Bible Study

04/27/15 Daily Devotion – We are “Christ”ians!


“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:25–26 (NIV84)

I sure wish I had been there! I would give anything to have heard Paul teach for an entire year about how Jesus was the promised Messiah and Savior of the world. Who better for Barnabas to scoop up and take with him to Antioch? Paul was a Jewish Hebrew scholar with Roman citizenship. He studied under the great teacher Gamaliel. He was an expert in Old Testament studies and the prophecies concerning the Messiah. He and Barnabas spent an entire year bridging what we call the two Testaments and proving to many that Jesus is the Messiah.

So, it is no surprise that believers in Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch. Note: they were not called “Jesusites” or “Jesusians.” They (we) are called Christians. We are known for Jesus’ title as Messiah, rather than his proper name (Jesus). Remember that the high priest asked Jesus during His trial, “Tell us clearly, are you the Christ?” It was after Jesus answered that question in the affirmative that the decision was made to finally have Him executed for blasphemy. As Christians, we are claiming that Jesus was no ordinary prophet or teacher but rather the promised Messiah sent directly from God. By our name, we profess to believe that Jesus was the very Son of God/Son of Man prophecied about more than 100 times in the Old Testament. Our title professes Jesus to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords; the Alpha and Omega; the First and the Last, and the great I AM.

Today, let’s remember the depth of meaning behind the title we bear, and in that title may we take great pride.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/24/15 Daily Devotion – “Then I remembered what the Lord said!”


“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” Acts 11:15–17 (NIV84)

In our verses for today, Peter finds himself before the Christian leaders in Jerusalem explaining why he went into the house of a Gentile (the Roman soldier Cornelius) and had fellowship with him. In his explanation, Peter recalls the words of Jesus as a proof and support for his actions. The thing that I find interesting is that Jesus probably said these words 2 to 3 years prior to this encounter, but only now (on this day) do they make sense to Peter. Have you ever read the Word of God and not gotten much depth or understanding from it? That’s OK! Peter can relate. The first time Jesus told the disciples, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” Peter didn’t have a clue what that meant. But the day the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his associates, and he was baptized, Peter understood perfectly.

The key to all of this is to stay in the Word. We need to continue to deeply root ourselves into God’s Word even when it doesn’t make much sense. We have to trust that the Holy Spirit will provide the discernment we need at the right time. Over the years, I have come to understand more clearly passages of Scripture that always seemed to elude me. I also have to admit that there are portions of Scripture I still don’t understand. But we must commit ourselves to His Word so that someday the Lord will cause us to not only remember what He said but to finally understand its meaning. We can’t remember it if we are not in it.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/23/15 Daily Devotion – God does NOT show favoritism!


“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.'” Acts 10:34 (NIV84)

This had to be tough to say. It came from a man who was raised in a culture of people who described themselves as God’s “chosen” people. When this encounter with Cornelius was over, Peter was going to get grilled by the believers in Jerusalem for associating with “unclean Gentiles” (non-Jews). My point is that it was, and still is, pervasive in the Jewish culture that they are favored by God. Our text for today clearly states that God does not show favoritism. How can we properly understand this?

First, the Jewish race was chosen by God. Jews were chosen not because they were better, smarter or more spiritual but because God loved them and wanted to do his work in and through them. Even in early Judaism, it was understood that their being “set apart” was so they would stand out to the world around them. God wanted to reach the world through this group of people. Second, we need to understand that if being chosen and set apart by God is by His grace, then it is for the whole world. God loves all humanity. Jesus came to bear the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The evidence of the Holy Spirit working in Cornelius (and those who were with him) proved to Peter that God’s grace and kingdom was and is for all mankind.

So, when we think in terms of chosen, we as Christians must see that we too are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; that we might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are not Christians today because we are favored or loved by God more than others. We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and are born again by the power of His Holy Spirit. Look around at your life. Who has God placed in your life who needs to know they are loved by Him? If God doesn’t show favoritism, then neither can we! We need to spread the love of God to all we come into contact with.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/22/15 Daily Devotion – God works through our obedience!


“So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” Acts 10:29–33 (NIV84)

Both of these men, Cornelius and Peter, acted in obedience to the visions they received from the Lord, without knowing the rest of the story. Cornelius did not know why He was sending for Peter, and Peter did not know why he was being summoned to go to Cornelius’ home. Regardless, both men acted in faith and obediently did what they were told to do by God. You can tell by the questions they ask. Peter basically tells Cornelius, “OK, I am here, why did you send for me?” Peter wants to know what’s next. Cornelius responds with an explanation of the vision he had and sits down among his family and friends and asks Peter, “What have you got to tell us?” How utterly amazing. Even at the moment of their meeting they are both clueless as to why God wanted them to meet. Peter is asking, “Why did you send for me?” And Cornelius is asking, “Since you’ve come, what do you have to say?”

The beauty of this encounter is that God was the one who had a purpose and a plan in place. God was simply using them. But note this very important point. If either of them chose to be disobedient to their vision, this encounter would have never happened and God would not have used Peter to bring the saving message of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to Cornelius’ life. They first had to be obedient. Then God worked through their obedience to do a great work. What about you and me? Are we being obedient to the call God has placed on our hearts? Are we allowing ourselves to be used by Him to do great things for the kingdom of God?

I pray that we are! And I praise God that he can use us, as frail as we are, to do great things for his kingdom.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/21/15 Daily Devotion – Jesus changed everything!


“‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'” Acts 10:14–15 (NIV84)

The Gentile soldier, Cornelius, has had the vision that he needs to send messengers to Peter. At the same time, Peter is having his own vision. It is a vision of all kinds of clean and unclean animals descending upon him and a voice telling him to eat. Peter being the good Jewish boy that he is responds to the vision with, “No way! I don’t eat anything unclean.” And then the voice from his vision speaks these remarkable words, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” I am certain that Peter was confused. As a Jew he knew it was God who made certain animals clean and others unclean thousands of years prior when the sacrificial laws were created. In his mind, Peter was asking himself what in the world this could mean. How could something that was unclean for millennia now be clean?

The answer: Jesus! In fulfilling everything, Jesus changed everything. He fulfilled the law so perfectly that those dietary and sacrificial laws were no longer necessary. Jesus overcame what would have been many more millennia of rules and regulations about eating and drinking. But there is more, so much more than that. Jesus removed the distinction between clean and unclean people. Jews (Peter) would have considered the Roman soldier Cornelius unclean. He was a Gentile. But soon Peter would see the connection between his vision about unclean food and his perception of unclean people. God was telling Peter, “Do not make distinctions that I Myself don’t make!”

So what about you and me? Do we see certain people, or people groups, as unclean? Do we not reach out to them with the Gospel of Jesus because deep down we have determined that they are too lost or unworthy? We, too, need to heed the words Peter heard in his vision. We need to be open to any and all. God has commissioned us to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world, not to decide who in the world to proclaim it to. Jesus changed everything! May we allow His Word to change us like it did Peter.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/20/15 Daily Devotion – God reaches out to the faithful!


“One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.'” Acts 10:3–5 (NIV84)

I just love this encounter between the Lord and Cornelius. It reminds me how far God will go to reach and to save us. Cornelius is a leader of an Italian regiment in the Roman Empire. Some time prior God had reached into his life and he became a Jewish convert. He gave generously to the synagogue and to the poor. God reached all the way into the Roman soldier’s heart and won it over to Him and the kingdom of God. But recently, Jesus had hit the scene and changed everything. Jesus completely fulfilled the law, died for humanity’s sins and rose from the dead. Given all that change and completeness in the kingdom of God, it was time to reach all the way into Cornelius’ life once again. In a vision from God, he was told to send messengers to Peter in Joppa and have him come back to visit Cornelius. Why? Because God used this encounter to introduce Christianity to Cornelius (but we will address that more in another devotion).

The point I would like to make is that we have the greatest God in the world. He is not like any of the gods of other religions. Our God, the one true God, is on one hand so vast that we can’t wrap our minds around one aspect of His character, and at the same time He is so personal that He knows the needs of our heart, mind and soul and will do anything He can to reach us. Just ponder again what God does just to reach one man (Cornelius). He promises to do the same for you and me. He loves and cares for us so much that He has, is, and will always move heaven and earth to reach us wherever we are and bring us hope, peace and salvation. So, how is God reaching out to you? Are your eyes and ears open to receive him? Cornelius had to wake up from his vision and conclude it was God, and not indigestion, and send messengers to get Peter. What is it that you need to do? Maybe all you need to do is pray, or open your Bible and read, or maybe it’s as simple as taking this devotion to heart.

Step out in faith! Trust that He will honor your faithfulness with His presence and power.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/19/15 Daily Devotion – Metanoia: a complete change of thought and attitude


“And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” Acts 9:19–22 (NIV84)

Once again we talk about change. The Greek word is “metanoia.” The word means “a complete change in thought and attitude.” You see, Christianity isn’t just a philosophy. It’s not just an ideology. We all have thoughts and facts that may or may not influence our lives. I know there are speed limit signs everywhere, but rarely do they have an impact on my life. It takes flashing lights in my rearview mirror to get me to adjust my driving. Becoming a Christian is more than an intellectual pursuit. It is the type of knowledge and insight that has a direct impact on our lives.

Just look at the change in Saul (Paul). A few days prior to our verses for today, he was breathing murderous threats upon Christians and was on his way to wreak havoc on the Christians in Damascus. He believed with all of his heart that Jesus was a false prophet. But not now! In our text for today, the people of Damascus are amazed to find Saul (Paul) defending the Christian faith and proving through persuasive arguments that Jesus is actually the promised Messiah.

Now, I would describe that as a “complete change of thought and attitude.” The Holy Spirit completely changed the heart of Saul. God made him born again. That same Spirit also works in our lives to make us new. He continuously works in us to make “a complete change of thought and attitude” in our hearts, minds and souls. We can assist the Spirit of God in this work by meditating on the Word of God, through which the Spirit works. We need to continually be in God’s Word and in prayer so that metanoia will occur in us.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


4/18/15 Daily Devotion – Repentance + Conversion = Change!


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.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.” Acts 9:17–18  (NIV84)

Saul (the Apostle Paul) spent 3 days in a repentant state until Ananias came to see him. All he could ponder was how broken his theology must have been to actually be found fighting against the very God he thought he was serving.  During 3 days of physical blindness, he realized that he was spiritually blind, as well. While Saul was in his lost and broken state, Ananias arrived with healing for body and soul. As he laid hands on Saul, Saul regained his sight both physically and spiritually. Scales fell off his physical eyes so he could see again, and his heart and soul were re-created, born again, converted to faith in Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Saul came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and his Savior. From there Ananias took Saul out to be baptized into the faith.

Three days earlier, if you would have asked Paul whether he might become a believer in Jesus he might have struck you for such a remark. If you would have told him that in 3 days he would become a believer and be baptized into the Christian faith, he might have killed you. But not on this day! Something has happened. Paul has changed. Paul’s change is a radical change. He went from an exclusive Pharisee to an inclusive Christian. He went from hating the Gentile world to doing everything we could to redeem it with the message of Jesus.

You see, when one comes into contact with Jesus, he is never the same again. Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. He came that we might get the chance to repent, convert and change. Believers in Jesus actually die to who they were so that they might be born again and come to live as the person they have been re-created to be. A long time ago there was a contemporary Christian song by Bryan Duncan that had this line in it, “Changed hearts make changed lives!” May we be forever changed!

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/17/15 Daily Devotion – Lord, are You sure?


“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” Acts 9:13–16 (NIV84)

Have you ever questioned God? Of course you have, and so have I. There are times when what we see with eyes of sight doesn’t make sense in this world, or the next. We pray and we hope for some kind of change and it doesn’t come. Or worse yet, our situation only becomes worse. This is indeed what the prophet Ananias faces in our verses for today. He has been a powerful messenger of the gospel. He has tirelessly tried to bring comfort to a young church that has been experiencing heavy persecution from the likes of Saul (Paul). The last thing Ananias thought he would hear from God was to go to Saul and show him an act of mercy. God wanted him to go share the gospel with Saul and lay hands on him and heal him. If Ananias lived in our times his response would have been recorded like this, “God, are you kidding me?!?” Ananias could see nothing good coming from such an encounter.

Praise be to God that He sees more than we do! He sees the entire plan, while we see only pieces. It’s OK to question God. He prefers honesty over hypocrisy. Let God know how you feel. But in the end, be willing to surrender to His will and purpose. We have to trust that He will work all things out to the good of those who love Him. We have to trust that He sees more than we do. He knows where the next steps should be to further His kingdom. And, man, did he ever prove that. He took Saul, named him Paul, and made him one of the greatest evangelists of all time. You and I are Christians today most likely because Paul risked his life to preach the gospel to the nations of the world. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean region spreading the good news of Jesus while experiencing heavy persecution himself. I imagine if we could follow the links of the chain that take us back to the Early Church, we would find its beginning at a sermon Paul preached.

At the end of the day, after all your doubts and questions, trust in the sovereign God who loves you so much He would die for you. Trust that He sees the bigger picture and will get you through whatever it is you are experiencing.

Peace!

Pastor Tom


04/16/15 Daily Devotion – Who pursues whom?


“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. Acts 9:3–9 (NIV84)

One of the things that overwhelms me the most about God is that He doesn’t sit in heaven and wait for us to come back to Him. He pursues us! Look throughout Scripture and see how often God is the one taking the initiative to restore someone back into a right relationship with Him. He pursued Abraham, Jacob, Moses, King David, and Jonah. Jesus pursued His disciples, Zaccheus, and you and me. He comes to seek and to save that which is lost. In our text for today, our Lord pursues the heart and soul of Saul (Paul). Saul had been for some time now creating havoc in the lives of Jewish Christians. He had participated in their arrests and even their deaths. He felt it was His duty to God to stop the growth of the new Jewish sect called “The Way.”

While Saul was on his way to destroy the lives of Christians in Damascus, the Lord blinded him with a bright light and called him by name, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Right here we see the heart of our God. He is even willing to pursue His enemies. To the question, “Who are you?” Jesus answers, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul is blinded for 3 days and is faced with life-altering questions: Am I all wrong? When I thought I was being zealous for God, was I in fact His enemy? Is Jesus really the Messiah, and I have been fighting against Him?”

For 3 days Saul was left to think about whether his acts over the last several months were motivated by a spiritual blindness. Here he was claiming to know God and His purposes, and in reality he knew neither. Nonetheless, God pursued him. God claimed him and won his heart and soul to the kingdom of God. Paul became the greatest evangelist of that time. He shared the Gospel with anyone who was willing to listen. How thankful Paul must have been to know that God loved him so much that He was willing to pursue Him even when he was being rebellious.

The same is true for us! God has pursued you and me into a relationship with Him. He meets us wherever we are. Even through our rebellion He calls, reaches, touches, heals, redeems and saves us. God’s love for us is unconditional. He doesn’t wait for us to meet some kind of condition or requirement before He acts. No! He continuously seeks and saves even the lost and rebellious. He calls us by name and makes us His children. Through the power of the Holy Spirit He makes us born again. He kills the old sinful man in us on the cross of Jesus, and creates a new spiritual man in us.

May we find comfort and peace in having a God who loves us so much He is willing to pursue us!

Peace!

Pastor Tom