February 19: Reaching Around the World

Read Acts 10:1-48

Before the day is over I will have spoken to people from California, Indiana, and South Carolina. I will engage in conversation with people from Africa, France, Canada, Germany, and Poland. I am not unique. No matter where you are in the world, you are part of an international community. Even the rolling rural hillsides of Wooster and Wayne County reflect that international flair.

Among all of those people groups, are there any around which you make a wide berth? There was for Peter. His whole background had taught him that every non-Jew was a person to be avoided.

But God graphically and practically taught him a simple lesson that all of us would do well to learn . . . even those of us who may for various reasons avoid certain people groups out of ignorance or personal discomfort. The lesson is simply expressed in these words, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation.” Of course, that reality is also made clear in the Great Commission where we are commanded to “make disciples of all nations.”

In many ways, the nations have come to us. They are employed in some of our local businesses. You will see them in our schools and colleges. You can encounter them in the stores where you shop and the restaurants where you eat. Rather than fearing them or avoiding them, ask God for wisdom to engage them in conversation.

  • Welcome them to America
  • Invite them to Grace
  • Inform yourself and them about Grace’s ministry to Internationals

Seek to reflect God’s heart by not playing favorites!

sbk

October 6: Help, Lord!

Read Acts 11:19-30

“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing,
but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses” (Prov. 28:27).

Dear Lord,

You know, this is a hard one for me. I need your help.

I have been in big cities and in small. I have observed people who live on the street. I have seen more than one man sitting on the cement with a sign and a hat next to him. The sign explained his situation and the hat was there to receive my donation. I have watched as a woman risked passing (illegally) through the subway with an open hand and intentional eye-contact, inviting me to help her in their plight. I have sat awkwardly as a man came into the fast food restaurant and placed a book mark or bracelet on my table with a note explaining his disability and inviting me to give a small amount in exchange for his little work of art. I have struggled as he came back around to either collect his craft or my contribution. I have witnessed men and women standing at intersections with signs requesting a gift of any size to help them over the life obstacle they were facing. I have had more people stop by the churches where I have served than I can remember. Each had his/her story and a pressing need.

Lord, sometimes I have given :)!  Often, I have refrained :(.

I have tried to sort it out. I don’t really think it is because I am stingy. (If I am wrong in my assessment, please make that obvious to me!)

Is it because I am hardhearted? Have I just seen a few too many situations and lost my sensitivity? I have to admit that sometimes I wonder if a donation will really fill a gas tank or a stomach. Or will it instead fuel an addiction?

Seems like it sure would be easier on me if you would send a prophet like Agabus my way . . . someone who will confirm a genuine need in a total stranger. It’s true, some organizations do that for me. They validate a need and assure me that my dollars really address it. But, in the day to day, I will look to you for further guidance.

With all my heart,

sbk

October 5: Widows and Family

Read 1 Timothy 5:1-16

An age-old expression tells us “charity begins at home.” In other words, we have a primary obligation to our family and those closest to us. We should not ignore their needs while looking out for others more distant. On the one hand, that seems obvious. Meanwhile, the execution is not always easy. Because we don’t have all of the details about another person, we may have a tendency to glorify his/her needs and give priority to them. On the other hand, we know more of the ins and outs of people close to us. We see the warts, the wrinkles, and the blemishes, and may somehow justify not responding to their needs.

How does that tie into our reading for today? We pointed out yesterday how the church had a seemingly inherent understanding of their responsibility towards widows (Acts 6).  With time, however, the Spirit of God moved Paul to give directives that were to help the church to discern which widows to help when. And one of the principles governing those directives is found in verse 8:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (5:8).

You see, family is the first context in which our faith is to be lived out. In fact, if we fail to care for our family, God is not pleased (v. 4). Ouch! That is a strong statement. But it gets stronger yet. Your care for your family says something about your faith. Family care is so much a part of the natural, first response of genuine believers that a failure to care indicates that faith is not genuine (v. 8).

I hope, however, that you also noticed that there is a second line of defense. As in the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7), the church is to help meet the real needs of godly, older women who have lost their husbands. In fact, it is this genuine concern for widows and orphans that should characterize true believers (Js. 1:26, 27).

Are you participating in meeting the needs of your family? Are there widows, orphans, or single-parent children with real needs in your world that God would have you respond to? Charity begins at home!

sbk

October 4: Widows and the Church

Read Acts 6:1-7

I am not sure how many times I have read, taught, and written about this passage. A bunch; that’s certainly safe to say. I suppose each of those times I focused on or emphasized some pretty predictable aspects of those verses, including things like:

  • Unity and discrimination
  • The importance of delegation
  • The role of spiritual shepherds
  • Qualifications of ministry leaders
  • The importance of deacons

Indeed, all of those emphases are part of the biblical text. But there is still something even more basic. It is something that Luke probably didn’t even intend to highlight. It seemed to be part of the fabric of the early church; something that, to them, was instinctive and obvious. Here it is:

Widows are deserving of Christian care.

Is that obvious today? Is that obvious to us? In the busyness of our lives, it is easy to overlook these important people. It is easy to go to calling hours or attend a funeral, and, with sincerity and deep emotion, express words like, “If you need anything, just give me a call.” And then, it is easy to return to the demands of life assuming that no call means no need. Instead, it might mean that the pain is too deep to call, that their concern for interrupting your life is too real.

But what if you assumed the responsibility for checking in to see if there is a need? What if you took the initiative to stay in touch? What if you offered to mow a lawn, fix a meal, or make a repair?

Although we will look at the guidelines that the church later developed for widow care tomorrow, here are a two closing thoughts about our church’s more formal ministry to widows.

  1. GriefShare is a ministry offered to all who have lost loved ones. We offer this study 2-3 times a year.
  2. As a church, we bless widows in Africa through the ministry of Project Hope and Charite and also in Asia through Asia’s Hope.

Now what about your individual response?

sbk

October 3: No Hesitations

Read Matthew 25:31-46

Even though the justice we are studying in our current series is illustrated well in this passage, I was reluctant to include it. I know that may seem odd, but let me explain my hesitation. Actually, you may have noted it yourself. It has everything to do with the timing of this sheep/goat judgment. Did you see when this will take place?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory . . .” (v. 31a).

The “coming” of Christ described here is not depicting the rapture when He comes in the air to gather His followers. No, this passage describes an event roughly seven years later when He will come to the earth and all people from all nations from the time of the Tribulation will be gathered to Him for judgment. This judgment will assess genuine faith in terms of how those alive during the Tribulation have responded to the needs of “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” (likely a reference to the Jews of that day). In short, followers of Jesus like you (if you know Him) and me will not experience the judgment depicted here.

In spite of my hesitations, I obviously chose to include the reading. Why is that? Because the verses provide more than an opportunity to talk about prophetic milestones. They also illustrate the kind of actions that God desires of His children now, will desire in the future, and has desired in days gone by. He wants His people to have the good and the needs of others in mind. He wants us to recognize the least, the last, and the lost. He wants us to see what others cannot do for themselves and ask ourselves if we are able to help. He is concerned for the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the exposed, the sick, the imprisoned.

And somehow, by equipping such people in their need rather than enabling them to be irresponsible, He wants His people to bless others.

Is there someone you can do that for today? Do it the way you would do it for Jesus Himself. Do it without hesitation.

sbk

October 2: True Religion

Read James 1:26, 27

Throughout the centuries, religions have defined themselves in terms of rules of external conduct. Lists of do’s and don’ts have allowed people to quickly assess their standing. The person’s level of adherence to these rules was directly proportionate to the degree of pleasure that the “god” of that religion found in the person. And, unfortunately, those same lists have been used by those in authority to strengthen the power and influence they exercise over the subordinates in that particular faith.

But the God of the Bible operates differently.

Given man’s inability to keep the “rules” and measure up to His standard of holiness, He did for man what man was incapable of doing for himself. By sending His Son as the sacrifice for sin, He made a relationship and rightstanding with Himself possible. Indeed, this gift of grace is extended to all but experienced only by those who surrender themselves to it. By grace, He does for us what was impossible for us to do for ourselves.

That may either seem unrelated or at least like a long introduction to the two verses you just read today. But, you might have interpreted these in one of two ways. You may have concluded that these verses define a standard that must be met in order to be pleasing to God. A person must keep a tight rein on his/her tongue, care for widows and orphans, and live a life separated from the world. The person who does that is accepted by God. That is one possible interpretation, but it is inconsistent with the message of the rest of the Bible.

The second interpretation is more accurate. A person who has responded to Christ by faith and has been accepted by God will be monitoring his/her speech, caring for others, and living different from the world. This latter interpretation describes those characteristics as being the fruit of or the evidence that the person has experienced genuine faith.

Of course, our current devotional series is focused on justice. It drives home the significance of things like widow and orphan care. But, as noted here, acts like these should be the product of genuine faith. It only makes sense that those of us who are recipients of something we could not do for ourselves would seek to bless others with something they cannot do on their own.

sbk

October 1: A Voice for the Voiceless

Read Deuteronomy 27:1-19

Fast forward from the time when Moses recorded these words to a time when the activities outlined in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 were actually practiced. Imagine you are a Reubenite.  You are standing with others from your tribe as well as representatives from five other tribes on Mount Ebal. Across the valley from you in the distance, you see Mount Ebal’s twin sister, Mount Gerazim. Dotting its peak, you make out people who form a crowd from the other six tribes of Israel. What follows is an unusual but moving form of antiphonal/responsive reading in which you participate.

The Levites say, “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”

Together with all those on Mout Ebal, you voice a thunderous response, “Amen!”

Once again, the Levites proclaim, “Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”

With a volume that seems to shake the mountain, you respond, “Amen!”

Next, the Levites announce, “Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”

As you face your countrymen across the valley, you echo, “Amen!”

Then it is the Levites turn again as they exclaim, “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

To which you respond with a heartfelt, “Amen!”

As the Levites continue to announce other “curses,” you continue to announce your agreement with these principles of God.

But what is it that you have already embraced? To what have you already committed yourself? You have already placed yourself in line with God’s compassion for people without a voice. You have already agreed to God’s standards of justice for those who are often overlooked. No matter what others do, you will honor your parents and the elderly. No matter what others do, you refuse to take advantage of those around you. No matter what the culture says, you will protect those with disabilities. No matter what the norm is, you will seek justice for internationals, orphans, and widows.

That kind of justice is close to the heart of God and the subject we will explore in the days ahead.

sbk

April 5: Aaron, Miriam and the Call of God

Read Numbers 12

If anyone had the ability to push God’s buttons and anger Him to no end, it was the Israelites.

This time it was Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron. Their pride got them in trouble. That and their mouths. Aaron and Miriam, wanted more credit than they were given. And they weren’t even the ones in charge. They wanted more authority. Their pride wanted more credit for the leadership they’d had a hand in. But they forgot that God was the One who granted authority.

Those seventy men He put His Spirit on to help Moses in chapter 11? They received authority from God’s hand alone. The directives of the Law? Straight from God to Moses. All those meetings in the tent? Yep. Only Moses got to meet with God face-to-face.

So who were Miriam and Aaron to complain about Moses getting all the credit.

How interesting that when Joshua tried to protect Moses’ authority by keeping it from others, (see 11:26-30) Moses was more than willing to let them that help lead. In fact, if Moses had it his way, he would have had all the people, every last one of them, prophesying by the Spirit of God.

But Moses wasn’t doing this for himself. His was not a self-appointed leadership. His leadership was entirely God-appointed. God had chosen Him, His special friend, a mighty leader through whom He would display His mighty hand.

I’ve been guilty of it. I see successful writers and speakers reaching hundreds of thousands of people with God’s Word and I wonder why that’s not me.

Maybe you can relate. Your boss has so much charisma, such prosperity, and he handles it so well. Why can’t you have it instead of him?

Here’s why: God gave me the job I have. He gave you the job you have.

Almighty God has ordained that you and I, His chosen people, do the work He has given us to do. His work, and the work of no other. God has picked you and me to do what He has planned for us to do. And He has chosen those other maybe more well-known or seemingly more powerful people to do what He has planned for them to do. Only by God’s had can any man have authority. To lead. To minister. To serve.

So do what He’s called you to do. Step up to the call He has for you and only you. And be glad for it.

brw

September 18: Wisdom, Trials and Prayer

Read James 1:1-21

It is better to possess wisdom than it is to have gold or silver in large quantities. But how does one go about obtaining wisdom? James, half-brother to the Lord Himself, gave us some insight as he wrote under the Spirit’s leading.

Of course, verses 5-8 are of special importance to us here. They are the ones that specifically address our pursuit of wisdom. But you probably noted that those verses are bookended by another subject…that of trials.

What is your normal response to trials? Even now I am reflecting back on a time not long ago when a toilet broke, the sewage backed up into the basement, and we drowned a cell phone in a stream near our house.

While trials often remind us of our need for wisdom in specific situations, the wise person is one who understands the divine purpose and benefits of difficulty. Those unwanted circumstances, you see, have the capacity to produce godly character qualities in the life of a Jesus follower. Persevering in the midst of them is key to experiencing growth and to receiving a future crown. The wise person who understands the upside of difficulty meets challenges with a sense of joy and perseveres through them.

Not only does the wise person respond well to trials, but he/she also isn’t afraid to seek wisdom in the face of trials. James says we can obtain wisdom in difficult times by simply asking God in prayer.

When difficult times come, it is easy to shift into an “I’ll fix it” gear. Almost as a default setting, we scurry to try to resolve it ourselves or call an expert. While these are not necessarily wrong responses later on, our first action should be to call out to God. In prayer, ask Him for the wisdom. Don’t approach it as a long shot. Don’t see it as a “well, maybe this will help” thing to do. No, come to Him confidently in prayer. Ask Him for the wisdom you lack. He loves to respond.

sbk

 

September 17: Focus for Living by Faith

Read 2 Peter 1:3-11 and Revelation 6:9-11

As we approach the end of our journey through this great Hall of Faith, we are faced with a challenge of our own. Tempted to remove the faith glasses and leave them for recycling, we notice a sign that reads

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40).

We find ourselves to be included in the faith challenge with those who have gone before. All of these have lived by faith. They have died by faith. They have run to God by faith for what they would not receive. By faith, God showed them what they could not otherwise see.

Now it’s time for us to follow suit with the faith eyes He gives.

The very God who called Abraham and Rahab and Elijah and Daniel to trust Him no matter what gave us the same kinds of promises He gave to them. He did it so that we might live the way He created us to live just as they did. Real life can only be lived by faith.  Real life can only be lived by the faith that God gives for our righteousness (Ephesians 2:8). This is faith in Jesus Christ to be the true Lord of our lives.

Through Him alone we have “everything we need for life and godliness” so that we can truly live. So that we can live by faith. It’s the kind of faith that trusts God to deliver even when we don’t see how. It’s faith that believe He knows best, even when everything around us is crumbling into teeny tiny little pieces. This is faith to follow His ways even when they seem to lead straight into what looks like a whole lot of trouble.

I was with a group of college students in Kharkiv, Ukraine when I met a church whose people saw with faith eyes. We had ministered to them during a Sunday evening service, and it was their turn to encourage us. I don’t remember the exact Scripture they read, but I know it was completely unexpected. The normal encouraging Scriptures that we Americans often share with each other usually focus on God’s goodness and His grace, but the verses they shared with our groups that evening spoke of persecution and suffering. Confused as we were, we all thanked them with smiles and said our goodbyes.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized the poignancy of what had happened. Those people who had known hardship most of their lives, found encouragement in the truth that they were in the midst of God’s plan. They were focused on eternity and the promises He gave, so they lived accordingly.

Are you living like that? Can you see God’s truth no matter what? Maybe it’s time to reset your focus on the One whose perfect plan never fails.

brw