Demons and Disciples: Two Responses to Jesus

Jesus shows us two responses to His earthly ministry. One is from the demons, who knew who He was and rejected Him; the other is from His disciples, who, through faith, followed Him, even without full knowledge of His person. Today, He invites us to follow Him on faith, not on knowledge.

The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him!’” (Matthew 8:27 NLT)

“And (the demons) cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29 NIV)

TWO VERSES APART. TWO SEPARATE RESPONSES.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, two radically different responses to the man Jesus were presented a mere two verses apart.

In the first case, His disciples — that is, followers of Jesus himself — expressed amazement that Jesus could be awakened during a storm and, 

Two Responses to Jesus - Winds
Jesus calms the raging sea.

with a single word, stop a storm that threatened their small boat. They wondered who He was!

In the second case, evil demons — that is, followers of Satan — cried out in anguish that Jesus, whom they knew as the Son of Almighty God, had come to send them to eternal punishment before their allotted time. They were inhabiting a man who lived among the tombs and, knowing Jesus would heal the man, begged Him to send them to a nearby herd of pigs.

How strange that those who knew Jesus were following the wrong guy and those who one day would shape the world for His Kingdom still hadn’t caught on that this was God’s Son.

True enough, the disciples knew Jesus was special. After all, they had obeyed His call to follow Him and had seen Him feed 5,000 men (and many more women and children) from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Top that off when, in a desperate panic, they had just awakened Him from a sound sleep to tell them their boat was taking on water in a sudden storm.

Jesus-heals-troubled-man
Jesus heals a troubled man.

Even so, they weren’t quite sure what to make of it all.

The demons knew. James, a half-brother to Jesus, assures us in his New Testament letter that “the demons believe … and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV). So, the point is made that, at least with Jesus Christ, seeing is not the same as believing.

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AT FIRST GLANCE, it would seem that the demons were more in tune with the Creator of the universe than the apostles were, even though the twelve men watched the Lord daily heal the physically and mentally ill and teach with authority in the various synagogues. Continue reading “Demons and Disciples: Two Responses to Jesus”

Stop Being Angry: What Purpose Does It Serve?

God’s Word is clear that mankind should be slow to anger and quicker to listen to others and to love one another. Why, then, is God’s anger okay? We see that His anger is based on His righteousness, whereas our anger is based on our sinfulness — our pride, selfishness, and greed. Relying on His grace, we can show His love to a broken world.

“Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm.” Psalm 37:8 (NLT)

“He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-temperated exalts folly.” Proverbs 14:29 (NASB)

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)

WHAT GOOD PURPOSE DOES ANGER SERVE? The Bible is filled with admonition against human anger, while it promotes God’s righteous wrath.

So, what’s the difference? Why is it okay for Almighty God to be angry, but not us? Perhaps the key is not who is getting angry but why the person is angry.

Let’s take a look at God’s anger.

Theologian J.I. Packer says that God’s anger, as described in His Word, “is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, God's Righteous Angermorally ignoble thing” that often marks human anger but “a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”

God hates human sin. He gave us His commandments to steer us in the right direction. The first four tell us to love and honor God; the remainder tell us to love and honor one another. He gets angry — and rightly so — when we fail to do that. Continue reading “Stop Being Angry: What Purpose Does It Serve?”

Failing to See the Truth; Do We Miss Seeing Jesus?

Our broken world seeks answers to troubling questions, yet when God reaches into our lives with grace, too many people miss it or reject it. Let us pray that, in our lives, we will accept His redeeming offer.

He (man formerly blind) replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’” John 9:11 (NIV)

“The man (formerly blind) answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.’” John 9:30-31 (NIV)

HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE?

Jesus passes by a man who we learn is blind from birth, takes pity on him, and without asking if the man wants to see, makes some mud from dirt in the ground, rubs it  on the man’s eyes, and tells him to “go” wash the mud off in the Pool of Siloam. The man does as he’s told and, lo, he can see!

Jesus Heals Blind ManIncredible for several reasons: one, unlike most of the Bible stories where Jesus applies His healing touch, there is no record in the Scriptures that the man asked anything of Jesus; and, two, there is no record in the Scriptures as to what would happen to the man if he obeyed Jesus.

In fact, John’s account of the encounter tells us the man didn’t even know who Jesus was!

Jesus was telling His disciples several truths here, two of which we’ll cover: one is that, as God, He could give the man sight, not merely restore the man’s sight, for the man was born blind and, therefore, had never seen; and two, that as God, He was Lord of the Sabbath and the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.

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OH, THAT SABBATH THING AGAIN.

How is that significant?

Well, this where the story, which begins as a really nice story of Jesus healing a blind man and everyone lives happily ever after, turns ugly. Really ugly. (It ends well, but we have to go through the ugly part first.)

John tells us in v. 13 that “they” brought to the Pharisees the man who had been born blind and now could see. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day and, basically, busybodies who had arrogated to themselves the job of putting everyone else down to puff themselves up.

 

Rest Area SabbathIn this case, they actually find fault with Jesus—who, let’s remember, had just given the gift of sight to a man who had never, ever, from Day One, been able to see—simply because He healed the man on the Sabbath, the Day of Rest.

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THE PHARISEES COULDN’T GET OVER THAT FACT.

Yes, Jesus healed on the Day of Rest, which violated the Pharisee’s law. True, the Pharisees based their regulations on God’s commandment to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, but Jesus tells us the purpose of the Sabbath was to give men a day of rest, not to set on men a whole new set of burdens that made that rest difficult.

Jesus routinely challenged the Pharisees, telling them in Matthew 12:8 (NIV) that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, He was saying it is MY  commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, so listen to me when I tell you you’re not honoring it the way I intended.

So, the Pharisees went to work doing what they did best — making things difficult for the flock.

First, they called the formerly blind man to the Temple to tell them who had healed him and how. Were they thrilled that the man could see? No, they were angry that he was healed on the Sabbath. By the way, they, like many in their day, thought the man’s congenital blindness was caused either by his prenatal sin or their parents sin, whatever that might have been, so, in their minds, he had no business being healed in the first place.

Then, because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, they concluded that Jesus, the Son of God, could not have been sent from God.

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NEXT, THEY CALLED THE MAN’S PARENTS IN.

They questioned them as to whether this man, now able to see, was actually their son and had been born blind.

Did the parents express gratitude to Jesus for His healing grace? No, they were more afraid of the Jewish leaders and being thrown out of the Temple than they were of the God they claimed to serve. They said they didn’t know how their son was healed nor who healed him. They didn’t seem all that interested in finding out, either.

So, the Pharisees calledBlind Man Thrown Out the man back in after his parents had left and again asked him how it was he could see. The man, exasperated at this point, asked if their interest  meant they, also, wanted to believe in the man who had healed him.

Instead of saying “Yes,” which seems the reasonable thing to have done, they insulted the man for daring to suggest they were in need of the Lord’s healing grace and threw him out of the Temple, effectively cutting him off from polite society.

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THE STORY ENDS ON A HIGH NOTE.

When Jesus heard the man had been thrown out of the Temple, He found the man and asked him, “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’”

The man replied that he was not sure who the Son of Man was, but he certainly was willing to believe. When Jesus then said, “‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you,’” the man replied in the way we would have hoped the Pharisees and the man’s mother and father would have replied, “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped him.” (vv 35-38).

We need to pause here. Let’s count up the number of people who have touched this story. There’s Jesus and the man born blind, his two parents, maybe 30-50 Pharisees, probably a dozen or two neighbors and townsfolk who saw Jesus apply JesusTruth Sabbathmud to the man’s eyes and later saw him with restored sight (plus those who heard the story and those who heard the story from them), and we count up at least 50 people, maybe 100, excluding the disciples, who already believed in Jesus.

Yet only one of them — the man healed, the man ostracized from community, the man virtually disowned by his parents — only that man saw Truth when Truth stood in front of  him.

The rest of the cast missed it completely.

Jesus concluded this vignette by rebuking the Pharisees in front of the townspeople, humbling them in front of those who, themselves, could not see, and reassuring those of us who do believe in Him that He came into the world to give sight to us when we were blind in our sin.

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THIS IS A STORY OF REMARKABLE GRACE on Jesus’ part, yet it captures so painfully the broken state of today’s world.

Even when Truth — God’s remarkable Grace offered to us with no strings — is offered to us and standing right in front of us, most people don’t even see it. Even when they get a glimpse of it, they don’t want it.

Sadly, John was right when he told us (John 3:19 NIV) that Jesus, the Light, had come into the world, but His own creation rejected him because “[they] loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

As sad as that is, sadder still is the world’s continuing failure to see the Truth, the Light of the world. Are we failing to see Jesus in our own lives? Do we miss him when He is standing right in front of us?

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PRAYER: O LORD, Our Heavenly and Gracious Father, we are in desperate need of Your healing grace, your loving arms, your comforting smile. We know our sin keeps us from complete fellowship with You, so we would ask You to expose our sin, lead us to repentance, and restore us to a right relationship with You. In Jesus’ Holy Name.  Amen

Will Christians Lead Political Debate or Abdicate Responsibility?

God’s sovereignty prevails over the course of men’s lives. His will will be done, regardless of man’s great plans. When countries ignore His moral laws and applaud those who flaunt them, He has said He will withdraw the hand that restrains sin and evil and leave us to our depraved selves. Is that a society we want for ourselves? Christians must lead as “light and salt” of the world, defending God’s moral law and conducting ourselves in civic affairs with love and humility.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28 NIV)

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalms 14:1 NIV)

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Two thoughts on the 2016 U.S. political season, a brief analysis, and a conclusion:

First Thought: the electorate is angry and divided. During the primaries, three candidates (Republicans Donald Trump & Ted Cruz; Democrat Bernie Sanders) led a populist assault against Washington. 

Christian-Civil GovernmentTrump alone survived, leading to a predictable result: Old Guard politicians and establishment figures from both parties joining forces against Trump, their common foe. Too soon to tell if the electorate, wearied from a year of politics, will yawn and back the establishment candidate or continue the assault and overturn the status quo.

Second Thought: the real possibility that Almighty God is withdrawing his protective hand as our country’s arrogant leaders—and a growing number of private citizens—ignore His biblical instructions for our lives.

The apostle Paul wrote: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Romans 1:28 NASB) and again: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1:18-19 NIV).

Old Testament prophets told rebellious Israel that, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God” (Isaiah 59:2 NLT) and “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God?” (Jeremiah 2:17 ESV). King David, who lived under the covenant before the Cross, was so fearful of God’s rebuke for his sins, that he prayed: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11 NIV).

While God after the Cross will not remove the Holy Spirit from His believers, calling His gift “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), nevertheless, continued disobedience on our parts still erects a barrier between us and the God of mercy. This grieves the Lord who has assured us it is our obedience and salvation that He wants to see: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Analysis: Christian values, as many have seen, have given modern society so much to cherish — among them hospitals, civil liberties, abolition of slavery, modern science, elevation of women, and regard for human life — against the shameful record of non-believers fomenting devastation and suffering on their own people.

The difficulty with discussing civic matters from a biblical perspective is that the Bible is clear only that some matters pertain to God and His affairs while others pertain to the state. Unfortunately for U.S. society, our national government now is usurping the moral sphere, replacing God’s moral law with political policy and defending that usurpation on a false reading of the Bible!

Followers of Christ cannot let that go unchallenged.God & Government

However, we are still called to be “light and salt” to the world and to express our views in humility and with love. While God made it clear He abhors homosexual conduct and abortion, Christians could differ on issues such as the U.S. taking in Syrian refugees or revising the tax code. Christians must forthrightly defend Scripture, but where the trail is muddled, Christ’s followers must reach their positions through prayer and promote them lovingly, even when disagreeing with one another.

Conclusion: It is imperative that followers of Christ lead the way this election year in the U.S. by boldly defending God’s laws and by conducting civic affairs in a civil manner. That would preclude the ad hominem attacks so favored by the unfaithful. We are called to support civil government (Rom. 13:1-7), but we must pray that whichever party’s candidates prevail in this ugly election, hearts will be softened to hear—and follow— the Lord’s voice.

PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we pray Your grace as our countrymen vote this November. We pray that our country’s leaders, and those who seek to replace them, will be open to Your voice and seek Your will, not just rhetorically when it’s politically useful, but in their personal lives and public acts. We also pray that You will lift up men and women who follow the Lord to seek political office at all levels of government so that our country, state, local communities, and school districts will be led by those who seek the Lord’s will. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen

The Christian’s Response to Politics

Some religious leaders caution Christians against publicizing political views, fearing discord that could split the flock, while others challenge believers to engage in all areas of public life, including running for office. What is clear is that in all matters of our earthly lives—including the political—God’s people are called to seek His guidance and direction and then speak the Word of God boldly.

Psalms 146:3-5 (NLT): “Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those … whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV): “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Acts 1:8 (GW) [Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses to testify about me … to the ends of the earth.”

THE U.S. POLITICAL FABRIC IS TORN.

The last several decades have seen a wedge form within the body, separating families, friends, neighbors, and communities. On one side are those pushing for more government regulation of our personal lives, while their opponents push against more government, saying less government promotes a vibrant private sector.

Overlapping this battle is the divisive “culture war,” pitting secular voices  calling for “progressive” values against Christian voices defending biblical values.

Where Are Christian Voices?In both arenas — the role of government and the cultural war — there is no middle ground. If one is not “right,” then one is “wrong” — not partly right or mostly right, but completely wrong.

Both major political parties have seen an “ethnic cleansing” of sorts, where those left-of-center have migrated to one party and those right-of-center have moved to the other party.

The result of this realignment is a political middle nearly extinct, and, with it, any chance for either side to find compromise or common ground.

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WHAT SHOULD BE THE CHRISTIAN VOICE?

The Christian is called to observe two truths.

One is to follow biblical teaching; that is, to listen for God’s voice and obey His commands where He has made them clear (Lev. 22:31; Matt. 28:20; John 15:14).

The other is to follow the Lord’s mandate to love God and to love our fellow man. Jesus said we are to forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

The Lord was also clear that He created civil government to maintain order and domestic peace, to punish wrongdoers, and to keep us safe from our enemies (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13:1). He even calls us to pray for our political leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-3).Girl in Field - Christian Voices

In the most famous exchange on secular observance, Jesus told his questioners to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:7).

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TRUE, WE ARE REMINDED in Scripture that the Lord Jesus will return to earth — the Second Coming — when He will gather the believers to Him and usher in a lengthy earthly reign, possibly for a thousand years — before providing the Paradise He promised that far exceeds the Garden of Eden (Rev. 21, 22).

Until then, we are called to witness in the way we act and speak that gives the glory to God (1 Peter 2:12).

So, is there a Christian List of Political Positions that we could refer to that will tell us the biblical stand on the day’s affairs?

It might be easier to point to Scripture in defense of marriage between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6) than it is to discern a Christian position on, say, the ideal tax rate (Matt. 17:27).

But looking for “right” positions on earthly concerns doesn’t feel at all biblical, especially in light of the apostle Paul’s statement that “our citizenship is in heaven,” and we are waiting for the Lord’s return (Phil. 3:20).

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WHEN JESUS DIED FOR OUR SINS on the Cross, He also rose from the dead to create His church (Matt. 16:18), which He would soon commission his followers to build (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

The apostle Paul was clear that the Lord’s church should follow “one Lord” (Eph. 4:3-5), so there’s very little room for discord or fractious debate within the circle of believers. That is not to say there isn’t room for disagreement. That is entirely a different matter, as long as the issue is not a clear biblical mandate.

Cross Against Sky - Christian VoicesWe’ve seen what happens when God’s people fail to consult with God on all matters of their lives, from Adam and Eve’s decision to eat of the  forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6), to Abraham and Sarah’s plan to fulfill God’s promise to give them a son (Gen. 16:1-2), to Korah’s uprising against Moses’ leadership in the wilderness (Num. 16:31-33), and that’s just the tip of the first three books in a 66-book Bible.

The prophet Jeremiah was pretty blunt, wasn’t he, when he put it this way when God’s people stopped asking Him for guidance: “For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (Jer. 10:21).

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WHAT IS CLEAR is that in all matters of our earthly lives, including the political realm, God’s people are called on to seek God’s guidance and direction.

The apostle James, Jesus’ half-brother, says that if anyone lacks wisdom, he or she “should ask God,” who will give it (James 1:5). He says that the wisdom God gives “is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (3:17).

The psalmist tells us (Psalms 118:8-9 CEV) that it is “better to trust the Lord for protection than to trust anyone else, including strong leaders.”

Lastly, we’re reminded in Acts 4:24-26, that God is sovereign, and He will determine the outcome of any event, whether it be a plea for direction in marriage or which job offer to accept — or what the election outcome should be.

That doesn’t mean we will understand or even like the outcome (Isa. 55:9). It does mean that God is in control.

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WHEN THE APOSTLES PETER AND JOHN were released from prison, they reported back to the early believers that the political and religious leaders of the day had ordered them to stop preaching the Good News of salvation.

God's Wisdom - Christian VoicesImmediately, the believing community raised their  arms in prayer: “Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’”

Their amazing prayer continued: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

After they finished, the Bible says (v. 31), “the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

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PRAYER: O Holy and Merciful Father, we come to you in this troubled political season in our country and seek Your guidance. We ask for wisdom on what we, as Your followers, should share with fellow believers and with a fallen world hungry for Light and Truth. In the end, Lord, we know that Your Truth will prevail and that You alone are sovereign. We seek guidance that will help us navigate the coming months in a way that brings glory to You, Lord, and healing to our community. We raise this plea in Jesus’ Name. Amen

Don’t Make It Difficult for Those Turning to God

All to often, we Christians are poor ambassadors of the message our Lord left with us. We should not stand in the way of non-believers searching for Truth in their lives. We should make it easy for them to seek — and find — the Lord’s saving grace. He made salvation easy. He did all of the hard work. We just need to point the way.

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 (NLT)

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Acts 20:21 (NIV)

THIS MUST HAVE BEEN AN EXCITING MEETING!

The glitterati of the Jewish Christian world — Jesus’ remaining apostles and church elders — were gathered in Jerusalem to hear a progress report from two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, who had been evangelizing the Good News to the Gentiles.

Girl Praying - Turning to GodThe whole idea that God wanted the non-Jewish world to be saved from eternal damnation was a difficult enough concept for many of the Jews to understand, but worse, they were hearing reports that Paul and Barnabas were teaching salvation by faith, not by good works. Moreover, they were teaching that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism before becoming a follower of Christ and that they were not bound by the Law of Moses. 

No, the Gentiles would be saved by God’s grace and their belief that Jesus was God, died sacrificially for their sins, and was raised from the dead to sit at God’s right hand.

There was a lot of ground for the church elders to cover.

The Book of Acts, written by the doctor, Luke, tells us that Paul and Barnabas reached Jerusalem and were “welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders” — that is, until the Pharisees swung into action. That was the same crowd that Jesus said “woe to” on many occasions, accusing them of substituting their rules, their regulations, and their mandates for God’s law of love and forgiveness.

“The new believers must become Jews first,” the  Pharisees thundered, “and they must keep the law of Moses.”

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INTERESTING.

Man Praying - Turning to GodNowhere in the four Gospels does Jesus ever say that His followers must convert to Judaism and follow Moses’ law to be saved from God’s wrath. Instead, in John chapter 3, Jesus says His followers must be “born again.” In Luke chapter 9, He says His followers must “take up their cross daily” and follow Him.

But the Pharisees, as usual, were adamant.

The apostles and elders kicked those ideas around, when Apostle Peter stood up to address them. Naturally, Peter would speak first. There was a hush as he looked around the room, waiting for order.

He reminded them that “some time ago,” God made it known that the gospel of Jesus Christ was to be preached to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews and that He would accept all into His Kingdom “by giving them the Holy Spirit,” the same as He gave to the Jews.

Peter rebuked the elders, saying God would purify the Gentiles’ hearts by faith. “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” Peter asked.

You can feel his exasperation.

“No!” he told the stunned assembly. “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

After Peter sat down, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas related their experiences and how the Gentiles were responding warmly to the salvation message.

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YOU CAN’T BEAT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

For shear drama, this must have been the top moment.

God Reaching Out to ManSo far, the apostles Paul and Barnabas had spoken, the Pharisees had had their  moment, and Peter had spoken.

Could it get any more dramatic?

Yes, actually, it could.

The next man to stand is the one Luke tells us had the final say.

It was James.

Not just any James. This was James, the half-brother of Jesus Himself. The one who Luke tells us in chapter 8 accompanied his mother, Mary, and siblings to tell Jesus He was embarrassing the family with His teaching and should return home and tend to His carpentry business.

The James that Luke tells us in chapter 4 was sitting in the temple in the family’s hometown of Nazareth when Jesus read from Isaiah that “the Spirit of the Lord is on me” and proclaimed to all of their neighbors that the verse was about Him. Yes, the James who watched as the townsmen wanted to stone Jesus!

Yup, that James, but not that James.

The James who stood up at that moment in that meeting knew who His Lord and Savior was. In human terms, he knew his older half-brother was God.

That James stood up and closed the argument with these words inspired by the Holy Spirit — words of grace, mercy, and wisdom: “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. It is my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

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DON’T MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO WIN CONVERTS TO CHRIST.

James’ words trickle down the centuries to the present era, where we also are called by Almighty God not to make it difficult for those who hunger for the Truth of salvation, whether by our actions or our words.

Instead, we should make it easy for them to ask God for His forgiveness, to thank Him for the gift of grace, and to ask Him to live in their hearts.

When James’ words were relayed to the Gentile community outside Jerusalem, Luke tells us in Acts 15:31 (NIV) how they reacted:

“The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.”

Praise God!

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PRAYER: Our merciful and loving Heavenly Father, we just praise your holy name. We give thanks that You are a God of love and compassion, of patience and caring. Your gift of eternal life with You is too wonderful to comprehend. Help us in our witness to avoid placing obstacles or barriers of any kind in the way of your lost children. Rather, help us to extend loving, accepting, benevolent hands to those reaching out for Your Word. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen

Burning Heart or Still Small Voice?

With Jeremiah, God’s voice was like fire in his bones; with Elijah, it was a quite whisper. God thundered from a cloud when Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop, telling mankind, “Listen to him.” God speaks to us in many voices. If we don’t hear him, we’re not paying attention.

 

But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. — Jeremiah 20:9 (NASB)

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. — 1 Kings 19:12 (KJV)

[A] bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5 (NET)

GOD’S VOICE.

What does that mean to you? Does He speak to us? If so, in what way?

It’s easy to pass this question off by saying, “Well, back in the Bible days, mayVoice of Godbe He talked to man, but that was then; this is now.”

Why wouldn’t He speak to us now?

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THE BIBLE GIVES US TWO DIFFERENT ACCOUNTS of God speaking to man. The first is Jeremiah. He was called the “weeping prophet” because he was so distressed by the increasingly bad news God called him to deliver to the Jewish people because of their unfaithfulness.

But whenever he tried to silence God’s voice, the Lord became more insistent, and our reluctant prophet felt a “burning fire” in his bones.

Elijah was another prophet of very high esteem. In fact, the Jewish Passover ceremony references his predicted return — an event Christians believe was fulfilled with the testimony of John the Baptist. In this account in 1 Kings, Elijah is hiding from the Jews because he fears they will kill him as they have the other prophets.

While God spoke to Jeremiah in the fire, the Bible is clear that He did not speak to Elijah in the same manner. “The Lord was not in the fire,” Scriptures tell us. But God did speak to Elijah, “in a still small voice.”

The “still small voice” comes from the King James Version. Other translations call it a “gentle whisper” (NLT), “low whisper” (ESV), or “soft whisper” (HCSB).Man Listening to God

So, which is it: a burning fire in our bones that’s impossible to ignore or a small, soft, gentle whisper almost beyond our hearing?

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IN MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Lord is direct in telling us to pay attention to His voice.

When Jesus took his three closest disciples up a mountain and was transfigured in heavenly aura before them, along with Elijah and Moses, the gospel writer Matthew tells us a bright cloud overshadowed the three men — Jesus and Elijah and Moses — and then, from out of the cloud, Almighty God Himself proclaimed of Jesus, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight.”

Then, unmistakably and most assuredly for us to take account of, He said, “Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5 (NET)

There’s no ambiguity there, is there? No wiggle room, no way to spin this event into a mere suggestion or wise saying. No, this was from the Creator himself. “Listen to him — my Son.”

With this moment on the mountain, we can be sure that God still speaks to us — and that He most assuredly wants us to listen. Listen, understand, take in, and obey.

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THE LORD HAS MORE WAYS to speak to mankind in modern days. There are more sophisticated communications devices, and, through advanced transportation modes, our globe is smaller than the ancient world.

Woman Listening to GodWe have Holy Writ translated into numerous English translations, plus translations into most of the world’s languages. Bible translators say Scripture has been made available in more than 2,500 languages, with another 1,500 or so, mostly minor languages or dialects, without a translation.

Add to that the numerous videos, podcasts, online sermons and commentaries, plus  Christian fellowship, and God finds many willing avenues to talk with us.

Perhaps no method is more intense or meaningful than our quiet devotion time, where we open our hearts and minds through prayer, then spend quality time reading a current and easy-to-follow translation of the Bible, followed by meditation on what we just read, and closing prayer.

We’re reminded in the book of James, a short how-to primer written by one of Jesus’ half-brothers, that we can ask God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 (NIV)

When Solomon asked God for wisdom, we’re told in 1 Kings 5:12 (NIV): The Lord gave Solomon wisdom, just as he had promised him.”

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WE CAN BE SURE THAT GOD STILL SPEAKS to His people. Let’s just take two verses from the Bible — one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament — to make the point clear.

In Genesis 1:27 (NIV), we’re told that God created us in His image: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Then, in John 3:16 (NIV), we’re told that God loved these humans created in His image so much that, well, He was willing to let His own Son die on the Cross to pay for our sins and reconcile us to Him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”Woman Hearing God

With all that was at stake, God creating us in His own image and God giving us His Son to reclaim us as His children when we went astray, how could we possibly assume that He has stopped talking to us?

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IF WE DON’T HEAR HIS VOICE, then we should ask ourselves this question: Have we stopped listening?

The psalmist answers that question this way: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV)

PRAYER: Our most heavenly Father, pour your love on us. Shower us with Your goodness, and speak to us. Whether You whisper at some times that we must pause to listen, or you set our very bones on fire with Your strong voice, show us that You haven’t stopped loving us, that You are with us, that You are calling us to follow You. Father, we ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen