Thursday, January 10, 2019

The House that is Not Made by Hands

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” (Acts 7:44-50).
Stephen reminded his increasingly agitated audience that God has always wanted to live in the very midst of His people, but He could not dwell directly with them because of their sin. He provided Moses with details for a traveling house, a tent, in the wilderness. He gave Solomon instructions for a stationary house in Jerusalem, the capital city of their homeland. But neither of these houses could contain God because each of them vainly sought to restrict His presence to a place of meeting. God had a much better plan for His eventual house. It would be much more than a meeting place, it would be a place of never-ending intimate communion between the Father and His children. God’s house would be the hearts of His children, and such a place would be known as the house that is not made by hands.
The heart that is God’s home is His residing place. When God’s presence dwelt in the holiest place in the tabernacle and in the temple, His relationship with His children came through the annual visit of the high priest… “The priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing” (Hebrews 9:6-8). These two temporary houses remind us of the great distance between our holy Father and us, His sinful children. Jesus Christ opened up the way into the presence of God by offering Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin… “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). The heart that has been cleansed by Christ’s blood longs for intimate, growing fellowship with God because He has made it His residing place.
The heart that is God’s home is His resting place. At Calvary’s cross the sacrifice for sin was made and the work of redemption was finished… “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). We no longer have to strive for our father’s acceptance. We can live in confidence, resting in the finished work of Christ, as we prepare for eternity in our promised land, heaven… “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10). The heart that has trusted in Christ as Savior is a place of peace and He has made it His resting place.
The heart that is God’s home is His ruling place. With the words… “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool”, the Lord reminds us of His sovereignty over every square inch of His creation… “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:18-19). There is tremendous comfort and peace for those who trust and submit to God’s rule, and it begins in the heart that He has made His ruling place.
As we grow up into Christ, we enjoy increasing fellowship with Him as God has made our heart to be…
The House that is Not Made by Hands.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Heart that Forfeits the Blessings of God

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’” (Acts 7:35-43).
Stephen’s testimony before the angry Jewish council continued. After describing the life-shaping encounter between Moses and God, Stephen described another encounter between Moses and the children of Israel. The Hebrews rejected Moses as their deliverer. Along with him, they rejected the law God supernaturally delivered through Moses and the land of promise he would lead them to. The Holy Spirit inspired Stephen to reveal the reason for such rejection, and along with the hard-hearted Jewish leaders we also get a glimpse of the heart that forfeits the blessings of God.
They rejected God’s leader. The Hebrews rejected Moses despite the wonders and signs he performed in Egypt, despite the parting of the Red Sea, and despite the fact that he spoke with angels. Although God had removed them from Egypt, His children had not removed Egypt’s gods from their hearts. Moses confronted them with the challenge… “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Our sins clearly reflect the condition of our heart. It is the internal choice about who we love and worship that leads to external choices that others see… “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). If Christ does not have our heart, we forfeit the blessings of following God’s chosen leader.
They rejected God’s law. Moses delivered God’s law to the Jews and Jesus fulfilled God’s law for His children… “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). As we learn to love and obey God’s law, it brings us closer to Jesus Christ… “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). A primary blessing of studying and obeying God’s law is understanding and appreciating Christ’s law-fulfilling sacrifice for us… “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Rejecting God’s law leads to forfeiting the blessing of salvation.
They rejected God’s land. God’s covenant with the children of Israel included the promise of a homeland. His new covenant with His born-again children includes the promise of an eternal home with Him… “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’’ (Revelation 21:3). The only way to this forever promised land is by following God’s Leader, Jesus Christ… “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Rejecting Christ leads to forfeiting the blessing of God’s land forever.
The Heart that Forfeits the Blessings of God.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Encounter that is Life-Shaping

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt’” (Acts 7:30-34).
Stephen described Moses’ life-changing encounter with God. Moses had run in fear and frustration from his high position in Egypt. He had been humbled by 40 years of nomadic life in the Midian wilderness. But God was not done with him yet. God’s plan had not changed. In fact, God was preparing him for greatness. Through God’s grace, Moses would become an effective servant leader and deliverer of His children. This final and most productive part of Moses’ life and ministry began as the 80-year-old shepherd was confronted by much more than a burning bush. Moses experienced the encounter that is life-shaping.
Moses encountered the surety of God. God introduced Himself to Moses with the familiar, covenant affirming words… “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob”. He reminded Moses that despite the outward appearance of Israel’s slavery and his own exile, He was going to fulfill His promises of a homeland and a Messiah for His children. The Messiah promise has been fulfilled in Christ… “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). The permanent homeland promise will be fulfilled soon… “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). As we journey toward heaven, our faith is matured by a daily life-shaping encounter with the surety of God.
Moses encountered the sacredness of God. He is completely set apart from that which is ordinary or common. There is no place in His character for unrighteousness or sin. He will not even look at unholiness… “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13). Our sin separates us from God, yet He longs to enjoy fellowship with the people He has created… “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Stephen recalled the detail of God commanding Moses to… “Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”. He reminded his audience, the Jewish Council along with us, that it’s possible to draw near to God only if our sin is atoned for. Stephen knew Christ alone had authority to forgive sin… “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). Maturing disciples enjoy increasing intimacy with God because Christ has forgiven us and restored us to fellowship with our wonderful Father… “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Let’s enjoy a daily life-shaping encounter with God by trusting Christ, confessing sin, removing distractions, and creating and maintaining a precious place to enjoy the sacredness of God.
Moses encountered the sensitivity of God. God was aware of and responsive to the suffering of His children… “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them”. Jesus demonstrated the sensitivity and compassion of God when He responded to the needs of those around Him… “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). When we have a daily life-shaping encounter with Christ, His compassion compels us to meet the needs of others and show them the sensitivity of God.
As we grow up into Christ, we are compelled to share Him with others because we have experienced…
The Encounter that is Life-Shaping.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Heart that is Misunderstood

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons” (Acts 7:23-29).
As Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, his mind was filled up with the wisdom of Egypt but his heart was consumed with a love for His Hebrew brothers and sisters. The Lord was at work, establishing Moses as a leader… “And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22), but not everyone acknowledged his leadership... “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” (Acts 7:27). God was indeed preparing Moses for an important mission that would require him to become an effective servant leader. It was going to take time, about 40 years of wilderness preparation, but today we see Moses learning his first leadership lesson. The heart of a servant leader is often the heart that is misunderstood.
The servant leader’s heart is cultivated by grace. Despite the comfort and opulence of palace life, Moses never forgot the way God protected and provided for him at the very beginning of his life. He probably often wondered why me? He could not deny that God’s hand of blessing rested upon him and was constantly working in him, setting him apart from Egyptians and Hebrews alike, and preparing him for something special. He was living in the lap of Egyptian luxury but he was not comfortable with it. That’s what God’s grace does in all disciples of Jesus Christ… “For the grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). God’s grace is cultivating our hearts to live in a fallen world without becoming part of it, keeping our hearts focused on Jesus Christ and the glory to come… “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Others do not understand, but growing disciples know that God uses the trials of today to prepare us for eternity as our hearts are cultivated by His grace.
The servant leader’s heart is compelled by mercy. When Moses became a man, “it came into his heart” to come to the defense of an oppressed Hebrew brother. Despite the insulation of palace life and luxury, Moses’ heart was still sensitive and responsive to the leading of God, who had great compassion for His children… “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings” (Exodus 3:7). God’s compassion compelled Him to forgive the sins of His children and deliver them from their oppression, even though they did not deserve such mercy, and in Moses God found a mercy-filled and compassion-driven heart like His own… “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Like Moses, we can be a reflection of God’s forgiveness to others if our heart is compelled by mercy.
The servant leader’s heart is contrite and humble. When Moses was misunderstood and rejected by his Hebrew brother, his heart was broken and he ran. We can be encouraged here by the truth that God does not require a perfect heart to serve Him. In fact, God is very present and active in the most humble and contrite heart… “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). God followed Moses into the wilderness of Midian and kept working on his heart, and He will do the same for future servant leaders like us if we too, keep our heart contrite and humble.
As we grow up into Christ, His grace prepares us for servant leadership by forming in us…
The Heart that is Misunderstood.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Faith that is Commendable

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:17-22).
The Holy Spirit inspired Stephen to remind the council about Moses. He recalled that there were many changes during the 430 years of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. The Israelites increased in number and became a strong, contributing workforce in the growth of Egypt. There were political changes that led to the abuse and persecution of the Hebrews. A new king who did not know or respect the God of Joseph ordered a terrible kind of birth control in order to slow the amazing growth of the Jewish population. It was difficult for the Jews to see through the mounting persecution and to remember God’s promise to Abram… “Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions’” (Genesis 15:13-14). Like the children of Israel in Egypt, we live like exiles in this temporal world as we journey toward our promised land, heaven. We are encouraged today by Stephen’s testimony, to overcome the difficulties of this life by exercising the faith that is commendable.
Commendable faith remembers the promise is pending. Despite the physical evidence, God’s promise to Abram was approaching. Despite what we see in our daily lives, God’s promises to us are always drawing nearer too… “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). That’s because the promises of God do not depend on what’s happening around us or on what others might do to us. The promises of God depend on His character and His faithfulness… “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Let your trials direct your heart toward God where your faith will be refreshed and encouraged by His amazing faithfulness and you’ll be reminded that despite the physical evidence, God’s promises are pending.
Commendable faith knows the people will be persecuted. The new Egyptian king was disturbed by the prosperity of the Jews. We can be sure that others will be jealous of our peace and confidence in the midst of tough times. Often, they attack or provoke us to see if our faith is real… “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Let persecution remind you that your faith is being noticed by others as you wait for God’s promises to arrive and rejoice as one of His people who are persecuted.
Commendable faith believes the servant will be saved. Into the middle of this trying time, God’s servant leader Moses was born. God wonderfully preserved Moses’ life and intentionally placed him right in the house and family of the king. No one saw clearly or understood what God’s purpose for this special child was, but his faithful parents and the pagan first family were used in God’s perfect plan to fulfill His promise to His children. We can trust that even when we cannot see His hand moving, God is at work fulfilling His promises to us… “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). In fact, God is always at work in every situation, fulfilling His good promises for those who love and serve Him… “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Let your trials move you to serve the God who is sovereign over all that happens to you, and you will be His servant that is saved.
As we grow up into Christ, we rise above the trials of this temporary life as we grow in…
The Faith that is Commendable.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Life that Points to Christ

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem” (Acts 7:9-16).
The Holy Spirit inspired Stephen to remind the council about Joseph. As a young man he was sold into slavery in the foreign land of Egypt… “but God was with him… and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh”. Later, as a ruler in Egypt, Joseph would summon his father and his family to come from the land of famine and death into a land of abundance and life. God’s grace was at work in all the ups and downs of Joseph’s life. The same grace is at work in us today, creating in us the same kind of new, Christ-like life we see here in Joseph… “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29). In the details of Stephen’s reflection on Joseph, we are encouraged by the grace that is at work in every area of our lives, forming in us the life that points to Christ.
Jesus entered into our fallen world. I am amazed that Christ left heaven and entered into the brokenness of my fallen world to save me… “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). As we mature in the faith and in our fellowship with Him, we are challenged by the Spirit of Christ that lives in us to enter into the messy, broken lives of the lost and hurting that surround us. It’s where He wants to be, and He wants us to be there with Him too.
Jesus rules over our fallen world. When we follow Christ into the tough lives of others, our awareness of His presence increases… “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). In the brokenness and hurt of the lives of sinners He reveals Himself as Savior and Lord by exercising His authority through us… “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:19). As we know Him better, our faith in His power increases and we see Christ’s rule manifest over the enemy as we exercise His authority in serving others.
Jesus summons us from our fallen world. Stephen’s testimony reminded the council that after revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph summoned his whole family to come from the land of famine and death into the land of abundance and life. What a beautiful reminder that the primary reason Christ left heaven and entered our fallen world is to seek and to save the lost… “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Christ in us compels us to summon the lost in our world to come to Him to receive new, abundant life… “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). As we grow in Christ, we reflect the peace and joy of our new abundant life to the lost and searching around us.
As we grow up into Christ, His grace works in us to make us more like Him so we can show the world…
The Life that Points to Christ.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Promises that are Fulfilled in Christ

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs (Acts 7:1-8).
The high priest gave Stephen a chance to respond to the false witnesses that accused him of preaching that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the law of Moses. Stephen was a simple deacon, a servant to the widows among the new Christian community of Jerusalem, but the Lord filled him with faith and the Holy Spirit and as he boldly shared the gospel, the Lord confirmed his preaching with… “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). While many believed the gospel, the Jewish council felt Stephen’s message threatened the established religious order. When he was arrested and brought before the council, Stephen experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to share when we are judged for sharing His gospel… “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). The Spirit did teach Stephen what to say to the council, and as we listen in, the Spirit explains how Jesus did not destroy the temple and law, but they are among the promises that are fulfilled in Christ.
Christ fulfilled the promise of the temple. Stephen reminded the council of the promise of a homeland to Abraham and his offspring… “Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” (Genesis 12:7). Central to their homeland was the temple, their place of worship. The temple would indeed be destroyed soon and the Jews would be dispersed around the world. Christ followers among them would carry the gospel to the four corners of the world, but when Jesus talked of the destruction and three-day resurrection of a temple, He was speaking of His own death and resurrection… “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up… But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19-22). Christ living in us has made us the temple of His Holy Spirit… “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Christ fulfills the promise of the temple as the place of true spiritual worship for every true believer.
Christ fulfilled the promise of protection. God promised to protect Israel through the time of their Egyptian enslavement. In Christ, the believer is protected through this temporal life and promised eternal life in heaven… “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Christ fulfills the promise of protection and deliverance for His children.
As we grow up into Christ, we experience the blessing of all of…
The Promises that are Fulfilled in Christ.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Heart of a Servant Leader

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:8-15).
Seven men were chosen to serve the widows, but one stands out. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to draw our attention to Stephen, who had captured the interest of the community of believers and provoked the anger of the religious leaders. What was different about Stephen? His heart to serve the community of believers had taken him far beyond ministering to the widows, and he was zealously sharing the gospel message with as many people as he could. The opposition wasn’t angered by the… “great wonders and signs” that confirmed his message. They were provoked by the unbeatable… “wisdom and the spirit with which he was speaking”. As we examine the character of this young deacon, I believe the Holy Spirit will encourage us with more truth about the heart of a servant leader.
The servant leader’s heart is compelled by a love for the lost. Stephen did not seek a high-profile position in the new community of believers. Instead he humbly accepted a position of service among the needy, but he sought out every opportunity to share the gospel. He understood and was compelled by the truth that we have one great commission… “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). When our heart is compelled by the truth that the gospel makes all the difference in the eternal salvation or condemnation of people, like Stephen, we seek and use every opportunity to serve others and to share the soul saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
The servant leader’s heart is full of grace and power. Because he was obedient to Christ’s command to be a witness wherever he was called to serve, Stephen placed himself in a position to be used by God. The Lord’s grace went to work in his heart, transforming Stephen’s will and conforming his works to the will and work of God. The Spirit inspired Paul to teach that this same grace is at work in the heart of every humble, willing disciple… “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). As he served the widows, Stephen preached the gospel and it was confirmed by wonders and signs, but these were outward signs of the supernatural grace and power that was quietly working in his heart. This same grace works in our heart through faith, humility, and obedience.
The servant leader’s heart is intimate with Christ. In Stephen, the council saw the face of an angel. I believe it was a reflection of the glory of Christ that came from much intimate fellowship between this young man and His Savior. The Spirit inspired Paul to teach that reflecting the glory of the Lord is something He wants all of us to do… “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). What do people see in our face? The more time we spend with Jesus, the more they will see His glory in us.
As we grow up into Christ, like Stephen, we seize every opportunity to share His gospel as God’s grace nurtures within us…
The Heart of a Servant Leader.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Character of Christ-Like Servant Leadership

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:1-7).
The community of believers was growing as a result of the apostles and disciples’ obedience to God’s unbeatable plan. The disciples were… “increasing in number” despite external opposition from the Jewish leaders. Now they were faced with an internal issue. Some of the Hellenist, or Greek speaking widows were being neglected when food was being distributed to the poor. This called for some wise action on the part of the apostles, who must continue to be devoted to God’s plan by preaching the word. They urged the disciples to search among themselves for seven special people. The Holy Spirit led them to choose seven outstanding men who would become the first deacons, or servant ministers in the local church. These men had good reputations because they were full of the character of Christ-like servant leadership.
Servant leaders are full of the Holy Spirit. It’s not natural to serve others because serving others means putting the needs of others first. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to exhort disciples to this spiritual calling… “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ are to embrace and reflect His servant character… “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7). As we are filled with the Holt Spirit, He conquers our fleshly nature and helps us put on the servant leadership character of Jesus Christ.
Servant leaders are full of wisdom. These new servant leaders would have to be filled with wisdom as they assumed the responsibility of managing the community’s offerings to meet the community’s needs. They would need the kind of skill that comes from seeking God’s perspective in order to know how to discern and meet the real needs of those they were serving. This kind of wisdom is not natural, it is spiritual… “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). This spiritual wisdom is available to all true disciples that ask for it in faith… “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6). When we feel the call to serve but lack wisdom, we can ask in faith and trust that God will fill us with His wisdom for the task.
Servant leaders are full of faith. The Holy Spirit compelled Luke to make a special note here that the first deacon chosen, Stephen, was… “a man full of faith”. We already noted that being full of wisdom requires asking in faith. It’s also true that believing in God’s provision for our individual needs as well as for meeting the needs of others requires faith… “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). As we humbly and faithfully serve others, God moves through us to supernaturally meet their needs and He gets all the glory.
As we grow up into Christ, we can move on to higher levels of Christ-like service as He develops in us…
The Character of Christ-Like Servant Leadership.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Plan that Cannot Fail

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus (Acts 5:33-42).
The Jewish council was enraged by the success of the apostles. They had filled Jerusalem with their teaching and God confirmed their message as… “many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles” (Acts 5:12). The most alarming result was a growing community of those who believed that Jesus is the Christ… “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). The Jewish elders believed the only way to stop this movement was to kill the apostles. But the Lord moved a God-fearing and respected leader, Gamaliel, to stand up and speak some important truth. Through Gamaliel’s words, the reaction of the council, and the response of the apostles the Holy Spirit exhorts us to seek and follow the plan that cannot fail.
The plan of God cannot be overthrown. Gamaliel shared two recent examples of men who claimed to be the Christ. They gathered large numbers of followers but perished along with their plans and their movements. Because mankind is fallen and controlled by a sinful heart, without the grace of God working through our heart, all of our plans are imperfect and destined to fail… “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). But when we are born again we have the grace of God at work in us, conforming our will to His perfect will… “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He gives us the mind of Christ… “’For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). As we discover and pursue His plan, God grants success and victory… “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Let’s seek and be devoted to God’s perfect plan today.
The plan of God may bring suffering. The council had the apostles beaten and they repeated their charge to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. There were two contrasting results of the apostles’ proclamation of Jesus Christ. There was the advance of God’s kingdom evidenced by signs and by increasing numbers of new believers and the increase of opposition that produced suffering. The apostles rejoiced that they suffered for Christ. The Spirit moved Paul to encourage us to share in Christ’s suffering too… “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). Suffering for Christ is part of becoming more like Him.
The plan of God is worthy of wholehearted devotion. Plans that originate in God’s heart are good, guaranteed, and glorify Him… “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). God gets the glory and we get the blessings when we are wholeheartedly devoted to His perfect plan.
As we grow up into Christ, we learn to set aside our personal plans and give ourselves to…
The Plan that Cannot Fail.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Blessings of Obedience

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:27-32).
The apostles were brought before the Jewish leaders again to answer for their disobedience. They had been strictly charged not to teach in the name of Jesus Christ. They answered even more clearly than before… “We must obey God rather than men”. Disciples like you and me are consistently faced with the same choice, to obey God or men because we live in a fallen and unbelieving world. Jesus said obedience is evidence of true love… “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He went on to say that there are wonderful blessings for obedience, the best of which is growing intimacy and fellowship with the Father and His Son… “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). Today we see that the apostles experienced three wonderful blessings as the result of their choice to obey God rather than men, and we are encouraged to follow their example so that we might also enjoy the blessings of obedience.
Obedient disciples receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to more than 500 followers just before His ascension… “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Those who obeyed His command received the fulfillment of the promise on the day of Pentecost… “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). As Christ’s disciples, we have this same promise… “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself’” (Acts 2:38-39). As we increasingly obey the Lord we can expect His Holy Spirit to fill and lead us more and more.
Obedient disciples receive boldness to witness. Despite being commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus Christ, the apostles were fully engaged in healing, delivering, and sharing the gospel in His name. There was no fear in their hearts because their obedience reflected the love for Christ that filled their hearts and Christ’s love drives away fear… “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). Their obedience led to boldness because they were so filled with the Holy Spirit’s power there was no room for any fear in their hearts… “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Our increasing obedience leads to increasing boldness and confidence in serving Christ.
Obedient disciples experience success. The Jewish elders confirmed the Lord’s anointing and blessing on the ministry of the apostles with the words… “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching”. Obedience places us in position to receive God’s blessing as we serve Him… “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). Our increasing obedience yields God’s increasing blessing on our efforts to serve Him and to share His glorious gospel.
As we grow up into Christ, listening to and obeying His precious word, we increasingly enjoy…
The Blessings of Obedience.

The House that is Not Made by Hands

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern...