Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 322: Acts 19, 20 and 21

Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you? (Acts 19:15)

We’ve just come through another election season, in which candidates have courted celebrity endorsements from actors and athletes. The wager is that well-known names dropped on their behalf will offer a bump in the polls.

While Paul was preaching in Ephesus (in present day Turkey), some Jewish exorcists started a little name-dropping of their own. Though they were not believers in Christ, they started including his name in their exorcism litanies, thinking it would improve their success stats. In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out (v. 13).

The seven sons of a Jewish priest invoked the name of Jesus in one exorcism attempt. The spirit in question apparently had first-hand knowledge of Jesus and his power, and had even heard about the Apostle Paul, but he had no intention of releasing his hold on his victim. The man in which he was living attacked the seven men and gave them a sound thrashing before they ran into the street crying like little girls.

The name of Jesus is not a magic formula used to send demons packing or for getting answers to prayer. Jesus is the name above every name, and the name that will one day cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

What does the name Jesus mean to you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 321: Acts 16, 17 and 18

He circumcised him because of all the Jews who lived in that area. (Acts 16:3)

Timothy had a Jew for a mother and a Gentile for a father. Not raised as a Jew, we know his grandmother and mother both shared faith in Christ (2 Timothy 1:5), and their witness no doubt led Timothy to faith as well. Paul ordained him (2 Timothy 1:6) and perhaps had himself received prophecies regarding Timothy’s future ministry (1 Timothy 1:18).

Paul took Timothy with him as his protégé, but thought it best that he first be circumcised. Without circumcision, Timothy’s credibility would be compromised among those Jews to whom they would be ministering because many of them knew Timothy and were aware his father was Greek.

This may be confusing, following so shortly after Paul’s report to the Jerusalem council regarding that very thing. Paul had argued that demanding Gentiles convert to Judaism before being baptized as Christians was wrong. Would not his decision regarding Timothy be incongruent with his arguments in the previous chapter?

Paul once asked, Why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? (1 Corinthians 10:29) He qualified his own argument just a few verses later: For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved (v. 33). Paul knew there are more important things than a Christian asserting his own rights, and the gospel is one of them.

What would you do to share Christ with your neighbors?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 320: Acts 13, 14 and 15

We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)

Legalism comes from believing that Christ's death on the cross was insufficient to guarantee our salvation. Whatever it might be, there is always something in addition to Christ's shed blood, necessary to pay for our guilt.
In the early church as the church shifted to include the Gentile population, many believing Jews thought Gentiles should be circumcised and obey Jewish law in order to be saved. In other words, they were expected to convert to Judaism first, and only then could they be received as Christians. On one occasion Peter almost bowed to the Judaizers' pressure, but then Paul took him to task and the matter was favorably resolved.
Today we have our own forms of legalism. Legalism may influence our choices of food or beverages; it may dictate that Sunday and only Sunday (or Saturday and only Saturday) is set aside for worship. It may require women to wear long hair and long dresses and men to wear short hair and short dresses... nah! Just seeing if you were paying attention. The point is we put our hope in following a set of rules.
Whatever the recipe of our particular brand of legalism, the security that it brings is false. When we get right down to it, legalism says all that really matters is following the rules better than the next guy.
Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus plus what?

Day 319: Acts 10, 11 and 12

God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34,35)

Here we see the progression from Christianity for Jews only to Gentiles tolerated to Gentiles actively engaged. Before Peter's dream of clean and unclean animals, he would never have considered that non-Jews could be included in the gospel message. Without the dream, he would have rejected those sent by Cornelius, and without Cornelius he would not have understood the dream.
Word of Cornelius's conversion got back to Jerusalem before Peter did, so when he got home he had some 'splainin' to do. After he told the full story, the Jerusalem Christians, who had not appreciated Peter's Gentile connection, were appeased.
Following Stephen's execution but prior to Peter's Caesarea experience, many Christians (Christianity started out largely as a sect of Judaism) had been persecuted by non-Christian Jews and run out of Jerusalem. Naturally, when they arrived in a new city, they would share the message of Christ with their new Jewish friends and as a result many believed in his name.
Only after Peter returned from Caesarea did Christians actively seek ways to deliver the gospel to Gentiles. We read in 11:20 that Christians from Cyprus (in the Mediterranean) and Cyrene (modern day Libya) brought the message of Christ to Antioch (modern day Turkey, just north of the Syrian border) targeting the Gentile population.
Someone brought the gospel to you. To whom will you take it next?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 318: Acts 7, 8 and 9

This man is my chosen instrument. (Acts 9:15)

If there was an unlikely candidate to spread the name of Christ throughout the first-century world, it was Paul. Raised a devout Jew, educated in one of the most prestigious rabbinical schools in the world, and recognized as an up-and-comer with the reputation of being a no-nonsense Pharisee, his passion was to destroy the church before it got off the ground.
Yet this was the man God chose to take the message of Christianity to the world.
After earning his degrees (journalism from the University of Missouri and law from Yale), Lee Strobel served as the award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. His research into the resurrection convinced this avowed atheist to receive Jesus as his forgiver and leader. He is now a NY Times best-selling author of nearly twenty books, espousing the cause of Christ.
From 1985 to 1992, Kirk Cameron starred in ABC's family sitcom Growing Pains. Another atheist, Kirk became a believer in Christ and has since co-founded The Way of the Master (an evangelism training program) and The Firefly Foundation, which among other things provides terminally ill children and their families a free summer camp experience.
Former marine turned lawyer, and the first to be imprisoned for his role in the Nixon administration Watergate break-in, Charles Colson accepted Christ and has devoted his life to his organization Prison Fellowship, which ministers to inmates and their families.
Now, why is it God would never call you into ministry?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 317: Acts 4, 5 and 6

No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. (Acts 5:13)

There is an interesting note regarding the early church in the days following the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. As you may recall from one of the more disturbing stories in Acts, this couple conspired to defraud the church by selling a piece of property, promising the full purchase price as an offering, but then withholding some of the funds by claiming the property brought less than in reality it did.

As uncomfortable as that story might make us, it had an interesting effect on the group’s standing in the community. The Christians were in the practice of meeting together in Solomon’s Colonnade, part of the temple complex. The 5th chapter contains a pair of almost paradoxical statements. Verse 14 reads: More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number, while the preceding verse reads: No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people (v. 13).

People who were not willing to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) had enough respect for the Spirit’s power in the church that they would not try and fake their way into the fellowship. In an age where people express their commitment by being baptized one Sunday and then don’t show up for the next six months, we don’t understand that kind of respect.

Do you take seriously the things of God?

Day 316: Acts 1, 2 and 3

Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (Acts 3:12)

For almost four decades beginning in 1961, Saturday afternoon TV viewers enjoyed ABC's Wide World of Sports where audiences were regaled with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. We can relate to those feelings, having all experienced both in varying degrees.
One day upon entering the temple for afternoon prayers, Peter and John encountered a crippled man begging for change. Peter told him, I don't have any cash on me, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (v. 6). The man was miraculously healed, whereupon Peter and John's instant celebrity resulted in a clamoring crowd of enthusiastic fans.
Peter quieted the crowd by diverting their praise, and proclaiming that this miracle was God's way of bringing glory to his Son Jesus.
Not that long ago the disciples had experienced the agony of defeat. In the days following Pentecost's thrill of victory, the disciples had many opportunities to make names for themselves, but instead chose to honor the name of Jesus.
How will we respond to victory? Will we take the credit and respond as singer/songwriter Steve Camp once sarcastically wrote? We give God the glory, but we're happy to accept the award. [1] Or will we confess that it's not by our own power or godliness, and cast our crowns before the throne?
Have you taken credit that belongs to Jesus Christ?
[1] I'm sorry I do not have information available regarding the album (ca. 1990), song title or lyrics, but to enjoy what Steve's doing now, read his blog at CampOnThis.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 315: John 19, 20 and 21

I am thirsty. (John 19:28)
In his insightful book How to Live Through a Bad Day, Jack Hayford writes that the rigors of the day, the torture and injury, as well as the sun beating down on him would have hastened Christ's dehydration. He was about to utter the most important words ever spoken, but to make sure his throat and mouth could speak clearly, first he needed help. [1]
Hayford reminds us: Jesus' plea for a drink is a reminder that no one is so in control, so spiritual, so self-sufficient, that he can make it through a bad day without people to help him. [2]
For those of us who have been raised to take care of ourselves, there may be nothing more difficult than admitting we need other people. Jesus' lesson to us is that it is not only okay to admit our weakness, but it would be prideful to deny it, and it would rob our brothers and sisters of the blessing they receive from being someone's answer to prayer.
I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9). What does this statement imply for those times we keep our weaknesses a secret?
How do you need help?
[1] Jack Hayford. How to Live Through a Bad Day (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).
[2] Ibid., 49.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 314: John 16, 17 and 18

My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

Many in Israel dismissed Jesus because he was not the Messiah they were expecting. The Messiah they anticipated would burst on the scene, repel the Roman occupation and set up his political kingdom on David's throne.
In Matthew 13 Jesus spoke of the kingdom: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . Though it is the smallest of your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree (vv. 31,32). Also, The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough (v. 33).
Many today are still expecting Christ to burst on the scene and set up his kingdom, not realizing that he planted the kingdom 2000 years ago, and it has been growing ever since. It's no wonder that so many have missed it. Consider this paradox: Narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it (Matthew 7:14). And: Before me was a great multitude that no one could count (Revelation 7:9). How does such an inauspicious beginning result in such an incredible outcome?
When we watch the mustard seed and the yeast, it may not be apparent that anything is happening, but God works outside the spotlight to bring about the kingdom's incremental onslaught.
What are you planting for an eternal harvest?

White Flag

Okay... I'm really behind with my blog, and there's something inside me that won't take my own advice. When others get behind in their Bible reading, I counsel them to just start over with today's reading and try to keep up with the daily readings from there. If they get some spare time, they can go back and read the parts they missed, but if they don't it's no big deal. The idea behind my blog 365 Forum and The Bible in 365 reading program is to encourage people to read the Bible every day and to help them read with understanding.

I got behind at the end of the summer, and have struggled to catch up ever since. I surrender. It's not gonna happen.

Today I'm starting with the current reading and jump-starting my blog with Day 314: John 16, 17 and 18. When I have a chance I'll write the blog posts for the days I missed, but probably won't actually post them until next year. Next year I'll be concentrating on introductions to the 66 books of the Bible, so that early in 2012 I can get my book to the printer.