Monthly Archives: March 2019

Today’s Scripture – March 31, 2019

Acts 7:1-5a (NIV)
Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”
To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground.

It might seem strange that Stephen, in his defense before the Sanhedrin, would start with the book of Genesis and work his way forward to the present time. But, in obedience to Jesus’ command to not worry about what to say, and his faith in the promise that the right words would be given to him when they were needed (Matthew 10:19-20), he simply started speaking God’s words as they were given to him. In reality, this is God’s defense of him.

Instead of answering the high priest’s question directly, since the question did not allow for a simply yes or no because any truth in the accusations against him had been intermingled with falsehood, exaggerations and twists, he took a different approach. He went back to the very beginning of Jewish history, beginning with Abraham, to weave a case that ultimately revealed not only the real truth, but the ultimate source of the persecution that was being brought to bear on him.

Under God’s inspiration, Stephen brought out more to the story of Abraham that what is contained in the book of Genesis. For example, he revealed that the call to Abraham to leave his country and his people had been received when he was living in Mesopotamia, in Ur of the Chaldeans. As Genesis 11:31 notes, when his whole extended family left Ur, they were on their way to Canaan, but stopped short of the destination at Haran. It wasn’t until Abraham’s father, Terah, died that he determined to follow through on God’s calling and finish the journey to Canaan.

But even though Abraham was not given even a bit of land to possess at that time (he purchased a tomb to bury his wife in from some of the people of the land), he was given use of the whole land, grew wealthy from its resources, and was promised that his descendants, more numerous than the stars, would conquer the land some four centuries in the future, and would live in it (Genesis 13:14-17, 15:13-16).

Stephen’s point in this section of his testimony was that God has always had a plan for the good of His people, but many times, the people, even Abraham, delayed in taking advantage of what He was offering.

Father, it is interesting to put these two sections of Scripture together and to see the more complete picture. Abraham initially delayed his obedience, apparently out of familial pressure. What greater blessings might have come his way, or come much sooner, if he had gone all the way to the Promised Land at Your first call, regardless of what his extended family chose to do? Unfortunately, we will never know. Help us, Lord, to never delay in our obedience to Your commands, so that we can receive Your blessings in all their fullness. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 29, 2019

Acts 6:12-15 (NIV)
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

These “devout” Jews were frustrated and enraged by their own inability to defeat Stephen logically in matters of faith, and at their powerlessness in the face of his ability to work miracles. They believed that they were the correct ones, the spiritual ones, the ones who were loved by God. But the facts militated against their beliefs.

Rather than admit that their beliefs might be incorrect, they blindly chose the same path that the high priests had followed with regard to Jesus.: they seized Stephen, recruited false witnesses, and marched him before the Sanhedrin. In their sinfulness and anger, they saw no inconsistency between their supposed righteousness and the fact that bearing false witness or recruiting others to bear false witness was solidly against God’s law. They believed one of satan’s most reliable lies: that the ends justify the means.

The false witnesses, like most false witnesses, had a bit of the truth mixed in with their lies to give them more credibility. Jesus had indeed said that the temple would soon be destroyed, that not one stone would be left on top of another (Matthew 24:1-2), a prophecy which would be fulfilled to the letter in AD 70. And Jesus did put far more emphasis on obeying both the letter and the spirit of the law, while deemphasizing the “traditions of the elders” that had grown up over the centuries and had actually obscured or warped the true commands.

The fact that Stephen taught what Jesus had said about these things was not really a crime, especially not one punishable by death. So, they warped their reporting to point to Stephen as one who was “speaking against” the temple and the law, which had the potential to shade over into the capital crime of blasphemy.

When the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen to see his reaction to these charges, they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. It is important to note that the angels that the Jews knew were nothing like the peaceful, feminized angels that have been popularized by paintings and Christmas cards. The faces of the real angels were intimidating, even terrifying in their awful dignity and fierce holiness. When these men saw Stephen’s face, they were not thinking of how beautiful or serene he looked. Their hearts were filled with a sudden dread as they saw the strength, power, and determination reflected there.

Father, this points out clearly the corruption that sin brings to both the heart and the mind. It twists reason to the point where a person or group of people can be persuaded that wrong can be right, that sin can be considered righteous as long as it leads to the right outcome. But Lord, You never tell us that the ends justify the means. You never support the idea that evil can be done so that righteousness can ultimately triumph. Instead, Your word contains a continual clarion call for Your people to be genuinely holy in thought, word, and deed. But we can only live that way by Your strength and by Your power working in us. Help us to rely wholly on You, so that we can live Your way every day. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – March 27, 2019

Acts 6:8-11 (NIV)
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)–Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”

As was stated earlier in verses 3 and 5, Stephen was a man full of wisdom, faith, and the Holy Spirit. That was the basis of his being full of God’s grace and power. It was also the basis for his ability to do great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Without God’s wisdom, faith in God’s promises, and the Holy Spirit being freed up to work powerfully in and through a person, that person will remain powerless. But when those things are present in a person’s life, anything and all things are possible.

But where there is great power and great success in ministry there is also the opportunity for great opposition. This had been experienced by Jesus Himself, and He had warned His followers that it was in store for them as well (Mark 13:9 among many others).

The opposition to Stephen came from a group of Jews who called themselves the Synagogue of the Freedmen. They listened to Stephen’s gospel presentations and questioned him about his theology. But they would not accept his teaching that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, or that His disgraceful death was an intentional sacrifice to pay for the sins of all mankind, orchestrated by God Himself.

But no matter how vehemently they argued, Stephen calmly and logically refuted their arguments. No matter how many Scriptures they brought forward to try to destroy his theological points, Stephen simply brought out more, and also showed them that their own Scriptures, read in context, proved that Jesus really was the Messiah.

And, of course, there was the problem of the miracles that Stephen was doing. For all their protestations that they were right, and Stephen was wrong, HE had the power to do miracles, a power that he testified was the result of the Holy Spirit working in his life, while their lives were completely powerless.

In the absence of reasonable and compelling evidence, they decide to spread lies about Stephen in order to take him down. Instead of yielding to the obvious logic of his arguments and the clear evidence of the miracles, the devised a plot to falsely accuse him of blasphemy against Moses and against God.

Father, when sinful men can’t defeat their opponents with logic, time after time their next strategy seems to be to lie. It seems like they so identify with their positions, whether philosophical, theological, or political, that they can’t allow for the mere possibility that they are wrong, and their opponents are right. It would destroy all they stand for and put their whole identity at risk. So, they preserve their identity by resorting to lies, smears, and innuendo designed to destroy the credibility and even the lives of those who oppose them. But Lord, You are not stymied by their vain attempts. Their attacks and persecutions will ultimately be clearly seen for what they are, and their attacks will be turned back on their own heads and used for the ultimate advancement of Your kingdom. This has been proven over and over again, not only in the Scriptures, but throughout the last 2,000 years of world history. Thank You for Your love, Your grace, and Your power for us who love, serve, and follow You. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – March 26, 2019

Acts 6:5-7 (NIV)
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The entire community saw the wisdom of the apostles’ recommendation to choose seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to oversee the distribution of food to the widows in the Church, freeing up the apostles to focus on their primary callings of prayer and the ministry of the word So the people went to work.

After prayerful consideration and discussion, the whole community agreed on seven men, interestingly all with Greek names. But the people didn’t worry that these men would turn the tables and start favoring the Greek-speaking widows to the disadvantage of the Aramaic-speaking widows. These men were known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, so the people had absolute confidence that they would fulfill their calling with integrity and fairness.

So, they brought these men to the apostles. And the apostles prayed over them, gave them authority by laying their hands on them, and then sent them forth to do the work that God had called them to do. The result of this was that the work of the kingdom was able to continue strongly forward, without being hobbled by divisions and in-fighting. More people believed in Jesus and became part of the Church.

This increase included a large group of Jewish priests. This seemingly insignificant note is actually very significant, because all priests in Jesus’ day were Sadducees, descendants of the priest Zadok. These were men whose original belief system rejected a belief in resurrection from the dead and in the writings of the prophets, many of whom had foretold Jesus’ appearing, life, death, resurrection and ascension. The fact that these priests were now believing in Jesus shows that the evidence of His life, as well as the testimony and actions of the apostles, had caused them to reconsider everything they had been taught, opening their hearts to being willing to believe in Jesus.

Father, often we don’t realize how many people are watching us, seeing how we act, listening to what we say, and looking at how we resolve our issues in the Church. They are looking for something true, and our actions and attitudes will either confirm the truth of our testimony about who Jesus is and what He has done in our lives, or they will contradict all of that and show that we are not different than they are. These priests, in all their looking and watching, saw the clear evidence of the truth and were persuaded. Help our lives to testify as clearly as our lips about who You are and what You have accomplished in our lives. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 25, 2019

Acts 6:1-4 (NIV)
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

There were divisions in the early Church along lines of language and culture. This was not a huge surprise. The way of the world is to divide ourselves along any lines that we can. Even today in our so-called “enlightened” society, groups of people tend to clump together based on culture and language.

In this case, the Jewish Christians who spoke Greek as a first language were separated from the Jewish Christians who spoke Aramaic as a first language. And since the food distribution to the widows of both groups was overseen by people from Jerusalem, Aramaic speaking Christians, the Greek-speaking widows were not being given the same access to the food resources as those who spoke Aramaic.

Peter saw two things very clearly. First, this was more than a social issue; it was a spiritual issue. So, it required more than an order from those in leadership to solve the real problem. An order might result in compliance but would leave the hearts of those in charge unchanged, so the problem would recur at some time in the future.

Secondly, trying to oversee this kind of thing would quickly and effectively pull the apostles away from their primary callings: prayer and the ministry of the word. Someone else could do a better job, be completely focused on the task, and do so without their primary calling being affected.

So, Peter guided the people to a spiritual solution to this spiritual problem. The people were to select from among themselves seven men to oversee this ministry. There were only two criteria: the men were to be people who were known to be Spirit-filled, and to possess God-given wisdom. This elevated the search from a simple popularity contest, or a hunt from someone from the business community who was known to be sensible or a good organizer. The people had to ask themselves an entirely different set of questions: Who do we know that is conspicuously Spirit-filled? And who do we know who has not just business ability, but real God-given wisdom? These were questions that had to be answered not just logically, but prayerfully.

Father, these are good criteria for any leadership position in the church today. We so easily forget that, as the Church, we are not just an organization, but a God-called, God-empowered organism. Our calling as the Church is not to be involved in programs or politics. Instead, we are called to be salt that preserves society from decay by your holiness working through us, and light that eliminates the darkness of sin and death everywhere we go. We are not simply to minister to the needs of the poor but are to fulfill our mission to make disciples of all nations, not simply bringing comfort to people, but bringing people into the hope of eternal life. These are all deeply spiritual things that are beyond the ability of the best business minds to accomplish, but that can be accomplished by the simplest person who is filled with Your Spirit and Your wisdom. Help us, Lord, to always keep this in mind as we move forward as individuals, individual congregations, and as a whole Church. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – March 22, 2019

Acts 5:33-40 (NIV)
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

The Sanhedrin was furious at the refusal of these men to bend to the commands of their superiors, at their claiming God as their authority to do so, and at their continuing to insist that the execution of Jesus, orchestrated by the Sanhedrin, was unlawful, and therefore murder. Their fury made them want to execute the apostles, an action which would exponentially increasing the sin they had already committed.

But Gamaliel, a Pharisee who was honored and respected by both sides of the Sanhedrin (and, incidentally, the apostle Paul’s mentor – Acts 22:3), was a voice of calm and reason. His point was simple, and illustrated with two recent events. If these men were just operating on their own, their movement would be short-lived, and would soon burn out without the Sanhedrin having to take any action at all, like the movements spawned by Theudas and Judas the Galilean. But if these men really were operating on God’s instruction, as seemed possible if not likely because of the undeniable miracles that seemed to surround them, then to fight against them would not just be shutting down something they found annoying and distasteful, it would be fighting against God Himself.

Gamaliel’s advice was to simply let the men go and see what happened. Time would be the ultimate test of who or what was behind their actions.

The Sanhedrin took Gamaliel’s advice…mostly. They decided against the death penalty. But rather than simply letting the men go and watching, they felt that some form of punishment and “enhanced motivation” to obey was necessary. So, they had each of them flogged with 39 lashes, and warned them of even more dire consequences if they continued in their defiance of the Sanhedrin’s edicts.

Father, it is amazing to see so clearly that the men of the Sanhedrin, Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the whole Jewish nation, were so blinded by their own sense of authority and knowledge that they felt justified in taking what amounted to unlawful actions against people that they disagreed with. Proverbs 17: 26 (NIV) clearly states: “It is not good to punish an innocent man, or to flog officials for their integrity.” These men were deemed guilty for no other reason than that the leaders disagreed with them, something we still see operating today in political and “politically correct” circles. Lord, protect us as Your people from ever falling into this trap. Keep our eyes focused, not on us, not on those we disagree with politically or doctrinally, but on You and Your word. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – March 20, 2019

Acts 5:27-32 (NIV)
Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The high priest was not used to being ignored. He had threatened the apostles severely if they persisted in speaking or teaching at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18), but they had not only persisted, they seemed to have increased their activity.

So, he put on his most threatening demeanor, and raised his voice so all could hear the charges against the men: they had ignored a direct command from the Sanhedrin. They had not only continued to teach the things that Jesus had taught, and to teach the people that He had risen from the dead, they were teaching that Jesus execution had been unjustified, and that it had been instigated by the Sanhedrin itself!

But instead of being cowed by having to stand before the whole Sanhedrin again, instead of being humbled by the charges of disobedience, the apostles stood up straighter and said loudly and clearly, “We must obey God rather than men.” This was the same defense that they had used in their earlier trial (Acts 4:19-20).

This argument was key to all that the early Church stood for and did. They did not preach the gospel because it was the cool thing to do. They did it because it was a direct command from Jesus own lips (Matthew 28:18-20). And that command moved them forward powerfully against any headwind that people tried to put in their way. In the current instance, they had actually been commanded by an angel sent from God to go back to the temple and teach the people about life in the kingdom of God (Acts 5:19-20). In a contest between God’s commands and the threats of people, even highly-placed people, God’s commands win.

But there was more. Far from shying away from the charges of them teaching Jesus’ resurrection, they loudly proclaimed it now in front of the whole assembly, looking directly into the eyes of the high priest himself, a Sadducee whose theology did not allow for resurrection from the dead. And far from backing away from accusing the Sanhedrin of orchestrating Jesus’ execution, they stated it clearly now, in front of the whole group, even calling it murder.

And they went even further. They clearly proclaimed that Jesus, whom the Jewish leaders had murdered, was the long-awaited Savior, who had come to not only grant forgiveness to those who would repent, but who had already poured out the Holy Spirit on those who were obedient to Him, even if that obedience meant disobeying the commands of mere people.

Father, Your people, the people of the kingdom, have no business but to obey You in everything You command. But we all too often get busy, distracted, and drawn away from Your commands by the exigencies of day-to-day life. And we do allow ourselves to be swayed away from Your clear commands and requirements by popular theology and the fear of appearing to be politically incorrect. Forgive us, Lord! Help us instead to take these powerful, Spirit-filled men as our models, men who obeyed You at every turn, no matter the scenario, no matter the consequences. Keep us right in the center of Your will, walking with You every moment of every day. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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