Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Chains and Singing

Acts 16:19-28
    When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
     The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

    Have you ever wondered how Paul and Silas could sing hymns while imprisoned? And what was it about their prayer and songs that kept all the other prisoners from leaving? Whatever these men had, it was better to the prisoners than their freedom! Do you understand the power of this statement? This is not jail in America, with social time in the courtyard, guaranteed meals, latrines in every cell, TV, visits from friends and family and even school available to those who seek it. This is Roman imprisonment.
    The prison in which Paul and Silas were being kept was probably underground, perhaps dug out of rock. Often, the only entrance to such a prison was a hole the size of a manhole, through which both prisoners and guards were lowered. Any light came from a torch or oil lamp making the air smoky. No lights were allowed at night, so you were in pitch darkness. But there were worse things than the darkness. Food rations were half that of a slave ration; not truly enough to maintain life. Friends or family could bring you provisions...if they were allowed and were willing to brave being lowered through that manhole, to be lifted out at the guards' whim. And if they were willing to risk being associated with someone accused of whatever crime you were charged with. Most prisoners were whipped or beaten before being lowered in. Do you think their wounds were dressed? Bloody and in pain, they were manacled and left to suffer. There were no baths or potty breaks, not even chamber pots provided. Rats abounded; there were no beds or blankets, just chains. Prisoners often committed suicide, if they didn't die from the conditions and if they could find the means. Their bodies were piled in a corner to be lifted out later. By the way, female prisoners were dumped into the same prison as the males. No separate facilities here. And prison guards were usually the poorest of soldiers. I doubt they had much love for the prisoners whose crimes had forced them into this terrible place. Do you think they were pleasant to their charges?
    Prison for the Romans was not a punishment as it is today, but a place where you awaited trial or punishment. Punishment, when it came, could be enslavement. It could be a lifetime of working in rock quarries, or perhaps in mines, where you would never again see the light of day. Or maybe you would be made a galley slave, where you lived and slept on a bench, rowing a Roman galley until you died. If your crime was particularly bad your punishment would be death by crucifixion, arguably the most painful way to die. But before you received one of these punishments, you had to have a trial. And your trial came whenever they felt like getting around to it. If they did.
    So what was it about Paul and Silas that kept the prisoners, whose chains had been loosed, from running, attempting, at least, to escape this torture and the punishment that awaited them? What strange inner strength gave Paul and Silas the ability to endure this treatment and rather than cursing the all-powerful God, the worship of whom had landed them here, sing hymns of praise and pray to Him? What do you think you would do if thrown into such a prison for a crime you did not commit? Or even if you were thrown into a modern-day American prison? Could you praise God for allowing you to be falsely accused and unjustly condemned? Honestly, I don’t know what I would do. I think it’s impossible for anyone to say until they are in such a situation. But I believe I have had a taste of the joy that caused Paul and Silas to rise above their circumstances and focus on the eternal rather than the temporal.

    What about you? Have you ever tasted of the joy of the Spirit? I’m not talking about the simple pleasure that we often derive during worship time in church. Or the joy you might feel in the midst of good fellowship. Those are nice, but they generally fade as soon as the music dies or the fellowship ends. I’m talking about a deep inner peace, contentment and fulfillment that causes you to hunger and thirst for more. An addiction that drives you to seek the inducing drug, inciting you to go to extreme measures to get another hit. No drunkenness of wine can compare to the glory of this high. Like a lover’s caress, it’s locked in your memory so that you find yourself returning to it again and again, longing for the next embrace, wondering when it will come, how you can hasten it. Because if we allow him to, God will romance us. He created us with a desire for romance, and He is the best lover Harlequin ever imagined. This, I believe, is what Paul and Silas felt. This is what radiated from them, infecting the other prisoners with a passion to experience what they saw in these two men.
    Would you like a taste of what Paul and Silas had? It’s possible, you know. All you have to do is spend time with Jesus. He loves you. He desires you. Just you. Coming to him openly, unabashedly, wholeheartedly. It isn’t easy, of course. It’s difficult to have that with a flesh and blood person we can see and touch. To develop such intimacy with the Christ will take some effort. But if you try, I guarantee you will never look back. And you will not fail. “You will seek me and find me if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13)
    “So how do I begin?” You ask. I cannot give you a fail-safe formula for developing intimacy with the lover of your soul. But I can tell you this: when a woman sees a man she desires, she rearranges her schedule to make time to be with him. She sets up a date, puts him on her calendar, and makes sure she is available when he comes for her. So do that now. If you desire Jesus, look at your schedule; figure out where you can fit him in. He keeps his calendar open for you all the time. He’ll meet morning, noon or night. Whenever it’s convenient for you. Give him an hour to start. An hour would be a pretty short date with a desirable man. Does Jesus deserve at least that? A lunch date? Just a quick break from work to get to know him a little better, to find out if he’s as desirable on the inside as he is on the outside?
    I know the holidays are a busy time, but truly, that is why we need, all the more, to spend time with our Lord. Martin Luther once said, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” I’m no Martin Luther, but if a man like him needed much time in prayer, who am I to think I can get along without it? So I challenge you this holiday season, if you have never spent a full hour in prayer, to set aside one hour once a week, at a minimum to spend time in prayer. Plan it like you would a date. Get child care if you need to. But make it a priority. I guarantee that you will be glad you did it.

    Are you wondering how you could possibly spend an hour in prayer? I’ll share a plan that has helped me. Spend five minutes praying in each of the following areas. Set a timer if you need to, but don’t feel like you have to be bound by it if you do. Don't feel confined by the order, either. Let the Spirit lead you.

  • Waiting on God. You can put this after praise or before. It is a time to be silent before the Lord and wait for him to come to you. It is also a time to prepare your heart to meet with the maker of the universe, the Holy God.
  • Praise. The more time I spend in praise, the more joy-filled I find myself to be. If you struggle with praise, here are some psalms you could use:
Psalms 8, 9, 24, 29, 33, 47, 50, 65, 66, 76, 92, 93, 95-99, 104, 111, 113, 139, 147-150
  • Confession. Examine yourself. Think about your day, or week. Look for sins in your life and talk to God about them. Open your heart to him and let him show you things you may not have already seen.
  • Prayer for the world. This may involve some preparation work as you look into what events in the world need praying over. It could include things like praying for persecuted Christians, for the poor, the disadvantaged, for ministries like World Vision, YWAM and Wycliffe. It could be praying for the Syrian refugees or the people in the Philippines who are so greatly affected by the recent storm. Open yourself up and let God lead you in this.
  • Intercession. This is prayer for people you know. People at church, friends, neighbors, your country and city, etc. Again, you may want to prepare by having a list. Once you start writing things down you may feel five minutes is not nearly enough time. Remember, it is not our many words but the simple act of lifting a thing up to God. The Spirit prays for us, too!
  • Petition. This is a time of prayer for personal needs and family. Resist the urge to tell God what he should do. Rather, lift people up. Here is an excellent list of the prayers of Paul, arranged topically.
  • Thanksgiving. If you’re going through a tough time right now, this may seem difficult. If so, think of anything good in your life. Do you have a vehicle that works? Clothes to wear? A house? A beloved pet? Food? Health? Even partial health? Do your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and nerves work? Do you have two arms, two legs? There are many who do not have these things. Learn to appreciate the things you do not lack.
  • Singing. Take some time to sing a song of praise to God, or listen to one if you don’t like to sing. It is a wonderful way to lift up praise to him.
  • Read the scriptures. Just a chapter or two. Whatever you can read in five minutes.
  • Meditate on what you have just read. Does it talk about a sin you should avoid? Does it give you an example to follow? Does it speak of a command or promise God gives us? What lesson can you take away from it.
  • Listen to God. What does he have to say to you. This is one of the most difficult things to do.  Simply sitting silent, waiting to hear from God. Maybe he will speak, maybe not. You will never know if you don’t stop to listen, though.
  • End your time with more praise. Praising and glorifying God is, after all, what we were created for. And it is where we are closest to him.

If you commit yourself to God and give him this time, I promise that you will find yourself wondering where the hour went and wishing you could spend more time with the Lord. And you will begin to taste that joy and glory that made Paul and Silas sing in prison.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

John 20-21 "Follow Me"

The Day is Dawning...
From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! Psalm 113:3
  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…"  Galatians 4:4

In God's perfect timing, JESUS was sent to mankind with a mission that would bring PEACE & LIFE. John the Baptist was chosen by God and in the spirit of Elijah he was sent to prepare the way for the first coming of the Christ!  There were many in Israel at the time who were faithfully waiting & looking for the Messiah to come. Even so, the Bible says that many missed HIS COMING. Jesus was not quite what they were expecting. Though He was full of glory and grace, the people's hard fickle hearts refused to believe.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3 

Through out the book of John we see the life, ministry - works & Words -  of Jesus Christ. Instead of the warrior Messiah the Jews expected, Jesus was the suffering servant who first came to pay the price for our sins. Jesus was faithful to the end obeying the will of the Father with perfection. There is none like our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ!  

The angels sang in a mighty chorus: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered--to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:12 
When the mission was accomplished on that cross, His last words "It is finished!" echoed as a victorious battle cry!  The viel was torn in the temple signifying that a way to GOD had been made! By His wounds we are healed, restored, and redeemed! 

John 20 opens with

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. John 20:1

Mary runs and tells the disciples in which Peter and John take off towards the tomb. Neither predicted that Jesus would rise that day but John said in verse 8 that they "saw and believed"! They went back to tell the others but Mary stayed. She did not understand and was seeking His body. She was seekingand she found HIM!  Jesus appeared and when He spoke her name her eyes were open and she SAW HIM! 


Mary Magdalene is an example of a true committed follower. Her love for Jesus was apparent and showed by her actions. What about us 2000 years later?  

What do your actions reveal about what you are "seeking" or living for in this world? 

Matthew 7:7 says,  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking!  

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ Christ is the single greatest event in the history of the world. It is so foundational to Christianity that no one who denies it can be a true Christian. Without the resurrection there is no Chrsitian faith, no salvation, and no hope. The foundation of all our hope is expressed in Jesus’s own words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in ME though he may die, yet he shall live.” John 11:25 and Because I live, you wll live also. 14:19"  - John MacArthur

 Encounters with the risen LORD = LIFE CHANGE:

1.  Jesus first appears to his disciples (minus Thomas) that very Sunday evening.  We see that the disciples are not holding on to the words of Jesus from John 14 to not be troubled!  They were afraid of the Jews and so they had locked themselves in the room where they were meeting. Jesus appeared and stood among them. He spoke, “PEACE be with you” . Note the beauty of His words. Now that His work "is finished" there is PEACE with God.  "Since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God by our LORD Jesus Christ" Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14-17. We have peace with God and are called to walk in His Peace. Jesus showed His disciples His nail pierced hands - they rejoiced & were sure glad to see Him! 
Again Jesus said, “PEACE be with you." PEACE is His will. He provides us PEACE and told the disciples "do not let your hearts be troubled." (John 14:27)  May HIS PEACE reign in our hearts & minds as we trust & follow Him.

In this first encounter, Jesus does an amazing thing as He prepares His disciples for what is next.  John 20:21 reads, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Recieve the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." 
Interesting notes:
  • The greek word for breath here is a rare term emphysao. In  Gen 2:7 the exact same term is used. "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."  
  • In Genesis God breathed into Adam and created life -  a living being. 
  • In John we see Jesus breathing on His disciples and we see the symbolic picture of the "new birth" of spiritual Life! This is the new birth Jesus was describing to Nicodemis in John 3 for all those who receive Jesus through faith.
  • Think about this:  God breathed into the first Adam in the garden and created a living being. Jesus, also known as the last Adam, breathed on the disciples with the life giving Spirit. There is new heavenly & Spiritual life through Jesus Christ.  
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man." 
  • Jesus breaths on His disciples and we see the dawning of a new era! Jesus earthly mission work is finished. The disciples' work was just beginning!  They are chosen and called to declare the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is forgiveness for all those who look to Jesus, repent of their sins, and receive His word in Faith. There is forgiveness in no other way. So if one rejects this way, their sins are not forgiven. The disciples did not decide this, God did. The disciples are called to proclaim and declare the path to peace and forgiveness and peace with God. In Acts, we see Peter & the disicples filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and doing this with great boldness and love! 
"As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you", Jesus spoke to His followers.  We also are called to obey and depend on God as we live on mission here!  Jesus is our example to Follow and He provides the Life giving Spirit!  Jesus sent the HOLY Spirit as our Help!  John 15 speaks on the vital importance of abiding in HIM and the necessity of the Spirit of God in our lives. Apart from HIM we can do NO GOOD thing!

 How are you carrying out the call as one who is "sent"?

Do you blend in with the ways of our culture or are you diligent to walk in an opposite manner?

2.  In the second encounter, Jesus reveals himself to Thomas. Thomas was not there on Sunday at the first encounter and he refused to believe the disciples word without seeing for himself. 
Jesus in his omniscience knew these doubts in Thomas.  So 8 days later he shows THOMAS His hands in which Thomas responds,  “My LORD & My God!”  Jesus cares about each one of HIS sheep and intentionally prepared each of them for what the future would hold.  Many would not have the joy of seeing the risen LORD first hand, but Jesus said those who believe by the word alone will be blessed.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 

At the end of John 20 we see the clear purpose statement of the book from the author:
"...but these are written so that you  may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name." John 20:31

May your faith and belief be strengthened and perfected as you seek HIM.

3.  Third encounter: A new day as Peter is restored and given a charge to keep.

Peter had already seen the risen LORD, but it seems he was still unsure of what he was to be doing. So he decided to go back to what he did before he met Jesus and went fishing. Six other of the disicples followed.  
Peter & the disciples fished all night catching nothing. 
“...just as the day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore…" John 21:4
Jesus stood on the shore but the disciples did not recognize him. He was about 100 yards away and asked if they had caught anything. The disciples replied, "No", and so Jesus told them to cast their nets now on the right side of the boat in which they found a great catch of fish!  John recognized Jesus now & Peter jumps out of the boat to go to Him. 

In Luke 5:4-7 & Matt. 4 we see a very similar fishing example. This is when Jesus first called Peter to be his disciple.  In the same way, Jesus shows up and tells the "professional" fishermen what to do. Peter obeys and gains a great reward of fish! On this day Jesus told Peter,  “You will now fish for men!” Luke 5:7  

Do you ever get confused or discouraged about what God has for you? 

Have you ever "forgotten" what it is you are to be doing?

It is easy and natural to get off track and even resort to our "old life"(life before faith). Often our flesh, the cares of this world, or/and the enemy can lead us astray. But GOD, who is rich in mercy & steadfast love, will never leave us. He restores our soul. (Psalm 23:3) 

"Come and have breakfast." John 21:12

  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep. He provides not only spiriutal nourishment but physical as well. Jesus made breakfast for Peter and then spoke into his life. The words and way of Jesus redirected & refueled Peter's longing soul. Jesus gave him the vision and empowerment needed for what would lay ahead. This seemed to be a painful & uncomfortable conversation for Peter but the end result was RESOLVE, PURPOSE, and PEACE.

Jesus told Peter, "Follow me. I will make you a fisher of men. Follow Me. You follow me!" (Matt 4, John 21)

After this encounter and after Pentecost we see a new man in Simon Peter! In Acts Peter proclaims Jesus as the risen LORD with great boldness and power to the Chief Priest & through out the world.

In 1 Peter, we see words of encouragment sent to the Messianic Jews who were scattered throughout the regions. He tells the Christians who they are and what they are called to do: 
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojouners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the gentiles (unbelievers) honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildores, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:9-12

Not looking to the left or the right we are called to follow with our eyes fixed on Christ!  I'm afraid too many who call themselves "Christians" either do not know or have forgotten that this world is not our home. We have gotten too comfortable here with our pleasure filled, self seeking society and  our convenient American lives. We don't want to get messy or get out of our comfort zones. We prefer things our way and right now!  Many of us don't act much differently than the kids we see around us who demand their way and we wonder where they get it!

When is the last time you gave of your time, resources, or talents until it hurt for the Kingdom of God? We often give out of our wealth and convience verses out of sacrificial love & adoration of the KING & for His beloved Kingdom.

God is ALIVE!  His Kingdom is coming!  He is doing a new thing in me. He is doing a new thing in HIS church. 

 How are you preparing the way?

May this generation be found faithful and true.

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth. (He spoke and it was.) Genesis 1

In the begining was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. John 1:1;14

"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in[d] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God." Revelation 19:11-13

Advent - Waiting with expectation for HIS COMING!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good News of Great Joy

Here is another wonderful free advent devotional.

We are already on day 4 but it is NEVER too late to spend time in His word. Commit yourself to read the Bible, even if it is just a verse. Trust me. It is intoxicating and soon you will be reading whole chapters everyday.

Make NO excuses! 
You DO have the time! 
NOTHING is more important!

John Piper is offering this wonderful devotional as a FREE download on his website.
Come check it out!