Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Never Stop Praying for the Lost

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
Acts 8:1-3

If anyone has ever qualified to be beyond the reach of God's grace, it was Saul. But of course we know the story of Saul. He was so changed by a post-resurrection visit from Jesus that he became the Apostle Paul. He wrote much of the New Testament and was the leading missionary of the early church. We know this story so well that we can tend to gloss over it. We fail to see the hope that it gives us. Saul went from being a man who imprisoned and enjoyed the martyrdom of Christians to a man who was so in love with Jesus that he himself suffered for his refusal to deny Christ, and was eventually martyred himself.

But imagine meeting a first century believer who might have known Saul before his conversion, when he still hated Jesus. This friend would tell us that he wants Saul to believe, but what can he do? "Maybe you can show him from the Scriptures that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah," we say. But he points out that Saul is a gifted student of the Bible. Saul knows the Bible better than our friend does and he is a far superior debater. "Perhaps you can impress on Saul his need for forgiveness," we suggest. But our friend would point out that Saul is nearly flawless in keeping the law. Saul is as righteous as any man he has ever known. Saul is also keenly aware of his own righteousness and will vehemently defend it if need be. So that won't work. What can our friend do? He desperately wants Saul to come to know the joy he has found in Jesus but he is tempted to give up.

It is easy to imagine how a believer in this situation might feel. "There is no hope left for my old friend now," he might think. "There is simply no way that a man like Saul will ever surrender his will to Jesus." Perhaps you have a friend or a family member that you feel this way about. "There is simply no way that he or she will ever accept Jesus," you think. But you would be wrong to give up hope on them just like our imaginary first century friend would have been wrong to give up hope on Saul. Jesus Himself said "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

Perhaps you have a friend or a family member who has resisted all of your attempts to tell them about Jesus. Perhaps they have even refused Christ for many years. Are you going to give up on them? Are they simply beyond God's reach? NO! Never stop praying for someone's salvation simply because it seems impossible that they will accept Christ. God is a god of the impossible, and He is still in the business of saving souls. Trust Him and pray like their souls depend on it. 

For further reading...
  • Matthew 19:16-26- The rich man rejects Jesus.
  • Luke 18:1-8- The Parable of the Persistent Widow
  • Luke 11:1-13 (especially v. 5-13)- This is how you ought to pray.
  • Spend some time in prayer for one or more people you know who need Christ.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

God Subverts Pain

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5

Since it is God's expressed purpose for His children to one day trade in their mortal bodies for immortal, heavenly ones, it makes perfect sense that He would subvert the pain of death and growing old (which is brought on by our sin) to His own purposes such that even this pain would cause us to groan more longingly for heaven. The aches and pains of growing old can little-by-little help tear us away from our attachment to this earth and to these earthly bodies. The frustration and discomfort we feel can actually serve as fuel to cause us to long all the more intensely for heaven and for our resurrection bodies.

The simple truth is that we cannot receive our heavenly bodies until we have first been stripped of these earthly bodies. Some believers lose their life and vitality in a moment. Others endure long drawn out battles with pain, sickness, and death. The slow tearing away of a person's health and vitality, as terrible as it is, can be used for the Christian's good if he will trust God. It can be that the crippled man's daily hardship serves as a reminder that no one will be crippled in heaven. His disability can actually be a spiritual asset. Paul the apostle struggled with a "thorn in the flesh." Paul found peace after God revealed to him that God's strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Your physical disability, your physical suffering, can be the weakness that God uses to work His strength in your life to focus your spirit all the more intently on heaven.

So the next time you want to curse that bad knee or bad back or even that reoccurring cancer, don't. Accept it as from the Lord. Let God work it to your good. Instead of groaning, "Why, Lord!?" Groan, "When, Lord? Oh, when will I be free of these troublesome pains in heaven with you?" Let His strength be made perfect in your weakness. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Debt of Gratitude

...we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

You can't become a Christian without participating in the death of Christ. In order to live the new life that Christ offers, you first must die to your old way of living, to your old self. You must repent of your sin and leave it behind, surrendering your will for obedience to Christ. Only once you have died like this can you be made a new creation in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" This aspect of belief is pictured beautifully in baptism. During baptism, the convert is plunged beneath the water symbolizing her participation in Christ's death. She must be symbolically buried with Him in this way before she can be raised up out of the water to live a new life. But what is the nature of this new life? 

2 Corinthians 5:14 says that Christ died for us that so that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him. Take the time to really think about this sentence. It is a radical thought! No Christian on earth right now should be living for himself. All of us should be living our lives day in and day out solely for Christ. Imagine how different our world would be if all believers did this! Imagine how different your life would be if you did it. 

I can't help but remember the many movies that have played off a similar theme. Usually it runs something like this: The main hero in the story saves a man's life, and from that moment on the man owes the hero a debt of gratitude. He must follow him around and serve him continuously until he repays the debt. Only, you and I can never repay the debt we owe to Jesus. So we are called to follow Him and serve Him continuously our whole lives out of gratitude. Are you living for Jesus in this way? In what ways are you still living for yourself? For others? What do you need to leave behind or lay down today to really begin living for Jesus? 

Father, help us to live for You!

For further reading... check out the entire book of 2 Corinthians.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Make a Plan

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
Luke 10:1-2

I often think of Jesus as following the Spirit in the moment, like He just kind of floated around from place to place, town to town following God's promptings and living in the moment. But in this passage we see Jesus clearly making plans for the future. It is clear that He has thought strategically about the future and even encourages His followers to pray strategically about the future. Jesus sends 36 teams out ahead of Him into the towns He plans to visit and minister to shortly. The natural reading of this passage suggests that Jesus has planned out the next 36 towns He is going to pass through! Obviously Jesus wasn't just floating along in the moment. Though I am sure Jesus was sensitive to the Spirit's leading, Jesus understood that God's Spirit can give us guidance far in advance (consider the Old Testament prophets as an example). It is clear then that Jesus planned far in advance and had a large vision for how He would go about accomplishing God's call on His life.

What about you? Have you made any plans to accomplish anything for God? Don't be fooled into thinking that you are doing Him some big favor simply by showing up at church and occasionally tithing. Make a plan! Save $5,000 over the next several years and give it to a Christian ministry to fund the building of an orphanage in a third world country. Dream big dreams for your church's youth or children's ministry and serve faithfully in them. Find a reputable ministry and go on a mission trip; share the gospel. Make plans to talk to your neighbor or your unbelieving friend about Jesus! Do something. Have a plan to glorify God and exalt Christ.

Lord, I pray that you would send those reading this devotional out into the harvest fields to advance Your kingdom. Show them Your will for their lives. Help them to catch a big vision of what You want to do through them. Lead them to make plans and to carry them out according to Your will and the promptings of Your Spirit. In Jesus' name I pray...amen.