Peter was Sleeping!

Acts 12

April 30

Acts 12:6 – The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.

Have you ever been so excited about something that is scheduled for the next day that you couldn’t sleep? Or something that you were dreading that made sleep impossible?

Imagine for a moment that you were scheduled to be executed in the morning for a crime that you didn’t commit. Do you think that sleep would come easily?

I would probably not sleep a wink and yet, we read in Acts chapter twelve that this is exactly what Peter was doing. And to make the situation even more uncomfortable, he was sleeping bound with chains, to a man on his right and another man on his left. 

How was Peter able to rest so soundly the night before his scheduled death that an angel of the Lord had to strike him to wake him up?!?

This is what trusting in the Lord looks like. This is what peace that passes all understanding looks like. This is what believing in God beyond your current circumstances looks like. 

Peter had every reason to believe that he was going to be next on Herod’s list of disciples put to the sword. But Peter also had every reason to believe that the same God who rescued Daniel from the lions’ den was more than capable of rescuing him from barracks guarded by four sentries. 

The next time you are facing circumstances that appear beyond your control, remember that you serve a God who positioned a young shepherd boy to slay a giant with a slingshot, who parted the waters of the Red Sea and closed them back up again, who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see. And if God is capable of doing that…He is capable of seeing you through your trials too. 

Believe and do not doubt.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1 Is there a time when you were in a super stressful situation, but you were able to experience peace beyond understanding that comes from God? Thank God for His peace and presence. How can this be a part of your testimony of God’s greatness?

2. When sleep doesn’t come and you feel anxious or worried or stressed – what would God, or Peter, suggest you fill your mind with?

3. What happened to Herod? Why?

Traveling Encouragers

Acts 11

April 29

Acts 11:23 – When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

The second half of Acts chapter 11 emphasizes the importance of fellowship; and not just with other believers who are in our local communities, but with those who are separated by a significant distance. 

Living in Arizona, our state hosts thousands of retirees who migrate south for the winter. Being a member of Lakeshore Bible Church of God, I often see a small fraction of that migration as other members of the General Conference travel south during this season as they spend a few weeks or perhaps months escaping the brutal cold. It is always an encouragement to see them, talk with them, and of course exchange a hug or two. 

Our Conference offers multiple opportunities to gather with fellow COGgers throughout the year; Christian Workers Seminar (happening next week), to the Young Adult Getaway, Family Camp, other state and conference camps (happening in June), FUEL (in July) and the annual General Conference (in August). And I can’t forget to mention the reFUEL and Refuge events that take place in the fall and winter. 

At any one of these events, we have the opportunity to be like Barnabas and Saul, visiting out of state with one another, catching up with friends, meeting new acquaintances, studying God’s Word together, worshiping side by side, praying for and with each other, and of course…sharing meals! 😉

It is so important to invest in your local church. But just as valuable is investing your time and energy gathering with other like-minded believers who live a significant distance away. We are family and family needs one another. 

Because I live in the southwest, I do not have the opportunities to visit with you all on a regular basis, so maybe this devotional message is more for me than it is for you. But I LOVE seeing you all whenever I get the chance. YOU inspire me. YOU challenge me. YOU teach me. YOU accept me. And that is what family is all about. 

I hope that you have the chance to take advantage of one or more of our summer events this year. You WILL find yourself encouraged in the presence of fellow believers. And more than likely, you will be the smiling face that your brothers and sisters in Christ long to see.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How have you benefited from the encouragement of a brother or sister in Christ?
  2. How do you encourage others in your local church body? What connections have you made to believers beyond your local community – and how do you find ways to encourage and be the body of Christ to them?
  3. After reading Acts 11, how would you describe Barnabas? What qualities or actions of his would you like to grow in your own life? How will you work on that?

They Thought it Could Not be Done

Acts 10

April 28

Acts 10:36 – You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Our history books are filled with stories of people doing something that has never been done before. From Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the Moon, to Rosalind Franklin capturing the first image of DNA, to women getting the right to vote in 1920. 

For every time that something has been done for the first time, there was a time that it was believed that it couldn’t be done. 

Have you ever been told something couldn’t be done, and then you proved your naysayers wrong? 

These are the kind of thoughts I have when I read through Acts chapter 10. Up until this point in time, followers of Jesus were predominantly converts of Judaism. Cornelius the Centurion, was “devout and God-fearing”, as was the rest of his family. He was generous and prayed daily to God. He probably thought that this was as good as it was going to get. Until God gave him a vision of something more. 

Peter, along with all of the other disciples, were most likely glad to have a Roman Centurion on their side. But they too thought that because he was a Gentile, Cornelius wouldn’t and couldn’t have a relationship to God like the Hebrews could. Until God gave him a vision of something more. 

God made it clear to both of these men that the gospel message wasn’t limited to just one group of people, but that Jesus came for us all. And this led to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, to be the first recorded baptized Gentile in all of Scripture. 

I don’t know if I will ever be the first of anyone to do something for the first time, but I am grateful that I am one of the benefactors of someone who did. And while I may never be a trailblazer, I do know that God still gives us dreams and visions for the kind of life that He longs to bless us with. Don’t shy away from a radical notion that God places on your heart. You never know how that might turn into a blessing not only for you, but for generations after you.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Who do you think was most surprised – Cornelius or Peter?
  2. How has God surprised you with how deep and wide and wonderful His plan of salvation is?
  3. Who still needs to hear it and how will you be a part of sharing it with those who need to know?

When God says Go

When God Says Stop

Acts 9

April 27

Acts 9:17 – Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

A few days ago, I shared thoughts on becoming sensitive to the Holy Spirit, instead of clinging tight to traditions of the Law.

And yesterday, I shared my thoughts on evangelizing. 

In Acts chapter nine we have an example of a new believer being asked to do what some might describe as a dangerous mission – go visit the Jewish leader who is known to breath out murderous threats against followers of Jesus. 

May I be honest? If I had been Ananias, I would have been second guessing this new gospel message and all that God was asking me to do. I may have even been tempted to just flat out disobey and tell God “no”. 

Thank goodness Ananias chose to believe God and responded in obedience. Thank goodness Ananias trusted in God’s faithfulness, even when it didn’t make any sense. Thank goodness Ananias is an example we can turn to when we are also asked to do things that take us way out of our comfort zone. 

Ananias is called a disciple – so it’s not too much of a stretch to think that he was a devoted man of prayer and scripture study. Ananias was most likely in a spiritual posture to notice when the Lord was speaking to him. He wasn’t so wrapped up in his daily routines that he didn’t know when the Lord called to him in a vision. 

On the other hand, Saul, one who was devoted to the Law, had to be struck with blindness in order for the Lord to get his attention. 

The dichotomy of how the Lord spoke to these two men is striking, but both were startling. One was approached in a vision, the other lost his vision. One was told “go”, the other was told “stop”. One had to overcome doubt and act in faith, the other had to be humbled and overcome pride. 

This story of Saul’s conversion and Ananias’ part in it, shows us that God will use whatever method necessary to get us to stop and listen in order to make an impact for His Kingdom. 

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you ever done something for God that was a reach out of your comfort zone? What was the result? Would you do it again? Would you do something even more daring – for God?
  2. When was a time God probably wanted you to GO? When was a time God probably wanted you to STOP? Ask God if He is currently calling you to GO or to STOP. Then do it.

Scatter and Preach It

Acts 8

April 26

Acts 8:4 – Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

I once went on a mission trip that included an evening of street evangelism. It was one of the most overwhelming and intimidating experiences I’ve had. For some people, walking up to strangers and asking them “How’s your relationship with God?” is exciting and effortless. For me, it was incredibly awkward – I stumbled over my words, I felt panicked and I just wanted to run back to our bus. 

As I read through Acts chapter eight, verse four caught my attention. My imagination runs wild with scenes of the disciples speaking with random people at the market, or attending a synagogue to share the radical gospel of Jesus Christ, or even standing at the center of the town square and preaching to anyone and everyone who passes by. 

I don’t think that I would employ similar evangelism tactics as the disciples did back in the day or even as some continue today in our modern culture. 

For me, it’s about building authentic relationships with others. Getting to know others and letting others get to know me. And while this is much more in my zone of comfort, I still sometimes get hung up on how much I share with others about my faith. I greatly admire people who seamlessly weave the gospel into their daily conversations with others. It’s an area of growth for me, I know. But if I genuinely care about others, I must get over my own insecurities in order to share the best news of all – the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God! 

We have been scattered into the workplace, schools, community organizations, as well as our online associations with others for a purpose. Let’s not waste the opportunity to preach the word wherever we are!

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Why share the gospel? Is that just a preacher’s job?
  2. How would you rate yourself when it comes to how often or how well you share the gospel? If you want to improve in this area, what 2-3 specific steps can you take?
  3. Consider your circles (work, school, family, church, community & online). How can you share God’s love, what Jesus means to you and your kingdom hope in each of these circles?

Stiff-Necked Stubborn People

Acts 7

April 25

Acts 7:51 – You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (NIV)

Stiff-necked…bull-headed…stubborn…headstrong…obstinate…when we use these kinds of words to describe someone’s mindset, it’s never a compliment. 

For a brief moment, let’s put ourselves in the sandals of the Jewish leaders that Stephen is speaking to in Acts 7. They had the strongest of convictions. They truly believed that what they stood for, what they expected others to conform to, was to follow the Law given to Moses, rather than to submit to the teachings of Jesus. 

As believers we are also called to hold fast. To stand firm. To believe and not doubt. So what’s the problem?

The Jewish leaders were putting their faith in a system, rather than the Spirit of God. They believed that by following all the rules set forth in the Law, that they would be saved. Stephen is trying to convince them that instead, they need to submit to the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. 

Changing the way that you think about something, especially about a conviction you have, is not easy to do. But that’s exactly why we need to rely on God’s power instead of our own wills. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to us to soften our hearts; to transform our minds, to reveal truth. If we can be more committed to being sensitive to the messages God places in our inner beings, than we are dedicated to a system of rules and regulations, we can finally live the lives that God calls us to experience.     

It’s time to put aside your own system of beliefs. The abundant life starts with seeking God with all your heart.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How would you describe the difference between being stubborn and standing firm?
  2. Can you think of a time when your convictions made you stiff-necked, and you missed (or nearly missed) an opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit? If you can’t think of a specific time, what might it look like?
  3. What do we learn about Stephen in Acts 7? What do we learn about God in Acts 7? How can what we read in this chapter change our mindset and actions this week?

Not Alone

Acts 6

April 24

Helen Keller is quoted as saying, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

As I read through Act 6 today, I am reminded that we were never meant to do ministry, serving others, all on our own might. We have been designed to be ministerial alongside others. 

The number of followers of The Way was increasing daily. In fact, the size had reached a critical juncture. 

In ecological terms, it’s referred to as “carrying capacity”. A habitat can only support a certain number of any kind of species depending on the natural resources available. 

Likewise, we read in Acts, that the number of believers was becoming so great, and including a wonderful mixture of cultural backgrounds, that peoples’ needs, specifically widows, were not being met. 

The leadership knew that people had basic physical needs as well as spiritual needs that needed to be provided for. They had to ask themselves, “What’s the best use of our time”? They realized that they could not forsake one for the other.

Once they determined the best course of action, even more people were ministered to, both physically and spiritually.

As we go about the Lord’s business serving others, we need to first ask ourselves, am I attempting to go it alone, or am I willing to work alongside others? The next question to consider is are you serving in a way that not only meets the needs of others, but that will have the greatest impact?

What I am NOT saying is that if a task isn’t one of your spiritual gifts that you can excuse yourself…however, we are informed in multiple passages within the New Testament that we all have a part to play and some individuals are better suited for some areas of ministry over others. 

When everyone is working collaboratively, and doing it in such a way that suits how God has uniquely designed us, we can have an exponential impact on the growth of God’s kingdom. 

How can you serve others, with others, for the Kingdom?

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Consider who you do ministry with? Thank them for this partnership.
  2. Do you too often try to go it alone? What is the dangers of working alone? What is the blessing in working with a partner or team?
  3. Are there jobs caring for the physical or spiritual needs in your church or community that aren’t getting done? How can you, with a partner or team, help meet those needs?

Driving God Out

Ezekiel 7-8

Ezekiel 8:6 – And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing – the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.”

For better or worse, I tend to be a bit territorial. I get sort of grumpy when someone else parks in the spot that I like to park in at work. 

In high school my friends and I sat at the same spot in the cafeteria for practically four years. In my senior year, a group of underclassmen had the audacity to sit at our table. The gall! We made them get up and move. 

As a teacher, I had colleagues play a prank on me. They had the custodian let them into my room after I had left for the day so that they could completely rearrange my tables, desks, and chairs. The next day, I had an early morning meeting and wasn’t able to open up my room until just a few minutes before the bell was to ring. When I opened the door, I found all of the furniture stacked up in a corner of the room. I was almost in tears, the situation stressed me out so much! Thankfully, my first hour class understood and helped me get the room put back together. 

My experiences are the teeniest, tiniest speck of “problems” when compared to what is described in Ezekiel chapter eight. In verse six, God says that the action of the Israelites have driven Him far from His sanctuary. The glorious temple, the Holy of Holies, is where the Spirit of God resided. But because God cannot exist where evil exists, He was kicked out of His own house! Talk about audacious behavior! 

Jump forward to the New Testament with me. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says,

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.

My friends, are you living a righteous life? Are you choosing with your actions to be set aside for God’s purposes? Or are you living in rebellion? 

I’m certainly not speaking of living a perfect life, but a life that honors God with your thoughts, words, and actions? If so, then God’s Spirit is residing in you. If not, God Spirit is not residing in you. 

This is why Paul reminds us that we are not our own and we should behave accordingly, so that our bodies can remain the temple of the Holy Spirit. 

No one likes being kicked out of what they’ve claimed as their rightful space, even God, especially God. He is your Creator and has claimed your heart as His Home. Live today in such a way that invites Him to stay.  

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 7 & 8 and 1 Peter 5

Pruning

Ezekiel 5 & 6

Ezekiel 5:8 – Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations.

For homeowners in the Southwest, October is usually the month that winter lawn seed is spread. Since we don’t have snow to cover up our yards, we either let the grass die and go brown for a few months, or we make sure that the grass stays green by dedicating an afternoon to lawn care.

So just a few weeks ago, my brother and dad mowed the lawn three times to get the grass cut down as low as possible. That way, when they spread the lawn seed and fertilizer, the seed would have a better chance of taking root and growing into a luscious green carpet. If the lawn wasn’t cut down low, the winter lawn wouldn’t come up.

This reminds me a bit of the pruning that Jesus talks about in John 15. In order for the vine to grow healthy and produce fruit, it has to be cut back. 

We read in Ezekiel chapter 5 God instructing the prophet to shave off all of his hair and his beard and to divide it into thirds. One third is to be burned, one third to be cut up, and one third to be tossed into the wind. A small amount was to be reserved and later that portion was to be divided with part of it to be burned and the remaining hairs kept. 

These instructions are full of symbolism. The hair represents the Israelites. And because of their disobedience, God has to punish the nation. There would be a small remnant of people who would survive, symbolized by the tiny portion of hair not destroyed. 

If God was to have a people unto His own, He needed to get rid of all the evil. He cannot coexist with unholiness. God had to do some major pruning of His people in order that good fruit (spiritually minded people) could grow and thrive. 

I’ve experienced a season of pruning a few times in my life, maybe you have too. When God decides that it is time for you to grow, there is usually something in our lives that has to be cut back first. This is hard. But it is necessary in order to become who God has designed us to be. 

I realize that we still have a good two months of 2021 left, and traditionally, self reflection takes place towards the end of the calendar year. But now is as good a time as any to examine different areas of your life to see if there is anything that God is telling you to get rid of or to cut back on. 

We have read what God plans for those who are disobedient. Let’s experience God not through His wrath, but through His blessings.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 5 & 6 and 1 Peter 4

Listen Carefully

Ezekiel 3 & 4

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk, reading an article for work, and I found myself nodding off. Which isn’t funny, unless you know that I sit on a physioball rather than a traditional office chair…which means I lost my balance when my body relaxed and I almost fell off…then it’s hilarious! 

As I woke up and caught myself, I refocused on the article and realized that I hadn’t comprehended a word of the article. I had to reread it several times before I could understand the point the author was making. 

Have you ever found your eyes moving across the page, but not reading? Have you sat through a lecture (or gasp, a sermon!) but not hearing? 

As if Ezekiel’s vision of a four faced creature wasn’t extraordinary enough to hold his attention, God specifically says, “Listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you”. 

This is pretty much the same thing that happens when adults are speaking to children and when we want to be assured of their attention we say, “Look at me when I am talking to you.”

The message that God was giving to Ezekiel was that important. The task that Ezekiel had to obey was literally the difference between life and death. God wanted to make sure that he had Ezekiel’s full attention.

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, Scripture tells us to “listen carefully”. Obeying God’s Word is a matter of life and death. Whenever we open up our Bibles, we need to read, not just with our eyes, but with our hearts. When we do so, that is when our lives are transformed into Christlikeness. 

Let’s be extra attentive today as we read the Word of God.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 3-4 and 1 Peter 3

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