God Makes Persecution Serve His Mission

Acts 8 4 (1)

Acts 8

  

After the stoning of Stephen not only is there immense sadness and persecution, but Saul is now on fire to destroy the church. Christians are scattered all over Samaria and Saul is literally hunting them down. Even when it seems all hope is lost, they do NOT stop preaching the word. God makes persecution serve His mission.

 

The lesson here is not just that God turns setbacks into triumphs, but rather, when we as a church become comfortable, don’t face adversity, and get used to feeling safe, we become stagnant. We need that constant push to keep us in motion.

Persecution can obviously have harmful effects on the church, but prosperity, if not properly checked, can create even more devastation. We are constantly praying for comfort and that’s okay, but maybe we shouldn’t be afraid to pray for God to move even if it leads to persecution.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

 

Grace Rodgers

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Connected

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As a soldier, you would never storm the enemy by yourself. You need a team standing beside you to support you, uplift you, and challenge you.  Spiritual battles are the same; you cannot stand alone. There is always safety in numbers, as the enemy hunts for those who are outcast. Connection, both to each other and to God, is the best defense against the enemy.

Yesterday’s devotion was about how the people of the early church were persecuted, yet stood in boldness. They were able to stand so boldly because they stood together. In Acts chapter 2, we are given an inside look into just how connected the Church was:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

The early believers were an impenetrable front. They ate together, prayed together, performed miracles together, gave generously together, met in the temple together, and praised God together. The Church, being the people and not the building, is the Bride of Christ. If Jesus was so passionate about believers meeting together, I think we should be, too. The depth of this connection that we have with each other is ultimately dependent on the depth of our connection to God.

“The Kingdom of God is not going to be advanced by our churches becoming filled with men, but by men in our churches becoming filled with God.” –Duncan Campbell

Connection to our Creator is the first priority. Connection to God, like connection to the Church, doesn’t come without effort. Building a strong relationship takes time and an open line of communication, prayer. Your prayer life is the biggest factor of your connectedness with God, which then strengthens your connection to your fellow believers.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

~Mackenzie McClain

The Christmas Story Continues

Luke 23 47

Luke 23

Questioning Pilate

Curious Herod

Accusing chief priests

Mocking soldiers

Appealing Pilate

Shouting crowd

Desperate Pilate

Mad mob

Defeated Pilate

Fortunate Barabbas

Condemned Jesus

Cross-carrying Simon

Mourning women

Guilty criminals

Crucified three-some

Forgiving Messiah

Sneering rulers

Informative sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

Insulting felon

Compassionate criminal

Welcoming Jesus

Saved criminal

Darkened sky

Torn curtain

Committed spirit

Last breath

Amazed centurion

Dead righteous man

Seeing crowd

Generous Joseph

So much could be said and written about any one of these elements of Luke 23.  Much of Luke and the gospels – and even the Old Testament – point to this moment in history: the Crucifixion of the Son of God.  Which character do you identify with most today?  Which adjective describes you this year?  What do you find the most amazing?  How does this chapter of Jesus’ history add to the Christmas story of Luke 20 we discussed earlier this week?  In an effort to become more Christ-like, what characteristics do you see in this chapter that you want to work on this week?

Keep Reading and Growing

-Marcia Railton

Who is the Son of God?

 

Luke 22

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Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it.  And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution.  He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.

But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb.  And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin.  Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes.  Communion services are a great reminder of this promise.  At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant.  Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.

I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail.  And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,”  Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping.  I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?

Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal!  And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.

Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands.  Beware of what you expect from the Son of God.  Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!

-Marcia Railton

 

 

What Shall I Do? I Will Send My Son.

Luke 20

Luke 20 13

Merry Christmas!

May your day be full of sweet reminders of God’s love.  And may you pass along that love to others.

It is easy to lose sight of the whole picture of Jesus when we gather to feast and exchange presents amid the tinsel, lights, tree, and nativity scene.  A pregnant virgin, a faithful fiancé, a holy night, an angel assembly, a crew of shepherds, traveling wise men, pass the ham, and unwrap the presents.  But wait . . . why??? And then what????

It appears Jesus didn’t spend time preaching about his miraculous and incredibly true birth.  In fact, only two of the four gospels record bits and pieces of his birth story.  But here in Luke 20 Jesus taught the Parable of the Tenants.  And while it isn’t likely used in very many Christmas sermons or devotions, it actually paints a very fitting picture of why Jesus was sent – and what was “the rest of the story” – beyond the shepherds and wise men.

In this parable God plays the role of the vineyard owner.  He entrusts his vineyard (earth) to mankind as farm tenants to care for his vineyard.  The owner sends back several servants (Old Testament prophets) to the vineyard to retrieve some fruit for the owner.  Instead the selfish, greedy tenants mistreat the servants and send them back with nothing for the master.   

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ (Luke 20:13).  And so, the Son of God is given a mission for his Father: go to the vineyard to represent his Father to attain what belongs to his Father – the fruit of the vineyard.  God could have done this in so many ways.  He could have sent a violent and powerful son to use force to swiftly get the Father’s work done and repay the tenants for their selfish, greedy wickedness.  But instead the Son was given – a baby – as the Son of Man and Son of God.  And the angels rejoiced.   And the shepherds were in awe as they found things just as they had been told and then joyfully shared the news.

And the Son of God “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” – the tenants of the vineyard. (Luke 2:52).   And the son of the vineyard owner teaches and preaches and performs miracles to display and prove the goodness and sovereignty and master plan of the vineyard owner.  But, they still don’t get it.  Forsaking the master’s plan, as well as his very son, they conspire together and the tenants kill the son.  Now, they figure, the vineyard will be theirs.  There is no longer an heir.  And so, the tenants triumph for a time and seem to have free reign of the vineyard.

But, that is not the end of the story.   In his parable Jesus now switches from past tense to future tense as he says, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  So, too, there is a future in our Christmas story today.  And, there is a price that will be paid for all tenants who have chosen to forsake the son.  

In your celebrating today, and in your work tomorrow, in your heart and mind and actions, in your time, in your giving, in your whole living – do not forsake the son.

-Marcia Railton

Live a Changed Life

Luke 12

Be PreparedforHis Return

In the Old Testament God set up the Jewish religious system through Moses as a way to set them apart.  By the time of Jesus the Israelites had turned away from God so many times it gets hard to count, and they had turned the law into something unrecognizable from its original intent and had given into greed, hypocrisy and selfishness.  Jesus spent much of his time on earth battling and rebuking the Pharisees who epitomized all of the flaws with the Jewish religious system of the time.  Knowing that the church will have a strong Jewish culture with these traditions and tendencies and that they will be persecuted after he is gone, Jesus gives the advice found in Luke 12.

First in Luke 12:1-3  he warns them against hypocrisy because that is the quickest way to errode the witness and testimony of the church.  Similarly for us today, if we want to reach those around us for Christ, then we have to be consistent in our actions and words.  If you are a different person on Sunday than the rest of the week, or if your friends outside of church are genuinely surprised that you are a Christian because they cannot tell by your actions, then you need to evaluate your heart.

 

Then in Luke 12:4-12 he warns them to fear God more than the world and the government and people who are persecuting them.  We are also given a promise that when we boldly stand up for Jesus despite the physical consequences he will stand up for us before God.  As believers in Jesus we cannot stand idly on the sidelines.  Now that we have the knowledge of our sin, and the fact that Jesus died for our sins and requires us to live a life set apart we have to make a choice and stand up for it every day.

 

In Luke 12:13-34 Jesus warns his disciples against greed, and being bad stewards of the things that God has given us.  Of those who are given much, much will be required.  This is true for riches as well and talents and abilities.  If we knowingly put ourselves before the Kingdom and spend all our time and talents on ourselves and buying worldly items and position and popularity then we will be held accountable for those actions.  If we are living a truly changed life for the gospel then we should be using our money and talents to further the gospel in any way we can.  If we put God first in this then he will take care of our physical needs as well.

 

Finally in the rest of the chapter he tells them to be watchful for his return, and to not grow complacent.  The entire Old Testament led up to the ministry of Jesus and everybody in Israel knew the scriptures and should have known that Jesus was the Messiah, but they did not interpret the events correctly, and their hearts were not ready.  Similarly we have been given a promise of the return of Jesus in the future and need to be always ready for his return.  We cannot grow complacent in our Christianity.  We cannot let sin creep back into our lives and we cannot allow our passion and fire for the gospel to dwindle.   We should also be familiar with the prophecies of his return so that when they start to be fulfilled we can be prepared for his return.  We do not want to miss out like many of the Israelites of Jesus’ time did.

-Chris Mattison

The Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11

Luke 11 2

In Luke 11 the disciples ask Jesus how to pray and he gives them the Lord’s prayer, which you probably heard before.

 

1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins,   for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

There are several parts of this prayer that are important and that I think we sometimes miss.  First he praises God and asks for the kingdom to come.  I think it is important to start our prayers by focusing on God, because he deserves the respect and it helps to remind us that he is more important and greater than our problems.  Then it is important to remind ourselves that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and that we need to forgive others as well.  Also, when praying for ourselves we need to keep it simple, by only asking for the basics of our physical needs and for God to guide us spiritually.

Then later he goes on.

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 

God is very good at giving gifts, and he is not looking to hide himself from us.  If you need something then ask for it.  If you need more wisdom or patience to deal with an issue in your life, then ask God for it, and keep on asking God for it. Just make sure to check your motives as it says in James 4:3.  If you are asking for your own selfish reasons then you may need to rethink your request.  But if you are asking for something for the reason of helping to further the kingdom and the gospel then God is excited to give to his children.

-Chris Mattison