcome should go to God, we should not overlook the important role Joseph played in it. He could have chosen differently at any point along the way and changed the outcome - at least for him - and not have been the one God used for His purposes.

When we continually seek God and filter all events in our lives through the lens of His purpose for us, those seeming random events begin to take on new meaning. Every event in our lives, whether it presents good things or troubling things, sets before us a new set of options, and with these new options we are given the opportunity to change the course of our lives, either for good or for bad. Our choices can use the options presented to us to turn a bad experience into a good one, as was the case for Joseph. Or we can choose less wisely and turn good events into bad outcomes. God never forces us, always honoring our freedom of choice. But with that freedom comes great responsibility.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events (Part 2)

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
1 Peter 1 1 Peter 2 1 Peter 3 Genesis 39 Genesis 40 Psalms 17

In part 1 of Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events, we followed events in the life of Joseph, son of Israel, through chapters 37 & 38 of Genesis. The jealousy of his brothers toward him led them to sell him to traders on their way to Egypt. In turn, the traders sold him to a man in Egypt by the name of Potiphar who was captain of Pharoah's guard. This was bad enough, but it was only the first two in a series of supposedly random events in Joseph's life that led him to God's purpose. Chapters 39 & 40 reveal more events in this journey.

As Potiphar's household slave, Joseph was very responsible and God gave him favor with Potiphar so that Joseph was placed in charge Potiphar's entire household. But then Potiphar's wife took an interest in him and tried to seduce him. Joseph refused her advances repeatedly until one day when she had him alone and she pressed him into a position which left him no choice but to run and get away from her. In doing so, however, he left behind his outer garment of which she had taken hold. She accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her which angered her husband and Joseph landed in prison.

Anyone who has read this account knows where it is going, plus there are the editorial comments by the writer of Genesis who adds that "the LORD made everything he did successful." And, "the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him." (Gen 39:3, 21) These are advantages we have that Joseph did not have. Though he may have had an inner sense that the Lord was with him in these events, he was still experiencing one setback after another, though referring to them as setbacks is putting them mildly. They would have been devastating to most any of us.

Joseph's stint in prison lasted over 2 years and during that time he encountered further disappointments. It wasn't like he saw a speedy resolution to his situation providing him a quick indication of God's hand in these events to assure him of a good outcome. We don't know how long he served in Potiphar's household, but several years passed from the time he entered Egypt as a slave until he was delivered from these circumstances.

We should note throughout them that Joseph handled them honorably, always being cooperative and doing his best in all things so that he was given positions of responsibility. If we only take note of God's leading through these circumstances and fail to take note of Joseph's attitude and response to them, we miss an important lesson. Joseph was not a puppet in God's hands any more than are we. He made choices that enabled the outcome toward which God was directing him. His choices could have thwarted God's purpose instead, and he could have found himself remaining in prison instead of second in command to Pharoah. But Joseph chose to accept what might appear to most of us as random events as coming from God and having a purpose, and in turn, he responded to them positively.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Finding Meaning in Otherwise Random Events

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 25 Acts 26 Acts 27 Acts 28 Genesis 37 Genesis 38 Psalms 16, Proverbs 6
Understanding comes from the Lord. Events in life that appear to be random and make no sense take on meaning when seen through eyes to which the Lord has given sight. Such sight is available to all, but not all seek it, for it comes by seeking the Lord and He is not sought by all.

The last several chapters of Acts give an account of the apostle Paul traveling to Jerusalem because he felt compelled by God to do so. In Jerusalem he was accused by the Jews and because of the commotion taken into custody by the Roman authorities. The ensuing course of events eventually took him to Caesarea for further trial and finally to Rome to be heard by Caesar. On the surface these appear to be a series of unfortunate and unfair events for Paul that kept him unjustly incarcerated for the last several years of his life. But Paul saw them through the Lord's eyes and knew them to be serving the His purpose, a purpose for which He had committed himself to serve. And so he finished out his life with purpose rather than defeated by life's circumstances.

Chapters 37 & 38 of Genesis pick up events in the life of Joseph, son of Israel (Jacob), events in which his brothers hated him so much they descided to harm him. In the end, rather than killing him as they considered, they sold him to traders who took him to Egypt and sold him as a slave. Continued reading in subsequent chapters will take him through a series of further trials until he comes to the purpose God had for him. It then becomes evident that these supposedly random and unjust events in Joseph's life did have purpose. Significant purpose. Purpose which continues to be recognized centuries later. But that purpose is only understood when seen with the sight that comes only from God. Apart from Him they are indeed random and unjust events which can bring dispair and misery.

The question becomes, then, how many events in our lives has God set in motion for a purpose that we saw only as random and unmeaningful events? Maybe even as unjust events? Life can only be properly understood when seen through God's eyes and to do so we must pursue Him and the wisdom He gives.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Is Worth Dying For Is Also Worth Living For

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 22 Acts 23 Acts 24 Genesis 35 Genesis 36 Psalms 15

Chapters 22-24 give account of the Apostle Paul's arrest in Jerusalem and the beginning of his journey toward Rome where the Lord had told him he would testify about Jesus. Following his arrest in Jerusalem the Lord said to him, "Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." Opposition to the gospel has never been a deterrent to it but rather more of a propellant to the spread of the gospel. Much like throwing water on an oil fire. Rather than dousing the fire, it is spread. In fact, it becomes explosive.

One of the first examples of this in scripture came following the stoning of Stephen, found in chapter 7 of Acts. After this, persecution broke out on the church in Jerusalem and many of its members relocated throughout Rome and Asia. But as these believers moved from Jerusalem, they took the gospel with them. In the years following, Philip the evangelist and Paul both encountered believers in various areas to which they went to evangelize. This pattern has been true thoughout history. The Communist movement of the last century has been an enormous propellant to Christianity. This is not the way we have viewed it, though, with it policies of persecuting Christians in an effort to shut them down. But through small, underground groups of Christians, Christianity in most every country that has fallen under Communism has spread like wildfire.

James Draper, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources once asked a Christian leader in China how American Christians could pray for house churches in China. His response? "Stop praying for persecution in China to end, for it is through persecution that the church has grown." Furthermore, this Chinese leader told Draper that the Chinese house church movement was praying that American Christians "might experience the kind of persecution they have seen in China so that it would ignite a similar revival in America."

What is it about persecution that is so revolutionary to Christianity? One important key is the credibility given to Christianity through persecution. If it is worth dying for it must also be worth living for.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Are Our Hearts A Good Guide?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 19 Acts 20 Acts 21 Genesis 33 Genesis 34 Psalms 14 Proverbs 5

We are complex beings with many forces pulling us in various directions to the point we often are not even aware of our own motives. Why do we do what we do? We certainly wonder why we are motivated to do evil, hurting ourselves and others, but why, even, do we do the good we do? We might even ask, is a good deed good if done without good intent, or is it importantly only that we have done the good?

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that, "The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick--who can understand it?" This excludes even ourselves who lack understanding of our own hearts. And yet we are told by many to "follow your heart." This might not be the most sound advice if we are deceived by our own hearts. And if our hearts are directing us in harmful directions if could be particularly unsound advice.

An account is given in Acts chapter 19 of a person attempting to do good for the wrong reason. "God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul's hands," we are told. Some, who were not followers of Jesus, observed Paul casting out evil spirits from people in the name of Jesus, so they thought they might do the same, invoking Jesus' name as if there was something magic in the name itself. Whether or not these men recognized their own motives, the evil spirits knew they were frauds, saying, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize--but who are you?" Then the spirits, acting through the man they possessed, overpowered the men and beat them.

Why do we do the good we do? It is good to always keep in touch with our motives. But if our hearts are deceitful, how can we be sure of our motives? In response to the statement in Jeremiah 17:9 telling us of the deceit of the heart, God said, "I, the LORD, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way." Only God knows our true motives. This is another very important reason to keep in touch with God, allowing Him to reveal to us the intent of our hearts, keeping us in touch with our true motives.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Strength in Weakness

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 16 Acts 17 Acts 18 Genesis 31 Genesis 32 Psalms 13

What are we to make of it when we do what is right and it only leads to trouble? When we serve God and are mistreated and abused as a result? We are so inclined to think that serving God and doing the right thing leads only to blessing, that it messes with our mind when we encounter trouble instead. In fact, we often use the blessings as a gauge for whether or not we are doing God's will. Don't we say things like, "This effort has gone so well it must be the Lord's will." Or we say, "Nothing has gone right with this, it must not be the Lord's will."

When the Apostle Paul was in Philippi he went about telling the good news of Jesus. After a while a girl "who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling." began to follow him around constantly saying, "These men are the slaves of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." It became an aggravation to Paul and finally he commanded the spirit to leave the girl, rendering her unable to make her predictions and therefore unable to make a profit for her owners. The owners stirred up the people of Philippi and as a result, Paul and his companion, Silas, were thrown in jail. What should Paul have concluded from this?

Of course, this was not the only time Paul encountered trouble from serving the Lord. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul gave an accounting of his troubles on behalf of Christ, "Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches." (2 Cor 11:24-28)

Had Paul been guided by the prevailing thought of our day he would surely have concluded that God was not in his efforts and he needed to do something else. But Paul didn't get it. While cooling his heals in prison, he and Silas openly prayed and sang hymns to God. Then something amazing happened, "there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains came loose." Paul and Silas didn't use this as an opportunity to escape, though. Instead they stayed around and led the jailer and his whole household to accept Christ.

While we are also inclined to think it was different for Paul than it is for us, a lesson we may need to learn is that in the midst of trouble is when God does His greatest work. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians, "because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (V. 10)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Add-on Christianity

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 13 Acts 14 Acts 15 Genesis 29 Genesis 30

The Jerusalem Council, an account of which is found in Acts chapter 15, is an example of man's perpetual need to put the things of God on his own terms. Terms that make sense to him. It didn't make sense to some of the Jewish Christians that a practice required of them for centuries should not still be required. When they learned of Gentiles receiving Christ and being added to the Church without the requirement of circumcision they were appalled. Peter stood up among them and said, "we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus." That was it. Nothing more.

No doubt those who thought circumcision should be required would agree with Peter, and then they would add a "but . . . ." In so doing, they ignored that the Gentiles had not only believed as had they, but had also been given the Holy Spirit as evidence of their belief, also as had the Jewish Christians. This wasn't enough for these legalists. Requiring circumcision was not a logical expectation but an emotional one, and fortunately, wiser voices prevailed.

I fear, though, that this practice of adding requirements for salvation continues. Jesus and only Jesus just doesn't seem to be enough for some. They want to add other requirements that validates a person's salvation to them. And if this person takes on practices similar to their own, they feel the person is validated. For these Jews in Paul's day it was circumcision. It made them feel the new converts were legitimate. For us it will be other things. Maybe the way the person dresses or opinions they may hold that are unlike our own. For some, it may even be the political opinions of the person. Never mind the transformation of their hearts and minds that has taken place. We want them to look like us and think like us plus maybe a few other things.

When Peter went to the home of Cornelius and ate with him, an uncircumcised man, the Jews later challenged him on it. But Peter replied, "if God gave them the same gift (of the Holy Spirit) that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?" And there it is, plain and simple. God validated these Gentiles and that should be enough. We are asked to love, not to judge. God is quite up to the task of judging without our help

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Growing to Expect the Unexpected

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 7 Acts 8 Acts 9 Genesis 25 Genesis 26 Psalms 11

The Lord spoke through a vision to a disciple named Ananias who lived in Damascus telling him to go to a certain house in Damascus where he would find "a man from Tarsus named Saul." This man Saul had also seen a vision in which Ananias came to him and restored his sight. (Acts 9:10-12) Because of Saul's reputation for persecuting Christians, Ananais was reluctant to go to him. But the Lord told him, "This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel." (Acts 9:15)

We are prone to reject anything that does not make sense to us. How often throughout history have people rejected God or His plans for them because they didn't make sense to them? We don't have to read too far into scripture, however, to discover that expecting God's ways to be as our ways is what doesn't make sense. Throughout the history of mankind, God has always done the unexpected. Unexpected, that is, based on man's reasoning. But God is God and His ways are different from ours and we are wise to embrace this and become willing to respond to God's unexpected activity in our lives. However discomforting this may be to us, though, this is often where the greatest blessings lie.

Saul of Tarsus was one of God's unexpected choices. Why would God use this man who was working against Him? After all, wasn't God already using men like Peter and Philip in powerful ways? Wouldn't Saul just be a distraction not to mention the risk he might be? But God had big plans for Saul, who we now know as Paul, from which we still benefit. Why would God use people like Paul who did such atrocious things to the followers of Christ? But we cannot answer this question without touching on the reasons we find God's ways so foreign to us. God is forgiving when we are reluctant to forgive. God restores lives we might think undeserving of being restored. God uses weak and sinful people whom we look down on because He is glorified even more through their weakness than He is through our supposed strength.