Bible Study

05/27/15 Daily Devotion – The constant need to walk by faith and not by sight!


“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:9-11)

It happens to the best of us. One minute Elijah was slaying the priests of Baal and the next hiding from Jezebel. Peter one minute was ready to go to death for Jesus and the next was denying that he was even Jesus’ follower. Here Paul had been experiencing some wonderful responses, but recently he had been facing a lot of opposition. You and I can relate to all these great individuals of faith. We, too, have floated from one extreme (absolute faith and certainty) to the other extreme (skepticism and doubt). The Lord speaks to the heart of Paul in a vision and tells him “do not be afraid.” He calls Paul to walk by his eyes of faith and not his eyes of sight. A cursory view of the Scriptures would tell us that things are not always as they seem. Our sight is limited. God sees everything. God knows everything that is going on and tells Paul not to be afraid.

The Lord’s admonishment to Paul is very similar to the one He gave Joshua in the Old Testament. He told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you will go. And the Lord was right. He led Joshua into battles with armies far superior to that of the Israelites, yet the Israelites won. Why? How? Because God saw and knew things that Joshua didn’t. The same with Elijah, Paul, Peter and you and me. Sometimes we have to close our eyes to see the world around us the way God does. It is my prayer that we grow, day by day, to walk by faith and not by sight.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/26/15 Daily Devotion – Sometimes you have to leave the resistance!


“But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 18:6)

Paul was preaching to his fellow Jews and facing tremendous resistance. Paul “shook out his clothes in protest” and left them to preach to the Gentiles. Jesus, in the Gospels, couldn’t do much ministry in His hometown because of the resistance He was facing. When He (Jesus) sent out the twelve to preach the Gospel, He told them to go stay in the nearby towns that accepted them, but to shake the dust of their feet and leave the towns that rejected them. Most theologians use verses like this when talking about evangelizing to the world around us. We need to keep sowing seeds, but we must be wise enough to know to move to the fields that are growing so we can ready ourselves for harvest. Sometimes, we may have to leave a certain group of people because they are not ready to hear the Gospel. This evangelism model has been described as, “Always sow seed, but focus on growth and harvest.”

But what do you do when the group you are getting resistance from is the church and not the unbelieving world around you? Can we, should we, follow the same model? Should we “shake out our clothes and the dust off our sandals” and leave for growth and harvest? This is a touchy question. Why? Because the church as a group is not supposed to act as a force of resistance within itself. The church is supposed to be in homothumadon (one mind). The church should be united and and in a state of peace, not divided and at odds. I encourage the following steps when considering moving away from the resistance faced within the church. First, make sure that you are living in a state of repentant grace. Second, make sure that you are actively removing specks from your own eyes before pointing out the specks in others’ eyes. Third, make sure that you follow the steps of Matthew 18 to deal with the conflict. Fourth, give the process some time. Remember that God is patient and long-suffering. Last, if the resistance continues after all these steps, it may be time to move toward growth and harvest. We need to be good stewards of the time, talents and treasures God has blessed us with. Let’s do what we can to stay faithful to God’s calling on our heart, and let’s accept the fact that sometimes we need to leave the resistance, rather than lead it.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/25/15 Daily Devotion – We make it too complicated sometimes!


“A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” (Acts 17:34 NIV84)

The reason I stop at this verse is because I simply want to remind us all, even myself, that whether someone believes or doesn’t believe is not our issue as long as we are living out our lives and are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives. Paul, although he prepared well for his presentation before the Areopagus, was the one responsible for the people mentioned in our text coming to faith. It wasn’t because Paul was persuasive or because he said just the right words. It was simply that he was willing to be an instrument for the Holy Spirit to work through. Whether someone comes to faith or not is an issue between God and the person we are sharing with. Again, we’ve done our duty if we have offered ourselves into the hands of God to be used by Him.

Looking at it from this perspective helps me to reduce the pressure I put on myself. There is no minimum number of classes one has to take before sharing the message of Jesus. You don’t have to learn a certain number of memory verses to tell someone how Jesus has changed your life. All you have to do is know and believe what Jesus has done in your life. It has been my experience that if we are willing, God will bring people into our lives that He desires us to share the gospel with. And after we’ve shared, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to work in the heart of the person God has brought into our lives.

Let’s keep it simple! Know what God has done in your life and be willing to tell people when God places them into your life.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/24/15 Daily Devotion – The stumbling block the resurrection causes!


“‘For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ At that, Paul left the Council.” (Acts 17:31-33)

Some of the Greek philosophers sneered at Paul when he mentioned that Jesus was raised from the dead, and I think we would get the same reaction if we spoke the same way in our society today. Do they sneer because the resurrection of the dead is so far-fetched? I used to think that, but not anymore. I think the idea of the resurrection is sneered at because it challenges the very basis of any philosophy that places people in the center. The resurrection causes many stumbling blocks to our current secular/atheistic worldview. First and foremost, it directly challenges the idea that we can at all be the lord of our own life. If there is a resurrection, then it will happen to me whether I will it to happen or not. It tells me that there is a force greater than me that has a will over my existence and my destiny. Second, the resurrection of the dead leads to the idea that there is going to be a judgment where we will all be held accountable for the way we lived our lives. This tells us all that how we live in this world does matter. We may dupe ourselves into believing that there is no accountability here on this earth, but the resurrection would tell us otherwise. We will all be face to face with One who is greater than we are. Last, the resurrection clearly pronounces that there is life after death. The life we live on this earth is not all there is. There is more! It is these very important ideas that cause our society to jeer. If these ideas are true, we have to admit that man is NOT the measure of all things, that what we believe and how we live in this world matters, and that life continues beyond the one we’re living.

The resurrection does not have to be a stumbling block. Properly understood, the resurrection provides answers to problems we face in this world. Working with the end in mind, the resurrection of the dead assures us that there is life after death. The resurrection of Jesus assures us that sin and death have been conquered, and if sin and death have been conquered, our faith in Jesus Christ makes a difference in how we live out our lives on a daily basis.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/23/15 daily devotion – ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’


From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:26–28 (NIV84)

God didn’t just create the universe and the world in which we live and then go sit in a rocking chair and watch what His creation would do. Paul told us that God created us in such a way that we (mankind) would long to seek Him and reach out to Him. Paul described God as not being far from each one of us. And then Paul made the most amazing statement: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Have you ever felt like your life was off track? Have you ever been in a place where you had no certainty about where your life was or where it was going? Even today, do you for the most part feel alone, confused, and that life has an overall sense of meaninglessness? Much of this is natural. God has placed something in our essence that longs for meaning and purpose, and when those longings are not fulfilled we feel lost.

As I think about how we have gradually pushed God out of the arena of thought and society, I see that we are creating our own problem. The more we move away from God the more we move from the One in whom we live and move and have our being. You see, God has made it so that we cannot properly define ourselves without being in a relationship with Him. It is no wonder we live in a day and age that holds conferences at prestigious universities to ask the question, “What does it mean to be human?” We, as a society, know that there is something wrong with us. We see the rise in depression and anxiety. We see teenage and young adult suicides on the rise. We see violence in general getting out of control in areas where violence wasn’t always an issue.

Maybe it’s time for us Christians to stand up in our communities and families and clearly state what the problem is. We have moved away from the only One who can give us meaning, purpose, and morality. We need to shout out to our community that Jesus Christ came to the world to share with us the Father’s love. People need to know that we cannot define ourselves without the One in whom we have our being. Jesus introduces us to the One who can forgive, redeem, heal, reconcile, provide hope and peace to His people. The closer we draw to God the more we will find our lives being lived out and moved by His influence.

May we always believe and know that “in Him we live and move and have our being!”

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/22/15 Daily Devotion – Answering our human dilemma!


“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17:24–25 (NIV84)

Many apologists consider Paul’s approach to defending the Christian faith before the Greek philosophers in this section of Scripture to be flawless. He found the open door to share the God of the Bible in the most inoffensive way. He began with their unknown god and gradually defined that god as the One True God. In these verses, Paul, with care and precision, described our God in stark contrast to the gods of the Greeks. The gods of the Greeks were glorified humans with incredible powers but also inherent human flaws. Ultimately the Greek gods needed humanity for their own definition and identity. In contrast, Paul presented the God of the Bible as the Creator of all things who is Lord of both heaven and earth and does not need humanity to define Him. He concluded by emphasizing that humanity, in fact, needs God for its own definition and identity.

Today we live in a society that deifies itself. It has become a weak, confused, convoluted mess. We’ve made people the measure of all things while becoming ever more concerned that we haven’t set the bar high enough. If people are the measure, isn’t the next logical question, “which person?” Do we set as our standard Bill Gates or Hugh Hefner, Adolf Hitler or Mahatma Gandhi? You see my point? Saying that a man (or woman) is the measure leaves us in quite a predicament. Like Paul, we need to introduce the God of the Scriptures, who is not weak but is strong! He is not confused but is certain and true! He doesn’t need us, but we desperately need Him. We need to introduce to our society a God who loves us; who knows our pain and suffering because He became one of us; who works on our behalf to redeem, restore and reconcile us. Our society is suffering and our God is the answer. Let’s start presenting our Christian faith as an ideology that provides answers and solutions to the things that plague us.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/21/15 Daily Devotion – An apologetic strategy!


Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'” Acts 17:22–23 (NIV84)

We as Christians need to know that when we defend our faith we are entering into an arena of conflict. Knowing this, how do we engage the world around us without getting ourselves into a polarized discussion? The last thing we want is to get into a discussion that looks like two people in opposition, rather than two people side by side discussing approaches to a topic. Obviously, if we enter into a polarized discussion, we will end up with two sides feeling the need to defend their position and eventually go on the offensive to prove the other wrong. The side-by-side approach invites someone to come alongside so that two people can have an open discussion about their differing perspectives. This approach leaves people non-threatened and open to constructive dialogue.

Note: This is exactly what Paul did in our text for today. He knew he was dealing with very intelligent people. Not wanting to make them defensive, he began his discussion with a compliment and then proposed an answer to one of their open-ended issues (unknowns). They had a monument for an unknown god. Given the fact that this God was unknown to them, he could use this unknown god as the means to introduce the one true God in a neutral way. He entered a discussion with them at the point of one of their philosophical questions. He stepped into a door already cracked open rather than trying to break down firmly entrenched ideological walls.

His approach worked. It led to an invitation to have this larger group discussion before the Areopagus. As he continued to use this approach before the members of the Areopagus it proved effective. He successfully introduced the God of the Bible to a Greek thinking people. He promised in his presentation to give answers to their longstanding question as to who this unknown god was. This is a strategy we need to learn when we discuss our faith with others. We need not debate! We will be much better off if we position ourselves in a place of trying to answer a question/problem that plagues our society.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/20/15 Daily Devotion – Are we a thinking people?


Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.’ (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)” Acts 17:19–21 (NIV84)

My community is faced with a significant rise in teen depression, self-mutilation, bullying, and suicide. Countless young people in recent years have brought guns to school and shot their fellow students and teachers. I can sense in the people I talk to a disgust over what is happening, but at the same time, I can sense a helplessness about what to do about what is going on. What does this have to do with today’s verses? Well, to put it bluntly, I don’t believe that we think about things anymore — especially the important things! There was a time that the most noble pursuits were the pursuits for truth about origin, meaning, morality and destiny. Religious people and philosophers would dedicate their lives to the pursuit of truth. They knew that in the heart of every person on the planet there was the deep desire to know the answers to questions like Who am I?, Why am I here?, What is my purpose?, How should I live?, and What happens when I die?

We inherently have the same questions stirring in our hearts, but we have listened to our secular world tell us that there are no answers. We no longer delve into these types of conversations because we have been convinced that there are no true answers. Now listen! If there are no true answers to these questions then we must realize that the conclusion must be that life is meaningless. What do you think happens when a frail teenager finally understands his society’s conclusion that life is meaningless? Just because we don’t talk deeply like the Greek philosophers of the past doesn’t mean we don’t have deep-thinking young people asking the really important questions.

It is time for us us to begin to think and discuss again! It’s time to throw the important questions of life back on the table. We need to find answers to these questions for ourselves and then help our families and communities discover answers, too. The Word of God supplies us a worldview that corresponds to reality and is coherent with our life experiences. It is my prayer that we begin to have these types of philosophical discussions. We need to prevent the destructive path that our youth are on!

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/19/15 Daily Devotion – Is Christianity Reasonable?


While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” Acts 17:16–17 (NIV84)

The Spirit of God, through persecution, pushed Paul farther and farther east around the Mediterranean Sea until He reached Athens. He found himself in the heart of Greek philosophy. He began to rub elbows with men and women who felt that life was not lived if questions about origin, meaning, morality and destiny were not discussed and debated. They were a people much different from many in our society today. They were in pursuit of truth. Our society, sadly, has concluded there is no such thing and has therefore deemed its pursuit unnecessary. But I’ll save that for another devotion.

Paul found himself, for the first time, defending the Christian faith against some of the deepest thinkers known to mankind. So the question was eventually going to be raised: “Is Christianity a religious leap into spiritual grayness, or can reason and thought be applied to it?” What was really being asked is this: “Does Christianity correlate to truth and cohere to my experience?” (Hence: is it real?). The answer is yes. A lot of world religions may have truths but don’t necessarily match reality. Others may grasp a sense of reality but fail to bring truth to its description. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the teachings of the Bible as a whole, ring true. There is evidence that nature was intelligently designed (created). There is evidence that man is basically wicked (ever have to teach your kids to be bad?). People seem to have a built-in yearning to fix something within that they know is broken. There is evidence that people are uniquely different from animals. We are introspective and self-reflective. We can think outside ourselves. We can define things as good and bad, ugly and beautiful. We defy the concept of “survival of the fittest” more often than we live it. Finally, there is evidence that people long to know the how, why, what and who of life.

Christianity alone deals with each of those pursuits with a truth that is coherent and real. In his upcoming defense of the faith before the Areopagus, Paul would use some of these coherent truths before the greatest thinkers of his time. It is my prayer that our society would once again find it valuable to think and discuss the important things. I would love for us to be in pursuit of truth — not just any truth, but a truth that conforms to reality and is coherent with our life experiences.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


05/18/15 Daily Devotion – They went back to jail?


“When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: ‘Release those men.’ The jailer told Paul, ‘The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.’” Acts 16:35&36 (NIV84)

Paul and Silas had experienced an Earth-quaking, chains-falling, prison-doors-opening miracle of God, and then the disciples went willingly back to jail? You have to be kidding! I personally would be dashing out of town. The flogging they received the night before would have been enough motivation for me to run and not look back. But you see, the earth-quaking, chains-falling, and prison-doors-opening miracle was not for their release this time. This time it was for the jailer’s spiritual conversion. Paul and Silas returned to their prison cell while offering their lives to the God who set the jailer free. Knowing that the jailer might have lost his life if they weren’t found to be in jail the next day, they put themselves back into danger for his safety.

They walked by faith, and not by sight! They trusted that the God who causes the earth to shake and hearts of stone to change into hearts of flesh could take care of their tomorrow. What about you and me? I have to confess that too much of my time is spent worrying about a tomorrow I cannot control. I often look at the circumstances of my life through my eyes of sight and feel that I must understand and control all the facets of my life (and sometimes the lives of those around me). How much freer my life would be if I weren’t working so hard to control the things that God alone can control. May we open our eyes of faith and see that the God who causes the earth to quake and converts the hearts of men is the God who will be with us in our tomorrow.

Peace!

Pastor Tom