Monthly Archives: April 2019

Today’s Scripture – April 29, 2019

Acts 9:19-25 (NIV)
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

Saul’s transformation was instantaneous and complete. Not only did he become part of the community of believers that he had gone to Damascus to destroy, he began at once to powerfully preach that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and the very son of God, much to the amazement of not only those he was preaching to, but of those with whom he had gone to Damascus in the first place.

Some of the Jewish people in Damascus received Jesus on the basis of Saul’s preaching. But others, especially the Jewish leaders in the city, were incensed that they were losing power and authority to this upstart from Jerusalem. And instead of receiving the good news of the kingdom with joy like those who were more spiritually astute, they hardened their hearts against both Saul and his message. They refused to learn the lesson that he was trying to teach them, the lesson that he himself had learned with such great difficulty, that persecuting the people of the kingdom of God was taken by Jesus as persecution against Himself.

So, they plotted to kill Saul, in direct violation of the law that they professed to be defending from him. Saul couldn’t even leave the city to escape from their clutches, because he had become so well-known, and every gate was closely guarded all day long. That’s why he ultimately had to be lowered in a basket over the city wall at night, so that he could escape, and so that the pressure on the Christians in the city could calm down.

Father, the enthusiasm of new Christians can often seem over the top to established believers, even irritating at times. But that enthusiasm, engendered by a life-transforming encounter with Jesus, is a powerful tool for bringing other new people into the kingdom. Unfortunately, over time, those new believers are shamed into silence by established Christians, or simply cool off due to a lack of support. Thankfully, Saul’s fire never went out, never died down, and a huge part of Europe was impacted for the kingdom. Father, set our hearts on fire again with the renewal of our first love (Revelation 2:4-5). Fill us anew and to overflowing with your Holy Spirit, so that our every breath breathes out Your love, Your grace and Your power. Help us to leave behind our passive “assurance of salvation” that is content to sit by while others perish without You, and make us instead into powerful, passionate witnesses of Jesus every moment of every day, kingdom people who will never stop, never rest until everyone has heard about Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 28, 2019

Acts 9:10-19a (NIV)
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Ananias was a devout Jewish Christian (Acts 22:12), exactly the kind of person that Saul had come to town to arrest and see executed. Ironically, he was also the only kind of person that could help Saul where he was at that moment.

Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision while he was praying and sent him to not only heal Saul’s blindness, but to baptize him and to start him on the pathway of discipleship. Ananias’ initial reluctance to go into the house of someone who was there to haul people like him off to trial and execution in Jerusalem, and where, even if Saul was no long out to get him, his companions might still be, was perfectly reasonable.

But Jesus’ firm command was “Go!” He had not only stopped Saul’s reckless mission in its tracks, He had chosen Saul for a special new mission: to carry the gospel to the gentile world to the north and west, as well as to his fellow Jews. Saul would appear before and convert rulers and kings and would ultimately suffer for his faith in the same way that he had caused others to suffer.

Ananias was a disciple, so ultimately his only answer to Jesus’ command was a firm yes, followed by full obedience. He went immediately to the indicated house and walked in the door. There he found himself face to face with Saul sitting quietly in a corner, his sightless eyes staring straight at him.

Ananias spoke Jesus’ message to Saul just as he had received it. It was indeed the risen and glorified Jesus who had appeared to Saul on the road, the Jesus whose followers Saul had come to Damascus to arrest. But though the encounter had taken Saul’s sight from him, Jesus was now going to return it, and was going to impart to him the Holy Spirit. Ananias placed his hands upon Saul, and immediately scales fell from his eyes, returning his sight. At the same moment, the Holy Spirit filled his heart, cleansing him from the sins of hatred, lies, and complicity in the murder of God’s people, sins for which he had been grieving for the last three days, and empowering him for the work that Jesus had called him to do.

Even though Saul had now been filled with the Holy Spirit, he still needed to be baptized in water (much like the gentiles in Cornelius’ household that would soon come into the kingdom through Peter’s ministry – Acts 10:44-48). So, Ananias baptized Saul immediately. Only then did Saul eat some food so that he could regain his strength.

Father, even in the midst of what surely seemed to Saul and his companions a chaotic situation, You sent an emissary to bring Your order into the chaos, the light of truly seeing into the darkness of both physical and spiritual blindness, and life into the spiritual deadness of sin and guilt. And in the process, You recreated Saul into a person who could act as Your messenger, Your ambassador to multiplied thousands of people all over the Roman empire who would trust in Jesus through his ministry and be saved. Saul’s past was not an obstacle to the future You had in store for him. Thank You for the hope that this truth opens into the life story of everyone. For all who will turn to You, our future is without limit, and You’re are able to make of any of us what You would have destined us to be, no matter what our initial state! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 26, 2019

Acts 9:3-9 (NIV)
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

This moment became the watershed moment of Paul’s whole life, the moment that he revisited again and again, both internally, and in his testimony to others. He had gone to Damascus intent on destroying Christianity, but instead, he himself was destroyed, torn down to the ground and totally remade into a follower of the very one he was hounding.

As the bright light flashed all around him, visible only to Saul, not to his traveling companions, he fell stunned to the ground. And it was then that Saul saw the source of the light: a man from whom the brilliance emanated. And the man spoke to Saul, calling him by name. The charge He leveled against Saul was very serious: Saul was actively persecuting Him, and He demanded to know why.

Saul was dumbfounded. He had no idea who this shining figure was! An angel perhaps? And surely, he was not persecuting angels! So, He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

The answer that flashed back in a deafening roar that terrified Saul was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Those with Saul watched him write on the ground covering his ears. They could hear the disembodied voice but couldn’t make out the words that it was saying (Acts 22:9).

But there was more. Jesus commanded Saul to go into the city of Damascus, which lay just ahead, and wait for further instructions. Then the light disappeared, leaving Saul in utter darkness – the brilliance had completely blinded him!

His companions helped him into the city, where the letter from the high priest enabled them to easily find lodging. Saul’s companions had no idea what to make of this situation. In a single moment, Saul had been changed from a robust, healthy man, passionate and motivated by anger and hatred, into a blind, helpless man who simply sat in a corner of the house, refusing all efforts to get him to eat and drink.

Father, it is clear from our vantage point that Saul had experienced a life-shattering, heart-transforming encounter with the resurrected Jesus, an encounter that had torn him away from all that he had ever accepted about himself and his place in the universe. He had believed that he was doing Your work, but now he realized that he didn’t even really know who You were. Like Job (Job 42:4-6), his encounter with You had shattered his confident, self-affirming theology, and he was now left in the devastating position of having to question all that he had believed, all that he had built his life upon to that point. It’s a desperately uncomfortable place to be in (as I know from personal experience!), but it’s the best place from which to start over, to build a new life on a new foundation, the sure foundation of Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Thank You, Lord, for the places at which You enter our lives with power, those places where You tear down things in our lives that are false, so that You can build in what is eternally true. 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – April 25, 2019

Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

The heart of Saul had been set afire with hatred for Christians even while Stephen was being stoned. It is odd that such an event would lead to hatred rather than compassion, but it is actually the normal response of a sin-hardened, self-righteous heart.

Paul looked back on this time in his life with shame, as you can read in several of his letters. He admits that he did all that he could to completely eliminate the Christians and Christianity from the earth, and in this section of Acts, Luke was actually writing Paul’s own narrative of his mindset (“breathing our murderous threats”) as well as his actions.

Saul wasn’t simply content with driving the Christians out of Jerusalem or even all of Judea. He wanted to hunt them down as harmful heretics wherever they might be and drag them back to Jerusalem for trial and execution.

Damascus, the capital of Syria, was a long journey. But Saul had heard that a group of Christians had taken root there, so he petitioned the high priest for letters of authority directed to the Jewish leaders in the city, authorizing him to arrest any Christians he found among the Jews there. (Christianity was, at that point, still largely a sect of the Jewish faith.) They would then be taken back to Jerusalem for trial. And the high priest was glad to comply. After several long years of having to struggle against the followers of Jesus, it finally looked like they were making progress in stifling, or even eliminating, this dangerous movement.

Father, as Jeremiah noted, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure” (17:9 NIV). And in Paul’s case, this is patently obvious. His heart had convinced him, deceived him, that it was Your will to wipe out the Christians, even if that meant false witnesses, harsh and inhumane treatment, and outright murder. But he wasn’t hearing from You at all, nor was he acting with any kind of faithfulness to Your law or the messages You had given through the prophets, all of which he professed to revere. The part that Jeremiah got wrong was his hopelessness over being able to cure our deceitful hearts. As the rest of Paul’s story shows, a genuine cure is possible, but only through Your power working in us. Thank you, Lord! 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – April 24, 2019

Acts 8:30-40 (NIV)
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

God had been right. As Philip approached the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch, he heard him reading a familiar passage from Isaiah 53:7-8, a portion of the “suffering servant” prophecy, a passage that the apostles taught had foreshadowed the suffering and death of Jesus. And he knew exactly what he needed to do.

Philips first words to the eunuch were a question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Implied in the question was the idea that Philip did understand the passage and was willing to help the eunuch understand it as well.

To those seeking the truth, a trustworthy guide is always welcome. So, the man accepted Philip’s implied offer and invited him to ride along in the chariot while they talked.

Philip began with the passage the eunuch had been reading, and explained how Jesus had fulfilled the prophecy, and why it was important. He also went back to the middle of chapter 52 of Isaiah, and read the whole passage in its context, all the way to the end of chapter 53, to show the man the substitutionary character of Jesus’ suffering and death, as well as the prophecy of His victorious resurrection (Isaiah 53:10-11). He followed this with a litany of Jesus’ miracles and some of His teachings about the now-present kingdom of God that many were coming into through faith in Jesus.

It was right then that they came to an oasis beside the road, and the eunuch asked exactly the right question: “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” He had believed in Jesus as Philip shared, and he wanted to come into the kingdom of God and live there forever. His faith was evident, so Philip baptized him on the spot.

Some have seen a mystery or a miracle in the next couple of verses, with Philip disappearing with a poof and appearing with another poof in Azotus. But all Luke is saying is that once the eunuch was baptized, Philip declined to go further with him, because the Spirit was calling him to his next assignment. And the next place that he stopped and taught was in Azotus, the old Philistine city of Ashdod near the coast just a few miles north of Gaza. He taught there, and then continued to teach in towns along the coast until he got to Caesarea south of Haifa, where he settled (Acts 21:8-9).

Father, this whole episode shows me once again the importance of following Your guidance whenever and however it comes. Philip heard Your voice and responded, and the eunuch was led into the kingdom. Tradition tells us that many more Ethiopians came to faith in Jesus through the eunuch’s testimony when he returned home. And then You led Philip north along the coast into territories yet unreached by the gospel, and you enabled a harvest of souls in those areas as well. Your plan is always to use Your people to reach others with the good news of Your kingdom. Thank You for letting me be part of that plan. 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – April 23, 2019

Acts 8:26-29 (NIV)
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Philip was not just a man chosen to oversee the distribution of food to the widows in Jerusalem, he was full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3-6), and he was 100% committed to God and to His agenda. Therefore, when I called on him, there was no hesitation, no doubt, no casting of fleeces or all-night prayer vigils to verify and validate His call. He knew God’s voice, and when He spoke, Philip responded.

The call Philip received was clear, although many who receive such a call might want more details before they commit to obey. He was directed south from Samaria to the road that ran west from Jerusalem to Gaza, and then into Egypt. He had no idea what was waiting for him there. He simply obeyed and fully expected God to provide additional guidance as he went.

The divine appointment that God had prepared for Philip was with the royal treasurer of Ethiopia. This man worshiped God as a “God fearer,” a gentile who worshiped the God of the Jews and had gone up to the temple in Jerusalem and was now on his way back to Ethiopia. To pass the time, he had a scroll of the prophet Isaiah across his lap and was reading aloud from it as he was driven along.

As Philip watched the chariot approach, the Spirit of God spoke to him again. The man riding in the chariot was his assignment. He was to run up to the chariot, and then run along beside it as it went. As he obeyed, he would know what to do.

Note that, at each point, instant obedience was required for the successful completion of God’s mission. If Philip had waited to leave Samaria, the chariot would have passed by before he got there. And if he waited to run to the chariot after God told him to go, the chariot would have passed by, and he would have had to chase it down the road, if he was able to catch it at all. In every case, God’s call is time-sensitive, and even though He might only show a person the very next step that they needed to take rather than the whole plan, instant obedience is needed to ensure the continuation and ultimate success of His plan.

Father, the thing that comes to my mind as I hear this is the line in Jesus’ prayer that He gave to His followers: “Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s the way that Philip did Your will, the same way it is done in heaven – instantly, completely, without questioning or bargaining, and even joyfully. And because he obeyed so fully and so instantaneously, Your plan for this eunuch was fully realized. Help me, Lord, to obey with that same alacrity, so that I can glorify Your name with my obedience, and with Your power working freely through me. 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – April 21, 2019

Acts 8:14-17 (NIV)
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Interactions with the Samaritans were still seen as taboo by many of the apostles and disciples. But some of Jesus’ followers remembered Jesus’ two-day mission to Samaria during His first year of public ministry (John 4), and the subsequent belief of the whole village of Sychar. So, they knew that it was quite possible for those people to believe and be saved. But the apostolic council thought it best to send Peter and John to find out what was really going on down there.

When Peter and John arrived, they found that many of the Samaritans were indeed trusting in Jesus for salvation, believing Him to be the Son of God. Their testimony was solid, and the presence of Jesus in their hearts and the changes He had brought to them were solid proof.

So, they moved on to the next step. These new disciples had been baptized in the name of Jesus, the water baptism that had been mandated by Jesus Himself, but they had not yet received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the baptism of fire that would purify their hearts and empower their lives for service and witness.

The process was in two parts. First, Peter and John prayed for the new believers, that they would receive the Holy Spirit. Then, when the time was right and the Spirit let them know it, they placed their hands on the new believers, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Both parts of the process were important. Prayer is vital for the baptism of the Holy Spirit to take place, not just prayer by the ones desiring to be filled (although that is critical – Luke 11:13), but also prayer for those people by Spirit-filled believers. This passionate, purpose-directed prayer not only sets the stage for the Holy Spirit to come, but also brings the power of God to bear on them, enabling them to surrender completely to God (Romans 12:1-2) and guiding them through the process.

The second part of the process, laying hands on those to be filled by those who already were, was important from a symbolic standpoint. The apostles knew that the Holy Spirit was not given to others by them directly – He always came into a person’s heart from God’s throne through the mediation of Jesus. But the authority to participate in the process, to mediate it, was given to those who are already Spirit-filled, demonstrating not only the God-ordered hierarchy in the kingdom of God, but also the community in which the fullness of the Spirit is experienced and lived out.

Father, this whole episode clearly demonstrates the importance for us, your people, of being filled with the Holy Spirit. If merely being saved were enough, the apostles wouldn’t have bothered with more. But they understood that, even though these people were genuinely saved, they lacked the power and purity that only Your Spirit can bring. So, You moved Peter and John to work in that specific area. And they didn’t spend a lot of time teaching a twelve-week class on the theology of the Holy Spirit. They just prayed and then obeyed Your leading to lay their hands on these Christians, mediating the baptism with the Spirit and the transformation that occurred with it, much as Philip had already mediated the water baptism and its attendant transformation. Thank You, Lord, for this powerful example for us. 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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