Fully Proclaim the Gospel of Christ

2 Chronicles 31-32 and Romans 15

Today’s reading is packed with so much good stuff, it’s hard to know what to write about.

I could comment about the overflowing generosity of King Hezekiah and the people when giving to the Lord, as found in 2 Chronicles 31.  But I won’t.

I could stress how God blessed another faithful king, as found in 2 Chronicles 31:21, which says, “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly.  And so he prospered.”  But I won’t.

I could comment extensively on how Hezekiah trusted God completely when attacked by the Assyrians, and then God sent the death angel, who killed 185,000 of the Assyrian army.  But I won’t.  (Besides, I prefer the accounts in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37.)

I could talk about how Hezekiah cried out to God when he was about to die, and God added 15 years to his life, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 32.  But I won’t.  (Again I prefer the 2 Kings 21 and Isaiah 37-38 accounts.) 

I could even expound on 2 Chronicles 32:31, “…God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.”  But I won’t.

Since I already commented yesterday about doing things to build up our neighbor, I won’t comment on that even though it is recorded again in the beginning of Romans 15.

Instead, I’d like to point out Paul’s faithfulness in evangelism.  You may remember that Paul had a vision, where Jesus commanded him to spread the gospel to the Gentiles.  In Romans 15:19-22, we read, “… So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. … This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.”

It’s easy to pass over what Paul just said, so I’ll point out that according to The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, “from Jerusalem to Illyricum” covers about 14,000 miles (yes, fourteen thousand miles).  When you consider Paul’s mode of travel, and the difficulties he endured (read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), you can understand the immense achievement of Paul’s missionary work.

For your convenience, I’ll include 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 here:

… I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

The real clincher comes in Romans 15:23, “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions…”  Did you catch that?  Paul has traveled 14,000 miles and told everyone he could about Jesus.  Paul is basically saying, “But since there’s nobody else to tell (because they’ve all heard now); I’m done here; so I’ll finally come to visit you.”

What an astounding accomplishment.  What an astounding example.

Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded.  And part of what was commanded includes making more disciples.  So, through the Great Commission, Jesus commanded you and me to share the good news about Jesus with the whole world.  Maybe we weren’t told as directly as Paul was, but we were told.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t say, “since I’ve told everybody I know about Jesus, I need to move on to find more people to tell.”  I think all of us need a good reminder that God still expects us to make disciples today.
–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 31-32 and Romans 15

Self-improvement Help Needed

But Not From Yourself

Romans 7

I think everyone can empathize with Paul when he states, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

Even in every day routines there may be areas we want to improve or change. Just look at the huge amount of self-improvement and renewal books that are printed each year. Maybe we want to: lose weight, get fit, stop bad habits, eat healthier, get out of debt and save money, spend more time with family, be less stressed or read through the Bible. Ok, hopefully this one is happening.

So wanting to overcome sin and do good is a great goal, but maybe you feel as Paul did, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” On our own, we cannot overcome sin, but as Christians we are not on our own. Thank the LORD, He is with us and He has provided what we need to overcome sin. In verse 25 we see that Paul is relying on God’s provision in Christ. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We are no longer condemned because we are in Christ Jesus, but sin is condemned. Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. We no longer live by our sinful nature, but according to the Spirit. And as we will discover in Romans chapter 8, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us and nothing in all creation, is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We truly need to realize the love that God has for us and rely on His Spirit working in us. 

-Rebecca Dauksas

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 15-16 and Romans 7

Unexpected Places

Unexpected Purposes

Acts 28

Have there been times in your life where you’ve been taken somewhere you didn’t expect? Last spring, I was taking a drive when I became lost on some of the backroads. I was filled with uncertainty about my location and starting to get anxious about finding my way back. As I found myself where I didn’t expect to be, a lost lamb appeared on the road. It was nearly hit by oncoming traffic as it frantically sprinted down the pavement. The cream and brown spotted lamb was panting from exhaustion. It was scared and confused. Because I was at this unexpected intersection, I was able to get the lamb off the road and put it in my truck. After searching for its farm and calling the sheriff, eventually it was reunited with its home. Sometimes it is the places that we don’t see coming, where we prove to be the most useful.

In Acts 28 we learn about Paul’s experiences on the island where he and the rest of the people on his ship came to be shipwrecked. As we read yesterday, Paul’s journey was quite wild. But God had delivered them safely to this Island called Malta. When Paul left for Rome, he probably never expected to make a pit stop, let alone be shipwrecked at this place. Yet, this was where he was taken, and it was not without purpose.

            On this island, in the middle of the Mediterranean, Paul was able to interact with the people. These inhabitants of Malta saw something different about Paul as they had witnessed him being delivered from the sea and from a snake bite. And then Paul was able to pray for and heal their sick. An island that might not have been a priority for people of that time to take the gospel to had nonetheless witnessed it through Paul’s unexpected stay there.

So, although this time and stay in Malta had been unexpected, it proved useful and it exposed others to the One True God. So, while you may at times find yourself in an unexpected place, do not be discouraged. Sometimes it is the most unexpected places in our lives that God uses us for an unexpected purpose.

-Hannah Deane

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Kings 13-14 and Acts 28

Believing God in Tough Times

Acts 27

Paul’s journey to Rome in this passage is anything but simple. When those with Paul on the ship to Rome went days without seeing the guiding light of stars or the sun, they gave up hope of ever being saved. But then Paul spoke. He shared with them what the angel of God had told him. He assured them that although their situation seemed dire, they would be delivered. It was God’s plan for Paul to appear before Caesar and Paul, neither Paul nor those with him, were to be lost at sea before that could happen.

Although this situation and the knowledge that he was to be tried by Caesar when he reached Rome must have been difficult, Paul kept trusting God. When God sent word to him, Paul did not look at the situation and doubt what God was saying. He believed God’s word, and so much so that he shared what God had planned. From the passage we can see that Paul did not even question the way in which they were to be saved- a shipwreck! Here Paul is lost at sea, facing trial by the ruler of the Roman empire and now finds out he is to be preserved for that by being saved through a shipwreck. That is a lot to take in and yet, Paul remained faithful.

This made me think of a time in my own life when I was being driven to an airport on a major highway. A car sideswiped us, and we went across several lanes of traffic, nearly hit a concrete barrier and then swerved back over a few lanes. In that moment, it seemed the vehicle I was in was going to be hit again. The situation seemed taut and like there could be no good outcome. However, miraculously the vehicle I was in and the vehicle that had hit us suffered no injuries and were not hit a second time in the busy traffic. Even in a situation that seemed hopeless, God preserved us, and we even got to the airport on time.

Sometimes, though, in these moments it is easier to think of what could happen, like getting hit a second time or being lost at sea and not on what we should be thinking about- God. But we must look to Paul as an example and trust God in tough circumstances as he did.

-Hannah Deane

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Kings 11-12 and Acts 27

Conflict

Acts 25

Conflict within the church weakens community, and ultimately destroys the credibility of the church. In the eyes of the Romans, Paul’s arrest was just another Jewish squabble that needed to be controlled and contained. Arguments in the church make the world look down on us, instead of how God intended the church to be; a light to unbelievers, pointing others to God. Certainly God can still bring good out of conflict but the purpose of the church is to be Christ’s hands and feet doing God’s work.

It is hard to be doing God’s work while you are fighting with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was following God’s direction for his life by going to Jerusalem where he knew he would be imprisoned by the Jewish leaders. From the time Jesus called him on the road to Damascus Paul had been obeying God’s instruction to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul and the Jewish leaders had a lot in common. They both believed in God, and followed all the Jewish teachings and traditions. The difference between Paul and the Jewish leaders is that the Jewish leaders were not listening to God like Paul was and it was creating conflict that affected everyone within the church, the Jewish leaders, and the Romans and Gentiles.

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Kings 7-8 and Acts 25

The Money Trail

Acts 19

There is a saying with some truth to it that if you want to know about a matter – ‘follow the money’. This means if you look at the funding sources of a matter then you get a picture of who is pushing what (aka agenda) and who has financial gain or interest or conflict of interest in the matter. This is not a new concept, but rather, an old one. It is even present in Biblical times. The incident with Demetrius in Acts 19 is the perfect example.

Demetrius is a silversmith idol maker and has a good business going making a lot of money in Ephesus. He is afraid that the message that Paul is sharing that there is only one true God and that Jesus Christ is His son will plummet his sales in idols of Diana. Ephesus was known for its worship of the goddess Diana and the god Zeus. So he incited his fellow idol makers towards anger and malice towards Paul and the disciples in Ephesus. This snowballed into a riot where half the people didn’t even know what the issue was and just joined in rioting just because. (Sound familiar?) The authorities of the city knew that Paul and the disciples had done nothing wrong and had not stirred up this great rioting mob by anything they had done so they refused to bring them to court to try them. Ultimately Paul and the disciples decided to leave town and go somewhere else where they could share the gospel.

All of this is due to Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths being concerned that they would lose their livelihoods making shrines that they made a great profit from selling to the people. They were not interested in hearing or considering the truth – they were only concerned with the almighty dollar as we might say today. It is sad that the truth of the gospel couldn’t be openly shared in Ephesus because of a handful of greedy men. Does this happen today? In our time? You bet. The names and the livelihoods may be different but the situation still rears its ugly head. So …if you want to know about a matter ‘follow the money’ and you will find out a lot. More importantly follow Jesus and gain discernment about situations that arise. One will never go wrong when truly following Jesus.

-Pastor Merry Peterson

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 19-20 and Acts 19

Going with the Gospel

Around the World or Across the Street

Acts 18

It is interesting how some people basically stay in one place all their lives and others seem to travel about quite frequently. No one can accuse the apostle Paul of being a homebody! In Acts 18 we notice that Paul travels quite extensively staying in one place for a little while, and then traveling to another place. Sometimes the places he traveled to received the gospel message with readiness and welcomed him, and at other times he received more hostile treatment. Everywhere he went he shared the gospel message. About the first thing he would do each place he went was to go to the synagogue and teach there about Jesus being the promised Messiah and way to salvation.

Among his travels he met Priscilla and Aquila and they were strengthened in the faith. So much so that later when Paul travelled on to a new location without them they were able to teach another man named Apollos more clearly about the gospel. It seems whether near to home or far away these early Christians were ready and willing to share the message with whoever would listen and believe. They were truly ready to give an answer in season for the hope they held within them.

We should be ready and willing just as they were to give an answer for the hope that we hold within us. Whether God gives us the opportunity to travel from place to place, or whether He asks us to be the light within our own community. Our willingness should always be present, just as it was with the early Christians, to share the hope we have in Christ.

-Pastor Merry Peterson

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 17-18 and Acts 18

God Focused Response

Acts 16

There are so many things that I find interesting in Acts 16. Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia asking for him to come share the gospel with him. When they get to Macedonia to the region of Philippi they meet a woman who comes to belief along with her whole household. But what unfolds next is really fascinating. Paul and Silas get into a situation and end up being severely beaten and thrown into the inner holding rooms of the prison. But what I want us to notice is their reaction – they aren’t crying, they aren’t in there feeling sorry for themselves or busy being angry or muttering threats – they are Praying and Singing Hymns to God! What a contrary reaction to what everyone would expect!

If we were in that situation, sore, and bleeding, in a dark, inner, dingy room with criminals around us would we be that confident and flat out bold? We would more likely be in there feeling sorry for ourselves, scared out of our wits, and wanting desperately to call our lawyer or mom or anybody that could help us get out of there! But Paul & Silas’ response was God focused. By praying and singing hymns to God they were communicating with the one who has all power and authority to change and alter any and every situation. Who needs a lawyer when you have God on your side? God used the situation to open the hearts of the Philippian jailer and his household to hear and accept the gospel message. Paul and Silas were also released to go free from the prison where they were being held. When Paul and Silas exhibited the right response to their unfair situation God turned their situation around for His glory.

If we were to be bold and confident in the Lord and say within ourselves as the Psalmist did in Psalm 121:2 “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” And keep an attitude of worship, praise, and open communication with God in our trials; maybe we would stand in the same place of victory as Paul and Silas did. One of the biggest challenges that we face in our Christian walk is keeping the right attitudes when things don’t go our way or get difficult for us. I hope we are inspired by the actions of Paul and Silas and remember to communicate with the author of life and outcomes when we face our next difficult situation.

-Pastor Merry Peterson

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 13-14 and Acts 16

“This time the mission is a man.”

Daily reading: Titus 1-3

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks’ character spends the bulk of the film working to save the life of one man, Private James Francis Ryan, who is slated to be sent home after his three brothers have all been killed in combat. Near the close of the film, Hanks leans in to Matt Damon, who plays Private Ryan and whispers his last words, “Earn this.”

The final scene of the movie is both touching and convicting. Ryan, now an old man, stands at the grave of the man who gave his life to save him and he weeps. He looks to his wife, “Tell me I’ve lived a good life,” he says, “Tell me I’m a good man.”

(Here’s the scene, if you want to give it a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZgoufN99n8)

For him, the reality of living a good life in response to the sacrifice that was made on his behalf was tangible because he had looked in the eyes of the man who died in his place. I think, perhaps, we miss something because we can’t do that, don’t you?

Paul wanted us to think about doing good with our lives. It seemed to be important to him.

His letter to Titus is not long. It’s only 46 verses. But almost 1/5 of them talk about doing what is good (17.5% for you math heads out there).

“I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”

Our lives as believers preach louder than any Bible verses we post to our Facebook pages or how pious we consider ourselves to be. Perhaps that’s why Paul concludes his letter to Titus with the reminder that,

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

We all know that we can’t earn salvation, but we can earn (or lose) other people’s trust.

— The way that we speak to, and about, our parents or our spouse could make someone want to know more about the God we serve…or less.

— The integrity we exhibit at work might make them want to pick up a Bible…or never set foot in a church.

— Our gentleness, kindness, and considerate behavior may be the thing that draws someone to experience the love of God for the first time…or they might come to believe that God is rude and harsh and uncaring.

To put it another way… why would your unbelieving boss want to consider Christianity if you are the laziest employee they have? Or… Do you think anyone cares how many Bible verses you know if you make everyone around you feel like garbage?

We can all fall into the self-focused trap far too easily. So here’s your reminder that (and you might need to sit down for this): It’s not about you.

I had kind of an ‘a-ha’ moment in Sunday morning worship not too long ago when we were singing the song, Awakening. Some of the lyrics say,

For the world You love
Your will be done
Let Your will be done in me

Praying for God’s will to be done in your life is a good thing no matter what. But it hit me over the head that Sunday morning that the purpose of Him wanting to do his will in my life wasn’t just for me. “For the world you love…”

While we can’t ever “Earn this” we can embrace the passionate and intentional living that Private Ryan embraced and regularly examine ourselves with questions like he asked…Am I living a good life?

Or more specifically… Is how I’m living drawing people towards God or repelling them from Him? Am I reflecting Him accurately?

Am I devoting myself to doing what is good?

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Titus 1-3

Tomorrow we will read 1st Peter 1-5.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”

Daily reading: 1 Timothy 1-6

In the movie Elf, Buddy the Elf is taught the Code of the Elves, which the elves all recite and know by heart. Number three on the list is about spreading Christmas cheer, and by the end of the movie, Buddy has spread that message to lots of people.

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul explicitly tells us his purpose when he says, I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church.”

So, in essence, Paul’s giving us the Code of the Church. And what are some of the things in that code?

  1. Remember you’re a big fat sinner (ie: Grace)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1:15)

Before we say a word to anyone else, our perspective on ourself needs to be right.

Unfortunately, there seem to be an awful lot of believers out there who don’t seem to see themselves as Paul did. They might rephrase this verse to say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—praise the Lord I’m not like them” or if we’re really honest, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—thankfully I’m not as bad as the worst of them.”

And although I don’t really believe most Christians would actually rephrase Paul’s writing in those ways, our attitudes do it for us. Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors said, “Jesus came not only for those who skip morning mediations, but also for real sinners–thieves, adulterers and terrorists, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.”

The lyrics to the song, “Come to the Table” are a lovely picture of recognizing that we are all sinners redeemed, and that our unworthiness does not exempt us from a seat at the table of mercy.

Must sin be called out? Of course. With a heaping side of grace.

Grace first. Grace always.

More on that later in the code.

2. Pray for your leaders

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  (2:1-2)

Pray for them (ARROW) THAT…

The code dictates that we’re praying for leaders that will enable us to live out a Biblical faith.

Here’s a resource that can help you do that if you’d like.

3. Take church leadership seriously.

If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? (3:5)

Chapter three is almost entirely devoted to this piece of the church code, laying out indicators of what believers should look for in church leaders. This much real estate in Paul’s letter should tell us that it’s something that he found important, and should therefore garner our attention as well.

4. Train yourself to be godly…because it doesn’t come naturally

..train yourself to be godly.  (4:7)

Training involves work, often times painful work.

As we alluded to in step one of the code, identifying sin is a part of responsibility of the believer. Both in our own life and for one another.

Paul writes in other places of ‘walking in the Spirit’ vs. ‘walking in the flesh’. Walking in the flesh could be described as doing what comes naturally to us, and that is frequently (almost always) not the same as what God would call us to.

This is why we need to train ourselves in it. Despite all the Chuck Norris jokes to the contrary…Chuck Norris wasn’t born all ‘Chuck Norris-y’. He has trained and worked hard physically to attain the physical strength and skills he has.

While we do want to train hard and push ourselves and one another to greatness, the underlying foundation must always be love. It must always be grace. (See #1 of the Code)

5. The church takes care of its own

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers,older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (5:1-2)

Much of chapter 5 centers on the care of widows in the church, something we may deem a waste of Paul’s time. However, it shows a real care and elevation of women. A woman whose husband had died could become desolate very rapidly, and this was to ensure that this not happen to believers.

Although the specific issue of widowhood may not be as relevant to us today, the idea that God expects believers to provide for their family has not changed. Also unchanged is the notion of the church family stepping in for believers without blood-family to support them.

Good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (5:25)

Our church code of conduct may not be quite as catchy as the one Buddy the Elf learned in the North Pole, but ours has a far more lasting impact…and no tights required!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Timothy

Tomorrow we will read Titus 1-3.