He Wants to Know You

S (Scripture) – Acts 14:8-15 “At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.  This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’  And he leaped up and began to walk.  When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have become like men and have come down to us.’  And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.  But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things?  We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.'” NASB

Acts 14:14-15 “When Barnabas and Paul finally realized what was going on, they stopped them.  Waving their arms, they interrupted the parade, calling out ‘What do you think you’re doing!  We’re not gods!  We are men just like you, and we’re here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God.  We don’t make God; He makes us, and all of this – sky, earth, sea, and everything in them.'” The Message

O (Observation) – Father in Heaven, You love us so much.  You are like our Daddy, wanting to hold our hand through life, walk alongside us at all times, guiding our thoughts and minds, gently correcting us when we stray, and growing us up to become more like Your Son, Jesus.  You desire to know each of us at the most intimate level, and for each of us to know You – Your personality, Your holiness, Your character, Your heart.  And so much more.  These people at Lystra thought they knew who their gods were – the rituals, the garlands, the statues…they had created a family of gods to worship.  Yet, it was impossible for them to truly know their “gods,” because they weren’t real – they were fabricated, and when these people saw the miracle that Paul had done by Your power, they assumed that Paul and Barnabas had become the manifestation of their gods.  How can these people think they really know who these gods are when they were so quick to think Paul and Barnabas were them?  They were missing out on the relational aspect of knowing personally the gods they served, because their gods were not capable of being known.

A (Application) – Our God is highly relational, able to be known, wants to be known, and wants to know us.  Having a relationship with God is not about being religious, having perfect church attendance, saying the right things, giving large amounts of money, or having the perfect family.  Having a relationship with God is based on knowing Him, and on Him knowing us – He already knows everything about us, as He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139).  He knows the depths of our hearts, all of our thoughts, and there is nothing we can hide from Him.  What it means for God to know us is that we freely share ourselves with Him rather than trying to live this life without Him in it.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'”

It is possible, then for us to go about our lives proclaiming the Name of Jesus over all that we do, but really leave Him out at the same time in such a way that will result in us not knowing and being known by our Lord.  It’s time to get serious about our relationship with Him – not in a legalistic way, but making sure that He has first place in our lives, that He is the center of our lives, and not some fabricated and artificial position – we should be overflowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives in such a way that the fruit that we bear is the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  Our relationship with Jesus is not burdensome, it is beautiful.  It isn’t religious, yet brings forth righteousness.  It isn’t legalistic, but rather grounded in love.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You are the King of the Universe, but also the King of my heart.  I confess that there have been many times in my life when I have allowed worldliness to creep in and dominate my thoughts.  I’m so thankful that You continue to draw me closer to You, and as I see Your majesty and how great You are, everything else fades away.  I’m thankful that You desire to know me in the most intimate of ways, and that the deepest void a person can feel is filled to overflowing by You.  I pray that those who have yet to experience this closeness with their Creator develop a hunger to do so, and after tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, never want to go back to how it was before.

He Always Keeps His Promises

S (Scripture) – Acts 13:28-34, 38-39 “And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed.  When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.  And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’…Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”

O (Observation) – Resurrection Sunday is this week.  Instead of focusing on coloring eggs and pretty clothes to wear, help us to remember, Lord, that this Sunday is about so much more.  This Sunday is a reminder of the fulfillment of Your promise to mankind.  A promise that You made that, through You, we can experience abundant life with freedom that only comes from knowing You.

A (Application) – Discipleship is about growing in our relationship with the Lord, but witnessing is about sharing that relationship with others.  People aren’t drawn to other people because of their relationships with the Lord, they are drawn to the God they see manifested in that person’s life.  The Lord reveals Himself to other people through people.  The whole point of the good news is that is it meant to be perpetually shared with others – it’s a message that must be delivered, hope that must be passed on, victory that is meant to be experienced by many, and peace that spreads like wildfire…not just sermons to be studied.  The promise of this Sunday is still being experienced for the first time by thousands of people every day, over two thousand years after it was first proclaimed.  May we savor the sweetness of this truth, and know that our God is faithful.  He always keeps His promises.

P (Prayer) – Precious Jesus, You are indescribable.  I confess that I have allowed circumstances in my life to overshadow Your glory.  When I think about how big my God is, everything else in life seems so small; all of my concerns melt away with the realization that my God is who He says He is, and can do what He says He can do.  Thank You for never leaving me, nor forsaking me, and for delighting in every detail of my life.  Thank You for always keeping Your promises, and for being the one constant in my life that I can always count on.  I pray that You would provide me with opportunities to be a loving witness for You, and that You would use me in a mighty way to bring You glory.

Fervent Prayer, Mighty Deliverance

S (Scripture) – Acts 12:1-11 “Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.  And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.   When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.  So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.  On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.  And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’  And his chains fell off his hands.  And the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and put on your sandals.’  And he did so.  And he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’  And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.  When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.  When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’”

O (Observation) – James tells us that “…effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (5:16, NASB).”  Peter had been arrested, bound in chains, guarded by four squads of soldiers, with guards watching over the prison.  By human standards, his escape was an impossibility.  The members of the church were fervently praying for his release, and on the very night that Peter was supposed to be brought out before Herod, he experienced an escape that can only be described as miraculous.  Peter had been delivered from the certain death that he was facing by an angel of the Lord personally escorting him out of his situation.

A (Application) – We all have a situation that we would like to have the Lord personally intervene in, but have we effectively prayed with Him about it?  Have we fervently prayed with Him over it?  What does it mean to pray effectively and fervently?  The Message version of James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”  The rest of verse 16 begins with, “Confess your sins to one another…”  In order to have an impactful prayer life, we must be 100% authentic with the Lord – He knows the depths of our hearts, so there is no hiding anything from Him.  Our desire to have Him take over our hearts, and our willingness to yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading is what honors Him; not our own attempts at being righteous.  When we confess our sins, turn back to Him (repent), and have the faith to know that God is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)” then our prayers become effective.  When we pour our hearts out to Him with our undivided attention, and want desperately for Him to move heaven and earth to intervene in our situation, our prayers are fervent.  Not some superficial prayer that we just say with a louder voice, but crying out for Him from the depths of our soul.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, only You were able to free Peter from that prison.  You are the only One able to free us from ours as well.  I confess that my prayer life has room to grow, as I know in my mind that You are able to move heaven and earth, yet I have not because I ask not (James 4:3).  Thank You that You desire to be involved in every detail of our lives – on a consistent basis, in all circumstances, we are to pray without ceasing as a way of life.  Help us to better understand what this looks like, and may we all grow in our prayer lives to become those who pray fervently and effectually.  Only then will we be witnesses of the miraculous.

Judge Not the Hearts of Others

S (Scripture) – Acts 11:1-3, 15-18 “[v. 1-3] Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’…[v.15-18] Peter:’And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirt fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'”  Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’  When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'”

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, I realize the context of Peter’s statement was to Your Jewish followers regarding why he had just returned from sharing the gospel with non-Jewish (Gentile) people.  Peter was sharing more about Your goodness and faithfulness to those that were historically not part of the “chosen people,” and therefore not supposed to be inheritors of the promise.  It seems bizarre to us today to think about this type of argument that went on between the members of the early church regarding whether or not Gentiles would be able to receive the Holy Spirit and walk as Your followers.  The Jewish believers felt that even if these Gentiles were members of their congregation, they should be forced to adhere to Mosaic Law in order to be considered right with God (Acts 15:5).  You died for the sins of all mankind, not just a few.  Your throne of grace is able to be approached by all who trust in You.

A (Application) – We may look upon these early followers and wonder how they thought forcing other people to abide by their religious traditions was something Jesus would have wanted.  Yet, we subconsciously do it today on a consistent basis.  We need to be careful not to judge the spiritual walk of another person based on what we see.  Only God can judge the motives of the heart.  Who are we to say whether or not someone is worthy of the grace of God?  None of us are worthy – that’s why it is grace!  Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”  May we love others well, be agents for change in partnership with the Holy Spirit, but leave any and all judgement up to the Lord.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You are amazing.  You are the beginning and the end.  You knew from before time began that all nations would one day have the opportunity to fully trust in You alone.  I confess that sometimes I fall into the trap of gauging another person’s relationship with You by what I see.  Help me to let go of the need to evaluate anyone at all – my responsibility is to pray, and be available for You to use me in some way when needed.  I’m so thankful that You have shown Yourself faithful to me despite my shortcomings.  Help me to love others well, pray for them, show them Your heart, and come alongside them to help them as they grow.

This is the One

S (Scripture) – Acts 10:34, 42-44 “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him…’  ‘And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.  Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.’  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.”

O (Observation) – Christianity is the both inclusive and exclusive at the same time.  Lord, I see that You love everyone, do not show partiality, and offer forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who place their trust in You.  You also say that You are the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by You (John 14:6).  In a post-modern world where most people believe that “all roads lead to heaven,” You declare that You are the only way.  Many religions of the world offer prescriptions for finding favor with a higher power – if one does x, y, and z, says this, offers that, prays this, does that, THEN one will find favor in the eyes of the higher power, and may or may not get into the desired afterlife.  All of the emphasis is placed on the performance of the person.  Jesus, You are so vastly different.  Christianity places all of the emphasis on what You did on the cross.  When we truly receive Your gift of grace, we cannot help but desire to live lives that are pleasing to You.  Out of the gratefulness of our hearts, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the transformed life that You alone offer.  Our eternal future with You is secure, and the rest of our earthly lives are spent growing in maturity in preparation for eternity.
 
A (Application) – Our hearts should be so overwhelmed with thankfulness at the realization that our Heavenly Father took care of our eternity for us.  He made a way, and offers it to all of humanity.  Compelled by love for others, we should share this Good News.  It is up to each person hearing it what he or she will do with it in response.  This life is so short and fleeting.  Eternity is forever.  May we not live our lives on Earth as if this is all there is.  The Holy Spirit is with us always, and is alive and active inside of those who proclaim the Name of Jesus over their lives.  For someone that has a deep walk with the Lord, has a history of restoration, and has seen Him move heaven and earth to come to his or her rescue, it is obvious to see why sharing more about Jesus with others is natural – that person would want others to experience this goodness for themselves.  For others who feel that Christianity is just another prescription with things to say, do, and give, they have yet to meet Jesus face-to-face.  They are not going to see any value in passing along a prescription.  Sharing Christianity with others is about sharing the Person of Christ with others, not a prescribed method.
P (Prayer) – Precious Jesus, how I long for everyone to know You intimately.  Just trying to imagine living this life without You alongside me makes me sick.  In this world, there is so much brokenness, heartache, loss, disappointment, and other reasons to be miserable, yet with an eternal perspective – everything changes.  If this life is a brief introduction to eternity, our view on matters that happen to us and around us change drastically.  Thank You, Lord, for Your gift of eternal life and an abundant life for the here and now.  Help me to share Your Good News with others with love and respect, offering hope and peace that can only come from knowing You.

No One Too Far for Redemption

S (Scripture) – Acts 9:1-6, 13-16, 19-22 “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’  And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do…'”

“But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’  But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake…'”

“Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’  All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’  But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, no one is too far from You for You to redeem.  Saul was a devout religious leader that thought he was doing You a favor by getting rid of these new Christ followers that were “blaspheming” Your Name.  I believe that he acted out of complete ignorance, and that he thought he was eradicating the region of heretics in order to restore honor to You.  The point is that Saul wanted to have a heart that was right with You, but he was completely misguided and did not understand that he was really persecuting You.  You literally stopped him in his tracks, revealed Yourself to him, and less than a week later he was proclaiming You as Lord in the very synagogues he was on his way to arrest those that did the same.  Saul was Your chosen instrument even as he was actively working against You.  You knew the plans You had for him (Jeremiah 29:11).

A (Application) – May we never give up hope that people in our lives are too far away from God to be redeemed, restored, and set free.  God loves everyone, and desires for all to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  It is the stubborn heart of each person that turns away from Him, but God is able to step in and reveal Himself in a mighty way.  As we are praying for others, may we pray for their hearts to turn back to God, that He would soften them, and that He would reveal Himself to those that need an intervention.  Do not give up on people – it’s not too late.  The very person spewing disdain against the Lord one day can be proclaiming His goodness and magnificent grace a few days later.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, Your grace is so amazing.  “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my heart, my all.”  I know where I was, and I know that You reached down into the pit I was stuck in and set my feet upon a rock (Psalm 40:2).  I pray for those closest to me that have yet to experience Your goodness firsthand.  May each person be able to sing with me:

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love…

“One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture