Tuesday, December 18, 2018

God Has Shown Kindness to You

Today's Reading:
Joshua 5:1-7:15
Acts 14:8-28
Psalm 61:1-8
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 14:14-18
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. 

Insight:
Paul and Barnabas proclaimed to the people of Lystra the good news that the true God who made heaven and earth was now showing himself to them. The living God was calling them to come to him and to turn away from worthless things.

Paul explained that their worship of false Gods had resulted from a long history of ignoring God and going their own mistaken way. He pointed to creation, the seasonal rains, and bountiful crops as witnesses of provision from their Creator. The abundance of blessing and joy in their lives, he said, were testimonies of God's kindness to them.

Response and Action:
The good news is that God is calling people to himself. In proclaiming this good news, it is important to help people see evidence of the true and living God who is already at work among them with love and kindness. It is also necessary to help them recognize what is false and worthless.

O Living and True God, I want to be responsive to your invitation. Help me to turn away from all that is worthless and false. Help me to recognize the evidences of your truth and kindness toward me. As I   respond and surrender to you, help me to share this good news with others. Help me be a witness of your truth and kindness. Help me to humbly and gently expose falsehoods and point others to you. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Matthew 28:18-20
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Resources:
Growing Your Faith By Giving It Away: Telling the Gospel Story With Grace and Passion
by R. York Moore

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Meaning of Stones

Today's Reading:
Joshua 3:1-4:24
Acts 13:42-14:7
Psalm 60:5-12
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Joshua 4:20-22,24
20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, "In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' 22 tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' - - - 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God."

Insight:

As the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, they took common rocks from    the middle of the river and turned them into a memorial witness of their uncommon God. In the future, every time someone saw that pile of twelve stones, it would remind them of the powerful way God showed himself to be their provider.

The same God who had brought them out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea, and safely through the wilderness, now brought them safely across the Jordan into the Land of Promise. Ordinary stones from the river became milestones of their journey—a memorial of God's faithfulness to them.

Response and Action:Common things can serve as wonderful faith souvenirs that remind me of God's goodness and provision. In communion, common bread and wine become a witness of God's grace and deliverance made possible by Christ's death and resurrection. In baptism, common water becomes a witness of the new life God offers to all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What is God bringing me through today? What common thing could I pick up today and turn it into a witness and reminder of God's faithfulness to me?

O God, you are worthy of my praise and thanks. You guide and provide for your people as they follow you in faith. Open my eyes to all the common things around me that can serve as reminders of your uncommon power and goodness to me. Give me the creativity and discipline to gather small souvenirs along my life's journey to serve as witnesses of your love and mercy to me. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Luke 22:19
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

Resources:
Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts
by Harold Best

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Be Strong and Courageous

Today's Reading:
Deut. 34:1-Josh. 2:24
Acts 13:16-41
Psalm 60:1-4
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Joshua 1:7-9
7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Insight:

The torch of leadership was passed on from Moses to Joshua. God admonished Joshua to be strong and courageous and to be careful to follow the commands he received through Moses. Though they would face frightening opposition and discouraging circumstances, God promised Joshua that he would be with him wherever he went, giving him strength and success.

Response and Action:
I'm no Joshua, but my life's journey requires strength and courage. Whether it's big or small, we're all leaders in some way. We all have to take the lead at some time. As a follower of Jesus, I take heart in knowing that God will not forsake me in the times I need to be a leader. Like Joshua, I will commit myself to knowing and meditating upon God's written word. When I face difficult and discouraging circumstances, I will look to God for the energy and confidence I need to keep pressing forward.

O God, thank you for the promise to be with your people. Give me an awareness of your presence with me today. Grant me the strength and the faith I need to face the challenges and circumstances of my life. When I am frightened, guard my heart and mind with the peace of Christ Jesus. Protect me from discouragement, and encourage me, by your Holy Spirit, through your Word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 2 Timothy 2:1-7
1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

Resources:
Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day
by James Emery White

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Reading Schedule for December 16-22


SUNDAY
Deuteronomy 34:1-Joshua 2:24
Acts 13:16-41
Psalm 60:1-4

MONDAY
Joshua 3:1-4:24
Acts 13:42-14:7
Psalm 60:5-12

TUESDAY
Joshua 5:1-7:15
Acts 14:8-28
Psalm 61:1-8

WEDNESDAY
Joshua 7:16-9:2
Acts 15:1-35
Psalm 62:1-12

THURSDAY
Joshua 9:3-10:43
Acts 15:36-16:15
Psalm 63:1-11

FRIDAY
Joshua 11:1-12:24
Acts 16:16-40
Psalm 64:1-10

SATURDAY
Joshua 13:1-14:15
Acts 17:1-34
Psalm 65:1-13

I Will Sing in the Morning

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 33:1-29
Acts 12:24-13:15
Psalm 59:9-17
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Psalm 59:16-17
16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. 17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.

Insight:
Though his life was filled with problems, threats, and enemies, David put his faith in God. He believed that there would be a morning of blessing that followed the dark night. He believed that God was reliable. He considered the Lord to be his refuge. He was so confident in the Lord   that he sang songs of praise even in times of trouble.

Response and Action:
I want to have a faith in God that exceeds my fear of trouble. I will give praise to God even in the dark times of hardship, believing that the morning of his blessing will come in due time

O God, be my refuge in times of trouble. Be my strength in times of weakness. Be my refuge in the storm. Show me your grace and love as I strive to honor and serve you in a world dominated by hate and selfishness. Make me an instrument of your peace. Make me a witness of your goodness. Help me to sing songs of praise until the final morning dawns and you set all things right. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
Jude 1:24-25
24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Resources:
Learning to Pray through the Psalms
by James W. Sire

Friday, December 14, 2018

Astonished by Answered Prayer

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 32:28-52
Acts 12:1-23
Psalm 59:1-8
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 12:12-15
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" 15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

Insight:
I'm always encouraged by how surprised the believers praying for Peter were when he showed up at their door. When the servant girl went to answer the door during the prayer time and returned with news that Peter was standing at the door, they practically told her to stop bothering them. They were too busy praying for Peter to expect an answer to their prayers. They told her, “You’re crazy.” They told her she had probably seen an angel. It’s almost funny to see a group of people praying so fervently to God for Peter's release, and yet so unprepared for their prayer to be answered. I'm like that too!

Response and Action:
The amount of my faith is not as important as the object of my faith. It's good for me to pray for all my concerns, even though I may not be able to grasp or expect the way God will answer my prayers. God can and may do more than I am able to ask or imagine. Prayers are not dependent upon the mind of those praying, but rather upon the will of the God to whom they pray. I will lift up my requests and petitions to God, knowing that he may answer my prayers in ways I am not expecting.

O God, thank you for your power to answer prayer. Give me the faith and boldness to come to you with every need and concern. Thank you that your answers to my prayers are not dependent upon my ability to anticipate what they will be. Give me eyes that are ready to recognize your answers to my prayers, and give me a mouth that is ready to give you praise for them. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 Ephesians 3:20-21
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Resources:
The God Who Hears
by W. Bingham Hunter

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Reminder for Rebellious Hearts

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 31:1-32:27
Acts 11:1-30
Psalm 58:1-11
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Deuteronomy 31:24-27
24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!"

Insight:
Here, at the end of his life, Moses is less than cheerful and optimistic about Israel's future. After reminding the people of the importance of seeking and obeying God, after stressing the importance of knowing and teaching God's word to their children, and after writing all the words of the Law in a book, he tells them to put the book beside the ark of the covenant as "a witness against them." He basically tells them, "Here's God's word. Put it in a sacred and special place so it can remind you of how rebellious and disobedient you are."

While Moses faithfully communicated the Law God revealed to him, he had absolutely no confidence that the Israelites would be able to follow it. He said, "I know you are corrupt and that you'll turn away from the things I've taught you." Moses gave the Law, but he understood that the future of his people would depend completely on the grace of God. Even Moses knew that the Law was unable to change people or save them.

Response and Action:
Knowing what is right and true is good, but knowledge cannot make me righteous. Knowing what is wrong only serves to show me how easily I am prone to do it. It highlights my inability to overcome the corruption and rebellion at work in me. It shows me that I need God's grace. Only by the grace of God and the power of his Spirit can I be transformed and strengthened to do his will.

I will seek to know the Scriptures and to humbly follow the instructions and precepts it reveals, but my confidence will be in God's grace, not in my ability to follow instructions. I will listen to the teachings of Jesus and make every effort to obey them, but my hope is in Him, not in my ability to obey him. I know how stiff-necked and rebellious I can be, so my hope is firmly fixed upon God's grace and his resurrection power to transform and shape me.

O God, help me to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. Lead, teach, transform, shape, and strengthen me, that I might delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your Name. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.


Spiritual Formation Verses: John 1:14, 16-18

14 
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. - - - 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Resources: 
Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us
by Scot McKnight

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

God Doesn't Show Favoritism

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20
Acts 10:24-48
Psalm 57:7-11
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 10:30-35
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

Insight:
God accepts anyone who has faith in him and reverence for him. Faith and reverence are lived out through honoring God and doing what is right. The testimony of all the prophets, Peter said, is that "everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Through this amazing God-ordained encounter, God was not only showing himself to Cornelius and his household, he was also helping Peter to know and understand him more fully.

Response and Action:
 I am so glad that God's mercy and love are available to everyone regardless of ethnicity, language, nationality, or religious background. Those who believe in God and humbly seek him will find him.

My faith in God and reverence for him must be lived out in my daily life. I will seek God with my whole heart. I will continue to expect God to help me know him more completely and deeply. I will be ready and willing to help others know and respond to God. I will also be ready to learn new things about God. The more I know Christ the more I will be able to share him with others. The more I share Christ with others, the more I will know him.

O God, thank you for loving us and for making a way for us to have forgiveness and life through Jesus. You have promised that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. May all who seek you find you, O God. May all who know you freely and boldly share your love with everyone around them. Help me to know you more and more each day. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 1 John 5:11-12
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Resources: 
One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches
by George A. Yancey

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

My Heart Is Steadfast

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 28:1-68
Acts 10:1-23
Psalm 57:1-6
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Psalm 57:4-7
4 I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. 6 They spread a net for my feet—I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path—but they have fallen into it themselves. 7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.
See 1 Samuel 24 to read the story behind the Psalm.

Insight:

The Psalms in today's reading are filled with descriptions of perils juxtaposed with expressions of praise. In one breath David described the tongues of his enemies as sharp swords, but then in the next breath David's tongue began to praise his God. He thought of his enemies and described the trap they had spread for his feet, but his next thought was the recognition that his enemies would be the ones to ultimately trip and fall.

Many things were crumbling down around him, but David's heart was steadfast. He was confident that by God's grace he would not be brought down, and so he lifted up his voice in songs of praise.

Response and Action:
When I think of the fears and challenges in my life, I will lift them up to God in prayer. And as I cry out for help, I will also sing songs of honor and trust. I will punctuate my pleas for help with shouts of praise. Every problem I recount to God will be accompanied with an expression of hope and adoration. Every time I think of the things that threaten to bring me down, I will give thanks to the Lord who has promised to hold me up.

O God, I live in a world of danger, but you are a God of deliverance. There are things that scare me, but you have promised to save me. Traps have been set to pull me down, but your truth has been given to hold me up. In the face of every peril, I will give you praise. Thank you for Christ Jesus who has both promised and proved that you are the faithful God who has defeated every enemy—even death. Nothing can defeat those who have placed their confidence in you by trusting in your Son, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit--one God now and forever. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 2 Timothy 1:12b
12b I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

Resources:
Faith and Doubt
by John Ortberg

Monday, December 10, 2018

Believing God Can Change People

Today's Reading:
Deut. 26:1-27:26
Acts 9:26-43
Psalm 56:1-13
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 9:26-27
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Insight:
It's difficult for people to change. Saul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus was a traumatic point of change. He was confronted  with the truth of Christ and was radically turned from a zealous opponent to fearless believer. This change was not easy for others to deal with.

Those who wanted Saul to persecute the church now saw him as a threat that needed to be eliminated. Those who had experienced persecution now found it difficult to believe that Saul had truly become a follower of Christ. Barnabas, whose name means "encourager," accepted Saul. He came alongside Paul, gave him support, and helped the Christian community recognize the dramatic change in his life.

Response and Action:
I need to remember how hard it is for people to change. People who put their faith in Christ often experience pressure and animosity from people who don't want them to change. Sadly, they may also feel a lack of support or acceptance from Christians who are skeptical about them. I want to be a Barnabas.

I want to be welcoming, accepting, and supportive of new believers. I want to come alongside them, encourage them in their faith, help them form relationships with other believers, and help them overcome the pressures and threats they feel from those who do not want them to follow Christ.

O God, thank you for the men and women who have supported me and helped me follow Christ. Thank you for the changes you have brought to my life. Thank you for the transformation and renewal I am experiencing by the grace and power of your Holy Spirit. Help me to be an encouragement and friend to new believers as they begin their new life in Christ. Help my church to be a welcoming community that believes in your power to change and renew lives. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 Hebrews 10:24-25
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Resources:
Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction
by David G. Benner

Sunday, December 09, 2018

My Chosen Instrument

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19
Acts 9:1-25
Psalm 55:12-23
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 9:13-15
13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." 15 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.

Insight:
Saul not only rejected Christianity, he vigorously opposed it. He was doing everything within his power to wipe it out. From his perspective the claims of Jesus and his followers were lies and blasphemy. His hostility toward Christianity was rooted in his faith and devotion to God. Only through his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus did he come to recognize Jesus as the very God he was trying to serve and honor.

After he put his faith in Jesus as his Lord and Savior, the energy and passion Saul/Paul had formerly directed toward persecuting Christians was redirected toward helping others become Christians. The man who was once the most feared opponent of Christianity became the greatest evangelist, ambassador, and teacher of the early church.

Great adversaries have the capacity to become great advocates. Those who are zealous in their opposition to God, may be chosen instruments he intends to use to reach others. When those who thoughtfully and honestly oppose the gospel come to recognize Jesus for who he truly is, they can become the most believable, passionate, and effective witnesses for Christ in the world.

Response and Action: 
When God directed Ananias to go to Saul, he was hesitant and perhaps a little fearful. He had heard about Saul's hostility toward Christian faith and the harm he had inflicted upon followers of Jesus. Ananias saw a threatening enemy, but God saw a passionate servant.

I want to be faithful and obedient to God as I relate to people who reject Jesus and are hostile to Christianity. I want to be a loving and thoughtful witness to those who are struggling with honest questions, those who oppose faith for good reasons, and even those who strenuously oppose Christianity because they think it's a lie.

I need to remember that these opponents have the potential to reach and influence more people than I ever could. Their opposition to Christ might be the very thing that will lead them to one day recognize Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. They may be God's chosen instruments for helping others come to faith in Christ.


O God, make me ready to minister to others, and obedient to your call. Help me to see the promise and potential people have in Christ. Give me a love and generosity for those who deny and oppose you. Give me the wisdom and understanding to answer the questions of honest skeptics. Remind me that you are at work in the world to help seekers find you. Give me the grace and integrity to live a Jesus-shaped life that bears witness to the truth of the gospel. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 2 Corinthians 5:20
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Resources:
Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential
by Gordon T. Smith

Reading Schedule for December 9-15


SUNDAY
Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19
Acts 9:1-25
Psalm 55:12-23

MONDAY
Deuteronomy 26:1-27:26
Acts 9:26-43
Psalm 56:1-13

TUESDAY
Deuteronomy 28:1-68
Acts 10:1-23
Psalm 57:1-6

WEDNESDAY
Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20
Acts 10:24-48
Psalm 57:7-11

THURSDAY
Deuteronomy 31:1-32:27
Acts 11:1-30
Psalm 58:1-11

FRIDAY
Deuteronomy 32:28-52
Acts 12:1-23
Psalm 59:1-8

SATURDAY
Deuteronomy 33:1-29
Acts 12:24-13:15
Psalm 59:9-17

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Helping Others Understand

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30
Acts 8:14-40
Psalm 55:1-11
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 8:30-32
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 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."

Insight:

Philip was able to meet and help the Ethiopian because:
1. He received direction from the Holy Spirit (vv. 26, 20).
2. The Ethiopian was already seeking God through worship (v. 27) and the scriptures (v. 28).
3. He knew the scriptures so well that he could recognize what the man was reading and could explain how that scripture pointed to Jesus.

Response and Action:
I need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading. I need to open my eyes to see others who are seeking. I need to be willing to approach and connect with people who are different from me. I need to be grounded and growing in my own faith in order to help those who are seeking truth. I need to be very familiar with the Scriptures if want to be able to help those who have questions. I want to be ready and able to explain how the message of the Bible points to Jesus.

O God, thank you for reaching out to humanity. Thank you for revealing yourself through your son, Jesus, through the Scriptures, and through your people. Please lead me into paths where there are opportunities to help others find you. Help me to recognize those who are seeking for the truth that is found in Jesus alone. Help me to know, understand, and remember the Scriptures. Give me the words and ability to explain the good news of Jesus. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 Romans 10:14-15
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Resources: 
Growing Your Faith By Giving It Away: Telling the Gospel Story With Grace and Passion
by R. York Moore

Friday, December 07, 2018

From Antagonist to Apostle

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 18:1-20:20
Acts 7:51-8:13
Psalm 54:1-7
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 7:59 - 8:3
7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Insight:

As Stephen was martyred for his faith in Christ Jesus, a man named Saul was in the crowd giving his full approval. The event sparked the beginning of an intense campaign of persecution against Christians, and Saul became a zealous champion of a crusade to destroy the heretical movement he believed Christianity to be.

What a shocking beginning to the story of the Apostle Paul! He began as a passionate antagonist intent on obliterating Christianity from the earth, but he became the passionate missionary devoted to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. He began as an angry man who approved of killing those who believed in Jesus, but he became a gracious man willing to lay down his life for Christ.

Saul was a self-righteous Pharisee, but Paul became a humble pastor who saw himself as “chief of sinners.” The enemy of the church, Saul, doesn't speak a word in Acts 8, but he became the great Apostle who wrote much of the New Testament—committing his life to establishing, expanding, and edifying the church. Saul, who stopped and silenced Stephen, would become Paul who mentored and inspired young men like Timothy and Titus to become Christian leaders.

Response and Action:
Dramatic change is possible with Jesus. Passionate opponents of Christianity can become enthusiastic advocates of Jesus. I need to remember that Jesus and transformation go hand in hand.

It is impossible for me to know just how God may be using what seems to be loss and defeat in order to accomplish gain and victory. Stephen's faith and boldness in the face of death may have been the very thing that inspired the Apostle Paul to later write: "Whether by life or by death, may Christ be exalted in my body."

I will ask God to use and change me as I follow Christ. I will pray for those who oppose Christ, believing that they could by God's grace become wholehearted ambassadors for Christ.

O God, help me to live for you and through you in thought, word, and deed. Help me to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. Help me to turn away from what is false and to love what is true. Help me to turn away from confidence in self and, instead, turn to you with a humble recognition of my need and my sin. By the power of your Holy Spirit, lead, teach, transform, shape, and strengthen me, that I might delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your Name.   Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Resources: 
Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions
by Albert Haase

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Resisting the Spirit

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 16:1-17:20
Acts 7:30-50
Psalm 53:1-6
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 7:51-53
51 "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."

Insight:

Stephen's ministry in the early church had attracted the attention and opposition of the Sanhedrin—the ruling council and highest authority in   ancient Jerusalem. His preaching and his persuasive arguments about Jesus were especially unacceptable to them. When Stephen was called to stand before them and defend himself, he gave a brief review of Hebrew history with an emphasis on the many occasions when the Israelites had been slow to obey God or recognize God's leading. He challenged them to consider their rejection of Jesus, framing it as the latest misstep in Israel's long history of disobedience and disbelief.

Response and Action:
In the face of abuse and opposition, Stephen stood firm in his faith. Instead of defending himself or arguing for his own release, Stephen boldly challenged the Sanhedrin to consider their own history and to give careful consideration to the claims of Jesus. They were cold and cruel to him, but he was gracious and forgiving toward them.

O God, give me eyes to see the work of Jesus in my world today. Help me to experience and understand your work and presence in my life. Help me to stand firm in my faith—to be a bold and effective witness for Jesus in my world and in my time. If I face disapproval from others, help me to be gracious to those who oppose me. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 1 Peter 3:14-16
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Resources: 
Living Gently in a Violent World
by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Open Hands and Generous Hearts

Today's Reading:
Deut. 13:1-15:23
Acts 7:1-29
Psalm 52:1-9
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Deuteronomy 15:7-11
7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

Insight:
One of the truly astounding aspects of the Mosaic Law is its concern for the welfare of the widow, orphan, slave, and alien. God expected his people to live with compassion, concern, and generosity toward those who were in need. Those who were doing well were to see their well-being as a blessing from God. They were expected to give "without a grudging heart" and to be "openhanded" to the poor. There will always be someone in need, so those who are in a position to help must always be ready and willing to do so. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

Response and Action:
Do I have concern for those who are in need? Do I have compassion for those who are in circumstances that lead to poverty? If so, how do I demonstrate this compassion and concern?

I must be ready to pitch in and give when someone around me is in need. I should also encourage my church family to be ready to meet practical needs within our fellowship and in the community around us. I can also be an advocate for social programs on the local, state, and federal level, that are directed  toward meeting the needs of the poor and the alien.

I must be realistic about poverty; it is persistent and ongoing. My concern for those in poverty must likewise be persistent and ongoing.

O God, you have been so gracious and generous to me. Give me a heart like you -- compassionate toward the poor and generous to the needy. Give me the attitude of Christ Jesus, who emptied himself for my sake. Help me to be cheerful and openhanded as I share the blessings you've given me with those who are in need. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 John 3:17-18
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Resources: 
Practical Justice: Living Off-center in a Self-centered World 
by Kevin Blue