Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

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Acts 5: The good news can’t be silenced

September 2, 2015

obeygodIn my devotions lately I’ve been studying through Acts 5 and in particular the account of the apostles being persecuted for sharing their faith.

The persecution comes from the Jewish high priests, who are understandably threatened by this new message, and they lock up the apostles and later have them beaten. Yet the passage makes it clear that the good news of salvation — the gospel of Jesus — cannot be silenced by human opposition. God sends an angel in verse 19 and tells the apostles to get right back out there in the temple and keep on preaching.

The priests — who have long since fallen away from the true faith of God — are furious at this and accuse the apostles of not obeying the religious leaders of the land. Peter puts them in their place with the well-known “We must obey God rather than man!” and then launches into a mini-sermon proclaiming the power of Christ to forgive sins. It’s important to remember that he’s saying this to the same order of priests that had Jesus killed because of his teaching and assertion of divinity. And while Peter is rebuking them, he’s also calling them to a saving grace in Christ.

What I really love about this passage is two-fold:

  1. That a religious teacher of the law, Gamaliel, stands up for the apostles and warns the priests not to get in their way in the case that the apostles’ message is indeed from God (5:34-39) — “You will only find yourselves fighting against God,” he says.
  2. And right after the disciples are beaten and instructed not to preach anymore, their immediate response in verse 41 is to rejoice in suffering and verse 42 to keep on preachin’ non-stop to anyone who would listen.

Good news shouldn’t be bottled up or kept secret for special moments in certain situations. Good news that pertains to all should be shared gladly, freely, and as loudly as possible. Jeremiah said that when he was being persecuted for sharing God’s word and wanted to be quiet, he couldn’t. The word of God was like fire in his bones and he needed to get it out.

The cool epilogue to this account comes in Acts 6. Acts 6:7 mentions that many of the priests in Jerusalem do end up following Jesus, a testament to the efforts of the apostles and the power of God: “A large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Our culture often is vocal about Christians keeping their faith locked up in their homes and churches, out of sight and out of mind. “Don’t bring that noise out here, don’t be an obnoxious Jesus freak, don’t say anything from the Bible that could possibly offend.” And yet we must, because this is simply too good and too important to hold back. We share because we love — God first and others second.

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Trading in the spirit of fear

April 29, 2015

2timI would wager to say that fear is a major force in all of our lives. We fear so much — death, rejection, poverty, mistakes, pain, humiliation, betrayal, the future — that it locks us down into a pattern of worry, of hesitation, and of a narrow routine. Fear can dominate our life’s headlines, with each tragedy (large or small) confirming what we already know. It’s a broken world, we are broken people, and something bad is always on the way.

I am tired of being afraid. I know that one of my weaknesses is timidity and fear, as I spend too much time scared that I will mess up my life, hurt my family somehow, or die before I raise my kids to adulthood.

What’s amazing to me is that God knows that fear is a potent result of sin, and He goes out of His way to encourage us past this fear and give us real hope to replace it. When Jesus came to Jairus’ house to minister to his daughter who just died, Jesus issues to commands to this grieving, scared father: “Don’t be afraid; only believe.” (Mark 5:36). As he raises the 12-year-old girl from the dead, he illustrates that we can trade in that potent fear for something new: faith in the one greater than anything we might fear.

It’s easy to stop being afraid when you have someone with you who can help you through it and even demolish the thing you’re scared of, right? But what do we do now that Jesus has returned to heaven?

Fortunately, we have something just as good — or someONE just as good — as Jesus at our side. Believers are gifted with the Holy Spirit who is always present and always willing to live up to its name as a Helper.

That’s why I’ve always loved 2 Timothy 1:7, which echoes Mark 5:36 when it tells us that we’re trading in something old, broken, and hurtful (our fear) for something wonderful and victorious (the Spirit).

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-control.”

We get three in exchange for one, I say that’s a good deal!

It’s a good reminder that as the redeemed, we are no longer alone in our life’s journey, but are filled with the Holy Spirit who isn’t there to make us quake and worry. Instead, God highlights three benefits of being Spirit-led: We have the power of God with us, we are conduits of God’s love, and we have the means to gain control over the sinful nature that used to enslave us.

It’s important to note that this verse comes within the context of a passage discussing how we may testify to the world about the gospel. I like how in verse 14, God reminds us to “guard the good deposit in you” — a reminder that He has sealed us in salvation and that we do not have any reason to ever fear being taken away from Him ever again.

In accepting the gift of grace, I’ve traded up from fear to boldness. I just need to remember that more often.

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The Lord’s discipline

February 10, 2015

disciplineThe other night in youth group we were spending quiet time simply reading and studying the Word.  I was flipping through Hebrews when chapter 12 caught my eye — particularly the passage called “God’s discipline.”

The author begins by quoting Proverbs 3, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

And then he follows that by saying that the suffering we experience can indeed be part of our discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? …God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

I’ve got to say that this passage is one of what I internally dub a “profoundly uncomfortable teaching” that we come up against here and there in the Bible.  It’s one that you kind of wish God didn’t convey to us, because it’s challenging, tough, and doesn’t coddle us with happy feelings.  I mean, I don’t want to be punished, I don’t want to be rebuked, and I don’t want to have to endure suffering!  Who does?  And here God is not only saying that his children will be disciplined, but that it’s for a specific purpose.

I’ll admit that my mind immediately took the word “discipline” and paired it with “punishment,” although upon successive readings I don’t think that’s the case.  Some discipline can involve punishment for bad behavior, but not all discipline is punishment.  In fact, the act of discipline is to shape and mold a person to obey and conform to a certain standard.

In other words, discipline makes us disciples.

This passage flies against prosperity gospel teachings and other feel-good notions of the gospel to grasp a fundamental truth of being a Christian: We will suffer, and through that suffering we will understand more what Jesus went through and become better people.  It is part of our training, just how a runner will have to push through the burn and dominate his or her body to perform even better.

And once I got past my immediate reaction of a fear of suffering and pain, I read the encouragement that exists here.  First, it makes a strong and repeated case that discipline means that we belong to God as God’s sons and daughters.  We are not abstract strangers that he is smiting for evil pleasure; we are his children that he is training to be the best that they can possibly be.

As a father, I can understand that.  My children outright resent my discipline, because that correction doesn’t let them continue doing the bad or selfish act they wanted to do.  I see that anger and frustration in their faces when I sit them down to talk, and I hear it when I listen to what they have to say in defense of why one kid pushed another kid into a wall for taking his toy.  But the discipline I perform on them is not out of anger or dislike, but out of love.  I want them to grow up to be wonderful people, full of faith, compassion, love, and selfless giving.  And that attitude is not going to come naturally, but must be trained for constantly.  They may resent me for it now, but one day I pray that they will thank me that I cared enough to do it.

Second, the discipline mentioned in this passage has a very specific purpose for our lives.  We will share in God’s holiness and will produce a harvest of peace and righteousness.  When I think of the type of person that I wish I could be for all of my faults, it would be to be like the men and women of faith that I’ve admired — the ones who do desire holiness, who do project peace, and who do prize doing what is right.

It may be the hardest prayer to pray in saying, “Dear Lord, please discipline me.  Please help me to thank you for the hardships and rebukes that I will encounter.   Please help me not to resent you, but to hold fast to these verses and the hope that lies within.”

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The Christmas Story: Why did Elizabeth go into seclusion when she became pregnant?

December 16, 2014

elizabethEvery so often when I’m reading the Bible, I come across a verse or a detail that is really puzzling to me and sends me into a bit of a research mode so that I can understand the proper context and meaning behind it.  It’s important to remember that while we read the Bible from a 21st century viewpoint, it wasn’t written with our culture and modern mindset.  What readers back then would naturally understand sometimes escapes us and prompts study to understand it.

Last Sunday we were listening to the story of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and came across this strange verse in Luke 1:24:

After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.

What I couldn’t answer was, why did she go into seclusion?  It seems like the opposite thing you’d want to do if you were the subject of a miracle baby (as both Elizabeth and Zechariah were “well along in years” and “an old man,” respectively). 

Maybe she was ashamed of being pregnant as an elderly lady or worried that the townsfolk would think she was cheating on Zech, but that seems contrary to her praise to God in the very next verse, saying that the pregnancy has taken away the public shame from this once-barren lady (this also echoes the same sentiment of Rachel in Genesis 30:23).

Other thoughts that come to my mind is that Elizabeth was taking it easy, since pregnancies are hard and probably more so for an older lady, or that Elizabeth was worried that the pregnancy might end in miscarriage and was waiting until she knew one way or the other to reveal her state to the community.

In looking around for other thoughts on this passage, I found some that echoed what I was thinking as well as the following:

  • One writer says that “seclusion” wasn’t isolation, but a time of preparation for the upcoming birth.
  • This author disagrees and says that seclusion was hiding entirely.
  • She was using the time to pray (verse 25) and to be with the Lord, and not be distracted by the community.
  • She was waiting to spring the big baby bump reveal on the community with God’s miraculous work.
  • She is waiting to see if her unborn son would indeed be filled with the Holy Spirit, which happened in verse 41 when Mary arrives to visit and John senses Jesus.  She is also waiting to see if God would fulfill his promise to Zechariah and her (verse 44).

It could, of course, been a combination of any of these factors, but the time in spiritual preparation as well as the difficulties of this particular pregnancy make the most sense to me.

Of course, this detail is insignificant against the larger teachings of this passage, especially how Elizabeth thought that her barrenness was a punishment and shameful, but God had planned and used that to show his glory and great work.

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Confidence in Prayer

December 2, 2014

Praying-Hands-over-BibleMy devotion reading today took me through the end of 1 John, where I read these arresting words in 5:14-15:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.”

This is such a great summation of why the Christian prayer is so effective and unique, but also how it should be performed that I wanted to comment on it.

First of all, prayers from God’s children do not go unheard.  We do not need to be like my children, who ask me the same question a hundred times just to make sure that I’m listening (although I admire their persistence in getting an answer!).  John says that we can indeed have confidence that God hears our prayer.

But there’s a big clause there that needs to be noticed, understood, and implemented into our prayer life: “if we ask anything according to his will.”  This radically adjusts prayer from being a selfish litany of our wants — a one-way wish list — to a responsive, submissive conversation with the Almighty.  We should desire, first and foremost, God’s will for our lives and pray according to that.  We are the tree that bends to God’s trunk instead of demanding that God shape himself to our life.

Jesus illustrated the proper way to pray before his death when he asks, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  He had a request to avoid the pain that was coming, but his ultimate desire was for God’s will to be done.  And God heard and responded to that prayer.

To pray with confidence, we need to pray in submission to God’s will.  We are invited to bring our concerns and problems to the Father, but we are not in a position to make demands of him or ask him to change his will.  When we stop trying to force God to capitulate to our demands and begin seeking his will in all things, God shows us how prayer is answered — and answered boldly.

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Quote of the Day: Reactionary morality

September 17, 2014

“Because we have, by and large, abandoned God’s revealed Word as the standard for our morality, we have taken another standard: peer pressure and the media. The reason such wishy-washiness prevails is because it feeds our self-righteous desire to feel and act very moral while saving us the hard work of studying to know and do God’s Word.”

~ The New Morality

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Unconditional love

July 1, 2014

hug-88440689334_xlargeMy son came up with this saying that he likes to pull out every once in a while that goes like, “I love you when [something] and I love you when [not something].”

For instance:

  • “I love you when you’re sick and I love you when you’re not sick!”
  • “I love you when you’re mad and I love you when you’re happy!”
  • “I love you when you’re here and I love you when you’re not here!”

You kind of have to imagine this 5-year-old saying it with a beaming face and a soft voice.  It’s pretty charming, I have to admit.

But it’s also a surprisingly deep statement from a little kid.  What he’s trying to articulate is the enduring presence of his affection — the outpouring of unconditional love.  He both craves and gives a love that is not subject to the whims of change and circumstance.  He wants consistancy.  He wants others to know that they won’t lose his love just because they leave the house or deliver a punishment.  And he says that in the hopes of hearing it in return.

I think that we are often afraid that God is as fickle with how he hands out love as we often are.  It’s really difficult to believe that God loves us wholly, unconditionally, and eternally, especially when we look deep within the well of our own sins and shortcomings.  We don’t deserve love, we think.  We don’t even love ourselves most of the time.  Others’ love toward us is often imperfect and capricious.  Why would God be any different?

Because our God loved us not when we became perfect, but while we were still self-centered sinners (Romans 5:8).  He put his life on the line for us to save us because of that great love (John 3:16).  When God looks at his creation, as rebellious and ugly as it can be, he cannot help but tenderly love each and every one.  And best of all, God’s love cannot be taken away from us (Romans 8:35).

Today I just needed to remember God’s love for me.  His love that is patient, kind, refuses to keep track of my wrongs, is faithful, and abounds in truth.  God is complex beyond comprehension, but his love is as simple as that of a five-year-old.  He always loves, no matter what.  It’s hard to hate someone who loves you that fully; the best thing to do is to surrender to it and reciprocate.

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