Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why God is Light…

1 John 15 [widescreen]Have you ever wondered why the Bible repeatedly portrays God as light? A little story from the beginning of our marriage may help to answer the question:

After Diane and I tied the knot in May of 1992, we moved into our first apartment in Vienna, Virginia. It was a two bedroom place on the third floor (no elevator) of one building in a fairly large complex of buildings, and other than carrying groceries up three flights, it was a wonderful place to spend our first year together. However, not everything was perfect. The place had a “small” problem that was particularly noticeable whenever we came home and flipped the switch: yeah, the lights would reveal, you guessed it: la cucaracha. a.k.a. the cockroach.

I know what you’re thinking, and the Knowltons can be kind of messy sometimes, but in fairness to us, we inherited this problem from the previous tenants or the tenants previous to them, or whoever…either way, it was nasty. Now, of course, as anyone who has ever had a cockroach problem will tell you, you don’t get to see the problem for very long, because as soon as you turn on the lights, the little creatures scatter. Where they go, who knows, but it doesn’t pay to think a lot about it.

We reported the situation to management and as I remember, the exterminators were able to eradicate the problem, but only by coming around the whole complex every three months. And all in all, we managed.

Now, it’s interesting that when the Apostle John wants to summarize his message at the start of his first letter, he says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 (ESV)

That, of course, is not the summary we might have expected. How about instead, “This is the message: Christ died for your sins and rose again”? Or how about, “This is the message: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”?

Nope. “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” So why does John say God is light? Perhaps the answer comes two verses later when he goes on to say:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 (ESV)

So…why does John say that God is light? Answer: Because light casts out darkness, like the blood of Christ casts out sin. You see, every single time a light goes on, darkness scatters. Every time. You might say that light has a way of casting out darkness, just like light once made the cockroaches in Vienna scatter. Light casts out darkness like a bouncer at a nightclub casts out a drunk guy picking fights. Light makes darkness and sin disappear.

Therefore, if you think about it, when Jesus shows up to Paul on the road to Damascus, is it any wonder that He appears as a light “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). In fact, Jesus is so bright, that His brightness causes Paul’s blindness (Acts 22:11). And so, it makes perfect sense: For Paul, the chief of sinners, on the road to capture and kill Christians, had a lot of darkness. A lot. And when Jesus showed up, His blinding light made Paul’s darkness scatter. That’s what light does – it has a purifying effect. It chases sin away. This is why God is light. He casts out all our darkness. And you and I have much darkness too.

Now one last thing: have you ever wondered how it will be possible to live in heaven without a single sin? Well, I’m sure there is more to it than just this, but one thing we know: in heaven it will never be night. That’s what John wrote in Revelation:

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5 (ESV)

And for all of eternity, His glorious light, more blinding than the sun, will keep sin far, far away.


Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18th: Acts 27

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Posted by on March 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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When Should You Share Romans 8:28?

I once heard of a Christian speaker who said that believers should basically not quote Romans 8:28 to one another. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

Now obviously, there is a time and a place for everything. I don’t quote this verse when I’m going through the receiving line at a funeral. That just feels…well, insensitive. Like I said, a time and a place. But I don’t think this man was speaking of such extraordinary circumstances. I think he was thinking of more normal troubles. And I’m not sure why he said this – maybe he thought it was a cliché which is overused.

But if I understand him correctly, I heartily disagree. Of course there is a right and thoughtful way to use this verse, but Romans 8:28 is one of the most wonderful truths in the Bible, and as far as I’m concerned we ought to meditate on it and pull it out to encourage one another often.

After all, Paul knew exactly what he was talking about when he wrote it. This is the same man who, when we pick up with him in Acts 25, has been in prison for two years.

Now think about that for a moment – the apostle in jail for two years – and eventually it would be much longer. Of course, readers of the New Testament are used to the thought of Paul behind bars. There are all the letters he wrote from prison like Philippians, Ephesians and Colossians. So most of us never give it a second thought.

But if you really consider it, it’s one of the oddest ideas in the Bible. And here’s what I mean: if you were the Sovereign God of heaven, and you were moving your missionaries and saints around to accomplish your purposes like much loved chess pieces (if I may speak so crassly) why ever would you put a resource like Paul the Apostle in prison for years at a time?

But there he sits, year after year, “wasting away.” Except, that is, for Romans 8:28. You see, Paul knew good things were happening. After all, if you were wondering, his letter to the church at Rome was already written at this time. He likely had written the letter on his most recent journey, when he was in the city of Corinth.

And so it might be a strange idea for us to think of the Apostle in prison, but not so much for him. He understood that there was a God in heaven who knew exactly what he was doing putting this “valuable resource” away for that period of time.

God was molding him, and making him into the man he needed to be.

Just like he is doing for you and me in whatever we’re walking through today. And what hope there is in that – God is sovereign and loving and He is molding us into the image of Jesus. And therefore everything that we who love him walk through is going to work out for our ultimate good. I just think that we probably don’t meditate on this truth often enough.

And I definitely think it’s a truth we should not keep to ourselves.


For tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17th: Acts 26

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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Blessings of a Trustworthy and True Bible

IMG_0425On a whim last Tuesday I threw a lunchtime party for elders and pastors at my house. Diane and the girls were skiing, so that made the place a veritable bachelor pad, and for the guys who could make it, my plan was munching on Jimmy Johns subs and watching the livestream of the opening message from The Shepherd’s Conference in California. This is the annual conference from John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, and the topic this year was of particular interest: the inerrancy of the Bible.

As it turned out, the conference was having trouble with the live stream that day, so we enjoyed subs and good discussion, and then watched another message from a different conference I had attended last year. It was great fellowship.

Now that the Shepherd’s Conference is over, the videos are available for free viewing, and I’ve been watching and enjoying. If you have a chance, I heartily recommend taking in one or two. Your faith will be built up in God’s inerrant word!

You see, there may be no more important topic for Christians today than the absolute truthfulness of the Bible. As one of the speakers pointed out, there are certain issues that come up in the church that we think about and wrestle through and then don’t need to deal with anymore, but inerrancy is one of those issues that continually comes up again and again and again. And there is a reason for that – Satan knows that he can do no greater harm to Christians than to place doubt in our minds as to the truthfulness of the Word of God. He’s been doing this for a long time…

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’“

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5 (ESV)

So you see, since the beginning of the human race, the enemy has been seeking to cast doubt on the Word of God with questions to this effect: “Did God actually say…?” And notice how along with casting doubt on God’s character of truthfulness, the enemy also casts doubt on his character of goodness (in effect, saying to Eve that God wants to keep her from what is good). This diabolical method is utterly destructive to the Christian, for if we cannot be sure of God’s words (and God’s goodness), we cannot be sure of anything. As the singer Keith Green once said, “…all of the devil’s wicked lies – if you believe them, your faith just dies.”

The Apostle Paul didn’t believe Satan’s lies. Of course, Paul is most famous for telling Timothy that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), but in Acts 24, as Paul makes his defense before the Governor Felix, he makes it very clear what he believes:

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, Acts 24:14 (ESV)

“The Law and the Prophets” was a technical term that really meant all of the Bible (in that day, of course, the Old Testament). Paul was trying to show Felix that he was not as bad as the Jews were making him out to be – he was both a peaceful man (not stirring up riots like they accused him of) and more than that, believing the Bible just like they did.

And just like we should too, for this is not a trifling thing – I think about how lately we’ve been watching our culture take on a new course in the area of morality, declaring good to be evil and evil to be good. In fact, it’s breathtaking how fast it has happened. And apart from the Word of God, there is nothing that will keep us from plunging headlong into such destructive thinking and lifestyle.

But more than that, there is no other book that will light the path to heaven and show us how to redeem a lost culture. To paraphrase Peter’s words to Jesus in John 6: Where else can we go? These are the words of eternal life…and they are trustworthy, and true.


For Monday, March 16: Acts 25


Posted by on March 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Some years ago, through a generous grant by the Lilly Endowment, my family went on a Sabbatical overseas, spending almost two months in Scotland and then the better part of a month in the rest of Europe. It was most cool and we felt very blessed.  Now, Diane had a special request as we were going to spend so much time in Europe.  She wanted our family to spend a night in a very unique place.

Diane had a dream to spend the night in something that you see all over Europe but that you will never see in the States. Maybe never is too strong, but I can’t remember ever seeing one here. Of, course, I’m speaking of castles.  Castles are all over Europe.  And Diane had a dream that we would be able to spend a night in one.

And we did.  We found the youth hostel of Carbisdale Castle on Loch (the Scottish name for lake) Lomond.  It was supposed to be haunted which kind of added to the fun. FYI: we managed to avoid the ghosts.

I suppose that castles are all over Europe because in days long ago, battles and wars were part of everyday life, and they needed the protection that castles afforded. When France attacked England, England needed fortresses.  When Germany attacked France, France needed fortresses. When England attacked France…well, I’m sure you’re getting the idea. And of course it was more than nation against nation.  It was city versus city, or family versus family. My impression is that there was not a lot of peace; and all in all, it makes me glad to be living in our country in this time period.

Panoramic of Eilean Donan Castle, Highlands, Scotland.  We saw this beautiful castle among others on our travels.

Panoramic of Eilean Donan Castle, Highlands, Scotland. We saw this beautiful castle among others on our travels.

Ancient people understood the idea of castles and fortresses better than we do, and so the picture of a fortress is a pervasively biblical one.  And therefore, over and over again, the testimony of the Word of God is that God is a fortress.

David prayed, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;” Psalm 31:3 (ESV)

No one understood God as a fortress more than David, who fought so many battles and yet knew that he was safe in Yahweh’s protective shadow.

Well, I say no one understood this more than David, but then again there was the Apostle Paul.  He didn’t fight with a sword of steel, but the sword of God’s word, yet he did have the first kind of sword wielded against him. So Paul knew danger again and again, but again and again, God protected him.  That’s what we see in Acts 23, where 40 Jews make solemn plans to kill him, even determining not to eat again until the Apostle is dead. Yes, that called commitment, and if I were a murderer, I would definitely be motivated.

But, like a scene out of Downton “eavesdrop” Abbey, it just so happened that Paul’s nephew got wind of their plans, and warns the commander:

Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” Acts 23:16-18 (ESV)

When the tribune hears, he makes plan to protect Paul:

Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” Acts 23:23-24 (ESV)

It was the great missionary David Livingstone who said, “I am immortal till my work is accomplished.”  How true.  And of course, Livingstone, like Paul and David the shepherd-King before him knew exactly why he was “immortal”: There was a sovereign, loving God who was watching over him, more beautiful and infinitely stronger than a castle in the Scottish Highlands.

For tomorrow, Friday, March 13th: Acts 24

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Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Testimony: One of the Best Ways to Fish for Men

When I worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Chicagoland and the Washington D.C. area during the late 80’s and early 90’s, occasionally I would find myself one on one with a co-worker for a longer period of time. Maybe it was just a lunch hour and two of us made plans to grab a Chicago style hot dog at Luke’s (try it when you’re near the Windy City). Maybe the Vienna, VA office was running out of cars and we needed to get to Gaithersburg to pick one up. Whatever the case, I remember asking a question on a long ride that yielded fruitful conversation on at least more than one occasion.

“John, what’s the story of your life?” I would ask.

“Well, I graduated from Purdue…”

“No, no…” I might counter. “…the story of your life. Go back further…like where were you born? Your family. Give me details.”

And so it would begin. I would ask questions along the way, really trying to draw them out. I’ve found that most people like to tell about themselves, and as long as the questions are not too prying, it can be a great way to get things going.  And for my part, I find people interesting…a great way to pass the time.

Invariably, after chatting through the notorious D.C. traffic and maybe on the beltway for a while, they would turn to me: “OK, now your turn. Tell me the story of your life.”

And I would…Born in Jackson, Mississippi, an only child, moved to Antioch, Illinois when I was 7, became an atheist in middle school/high school. Got an appointment to West Point…

“And you know, when I got to West Point, it was interesting – they suggested we go to church.”


“Yeah, I think they felt it was good for your reputation as an officer….”

And so it went. I would tell about how at the protestant church service, the Chaplain talked about Jesus in a way I had never heard…etc…all the way to when that cadet Bob Maruna dropped by my tent and showed me the Bridge diagram and that verse:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

For those who are uninitiated, what I was doing here is called sharing your testimony, and I have found the testimony to be a really great way of explaining the faith. It’s a method of fishing for men which has a long and honored tradition, starting with a man named Paul in the 1st Century A.D.

…when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women…” Acts 22:2-4 (ESV)

And so, before a hostile crowd of his fellow Jews, the testimony of the Apostle Paul begins from the steps of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. It would not be the only time Paul would tell his story in this manner in the book of Acts – a wonderful opportunity would afford itself before King Agrippa, recounted in Acts 26.

I have personally found that sharing my testimony is a very effective way of telling someone about Jesus.  Who can argue with it? It’s your story. And the format is pretty simple.  Tell about your life before you met Christ. Tell how you met Christ, and try to include a verse at this point, especially one that meant something to you at the time and helps to explain the gospel (like mine: Ephesians 2:8, 9). Then finally, tell about what has happened in your life since you met Christ.

I hope you’ll give it a try sometime. If it was good enough for Paul, why not you and me?


For tomorrow, Thursday, March 12: Acts 23

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Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How Death Helps Us

As I approached 50 (and then hit it) this past summer, I more and more began to think about how many years I have left.  I’m not trying to be morbid, but I think this is pretty natural.  However, it is different than the way I used to think.

As a young child, I vaguely remember watching the evening news on the Vietnam War.  Back then, when I contemplated dying like all the young soldiers on the news reports, I thought maybe I would be able to escape death somehow.  First of all, I thought that maybe I wouldn’t have to go to war like them, and second, I thought some scientist might find a cure for dying by the time I got to old age.

But the years and their accumulated wisdom have shown me that death is coming, unless of course the Lord Jesus returns, which of course would be much, much better.

Now, of course, from a Christian perspective, death is the enemy. And thankfully, because of Christ, death is in its death throes; and I, like all other believers, will be very glad for the day when death finally dies.

And yet…there is something about death that I find, for lack of a better word, helpful.  Now, maybe I’m crazy, because I’m actually not sure that I’m supposed to think this way, so feel free to write me letters. And obviously, it’s not helpful to me in that I have lost loved ones, or could lose others.  For this, I hate death.

But…it is helpful to me personally in remembering who I am.  As Casting Crowns sings so wonderfully, “I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind.”

You see, without death, I think I might overestimate my own importance, like the nationally prominent pastor who was caught in sexual immorality sometime in the 80’s.  His denomination had a full, probably well-thought-through discipline and restoration process for him to go through, which through his national prominence he personally cut short after 3 months saying that his church needed him to come back, or lost people needed him to come back, or God needed him, or something.

And I thought at the time, “Nope, they actually they don’t need you.”  God didn’t need him any more than my church or the Lord needs me today. In fact, I, like everyone else, am quite expendable. And nothing teaches me this better than death.  It’s the old joke about the man who is working hard at his desk when Death with his hooded cloak and scythe shows up at the office door, and the man says, “I can’t die today; I’ve got too much on my to-do list.”  Right.  Don’t we all?

Death is the ultimate humbling experience. It speaks to the Hollywood star or the National politician or the self-important pastor: “I guess you weren’t so necessary after all.”

Paul knew this.  That’s right, even the Apostle Paul knew that he was replaceable…yes, expendable.  So when the prophet Agabus told him that he was about to be arrested and handed over to the authorities if he went to Jerusalem, and his friends subsequently urged him not to go, Paul replied…

“What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13 (ESV)

How about that? For all he had accomplished, the Apostle Paul still didn’t think he was…necessary. He had a perspective on himself that came from God.  The work would go on without him quite well, thank you very much; and besides this, he had another understanding about the end of life that made his perspective on death quite palatable.  It is a truth he shared with the church at Philippi that made it possible to think about the end with both humility…and expectation:

“For to me,” Paul said with confidence, “to live is Christ…and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)


For Wednesday, March 11th: Acts 22


Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


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3 Keys to Paul’s Fruitfulness

Let’s put the words found in Acts 20:24 in contention for some of the most beautiful in all of Scripture. They also give us a clue as to why God used Paul so wonderfully.

The scene itself provides a perfect backdrop – Paul is saying goodbye to the elders from Ephesus, Ephesus being the city where he spent more time (2 – 3 years) than any other during his journeys. There is much history in this farewell, and it’s an emotional moment for them all realizing that they will only reunite again in glory.

On the occasion of the meeting, Paul has been on a sea journey, and stops at the port of Miletus, where he has requested the elders of Ephesus to travel for the meeting. In a moment they will walk him back to his ship, and he will put to sea, never to see them again, but before that…this:

“…And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me…” Acts 20:22-23 (ESV)

What a life this man has led, and how many eternities have been redirected by the Spirit’s work through him! But he has endured much pain, and apparently, according to his words above, there is more heartache and difficulty to come. But no matter…verse 24:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 (ESV)

Apart from the Lord Jesus, was there ever a life that accomplished more for the Kingdom of God than the life of this man Paul the Apostle? We’ll never know, I suppose, but it’s awfully hard to imagine. He was not only the greatest theologian in the history of the world, but he was also the greatest missionary, bringing the gospel to the great Roman Empire. And in the words found in verse 24, we get a clue as to why this man made such a difference.

First, he died to himself: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.” Jesus had said that a grain of wheat needed to fall to the earth and die to bear much fruit. (John 12:24) Paul was that grain of wheat, and in his mind, he had died. The bountiful fruit all around him was proof.

Second, he made up his mind to finish. Finishing what we start is sometimes half the battle, and yet this was a theme in his life, as for instance, when he wrote to the Colossians with a special message for a man in the congregation: “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.’” Colossians 4:17 (ESV) It’s a word that Paul could have written to any of us – finish the task that God has given you to do. And Paul was no hypocrite – Jesus had given him a job to do also, and he was going to finish it.

Third, he had a glorious message. Christianity is not a self-improvement program; it is an announcement. God is gracious, and He has provided forgiveness for our sins through Christ. This was Paul’s message to which he testified solemnly all of his days after the Damascus road. And ultimately, it is this message – empowered by the Holy Spirit, and faithfully proclaimed by His messenger – that changed the world.


For Tuesday, March 10th: Acts 21

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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why is Money the Great Competitor for our Hearts?

You’ve got to hand it to Demetrius – when the silversmith in Ephesus wanted to get some people with him to oppose Paul and his message, he knew just what to say:

“Men, you know from this business we have our wealth.” Acts 19:25 (ESV)

Oh, Demetrius would go on to say that the goddess Artemis was great and should not be deposed from her throne and blah, blah, blah. But he had them when he brought up their wallets. If this Jesus would continue to be preached, their lucrative business of making silver shrines was going to go up in smoke, and thus, before you know it a riot had broken out.

And it all started with concern for cash.

It’s an instructive scene when it is compared to the story right before it – new believers had come together bringing their books of magic arts and burning them up before everyone. And someone, watching this happen, made a fast calculation: “We are burning up books worth a total of 50,000 silver pieces!” Incredible.

There is an important lesson to all this – one of the indistinguishable marks of a Christ-follower is that he or she thinks of money differently and handles it differently than non-believers. Jesus told us it would be this way…

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

Why is it that I cannot serve two masters? Because when it comes down to it, I will always look to my “Master” for two things: security, and significance. And if I find these things in money, I won’t look for them in Christ.

The man who finds security in money will prize a big bank account, forsaking God and His Kingdom to get it. The woman who finds significance in possessions will want the latest clothes and the nicest car and the finest house so that others will know just “who” she is. What about the church and kingdom causes? Eh, he or she would say, “Let’s not be legalistic.”

And the end result is that Christ is forsaken.

But when we see that we have all the significance we need in Him – after all, He has loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place – then money loses its hold. And when we realize that we have complete security in Him – in this life and in eternity – then we will want to serve Him, not money, with all our hearts.

So, how do you win this battle to serve God, not money? The first and most important way is to become a Christian.  The view of everything in your life will change when you are in Christ.  His love and His promises will transform where you look for significance and security. “Book burning” follows naturally. But after this, remember that true Christians are still tempted to find significance and security in money.  At least I am.  And one of the time-honored, Scripture-tested ways of continuing to serve God not money is by intentionally serving Him with your money…by being generous toward others and toward His Kingdom.


On Monday, March 9: Acts 20

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Posted by on March 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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What God Told Paul When He Was Afraid

Talk about post-traumatic stress syndrome, I guess we should have expected this:  Paul was afraid.  And it’s no wonder. Who wouldn’t be?  Think about it – he was…

…stoned at Lystra

…beaten with rods and jailed in Philippi

…attacked by an unruly mob in Thessalonica

…mocked in Athens

…reviled in Corinth

It seems that almost everywhere Paul went he was either verbally attacked or beaten, and all the while he kept preaching and discipling, and yes, in his “free” time, supporting himself by making tents. So, when he finally made it to Corinth, he was surely tired…and undoubtedly downright fearful. Stoning and whippings and beatings and vicious verbal assaults amidst a heavy load of work will do that to you every time.

Frankly, I think it’s amazing he made it this far. But this was no ordinary man, and of course, he had an omnipotent God moving in his life.  And it was a vision of this Great God which enabled Paul to get up and keep going:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9, 10 (ESV)

It was this word that enabled Paul to dust himself off and keep going in the city of Corinth for another year and a half before sailing home and then doing it all over again.

But notice exactly what God told fearful Paul in this vision of the night: He told him what He has been telling His people since Abraham, a command followed by a promise:

  1. Do not fear.
  2. I am with you.

Psalm 234 [widescreen]God’s word to Paul followed a beautiful pattern in Scripture that we see again and again as the Lord’s remedy to help his children overcome fear…

  • When Joshua was about to take over leadership of Israel, the Lord said to him, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
  • When David was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he purposed, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
  • When God wanted to comfort His people through the prophet Isaiah, He said, “Fear not, for I am with you…” Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

Yes, the presence of God chases fear far away, for when He is near, so is His love, and that “perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18 (ESV)    And therefore the most important thing we can remind ourselves when we get filled with fear is that He is right by our side.  This may be also why we are commanded to pray when we fear (Philippians 4:6,7), because nothing brings us into His presence the way prayer does.

So I don’t know what you’re walking through right now – maybe it’s an upcoming exam, continuing unemployment or a wayward child.  Maybe it’s a scary illness, a bully at school or a difficult break-up…or divorce.  But whatever it is, if you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, then you are His child, and He has made a promise to you: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (ESV)

This means He has more than enough resources to provide for you, more than enough emotional strength to support you, and more than enough love to give you a strong sense that you will never ever be alone.  And on top of everything, perhaps the greatest reason not to fear is that He has promised to make everything work out…for your good. (Romans 8:28)

He is with you, and that promise goes all the way until He takes us to heaven at the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

So you know what to do, right?

That’s right…do not fear.


For tomorrow, Friday, March 6: Acts 19


Posted by on March 5, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How to be a Noble Christian

Acts 1711 [widescreen]I owe it to my years in the Navigators that I can’t read the Bible without seeing a highlighter through certain verses. Now I generally don’t mark in my Bibles, but I think you know what I mean: as I read, there are certain verses that I have heard referred to so many times that they stand out to me mentally, as if they were colored with a bright yellow highlighter and a big black underline. One such verse is Acts 17:11…

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (ESV)

More than anything, the Navs were Bible people, so I suppose it’s not surprising that these words are highlighted in my mind, for this is not just a Bible verse, but a verse about the Bible, and as such, it provides some excellent guidance in life.

But first, the setting is this: Paul and company are on a whirlwind tour of the Roman Empire, his second missionary journey, which begins by backtracking through some cities covered on Paul’s first journey. Barnabas is no longer with him as a result of an argument over taking John Mark on the trip. (Are you encouraged? Paul is apparently human.) But he and his new cohorts Timothy, Luke and Silas get much farther out this time, going as far as modern day Greece before starting the long sea voyage home.

2nd missionary journey of Paul

Paul’s 2nd missionary journey

The visit to Thessalonica goes pretty well, and many Greeks believe, but it all starts to go sour when some influential Jews run them out of town. But no matter, they travel by night to Berea, and set up shop as per usual in the synagogue, where the noble Jews receive “the word” with eagerness.

“The word” here refers to the gospel, but what Paul was saying about a dying and rising Messiah constituted new information, so they need to check it out in the Scriptures, and when they did…

Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. Acts 17:12 (ESV)

The principle here is very important – if you want to be a “noble” follower of Christ, be all about the Bible.  And I can think of two ways to do this:

First, examine everything you hear by the Word of God. If you’ve been a Christian long enough, it’s rare that you’ll hear a truly “new” theological idea, but when you do, something inside you should go, “Danger…need to check that out.”

For instance, in college, I began speaking with a fellow student who told me that I needed to speak in tongues to be saved (He was part of the United Pentecostal Church, a cult-like group that also denies the Trinity). This young man showed me a couple of verses and I became fearful and unsettled, largely because, you guessed it, I didn’t speak in tongues. My Navigator leader at the time was an extremely wise man named Dave Ostendorf. Dave knew that this “teaching” came from a couple of verses in the book of Acts, but he didn’t try to just show me two or three verses to prove the guy wrong. Dave sent me home with an assignment: read the entire book of Acts and see if these things were so. I did just that, and my fear was crushed. The guy was out to lunch.

But the second principle is even more all-encompassing: Acts 17:11 teaches us that we should endeavor to shape everything about our lives by the Bible.

Be a Bible guy. Be a Bible gal. Try to shape everything about your life by the Bible. And if you think this might have negative consequences, actually it’s just the opposite. In fact, there is nothing better to deliver you from the horrors of legalism, as for instance, when someone tells you that Christians shouldn’t dance. Well, see what the Bible says about it. Or, when someone says that you should baptize your infant in the remote case they might die early? Go read the Bible. Go read the Bible. Go read the Bible.

Endeavor to shape your life by the Word of God and while you’re at it, don’t believe such baptismal foolishness.

Finally…it’s worth noting that Jesus Himself would have been happy with the Bereans, for our Lord said that carefully examining the Scriptures and being a thoroughgoing Bible person would be the key…to true liberty:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (ESV)


Tomorrow, Thursday, March 5th: Acts 18

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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