Divided

S (Scripture) – Acts 23:6-10 “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’  As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.  For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.  And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’  And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.”

O (Observation) – Division is defined as, “disagreement between two or more groups, typically producing tension or hostility.”  There is no greater time of division in our country than during the political season.  We are all Americans – United States citizens – yet we can be so divided from within, casting piercing glances at others without the same political ideology that we have, badmouthing candidates we have never actually met based on how the media portrays them, rallying behind candidates we have never met because of video clips we have seen of them on social media, and harboring hostility in our hearts because the future of our country is up for grabs and the uncertainty is enough to drive some people over the edge.

A (Application) – Division is nothing new.  Ever since Cain and Abel, people have been fighting, have been divided, have had different world views, ideologies, and beliefs about the world as we know it.  We, humanity, have never all agreed on everything.  Even within the church of Jesus Christ we can’t even agree on what God says is true, despite having the same Bible.  What we can do in the midst of this tension is respect each other.  We can listen to each other, try to understand what the other person is saying instead of assuming we know what he or she is feeling.  If we can have respect for each other and not allow the enemy to get a foothold in our lives by harboring bitterness in our hearts, then we will be able to have our disagreements without the hostility of dissension.

P (Prayer) – Lord, nothing going on in our world is a surprise to You.  Anyone who believes that there is no such thing as free will only needs to look around at every opinionated man and woman in this world to see that it seems everyone is going in their own respective directions at times.  Thank You for Your patience, Lord.  Thank You for never giving up on me.  I was one of those people that walked this earth with a clenched fist, thinking I knew better than You did.  Now, You bring my chaos into order, and the whole world makes so much more sense when I simply believe You.  Help us all to respect those with different beliefs than us, so that we might attract others to the truth of Jesus.

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What Shall I Do, Lord?

S (Scripture) – Acts 22:6-10 “‘But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’  And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’  And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.  And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’  And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up, and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’

O (Observation) – Saul had gone his entire life believing in the foundations of the Jewish faith.  Every law, every festival, every custom he sought to complete perfectly.  He saw every affront to his faith has a cruel attack on his God that must be stopped.  It’s crazy to see how someone so zealously opposed to Jesus could have such a transformation occur, and become one of the main writers of the New Testament and missionary all over the known world.  Jesus stopped him in his tracks while he was literally on his way to continue persecuting Christ followers.  In that encounter, Saul came to the realization that everything he had ever known and believed to be true about Jesus was wrong.  Instead of the perceived attack on the precious Law, here was God Himself coming to fulfill it for us.  The key point of this verse for me is the next words out of Saul’s mouth after coming to this realization…”What shall I do, Lord?”  Saul didn’t proceed to get into a debate about what just happened, or need some time to think and process what just happened; in spite of the realization that everything in his life would now be completely different, Saul’s question focuses on what he should now DO with that realization.  Without delay, Jesus tells him where to go so that all that “has been appointed” for him to do will be shared with him.

A (Application) – A recent teaching by Pastor Tony Evans emphasizes the three-fold relationship we have with the cross (the sacrificial death and atonement of Jesus).  First, justification atones for all of our past sins, and makes the sinner righteous (as if we have never sinned, although we have).  Then, glorification is the promise of our eternal state of transformation and actually being with Jesus in heaven when we physically die on this earth.  In between the time we are saved by grace and the time we go to heaven, our relationship to the cross is one of sanctification (becoming more like Jesus as we grow closer to Him and He deals with our souls – our personhood (mind [thoughts], will [actions/intentions], and emotions [desires]).  Our soul is lost without Jesus, following the winds of change in our culture and our own selfish nature.  When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time we our saved, a seed is planted.  As we continue to grow spiritually, the Holy Spirit begins to have more control of our souls as He guides us through our thoughts, actions/intentions, and our desires.  What once was completely left up to the whims of our inner selves is now wrestling with what God says is true.  This process of spiritual growth is our transformation on earth known as sanctification.  It all starts, however, with answering the question after we are saved of “What should I DO now, Lord”

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” NASB  Pastor Evans goes on to say in his lesson that when we wake up each morning, we are to take heed of Paul’s words, and remind ourselves that when Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, we actually credit that transaction to our accounts today.  In other words, I may not have physically been there with Jesus, but my soul identifies with His sacrifice, and in it, I die to my own selfish desires each and every day, allowing Him full control to accomplish His purposes for His kingdom.  Instead of fighting with God about every little thing and thinking I know better than Him, I must yield to His Spirit’s leading each and every day.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, You want so much for each and every person to realize that all that matters in this life is that we know You, and are known by You.  When we get this fundamental reality rooted in our lives, everything else makes sense.  Our relationships with loved ones, our relationships with the rest of humanity, our short-term goals, long-term plans, vices that plague us, and hurts we have endured all come into proper perspective in light of Your glory.  Instead of trying to deal with our lives and manage our issues, may we instead relentlessly pursue Your heart so that we might find rest and peace in knowing You.

A Great Hush

S (Scripture) – Acts 21:37-22:1 “As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’  And he said, ‘Do you know Greek?  Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?’  But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.’  When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying, ‘Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you…’

O (Observation) – When the great hush came over the crowd, Lord, I can just feel Paul standing there realizing that this was the moment for which God had allowed all of the circumstances preceding to happen – to give Paul this platform to share his testimony.  Paul goes on to share with all those listening his story of being lost, found, redeemed, and transformed.

A (Application) – As always, some of those listening believed, and some did not.  In fact, quite a few reacted by trying to kill him.  Not much has changed in this regard.  When we are given the opportunity to speak with a captive audience, may we always be ready to share our stories.  1 Peter 3:14-15 says,

“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…” NASB

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, thank You for each and every story of redemption that we have to share.  Help us to become bold witnesses, yet with gentleness and reverence.  May we not shrink back in the face of opposition, but instead stand firm in our love for You, always knowing that You are right there with us.  Holy Spirit, give us the words to speak whenever we are given the opportunity.  Prepare the hearts of those in our hearing ahead of time, that they may be open to receive the message of hope and forgiveness that You want each and every person to know.

Solemnly Testifying

S (Scripture) – Acts 20:18-24 “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, no one can be forced to love You.  Paul was a humble servant who was called by You to “testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”  He traveled the known world to declare Your promises to a lost a broken generation.  He faced intense persecution, and a countless number of attempts to take his life.  Yet, he did not retaliate.  He did not declare war.  He did not become the aggressor.  He continued steadfastly to teach, serve, love, and did not shrink back in the face of opposition.

A (Application) – In our world today, sharing the love of Jesus with our lost and broken generation has turned into a great divide in some cases.  Some Christians are embittered by what is happening in our country and in our world, and have become hardened of heart, and aggressive in what they perceive to be defense of Jesus.  Let us rather follow Paul’s example of humility, and pray for others, love others, serve others, declare truth to others in love, and leave the changing of hearts up to God.  May we never shrink back from declaring the truth, but may we do so in a way that honors the Lord.  Some religions attempt to achieve world domination through death threats and force…do they really believe that the person’s heart has changed to honor their god?  Or is it just fear of being murdered if they do not comply?  The devotion of hearts, minds, and souls cannot forced from people.  We must trust that God will draw people to Himself, and we are to solemnly testify with all humility.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You are so faithful.  Thank You for Your continued pursuit of our generation despite the wayward wandering You see everyday.  Continue to use us, Lord, to speak Your truth in love to others, and watch as Your word heals the brokenhearted and sets the captive free.  If we ever find ourselves getting angry during a discussion about You, calm our hearts and minds, let us see that other person as You see them, and let the Holy Spirit take over and speak life to them.

When I Speak Your Name, Darkness Flees

S (Scripture) – Acts 19:11-16 “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.  But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’  Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.  And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’  And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”

O (Observation) – The juxtaposition of these two scenarios is staggering: Paul was so in tune with the Holy Spirit, and constantly abiding in Jesus through prayer, mediation, worship, etc. that he was absolutely overflowing with God’s miraculous power.  Personal items of his were sent in hopes of healing the sick, without him present to use the verbal Name of Jesus.  It was the physical presence of the Lord with Paul that resulted in these miracles.  On the other hand, we have these religious exorcists, who thought that they could proclaim the Name of Jesus over a demonic situation and that, like some magic rabbit’s foot, it would lead to the demons fleeing.  The response from the evil spirit is chilling: “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”  Jesus is God Most High, and is able to defeat any powers of darkness…so why didn’t using His Name work for the exorcists?  They weren’t covered by His blood through faith and trust in Him.  They weren’t using His Name as a result of being forgiven by Him…they were living their lives to the beat of their own drums, and then thinking that by throwing out Jesus’s name like they knew Him, that He would dispel the evil spirit.  The exorcists had no intention of bringing Jesus glory; they wanted to bring themselves fame and riches by manipulating the Lord’s power.

A (Application) – Genuine power from the Lord can only come through a genuine relationship with Him.  We cannot rely on our parents’ relationship with the Lord, our aunt’s, uncle’s, cousin’s, friend’s relationship with Him either.  We cannot proclaim His Name and His victory over our lives and circumstances without knowing Him personally.  May we grow closer to Him everyday through prayer, meditation, reading the Bible, worship, and most importantly – by actually doing what the Word says, by trusting Him in the midst of tragedy, by leaning on Him in the thick of uncertainty, by forgiving others as we have been forgiven, by loving others as we have been loved, and by placing our hope in nothing other than Him.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, You are able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all that we ask or think.  Thank You for leaning into us, as we lean into You.  You are not a God who is hard to find, sometimes unavailable, or second guess Yourself.  You are perfect, good, gentle, and want so desperately for Your children to wake up and realize that it’s all about You.  May we intentionally grow closer to You so that when the day comes where we need to speak Your Name to evil and expect to watch it flee, it shudders and runs away.  Thank You, Lord, that we do not have to be fearful, for You are victorious, and we are Yours.

For I Have Many People in this City

S (Scripture) – Acts 18:7-10 “Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue.  Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.  And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.'”

O (Observation) – Lord Jesus, You know the heart of every person.  You know those who are devoted to You, those who long to worship You and to be in Your presence.  You know the depths of our hearts, our innermost thoughts and motives, and whether or not we are living our lives for You or for something else.  When You have many people in a city (or country, workplace, neighborhood, etc.) living for You, You are able to work through them collectively to show Your love and grace to others.  You are able to redeem communities, transform lives, break chains, heal the brokenhearted, and overpower shattered messes with Your love.  You pick up the pieces of our past mistakes, bad choices, and unfortunate circumstances and somehow You are able to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.  YOUR masterpiece.  YOUR people.  You know who Your people are, because You intimately know them; they know You as well.

A (Application) – If we were to lose our life on this planet today, and find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus in the next five minutes…how would that make us feel?  Afraid?  Caught off-guard?  Second guessing how we spent our time?  Or would we say, “Hallelujah!  At last, here we are together face-to-face…”  Our God loves us and wants to reveal Himself to us right here and now.  We should see our time in His Word as time spent with Him one-on-one…it’s where we get to know His character, His heart, His ways, and His desires.  It’s also where He reveals our character, our heart, our ways, and our desires…often we will wrestle with what He shows us, and it takes consistently walking with Him through this life of transformation to really get to know Him.  I had the thought the other day that the entire purpose of this life is for the created being to know his Creator; there are so many distractions in place and lies being told to inhibit this from happening, and each day we must decide that we are going to go deeper than yesterday in our relationship with the Lord.  May we not be distracted by good things and altogether miss the Great One.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, You are the One who sees us, who knows us, who created us, and who sustains us.  I confess that every day brings new challenges and distractions that must be set aside as I make myself sit at Your feet.  Thank You for always being present, even when I am aloof.  Help me to never let a single day go by where I don’t grow closer to You, hear Your voice, see Your fingerprints, and experience Your presence.  Nothing in this world compares to knowing You as my Lord.

You Find Us

S (Scripture) – Acts 17:24-28 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habituation, they they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.'” NASB

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for Him, as if He couldn’t take care of Himself.  He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make Him.  Starting from scratch, He made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find Him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us.  He’s not remote; He’s near.  We live and move in Him, can’t get away from Him!  One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.'” The Message

O (Observation) – Sometimes, people try to find You, Lord, in all the wrong places.  People would build giant buildings and shrines hoping that “the gods” will come to them and dwell with them.  People would bring special offerings of food and drink to these gods in order to feed them and make them happy.  In modern times, people go from church to church, or religion to religion, trying to find the one that “feels right” for them, and one that they feel connected to because they believe You are there.  Instead of trying to find You through some religious experience, people are missing out on the fact  that You are everywhere – in You, we live and move and breathe.  We can’t escape from Your presence, and You are not some proverbial rabbit that we’re supposed to chase on our hunt for significance and belonging.

A (Application) – Stop looking for God in all the wrong places, and have peace overwhelm your soul as you realize that our God is the One that searches for us.  He is the Good Shepherd that seeks out the lost, and rejoices when He finds them.  We can stop striving to feel close to Jesus, and instead, rest in Him.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  Spend a few minutes being completely silent with your eyes closed, and just say that verse a few times.  Invite the Lord to speak to you, and then just listen.  We are so plugged in to our always-on world, that it makes it hard to hear His voice if we aren’t tuned to His station – He is always broadcasting, but we are usually the ones tuned into something else.  He hasn’t gone anywhere, and is so patient with us as we make our way back to His presence.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, You are our Shepherd, and seek out the lost and those that are far from You.  Instead of being some elusive Creator that is hard to find, You find us.  Then, You meet us right where we are.  I confess that the world around me has been quick to turn my attention away from You.  I’m thankful that You continually draw me near to You in spite of this.  I pray that those who have not experienced Your presence will fall to their knees, humble themselves before You, and listen to what You have to say.  You love them, and want them to know it.