To The Knowable God

I was really impressed with Acts 17:26-28 today. This passage describes Paul’s message to the people in Athens who had an alter that said, “to the unknown god.” In a couple of ways this alter is admirable. First, the people realized that there was a god, and second, they also realized they did not know who God was.

To this group Paul declares, “He (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘in him we live and move and have our being.’”

The audience should be aware that God is the one who has created everyone from Adam. He is the one who has allowed them to experience the benefits of the Roman Empire, the boundries of their influence and their very existence.In fact God is very near to everyone.

How is God near? In verses 30-31, Paul says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul masterfully described their situation. They had been groping in the dark trying to find God in creation. God is near to everyone because the way to have a relationship with him has been made clear. It took special revelation from God for us to know him. Since Jesus died for our sin and communicated the way of salvation, the time for claiming ignorance is gone. Everyone needs to embrace Jesus as their Savior and God for the forgiveness of sins and for life, then a relationship will begin with the knowable God.

Father, what a great reminder of your nearness to me, but also your knowability. You are not the unknown God anymore! The way to know you is clear. Those who embrace Jesus as Savior and God have the privilege of a relationship with you!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

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How Do I Respond To Suffering?

Paul and Silas are examples of people who suffered unjustly. In Acts 16: 23-24 it says, “And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” This suffering came simply because they had healed a demon possessed slave who no longer could make her owners a profit.

Paul and Silas should not have been treated in such a manner because they were Roman citizens. This beating most likely was very sever. As Lenski states, “Under the many blows the skin would be broken, the blood would ooze out, and inflamed welts would cover the whole back.” The text also said that they were thrown into prison after the beating. Roman prisons had three sections. The first allowed prisoners light and air. The second area put them behind locked bars and gates and the third was the dungeon and used for executions. It is most likely in this third inner section of the prison that Paul and Silas were confined.

They were not just put in a cell, but the jailer “fastened their feet in the stocks.” Most likely the stocks were also a form of torture. In the stocks the feet were spread farther apart than they normally could go and then locked in place causing great pain.

This dark dungeon in which Paul and Silas are suffering would be a great place to start complaining and feeling sorry for themselves. Yet verse 25 says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Are you kidding me! They were singing? No wonder the text says the other prisoners were listening to them! Could they have been the first brutally beaten and tortured prisoners singing instead of moaning and complaining in this inner dungeon? What an amazing witness they had in the midst of the darkest time of their lives!

Tertullian, an early Christian author who lived around 200AD said, “Nothing the limb feels in the stocks when the mind is in heaven.” Wow! Paul and Silas somehow were more focused on their relationship with God and their gratitude for their salvation than their pain.

Father, my difficulties in life are not even worth mentioning when compared to what Paul and Silas suffered. In my problems in life, I rarely sing and praise you. Help me to have the right focus when suffering comes. Help me to respond in trials with complete trust in you and your will for me and give me the grace to display your character when the hards times come. Thanks for loving me.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

With My Whole Heart

In Jeremiah 24:7 it says, “And I’ll give them a heart to know me, GOD. They’ll be my people and I’ll be their God, for they’ll have returned to me with all their hearts” (The Message).

In the context, the Jews were going to be taken captive, but God promised to restore them to the land and that one day they would long to know God and embrace him with their whole heart. This reminds me of something Jesus said when he responded to one of the pharisees trying to trick him about the greatest commandment. Jesus said the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37).

Both of these passages are describing what the number one allegiance of my heart should be. As a disciple of Jesus, no one is to be my primary allegiance other than God.

This truth ties in to Mark 10 where the rich man came to Jesus, but left disheartened because he could not give up his wealth to follow him. Jesus exposed the heart of the rich man so that it was clear that he had a competing allegiance that made following Jesus the way he desired impossible. In fact, Jesus comments on that truth later in the passage by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:25). Why? Because it is very hard for those who have much to keep God the center of their lives. Competing interests can easily lead us astray.

Father, I am very blessed with your provision, protection and comfort. In fact, no generation has had it easier than I do. With this prosperity it is also so easy to be distracted from a whole heart commitment to you. Is their something distracting me from wholeheartedly following you? If so, please show me what it is.

May you, by your gracious enabling help me to follow you with a whole heart. You are my God and I desire you to be the number one priority of my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Exhausted Yet Pursuing

In Judges 8, Gideon makes a memorable statement in verse 4 when he says that he and his men were “exhausted yet pursuing.” In the context, Gideon and his 300 men were pursuing the Midianites and their kings. I can only imagine how tired they must have been as they fought overwhelming numbers for many hours and then pursued their enemies as they fled. Gideon and his men did not have enough food and water to replenish their strength. They were spent and yet they continued on in an effort to accomplish the LORD’S will.

Have you ever felt “exhausted and yet pursuing” the LORD’s will in you life? I think sometimes we can view the normal life of a disciple of Jesus as an easy, carefree life insulated from problems and worries. Obviously, that is not the case. Even though God had given the victory over the Midianites to Gideon and his men, they exerted great effort to experience that victory. They were not passive, but very active in cooperating with the work of God and the path of obedience took all their strength.

I need to remember that my pursuit of Jesus and following his will is not necessarily easy or automatic. In my relationship with him, I can’t be passive. Rather, I need to be active and then he will prosper my efforts as I follow him. I also need to remember that there will be times in my life when that path of obedience is the hard path.

One final observation of Gideon and his men is that they were not always exhausted. Most of us will not be exhausted following Jesus all the time.  That is encouraging and shows there may be seasons in my life that are harder than others.  I need to remember to be thankful for the times when life feels like a downhill path.

Father, I love the statement by Gideon, “exhausted but pursuing.” Will you help me to do my part in following you and as I do, will you prosper my efforts to become like you? When following you is the uphill path, may you give me the strength to pursue you and your will like Gideon.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Courageous Does Not Necessarily Mean Fearless

When I think of Gideon I normally think of a man of great courage who the led 300 men that routed the innumerable army of the Midianites. When I read Judges 7:9-11 I was reminded that their was more to the story. Notice what the text says,

“That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”

The story continues with Gideon going with Purah to overhear what the enemy was discussing! No debate. He was afraid and took the option to learn more about he enemy rather than immediately take God at his word. What did he hear? He heard the opposing army discussing a dream in which they thought it meant that Gideon was going to defeat them in battle!

The story continues vs 15 which says, “As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped.” The word “worshipped” means that he fell down on his knees and touch the ground with his forehead in worship of God!

What does this story tell us about the God we serve? He was very patient with Gideon and knew his weakness and lack of faith. He allowed him to see the certainty of God’s deliverance if he would respond in faith.

What does this say about Gideon? His first response to God’s promise was doubt. But, I think we also see that courage does not mean a person will necessarily be fearless.  It took great courage to go down close enough to the Midianites to hear them talking.  At the same time, he was not a superstar. He had imperfections and yet God worked through them to accomplish his will. After hearing the Midianites discussion, Gideon then responded in faith and assembled the troops to crush their army with the courage that came from trusting the LORD to do as he promised.

Father, I thank you that you are such a patient God and know me fully and know my weaknesses just like Gideon. As you helped Gideon work through his lack of faith would you continue to work in me to help me trust you to work in my life? May you work in me to make my first response to your leadership one of trust rather than doubt. May you give me the courage that comes from taking you at your Word as Gideon did!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Terrorism to Truth

I love studying the letters of Paul, but sometimes I forget how much he hated Jesus and the Church prior to his conversion. In Acts 8:3 it says, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” The word “ravage” can mean “smash or destroy.”

What did “smashing” the Church look like? In Acts 26:10-11 Paul explains himself when he says, “I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Paul was enraged at the followers of Jesus and he was involved in making sure many were beaten, tortured and put to death.

In Acts 9:1 Paul is described again as “breathing threats,” against the disciples which means to “threaten strongly” with his desire to have them murdered. As Kistemaker summarizes, “everything Paul thinks, says, and does is dominated by his desire to destroy the followers of Jesus.”

After terrorizing Jerusalem, Paul gains permission to pursue believers in other cities. On his way to Damascus, he meets Jesus and he is never the same. One encounter and he was a new man. That same zeal he had to persecute the Church changed to a zeal to proclaim the Gospel! Paul most likely ended up in some of those same prisons he took Christians to and endured some of the same treatment. How ironic!

Father, you do not sugar coat the truth about Paul. He was an amazing servant of yours but he started out as an evil persecutor of the Church and had a hand in the death and torture of many saints. In spite of this, you offered him the gift of forgiveness!

Although I have not been involved in opposition to you and your Church like Paul, I certainly did not deserve salvation more than Paul. I too was lost in sin, but my sin was just different than Paul’s. Thank you again for saving those lost in sin through accepting the gift of forgiveness made available through believing in Jesus Christ. Thank you for saving me!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

How Do You Handle the Heat?

This morning I was struck by Jer. 17:5-8. In that passage Jeremiah is contrasting the “cursed” man with the “blessed” man. The context is one where Judah was in serious trouble. They had abandoned their allegiance to God and had embraced other gods. In addition, they were about to be invaded by the Babylonians and were trusting in Egypt to protect them.

Jeremiah says that those who trust in man are like a barren desert bush whereas those who trust in God always have the resources for life and are fruitful. Charles Dyer summarizes the situation well when he says,

“God indicated that a person who trusts in man for protection is cursed because his heart has turned away from God. Instead of prospering, he will wither away like a desert bush. God would make him as unfruitful as the barren salt land around the Dead Sea, unable to support life.

A righteous person is blessed because his confidence (trust) is in God. Unlike the person in verses 5–6, a righteous person will flourish like a tree planted by the water (cf. Ps. 1:3). When difficulties (represented figuratively by heat and drought) come, he will not fear. Instead he will continue to prosper like a tree that bears fruit and whose leaves remain green.”

Father, your Word clearly shows that the heat will come in life. The question is, “How will I respond?” Will I take things into my own hands and trust in others and myself, or will I first turn to you and then choose to trust in you as I actively follow you in the midst of the heat?

Thank you for showing me again today, that happiness is the byproduct of trusting in you regardless of my circumstances. May you be the allegiance of my heart and may I follow you when life gets hard, trusting in your resources and being fruitful as you work through me.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Seasons of Life

What do you think of when you think of Moses? If you are like me, you may have thought about the great leadership Moses provided leading the people out of Egypt toward the promised land.

Moses’s great leadership did not come out of a vacuum and really takes place in the third and final season of his life. In Stephen’s summary of Moses’s life in Acts chapter 7, he broke the life of Moses up into three 40 year periods. The first season of 40 years was when Moses grew up under the influence of the Pharaoh’s household. At the conclusion of this time Moses is described in this way, “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” Wow! Certainly he is ready for great things! But as the story unfolds, apparently that thought is premature.

The next season of his life comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to fit the story. Moses flees to Midian for 40 years and lives as an exile because of his murder of an Egyptian. What must Moses have been thinking at that point? What a change from living in the seat of power to that of an exile who now appeared to have no future. As it turns out, this season was not a waste for him, but was all part of God’s training for Moses.  The best was yet to come.

As unexpectedly as Moses fled to Midian, an angel now appears to Moses.  This event introduces the start of the third season of 40 years in his life.  It is at this time he is allowed to experience the great adventure of leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt to their new home and to enjoy a very unique relationship with God!

As I look back on my life I can see seasons of my life as well. For me the seasons would be my upbringing, salvation in college, service in ministry, seminary, marriage and parenting, the work world and then back into the pastorate. It is easier to see the seasons of life when I look back, but hard to see them when I am living them and I certainly can’t see what the future will be like. Is this my last season or is there more to come?

Father, I do not know where I am in the seasons of life you have for me. I can’t see what the future holds, but I can express my great thanks for how you have led me in life and I look forward to your continued leadership of my life and my family. Have your way in me and with me.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

The Meaning of Life

Have you wrestled with the meaning and purpose of life? What is it that should capture the longing of my heart so that it becomes the focus of my life?

Solomon tried to answer this question in the book of Ecclesiastes. In Ecc. 1:14 he said, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity, and a striving after the wind.” Since the fall, man has struggled to answer this question because it seems that there is no answer to the meaning of life if you only look at life “under the sun.” In fact, some Greek philosophers used the term “logos” to try to explain the meaning of life. To them the logos described an impersonal, “divine reason,” or “wisdom” that controlled the universe. This impersonal force was unknowable. Is man just created and set free to try to make sense of life under the control of some impersonal force, or is there another answer?

John in his evangelistic Gospel tells us that the Logos is not some impersonal force or reason that controls the universe, but the Logos is a person! This person is Jesus. He is God the Son and he has explained the Father to us. In John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) was with God and the Word (Logos) was God.” In verse 14 John says, “and the Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Wow! Jesus is the Logos. He communicates God to man and he is knowable. A relationship with Jesus provides meaning and purpose for my life. Jesus alone can fill up my mind and my heart!

Father, thank you for sending your Son into this world. He is the Logos, the one who controls life and the reason for life. Help me to make Jesus the priority in my life that he should be.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Loving God Is Much More Than A Feeling

Joshua gives a good reminder of what a healthy relationship with God looks like. In Joshua 22:5 is it says, “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

A number of things stood out to me today as I read this chapter. The first thing that caught my attention is the phrase, “with all your heart and soul.” This was a Hebrew formula used to describe the whole person. Therefore, I am to love God with my whole being.

The second thing that hit me is a question, “what does such a love for God look like?” I think we see aspects of this whole life commitment when Joshua says we should walk in his ways, keep his commandments, cling (be true) to him and serve him. This comprehensive picture shows that “Loving God is much more than an affirmation or a feeling; it is obedience, loyalty, and service to God above all else” (Nelson Study Bible).

Father, this is a fresh reminder that my obedience is not obligation or legalism to a code of conduct, but a whole life commitment to make you my number one priority in life and live like it. I need to ask myself, “Am I being true to you?” “Are you the ultimate allegiance of my heart?” Thank you for your love for me and may I grow in my very real and practical love relationship with you.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff