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{ Discipleship } Acts 20

Day One: Don’t Hit the Snooze

Have you ever totally missed something big? Whether it’s a shot in a basketball game, a huge question on a test, or a big social cue at a gathering, we’re all guilty of tuning out at some point or another during a significant moment in our lives. Our brother Eutychus, from Acts 20, was no exception. In this passage we find Paul giving his last speech in Troas before he leaves, which we can assume would be a pretty significant night to be present and alert at, yet Eutychus falls asleep and continues to fall right out a window to his death! I’m not kidding. Look it up in Acts 20:7-16. This would be like falling asleep at a retreat during the most moving evening talk…but way bigger. When I first read this I remember thinking to myself, “Seriously?! PAUL is preaching on his last night with you and you’re just going to fall into a deep sleep???”

Well shortly after I judged Eutychus, I heard God ask me, “And how many times have you tuned out to My voice?” Gulp. Eutychus fell asleep once in a meeting and yet how often do I wake up in body only to go throughout my day sleeping in spirit? You see we all have missed some big things in our life at some point or another because we’re only human and we will make mistakes from time to time, but we have to get that though we might miss promotions, alarms (or multiple alarms), meetings, birthdays or tests, the worst thing we could ever miss out on is the voice of God.  

We all can identify with Eutychus not just in the way he falls, but also in his recovery.  Did you know his name actually means “fortunate”? He was saved and recovered by God and so are we who put our trust in Him, and that indeed qualifies us as fortunate. We all have drowsed into a slumber from various mishaps or bad choices in our lives, and have consequently become deaf to the voice of God, but we serve a God who knows just how to wake us up from even the deepest of sleeps. Not only does our God awaken us from these deathly slumbers, but He Himself will NEVER fall asleep on us. He is the friend who stays up into the late hours of the night talking to us, He is the father who remains alert in the mid-day watching out for us and He is the lover who wakes with us the early at dawn. He will never tune out, lose interest or snooze a little longer when it comes to His children.  As it says in Psalms 121:1-4, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” When are the times during your day that you tend to tune out to God and what are some ways you can stay in tune to His voice?

 

 

{ Faithful to Falsehood } Acts 19 cont.

Day Three: Return To Me

 Sometimes idolatry consumes us like a crashing wave, knocking us off our feet- other times it drags us out into its depths little by little until we no longer have a footing. Regardless it will always and ultimately leave us in a state of confusion, causing us to ourselves why we said “yes” to it in the first place, what our intentions were, and whether or not we knew what exactly we were saying yes to. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you intend to stay, and cost you more than you can afford to pay”, or rather it can be said that our sin will always take us down a very different and far more difficult road than we imagined it would. Like infomercials, the most appealing aspect of idolatry always ends up being its advertisement. The promises, the persuasion, and the satisfaction all end up being a finely orchestrated smoke and mirrors act, but when the shiny mirrors shatter and the mystic smoke fades, we find the only one clapping is Satan, and we begin to get a glimpse of what our idols really are: worthless.

 2 Kings 17:15 takes us back to the Israelites as they were walking in disobedience, as it reads, “They despised God’s statutes and His covenant that He made with their fathers and the warnings that He gave them. They went after worthless idols and became worthless themselves, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them.” The Israelites were living in a world saturated in idolatry of every sort, from food to sex and even the cliché statues we find so un-relatable to our culture. To summarize, they were surrounded. Sound relatable now? Like the Israelites, we too can pretty easily admit that from our phone screens to commercials on the radio, we’re surrounded with false advertisements tempting us to creep away from our loving Father.

If you have ventured away before or if you’re still running from Him in any facet of your life, there is good news: God has not forgotten or abandoned you. God is not like our old friends from high school; He doesn’t just move on from us or forget us because we have done so to Him, for we cannot creep away unnoticed from El Roi- the God who sees us. What God said to the nation who forgot and abandoned Him, He says to us too in Isaiah 44:21-22 “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Each day the world will send its sirens to coax us into its lies of what real living is, and each day God will faithfully call to us too, beckoning us to choose Him first- to return to Him.

 How can you take intentional action to saturate yourself in truth in the spaces you notice yourself feeling the most temptation? Maybe it involves deleting playlists, posting scriptures up in your office, skipping that movie or show, or setting your alarm a little earlier to spend time in the Word. No matter where you’re at in your walk with the Lord, one thing’s for sure; it must begin with repentance because to repent is to return home.

 

Day Two: What's the Real Cost? 

 If we’re being honest, a pretty significant factor in how willing we are to walk away from our idols can be based on how much we’ve invested in it, or rather how much we would “lose” in the walk away. Would we lose our physical beauty, our social status, our fancy things, our good connections, our jobs or even our relationships? The enemy knows that when it comes to idols, the more of ourselves we invest in them. The harder it is to break away from them.

In Acts 19 we step into a fiery dispute led by a man named Demetrius (an idol shrine builder) regarding what Paul has been preaching in Ephesus. Demetrius is in a situation where his investments in idolatry are now threatened by the truth and he begins with the following, Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” I will say, the only thing I actually appreciate about Demetrius here is his bluntness. I mean he gets it. If the people were to receive the truth of the gospel, many of them would lose their income and their culture. In short, if they received the gospel, everything would have to change in consequence.

 Personally, I have found one of the most powerful practices to be writing down lies I believe and combatting them by writing down scripture right next to it. I’ve got an example for us here. Matthew 16:24-26 is a passage many of us have heard yet so often easily forget as we slowly creep down the road of idolatry. Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Demetrius says that following Christ, specifically in the giving up of their idols, will cost the people financially, socially and culturally, but Jesus says that all of these things are worthless in comparison to being right with God. The enemy will always argue in the language you are most likely to listen to. Whether it’s through a rational thought process, a set of circumstances lining up perfectly, fear of losing something significant, etc. the enemy will use whatever will persuade us most into believing that our idolatry is right, healthy, normal, not a big deal, etc.

In a world that is drenched in the worship of anything and everything that “benefits” ourselves, it’s so crucial that we faithfully check what our hearts are believing with what scripture is saying. Not with just what our community group says, what our pastor says, what our family says, what our minds say, what that person we happened to meet says, but with what God says. Philippians 3:8 tells us, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”. Do you believe that any money you could ever lose, any image of yourself that could be shattered or any person in your life that you would have to let go of, is such a little cost to pay in comparison to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ”?

Day One: What They’re Made Of

What do you think of when you hear the word “idolatry”? Do you think of giant statues, sacrifices, or people who are drowning in their addictions? Idolatry is a word many of us Christians can feel pretty confident and comfortable discussing in these days because so often it holds a connotation of someone whose life is completely and blatantly absorbed in something clearly and utterly evil. The problem with this idea of idolatry is that it’s quite irrelevant in our culture today. I think for most of us, idolatry is much more discrete, private and culturally approved than we would expect it to be. Idolatry has assimilated itself into many of our lives in such a painfully normal and unnoticeable way, often going overlooked until its most detrimental effects finally explode. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller describes idols saying, “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

Exodus 20 states the most crucial command, “You shall have no other gods before me”, but what do these “other gods” look like for us now? If we don’t understand what idols really are, then we will continue kneeling in ignorance to them. Keller goes on to describe characteristics of these different forms of idols, saying, “if you should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living….you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought….it can even be your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry.” This means that it's not just the inherently corrupt things in our worlds that qualify as idols, but even the seemingly good too, because the evil in idolatry has far less to do with the object of worship than it does the orientation of one's heart towards it. That's why children, job positions and a certain level of income can all qualify as blessings or idols in our lives. At the end of the day, we are called to live open handed with whatever we are given, for it's in the gripping of things, even blessings, that our hearts begin slipping into different forms of idolatry.

It’s important that we begin to ask God for renewed vision to see what idolatry looks like in our own world today and especially in our personal lives. Looking at this definition of idolatry, to what in your life can you see yourself kneeling to? Whether you’re consumed in sin or indulging in its poison every so often, whether it looks horrific from every angle or camouflages itself in light, ask God to begin revealing to you the parts of your heart that have been bowing to false gods. As you are praying, reflect on the reading of Psalms 115 ( https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalms+115&version=ESV ). 

{ Into What Were You Baptized? } Acts 19

Day Three: Costly Idols

Our last story from our reading in Acts 19 sets us up for what we will actually be learning more about on Sunday- idolatry. In verses 11-20 we read about a city that was wrapped up in the the practice of dark arts and magic to the point that they had a library of resources on the topic that was worth more than  50,000 pieces of silver!! Now we can't always put a price tag on what our idolatry has cost us, but what we do know is that it will never stop withdrawing from our spirits because it must have all of us and then some. For some of us our idolatry is very obvious to us, for others we might be walking blindly in it because (like the city who practiced evil magic) it's so culturally normalized that we can't even see it for what it is. Alistair Begg says, "Idolatry consists, not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God in false ways." His statement reminds us that it's not just in the ways we directly turn from God to other things that counts as idolatry, but also in the way we unintentionally believe incorrectly about Him. As we enter into this discussion next week we will begin unfolding that following God and fleeing from idolatry goes hand in hand because to freely flee from evil is to wholly pursue God. As it tells us in Colossians 3:1-4, " If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." 

 

Day Two: A Common Miracle

Purpose. It’s not just the thing sought after by young people as they dream up their futures; it’s sought by the retired lawyer who plays golf each week with her old colleagues, by the middle school boy trying to decide between belonging to a certain group and being himself, and by the stay at home mom whose plate is more than full with tasks each day. You see, as much as we like to pin the fulfillment of purpose to a career, an age, a place in life or a person, the reality is that purpose has little to nothing to do with any of those things and has everything to do with our pursuit of the Lord’s heart. Purpose has so much to do with a feeling of accomplishment, but all and any earthly accomplishments we strive for will at best leave us with a momentary high.

If we truly want to live accomplished lives, we must begin by believing that our greatest accomplishment in this life will be that each day we gave it our best at loving God. It’s in the chasing of our worldly notion of “purpose” that we actually get driven away from the real thing. Bob Goff puts it this way when saying, “Turning down this invitation (to God) comes in lots of flavors. It looks like numbing yourself or distracting yourself or seeing something really beautiful as just normal. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful or getting wrapped around the axle with fear or envy. I think every day God sends us an invitation to live and sometimes we forget to show up or get head-fakes into thinking we haven't really been invited. But you see, we have been invited - every day, all over again.” 

 When we believe this is the best thing we could ever pursue- more than any job, home, economic standing or fame- the everyday ordinary things in your life will miraculously transform into divine miracles; undiscovered gateways to God.

As we join Paul in Acts 19, we see a more tangible picture of the uncommon being transformed into the miraculous as we read, “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” If handkerchiefs or aprons can be tools used to experience the glory of God then why not your day job, the late night shift you occasionally take, the long hours with your kids or the brief moments you have with passing strangers who you serve? This is the reality we live in upon entering into a life with Christ, overflowing with purpose and filled with new miracles each day. The challenge for the Church of living a life of purpose isn’t finding it, but simply saying “yes” to it no matter how common it may appear.

 

Day One: Grace That Asks First

 Have you ever wondered why in Genesis God called out for Adam and Eve in the garden when He knew where they were and why He asked for what reason they were hiding when He was more than aware of it? Let’s jump centuries forward into Acts 19 and look at something similar. Why did Paul ask some of the disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit and question into what they were baptized in? It would have been quicker and more efficient to just say what he knew and what they clearly didn’t get, much like it would have been easier for God to just call out Adam and Eve instead of go looking for them. I believe one reason for this rests simply in the nature of God’s grace. Grace asks the questions it already knows the answers to because grace prioritizes loving the person over fixing their problem.

This questioning was the method God began using in Genesis and it was the one Jesus Himself used during His time here on earth. From this we may find that grace takes more patience, time, sacrifice and commitment than lecturing or putting someone in their place, and while the results will probably come slower, they will indeed last long into eternity. Proverbs 28:13-14 & 26 reads, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

This grace that takes the time to ask what it knows trusts that confession is actually the beginning of restoration and an entrance to the wisdom of God. When we are given the option to answer for ourselves, we begin to realize what we’ve actually known the whole time, and when we release these things (even in the simplicity of saying it out loud), we make room for personal growth and for the wisdom others might have to speak into our lives. Saying things out loud enables us to participate in the work God is doing within us; to take ownership of our self-denial as we seek to become even more in rhythm with the Holy Spirit. And, in the midst of all of this, it will even soften our hearts. As God’s people, we ought to take on the practice of grace-asking and sacrifice for the benefit of others instead of for the convenience of our own schedules. In what ways can you practice taking time to ask more, listen longer and then speak truth with humility and grace?

James 5:7-8 “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

{ God Gives The Growth } Acts 18

 

Day Three: Humility Is BOLD

The last portion of chapter 18 in Acts reminds me of something Beth Moore says, “Humility is the earmark of God's genuine servant.” If you ask me, what stands out most in this segment of scripture isn’t that our bold and gifted Apollos powerfully refuted the Jews and helped aid new believers in their faith, but that he was able to do all of this after receiving further wisdom by tentmakers on a topic he was clearly well versed in: the scriptures. It would be like the janitor at Princeton taking the professor of a philosophy course aside after class to give him a more holistic perspective on why Socrates actually chose to drink his own death via poison. The willingness to receive correction is one of the most powerful identifiers in regards to one’s leadership abilities. Here we don’t see a brawl, debate or dismissal of Priscilla and Aquila’s confrontation with Apollos- we see fruit.

The Bible tells us that God gives each of us unique giftings, but He never comes close to implying that these gifts make us independent from one another or without a need for growth. In fact, Romans 3:4-6 reads, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…”

As Christians we must boldly embrace the truth that we are each uniquely gifted by God’s grace, but also that we are created to be dependent on Christ and open to whatever ways in which He chooses to grow us…often times it’s through one another. No matter how high up in a position we are, how well versed in a study or how experienced we are within a given field, we must always remember to have the humility of our bold Apollos, who reminds us that without a humble spirit, our gifts are of no use to the Body.  Where can you practice receiving instruction, correction, or even just being more open to what others might have to speak into one of your more skilled areas of life?

        

Day Two: Setting Our Sails

Whether you live for the spotlight or run from it, all of us can admit to relishing the feeling of being well-liked (at least by the “right” people), and while nothing is wrong with this in itself, we have to be cautious not to start allowing our sails to be even the slightest bit adjusted by the opinions others may have about us. Paul was a man who had his sails set only to be blown by the breath of God. We’ve seen Paul stand firm in persecution, but here in Acts we see him stand firm amidst another potential stumbling block-praise. After teaching the Jews, they request he stay longer and his response is simply,  “I will return to you if God wills.” Now after all the backlash and persecution, if I were Paul I would stick around this place a lot longer. But, Paul models several groundbreaking truths for us in his response.

First we see his humility here in the way he responds to praise by acknowledging that everything is at the mercy of God’s will. I am reminded of James 4:13-15 which reads, Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

In addition, Paul’s persistence in submitting his life to the Lord’s will reminds us that He is sufficient for walking successfully into our future. While we may be tempted to plant our feet wherever we find acceptance, we cannot act as though a positive opinion towards us is our ticket to God’s will. Just because you get a promotion doesn’t mean God wants you to take it and just because a group of people likes you a lot doesn’t mean you should spend a lot of time with them. To put it brief, just because something is handed to you doesn’t mean you should take it. Paul sought to find favor with God over acceptance by people.

         Are we a Church that seeks out the favor of God regardless of what the world thinks about us or does to us, and if we do receive the praise of people do we allow it to push us into our decisions or are we reminded, like Paul, that every good thing comes from God and we are to live our lives under His authority? Where do you let praise push you around? It doesn’t always come from crowds; in fact it often comes up within the people you’re closest with. This week begin reminding yourself that regardless of the acceptance or rejection by this fickle world we live in, true and eternal success rests in setting your sails to the will of God.

 

Day One: When Trust Leads, Love Follows

          As a child I always seemed to be asking the question, “Why?” and I still do to this day. I often felt this urgency to know the point of something, the reason for it or what it meant before I actually did it. Now this isn’t entirely a bad thing, but when it comes to God, asking “Why?” can actually be something that hinders us because it essentially says, “You’re not trustworthy enough for me to just obey.” Upon reading through Acts 18, I was reminded of some wisdom spoken over me at a ranch I worked at one summer; “God doesn’t hide things from us- He hides things for us.” From the most frivolous questions we might ask like why we’re in a tent-maker role to the painstaking ones like, “Why am I so deeply hated and attacked?”, God has something better than reason to give us in response; He has providence.

         If we look back at our story from chapter 18, we see that the only reason Paul ended up staying with Aquila and Priscilla was because he was a tent-maker like them, and this relationship over a seemingly average role placed them right in the middle of a glorious adventure with God! Do we trust God enough to do average, unglamorous and seemingly unimpressive things?

         From an earthly perspective, we see Paul chased out from the Jews as he attempted to preach the message of Christ, but when we look with a kingdom vision we see that Paul was actually chased into a miraculous and eternal encounter that brought Crispus and so many others to the faith. Do we trust that God doesn’t waste our time nor our pain?

         I believe scripture shows us that the heroes were the ones who said yes to doing average things in extraordinary ways and teaches us that humility and bravery go hand in hand. Are we going to step up and be a Church who loves extravagantly amidst long carpool lines, exhausting lawn work and difficult day jobs? Because at the end of the day, the way we express love will reflect how much we trust our Father who commands us to do it. In what areas of your life do you tend to demand explanations or make excuses to serve in humble places or even lead in intimidating ones? How can you take steps to walk in a way that reflects your trust in God within these circumstances?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  // Micah 6:8

{ Smashing Our Idols } Acts 17

Day Three: But Some Joined & Believed…

Have you ever been talking to someone about faith and you could just tell they were not into the conversation…like at all? It’s not the best feeling. So often when our conversations about faith don’t go the way we plan, we can quickly jump into blaming ourselves or judging our audience. Neither of these responses are Biblical and neither of them reflect our identity in Christ. Paul actually guides us into a great response when saying, “On behalf of Jesus I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:5-6).

Many of us strongly feel as though the most pressing thing we must do as Christians is to prove our point, but even if our points are right and true and good, proving them is not nearly as pressing as practicing obedience to God. Paul, an incredible communicator, had people turn away from his messages; he even had people patronize him for his message (which in my opinion is worst than people just saying they hated it). We see this happen in Acts 17: 32-33 when it says, Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this”. So Paul went out from their midst.” That phrase, “We will hear you again about this” that was spoken to Paul, would be like someone interrupting your conversation about God and condescendingly saying, “Boy I’m exhausted, maybe you could tell me about it another time?”

 Like I said before, our typical responses to this probably consist of ugly judgment or self-depreciation, but when we make obedience to God our goal we will always come out victorious no matter what the world says of us. For Paul, instead of throwing a pity party for himself, he just “…went out from their midst”. So often we don’t see the victory until we’ve taken a few steps away from our battlegrounds. You think it’s coincidence that we read about Paul’s troublesome encounter before we get to the revolutionary part of it? Acts17: 34 reads, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” The "some who joined and believed" were the people who ended up laying the foundations for the church in Athens.

Bob Goff once said, “The more we fill our lives with purpose, the less time we will spend looking for approval”, and I can’t help but wonder what in our lives would change if we embraced a life purposed towards obedience to our Father? Where in your life do you tend to be more concerned with outcomes than obedience and what would it look like for you to exchange your expectations for Godly devotion?

 

Day Two: Unknown Idols vs A Known God

 In Acts 17, as Paul and Silas continue on in their journeys, they encounter more victories and also more frustrations, but nonetheless they go forward. For many of us, “moving forward” is synonymous for moving up a ladder of social or economic standing; it means promotions, bigger houses, nicer things or larger platforms to stand on, but in scripture we see that moving forward is actually defined as going wherever God calls you next. How different would we view our lives if we lived out this notion?

For Paul and Silas, moving forward meant going to Athens; a place where everyone was infatuated with rich debate over philosophical matters; a place where the mind and all that it could imagine was worshipped. As Paul begins seeing their idols, he begins to speak more forwardly to them saying, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[ nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…

For the people of Athens, whether we’re talking about their gods made into statues or whether we’re talking about their gods of personal intellect and knowledge, one thing is characteristic of both; like any kind of idol, their gods were distant ones. Jeremiah 2:11 reads, “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.” When we allow idolatry to enter into our lives we trade in our glory (which is Christ) for things that are worthless and cheap in themselves, but also rob us of any good that we have.

The way in which Paul speaks to the Athenians is overwhelmingly beneficial to learn from because while Paul doesn’t cushion the reality of the Athenians' sins and the consequences of them, he also intentionally speaks these things in their own language. The manner in which he talks to them, the sources he quotes from, and the examples he uses all come from their own culture. How often are we so focused on getting our point across that we put all our efforts into getting out the message when we might very well be shouting it in a language that is incomprehensive to our audience? Now more than ever, like Paul, we as the Church must embrace the truth that to love others requires that we listen to and learn about them. It’s no secret that Jesus valued truly getting to know others, be it Christians or not. This week take time to reflect on who your audiences are in your life (like children, spouses, roommates, friends, co-workers, etc.) and ask God to give you insight on how you can better speak their language.

 

Day One: Embracing the Change

 Have you ever been called out when you were clearly in the wrong? Even when done so in a loving way (like Paul did in Acts 17) the process is still not fun for either party and requires a humble spirit to be both given and received well. Many of us have been in the shoes of Paul and Silas, as we have had to courageously and graciously speak the truth to others who are walking in sin, but I guarantee that all of us have been in those of the Jews we read about here; responding with hostility and anger when we ourselves have been approached with the truth.

When Paul and Silas are sharing the gospel, the Jews can’t even hear it because they are so overwhelmed with jealousy as it reads in Acts 17:5-6, ”But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also...” When we are approached with the truth we can either receive it with humility, trusting that whatever changes need to be made in our hearts and lives will be ones that will ultimately makes us freer and closer to God OR we can respond like the Jews, plugging our ears and blocking our hearts with our idolatry. 

The Jews weren’t entirely wrong here though…the truth does indeed turn our worlds upside down, leaving them transformed in ways we could never imagine. When we are encountered by truth, whether we push it aside or fully embrace it, we are no longer the same person we were prior to this revelation. Regardless of our response, our worlds begin to change, but how we respond will determine the quality of this change. A perfect example of this can be seen more tangibly in the play “Les Miserables” among the characters Jean Valjean and Javert. While Valjean’s response to truth produces an abundance of life, Javert’s response only reaps death. (If you haven’t seen or read this play, do yourself a favor and do so ASAP!)

Embracing truth is not always easy, especially because it is always requires admitting where we were wrong, but as Christians we are called to live this life of embracement because we believe that embracing His truth is what makes us truly free. Do you reflect a heart that seeks truth over one that resents its’ implications and where are the places or perhaps people with whom you need to practice humility with more when it comes to receiving truth?

Deuteronomy 30:19-20, “ I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…”

 

 

{ Stories Of Gratitude }

This past Sunday many of us witnessed the glorifying and humbling memorial and celebration of Buddy Hoffman's life, and this week we will continue to honor Buddy Hoffman through the sharing of our stories. Your Grace New Hope family has courageously poured out pieces of their heart and the ways in which Buddy has drastically impacted them through several letters. My encouragement to you as we read these this week is to reflect on the scriptures and remember ,through these stories, what it means to truly seek first the kingdom of God. Buddy's life here on earth was a living testament that practicing obedience to the Lord in the small things turns out to actually be a really big thing in the end. 

 

Day Two: Lisa Newberry // Read Joshua 1:9 & 2 Corinthians 5:1-8

                     Dear Buddy,

In 2001, I was very unsettled after the death of my Dad, feeling orphaned and forsaken, fearful about the future. During a Mother's Day sermon, God spoke to me loud and clear: first, he confirmed His promise that He will never leave me or forsake me; then he used Zechariah 4:7 to alert my attention to grace. "What are you, Oh great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain and he will bring forth the top stone with the shouts of 'GRACE, GRACE to it!'"

Oddly enough, the chants of "GRACE" made me sense a drawing of our hearts to Grace Fellowship as our church home! We started attending on alternating Sundays with our other church of 12 years. During that period of time, 9/11 happened. Like everyone, I desperately needed to hear relevant truth and I knew that you would not be afraid to address the event in church.  You spoke the words that brought everything into perspective when you said, "Muslims aren't the enemy, they are the prize!" I knew you were right and I wanted in on the adventure of seeing how God would allow us to spread that truth! That's when Grace Fellowship became our home. 

Listening to the teaching and following your lead, slowly I began to understand something of the sovereignty of God and that living a life for God isn't always "safe". God is glorified in our obedience, no matter the outcome.  That became especially evident after the death of TJ Lathe. When Keli DeWitt was attacked, it was brought home again. If we are truly going to live a life pleasing to God, then our self-preservation can never be the priority. 

I remember coming outside after having spent the night in ICU with Christy Cabrera. I was reeling in grief for my brother who had just died from lung cancer, and being in the presence of death again with Christy was almost too much! You and Danny Spinks were standing in the parking lot talking about the misery people go through to prolong their life. You said "Not me!" and proceeded to say how you'd face death straight on. Hearing you talk about the unknown without fear gave me courage and bolstered my faith so much so that I wasn't afraid when I got the opportunity to step into the unknown by taking two of my daughters to visit the DeWitts in Jordan! (I knew how much you loved the Middle East and couldn't help but picture you hanging out with the Bedouins drinking tea in Petra!) 

I came to Grace feeling orphaned, forsaken and afraid of the future. Today I feel so incredibly grateful for my Grace family! This church has been a place to raise our girls amongst authentic God-centered Jesus followers. I have been stretched to be  part of things that are bigger than what I can do on my own. I've learned more by volunteering than I ever thought possible. We haven't side-stepped the hard things in life, but we've been supported through them and encouraged to see challenges as exciting opportunities to advance the Kingdom. My life will never be the same! My family lives under the blessing of your fearless obedience, Buddy.

Thank you! I love you. Lisa

 

Day One: Stephanie Gilbert // Read Psalm 94:16-19 & Isaiah 61:7

I know there are thousands and thousands of stories out there of how Buddy impacted lives. I have enjoyed reading so many of them on Facebook over the last few weeks. Randy sent out an email to the New Hope congregation letting all of us know that today would be Buddy Sunday and that if we wanted to share something about Buddy to let him know. I have journeyed and struggled with depression and anxiety for a long, long, time. My struggle reached a tipping point almost three years ago. Shortly after my third child was born, I spiraled deep into the pits. I couldn't function. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t care for myself or my children. The lies and thoughts that would race through my head were deafening.

The only way I could escape all the noise was to sleep, and so that is what I did, day after day. I would sleep, and cry and plead with God to make it all go away. April 9, 2014 I decided that I was a waste of a person and nothing but a burden to my kids and husband. I found some leftover prescription medication in our cabinets, downed a bunch and went back to lay down, hoping that I would wake up in heaven. Long story short, I ended up in the ER that day, surrounded by all of our Grace small group family. The whole day was pretty much a blur, but I remember George asking if I would like for him to call the church and have someone from the Pastoral Team come by? I said yes, and he stepped out of the room to make the call. 

I didn’t know who the church would send, but I certainly knew it wouldn’t be Buddy. Buddy had made it no secret that he was not one of those Pastors that did a lot of “hospital visits”. That he did not possess the best qualities for that part of the job....that other Pastors on staff at Grace handled this kind of stuff better. But who walked through those doors??? Buddy Hoffman!! I was shocked!! Now let me remind you, the lies and thoughts of....I was just a worthless human being, were still very much loud and proud. So to then see Buddy Hoffman standing next to my hospital bed was quite perplexing. He came up to me and wrapped his arms around me and gave me the biggest hug. He then ordered everyone out of the room, in a way that only Buddy could do. My friend Julie says...”Buddy spoke and told us to get out and we all scattered like cockroaches.”

He pulled a chair up next to the bed and we talked. He was real, and raw, very straight forward, and at the same time, loving and empathetic. The perfect balance between grace and truth. He told me not to let any one convince me that this is a spiritual failure, because that could not be further from the truth. He told me to do exactly what the doctors said to do. He also talked a little bit about his experience in the hospital after his dissection. He said there are times that other people just don’t understand what is going on or what you are going through. He said that He loved me and that I was going to get through this. He told me and my husband to keep him informed and to call him if we needed him. He then prayed over us and was off. I wish I could say that that was the miraculous end of my struggles with depression, but it wasn’t. I was hospitalized two more times and Buddy was an integral part of my life through those two times as well. Right before my third hospitalization, my husband called and left a message on Buddy’s voice mail. He asked Buddy to pray for us because I was “spiraling down” again and he was going to take me back up to Peachford for an In-Patient Evaluation. A few minutes later my phone rang and I could see that it was Buddy calling. I didn’t answer it. I let it go to voice mail. I was such a mess that I couldn't even put two words together. He ended up leaving a message. It was simple. He said, “Stephanie, I’m praying for you, you're going to get through this, I love you.” I saved that message for years. When I was having a difficult day, I would pull it up and play it back. Every time I would see him on Sunday mornings, he would ask how I was doing, and then he would say, no, really, how are you???

As, I have worked through recovery, I am so thankful to have had him in my life. He never once threw preachy spiritual lingo at me, he never tried to “fix” me. He knew that Jesus is the ultimate source for healing and that he just needs to BE there, BE loving, BE real, BE Jesus. I have gone back and forth this week about whether or not I wanted to get up here and tell my Buddy story. I have thought... you are so inadequate to get up and speak about such a great man like Buddy....and....your Buddy story is just dumb and and minuscule in comparison to some of the other great things he was a part of. It really boiled down to fear....fear of judgement and rejection. But when I stop and think of Buddy, I think....He didn’t reject me or judge me or think I was stupid, nor was he afraid of what others thought. Now who does that sound like???? none other than our Savior...Buddy’s Savior...Jesus.

That is what attracted my family to Grace and to Buddy......and through Buddy...... what attracted and brought so many people to Jesus. The Bible tells us that we will have trials and tribulations. Buddy was no exception...nor was I....nor anyone else in this room......but through it all he continued to reflect Christ’s love and grace and truth, to me, and I know to a lot of you as well. I will be forever grateful for the role that Buddy played in my life. As any true disciple of Christ, Buddy would want disciples of Christ to rise up. I pray that I can continue proclaiming the good news and demonstrating His grace and love just as Buddy did for me.

{ United By Grace } Acts 15

 

 

 

 

Day Three: Leaders Who “Lose It”

Many times in the New Testament we are told to live open handed with our lives; to not idolize or cling to earthly securities, yet when given to us, we can so easily begin to clench our fists around these things until our hands (and heart) go numb. Acts 15 brings up two heroes, Judas and Silas, who were described as “leading men among the brothers”. On Sunday we were told that leaders go first and give more. Judas and Silas were two men who did just that, risking their lives for the gospel and speaking encouragement to strengthen the body of believers. Mark 8:35 tells us, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it”, and this is a quality we often miss in leadership. Given what scripture says about leadership, it’s ironic but so true that many leaders today grow in entitlement instead of servanthood, keep more than they give, and pass on their work to others. Judas and Silas were leaders who laid down their lives for Christ, gave to others when they could’ve probably used some receiving themselves, and went first to new places to share the gospel. The purpose of living out the kind of leadership God calls us to is not to “toughen us up”, to make us suffer for suffering’s sake nor to put ourselves on some platform, rather it is yet another glorious and mysterious way in which Christ Himself is revealed to the world.

Philippians 2 explains this perfectly as it reads, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We all are leaders in some way or another; be it to students, co-workers, friends, or family, we all have been given a place to stand firm with hands open to whatever it is God wills for us to receive and give. Where are the places God has called you to lead, and how can you refine your leadership to become less about elevating yourself and more about glorifying Christ? Let’s be the kind of people who use our leadership to invest in the eternal things.

Day Two: Truth Without Troubling

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own church styles, family traditions, and cultural norms, that we begin blending these characteristics with the standards God calls us to, thereby condemning others for not living up to them. When Jesus preaches His sermon in Matthew 5, something significant happens. Jesus brings up some of the old commandments and reminds us that because of His sacrifice through grace, the law is fulfilled but the standard has changed. He refers to hatred as murder and lust as adultery, revealing that though we are no longer “captive to the law”, we now “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old written code” we once had served in before (Romans 7:6). This new standard of living according to the Gospel comes with a much higher calling than before but an even more extensive grace.

In His sermon, Jesus is outlining these new commandments and tells us, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Some of us may cringe upon reading these words as we recall the painful times in which we experienced how this was carried out in harmful and over-the-top manners; others of us may get a little puffed up with pride as we inwardly gleam from our “incorruptible morality”. Either way, what we see is Jesus commanding us to take these laws very seriously, but for many of us, the execution of this can play out disastrously…kind of like it began to in Acts 15. On Day One we mentioned the argument that was brought up over circumcision. Well, after Paul and Barnabas preached about grace, James concluded by telling the assembly they shouldn’t “trouble the gentiles” (aka they don’t need to insist the gentiles be circumcised), rather they should be declaring truth about what it looks like to follow Christ under the new laws.

In short, James declared that truth trumps tradition because the grace of God is what truly enables us to be pure and holy. On Day One we sought out the places we may have been blending our own ideas of what it means to be a Christian with God’s standards. Looking at those areas in our lives, let’s ask the Lord what it would now look like for us to replace these false notions with His real truth. Instead of troubling others and even ourselves with the many expectations circulating in Christian culture, let’s pursue lives that are more concerned with following His laws, knowing that when we stumble we are caught by grace.

 

Day One: Grace + (nothing)

When we look at the discussion in Acts 15:1;11, it’s legalistic and judgmental nature can enable us to think we are far removed from those who deemed a physical mark requirement for salvation. What the Pharisees were declaring may seem so outdated and irrational to us, yet we do it all the time in our own ways. We preach salvation through our southern cultural norms, through whether or not they attend the “right” kind of church, through what they post on Facebook, and unfortunately the list goes on and on. Our behavior, the church we attend, and the way we represent ourselves publically matter, but they do not even come close to saving us.

Most of us possess certain ideas regarding what makes someone an authentic Christian, and often times these ideas include grace plus other stuff we subconsciously and wrongly elevate. We carry these unbiblical lists in the back of our minds, and without knowing it we become like the Pharisees who “…put God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of others that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear…” In the midst of trying to live our lives in purity and holiness, we can forget grace and move from becoming lovers of the Lord to idolizers of our own image of Him. What are some of the things you’ve deemed “necessary” for salvation that aren’t actually described as that in scripture?

Paul and Barnabas make it clear that it is grace plus nothing else that saves us, and this grace is not one that we can extend but one only the Father can. His humbling grace unites us by reminding us we all fall short in many different ways, yet have been called up and seated in Heavenly places. Ephesians 1:7-10 tells us, “In him (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” His grace is enough and it calls us to Him, and as we draw closer to Him we find that we have, in return, been drawn closer to one another too.  

 

Acts 14 { Unstoppable }

 

 

Day Three: Fruitfulness from Failure

 

Look: Read Acts 14:21-22 & 27, Hebrews 12:1-2

 

Understand: Have you ever gone into a situation thinking you had no expectations and were just obediently going with God’s flow, only to get splashed with the reality that you actually had a lot of assumptions and expectations you were kind of banking on to happen? I wonder if Paul ever felt this…I mean, here he is preaching and then suddenly the people totally take his message the wrong way so he has to try and correct them (which didn’t really work well), and then to add to that, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium convince the crowds to stone him! Paul could have expected at least some people to get his message, or could have safely assumed they wouldn’t go from praising him to trying to kill him, yet here we find Paul rejected by the crowds and beaten to near death outside the city limits. Have you ever found yourself in a place like this; trying to obey God but then failure happens, leaving you feeling dead and cast out from the very place God led you to? On Sunday we were reminded that resistance willcome with persistence, so why do we often raise questions against God when this resistance arises? Maybe our pride was crushed in front of the very person or people we wanted to appear perfect to, maybe our faith is so small that a bump in the road feels like a mountain blocking our path, or maybe if we’re being honest, our spirit is whispering behind self-righteous walls, “I didn’t sign up for this”. No matter the disposition our hearts may be in when faced with opposition, we can see from Paul’s heroic and remarkable example here that failure in itself is not a slammed door, rather an open door we wouldn’t have chosen to walk through but were called to nonetheless. So what does Paul do? He answers the question failure asks- “Will you get back up?” Paul goes back to Lystra and we witness the truth that disciples were made, souls were strengthened and encouraged and Paul was able to even more boldly proclaim to them, “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”. 

 

Grow: Sometimes the hardest part of being faithful is choosing to get back up; to acknowledge that we’ve been knocked down and to trust in the one who calls us to rise onto our feet again. Like Paul walking back into Lystra, we too as Christians will be called at times to enter back into places that bring up momentary failures and pain, because God wasn’t done there yet. Not with you and not with them. What were or are some of these places for you? Maybe it’s a physical place like it was for Paul or perhaps it’s something more abstract like a topic in conversation or a circumstance from your life you can speak into for others. Paul did not waste his pain- he used it to glorify God all the more, whether it was from his past before Christ or his present sufferings. Let’s be a church that doesn’t waste our pain, but relinquishes it to God for restoration and redemption. No matter the struggles that come about in our lives, we too can echo Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

Day Two: Hidden In Christ 

Look: Read Acts 14:15, Colossians 3:1-4, Psalms 115

Understand: Francis Chan says, “The point of your life is to point to Him”, and this brings us to the response of Paul and Barnabas. Their response to the crowd’s misdirected praise was to humble themselves before them by reminding the crowds that they are all mere mortals, to call out the objects of their praise for what they really were (“vain things”), and finally to redirect them to God. This is not our natural instinct though. We are creatures that crave credit whether it be in a public or private way, because we all can fall into complete selfishness when operating on our own strength. Paul especially knew what it was like to have credit from the crowds since that was what fueled so much of his lifestyle and career before he encountered Christ. He also came to know that this credit was absolutely worthless in light of glorifying and keeping close to Christ. Later in Philippians 3 he put this into words when saying, But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”. In a world full of self-promotion and praise, the Church is called to be those who put others before themselves, and mostly Christ above everything else.  Will we choose to live up to living lowly?

 

Grow: Listen to the following song and afterwards reflect on the things you may wrestle with trying to take personal credit for, or even more…. from whom you desire to receive credit from. Let’s be the kind of people whose actions and words proclaim the truth that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God”; the One to whom all credit is due.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqa8O1ktxk8

 

Day One: Bad Credit

 

 Look: Acts 14:9-11, James 1:17

Understand: In his book titled Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote, “I inquired what wickedness is, and I didn't find a substance, but a perversity of will twisted away from the highest substance – You oh God – towards inferior things…”. On Sunday we read the story in Acts 14 regarding a man who had been healed by God through Paul and Barnabas. What then happens is something we might unrealistically distance ourselves too far from. The crowds who saw this began praising and attributing Paul and Barnabas to their own form of gods, and while we will eventually talk about what Paul and Barnabas’s response is, I want us to sit with the crowd for a moment. At the core, these were people worshipping their world’s modern idols, and attributing good things in life to them. I think we can relate sometimes. We subconsciously praise our boss for giving us a raise that enables us to buy more “happiness”,  we praise a person for “saving us” from singleness, we praise clothes, gyms and makeup for “rescuing us from low self esteem- we praise all these worldly things around us and miss out on the real miracles God is trying to show us. The point of miracles is always first and foremost to reveal God, not to fix a bone or heal a sick person, but like the crowds, we too can get caught up in the material aspect of something and be blind to the revelation of God Himself.

Grow: What are some things you are most thankful for? It’s not wrong to be thankful for music, family, a church, freedom, etc. unless these things are your primary source of pleasure and unless you neglect to acknowledge that it is God who always gives ANY and EVERY good thing. What are some people or things you’ve been giving false credit to? Let’s choose to be overwhelmingly thankful people who notice even the smallest of gifts, and let’s allow that to thereby make us the most glory-giving ones too. 

{ & The Darkness Does Not Overcome It }

Day Three: Acknowledging Heals Blindness

Look: Read Acts 13:6-10, Proverbs 19:26, Proverbs 3:6

Understand: I’ve found that most of the time, evil isn’t upfront. It’s deceptive by nature and so it creeps it’s way in little by little into the dark corners of our hearts we often overlook; in the places it can fester and mold. The deceptiveness of evil doesn’t usually take truth and attempt to shatter it into a million pieces before our very eyes; it twists and distorts it- it makes it crooked. For example, when we think of love, we often assume its evil opposite is hatred, but why would the enemy initially tempt us with hatred since hating others isn’t popular or laudable in our society? So what do you get when you twist love? You get lust, which is very socially acceptable to the point that we have created multi-billion dollar industries from it. This perhaps helps explain the passion behind Paul’s words when he rebukes the magician proclaiming, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” War is waged when truth is twisted, and many times this occurs in the places we least expect it; in the places we don’t find it necessary to rely on God. Like we discussed the other day, these overlooked places or communities where we take off the armor of the Lord make us vulnerable to many things; one major one being spiritual blindness. On Sunday we learned that spiritual battles happen where there is spiritual blindness. When our vision becomes foggy, we start missing the twisting of truth and become numb to many of its effects until way later. We aren’t perfect though, and even in our best battles we falter, which is why the psalmist reminds us of the rich truth that when we acknowledge God in all that we do (when we put on the armor of God), He will make straight even the crooked things that cannot be seen.

 Grow: Where are some places or what groups of people do you forget to acknowledge God in? Maybe it’s within your own family, your inner circle of friends, your busy day job or exhausting night shift. No matter the place or people, let’s choose to seek the Lord and put on His armor, which not only make us bold and brave, but also casts out evil’s blindness. Where and how will you acknowledge Him? 

 

Day Two: Not Against Flesh & Blood

Look: Read Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 Peter 2:1-5

Understand: What does it mean to put on the armor of God? To put on the armor of God is a lot more simple than we might imagine but also much more difficult than we’d anticipate. The simplicity rests in the fact that we are not called to fashion together or provide the armor of God; we are just called to receive it. The difficulty is found in the simplicity though, because armor takes more time and persistence to put on than most other articles of clothing, and in challenging circumstances it can be much more tempting to put on the garments of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and self-provision than the full the armor of God. To put on the armor is to take off our tattered lies, which makes us vulnerable to attacks from both ourselves and other sources. We read in verse ten just now that God is asking us to out on the WHOLE armor, not just the pieces that fit more naturally or the ones that slide on easier- He tells us we need the WHOLE thing. To put on the armor of God we must put the word of God in our hearts. Most of the time it’s not the overwhelming attacks of the enemy, but rather our lack of belief in the truth, that wage the fiercest wars within us. In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes in part from the point of view of a demon who says, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” 

Grow: Maybe you don’t feel like you’re being attacked or maybe you feel like David in the desert when his enemies surrounded him on all sides, no matter what, we as a Church must always actively be putting on the full armor of God each day- from the moment we rise to the moment we rest. Oftentimes, we cannot anticipate the spiritual battles that will come our way. We can however be prepared for them because we are promised in Ephesians 6 that this armor will enable us to stand firm against any evil. Instead of focusing on a battle plan, let’s put on the armor of God, which makes us invincible to our battles. Wash yourself in the word, pray without ceasing and go out boldly into each day knowing you are fully covered. 

 

Day One: Catch Up & Reflect

Look: Read John 1:5, 1 John 4:4, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Pslams 91:1-4

Understand/Grow: As we dive into a seemingly heavier topic this week, take time to refresh yourself with scripture about who God is in the midst of our battles and in the presence of our enemies, and listen back to pieces of (or catch up on) the sermon from yesterday: https://gracecloud.gfc.tv/gracecloud/assets/1/4089B7EDA058419DADC0ABBAB3272947/aud/CA2CED9BA02345C485E5ECBD81ADF471/2017.1.29.m4a

Let’s go into this discussion by first reminding ourselves of the nature and character of the God whom we serve.

Acts 13 cont. {What Matters Most}

 Day Three: Comfortable or Safe?

Look: Read Psalms 119:113-117, Proverbs 29:25, Psalms 56:4

Understand: On Sunday we discussed how the safest place for us to be is in the center of God’s will, and the week before we learned that if we desire the Lord’s will, surely we cannot miss it. Paul and Barnabas and so many of the apostles we’ve read about in Acts were very much so in the middle of the Lord’s will, yet they didn’t all live out (what many of us would consider) the safest lives. What does it really mean to be safe? Does it mean never needing anything? Does it mean never being put in chaotic circumstances or always having an escape route for every problem? I think much of our culture uses the term “safe” synonymously with temporary physical comforts and protection, but this is not the kind of safety the scriptures promise us. If we want to understand what it means to truly be safe, we must ask the question, “What does it truly mean to be in danger?” To be in danger is to be cut off or separated from God, and if this is true danger then perhaps we can understand how swords and stones were not as terrorizing to the apostles as they would be to many others. You see, to be safe is to be near the Father, and because of this we believe that actively being in the place God has positioned us, is in fact the safest place for us to be in. This is why the psalmist tells us of the safety we can find in studying and obeying the word of God, that trusting in God is the safest thing we could ever do, that fear itself is far more dangerous than any object of our fear and finally, why he begs the question, “What can flesh do to me?”    

 Grow: Some of the fears we have are truly frightening, and when we isolate our fears from God, they become even more so. Alexander MacLaren once said, "Only he who can say, "The Lord is the strength of my life" can say, "Of whom shall I be afraid?" What are some real fears, however big or small, that you currently have? Whenever you encounter them, even in thought, instead of trying to push them down or distract yourself from them, make it a point to bring them to the Lord. Tell your fears whom you worship and who is on your side, and choose thankfulness over terror because we have been promised the greatest of safeties.     

 

Day Two: A Fixed Gaze And Zoned Out Stare

Look: Read Acts 13:48-49, Matthew 16:19, Hebrews 12:26-29 

Understand: It’s easy to focus on the good in almost everyone else’s story but our own isn’t it? Think about what we’ve been reading through in Acts. This is a story full of horrific murders, injustice snapping at the heels of the innocent and persecution that sent many fleeing for their very own lives, yet when we hear the title “Acts” we think of the vibrantly fervent early Church and the heroes like Paul and Barnabas who played such an incredible role in it! It may be easier to see the big picture when we’re not the ones in it, but likewise we miss out on the intimate details that only the ones living it will ever know. I often wonder what I would think of my life if I were merely reading about it in a story instead of living it myself. While we have the privilege of hearing the intimate whispers of the Father in our daily coming in and going out, we can sometimes misperceive these pieces (be it the good or bad) for the whole of our lives. This is why a bad day can cause people to feel like they have a bad life, why an insult can send us questioning our very identity and why a season of hardship can trick us into believing we’re stuck serving a life sentence of misery. Like Paul and Barnabas (well…not exactly like them) we too have inexplicably difficult times in our lives, but we also- by the grace of God, have a hope and a future. Paul and Barnabas knew the details mattered, but they also knew how to step back and look at their life through the eyes of God instead of just through the context of that day. They knew they were living in the here and now but also in the not yet. They knew they were living on an eternal timeline (talk about an oxymoron!). Their lives remind us that though the enemy may shake you till you feel lifeless or barren, the good and true things cannot be shaken off and never will be. 

Grow: No matter how well we follow the rules or how often we attend church, when we lose sight of the reality of eternity, it will slowly take us into a joyless and hopeless journey away from the heart of God. As we obsess over the temporary pains and discomforts, our fixed and focused gaze on the true Father becomes a zoned out stare at some blurry religious icon. One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, once wrote “This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there's this deepening awareness that I am filling, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity.” Amidst the sea of articles fueled with hate, videos intended to mock or degrade others, and social media posts that spit out opinions carelessly, now more than ever I think it’s justified to say that as a nation we are unhealthily more focused on the temporary over the reality of the eternal Kingdom of God that is at hand. What would it look like for us as individuals to live our lives going through the details but to also step back to seek the perspective of the Father?  

 

Day One: Chasing Stories

Look: Read Matthew 25:14-23, Proverbs 8:32-34, Isaiah 55:8-9

Understand: As we read through the incredible stories that tell us about what God was doing through Paul and Barnabas and the early Church as a whole, it can be tempting to crave those big moments like the ones we see here in Acts and completely belittle the seemingly mundane tasks we are called to carry out. I mean really, how important is it that we show patience when people are late to work, practice self-control when we want to lash out on Facebook, or respond in love instead of anger to our peers? Does it matter that we put away all the laundry, fixed that drippy faucet we were asked to, or grade all those papers on time? Sometimes instead of seeing the heart of God in those big stories, we start to compare and question what the purpose of all our "less important" day-to-day things is. We sit around waiting to prove our faithfulness to God, when in reality the biggest and perhaps most challenging call within the Christian life is the one we are called to do daily. On Sunday we talked about how each one of us is given (not randomly allotted) a certain life to live out, and to do the simple things well is perhaps the biggest threat we could wage against the enemy. After all, Paul was a tent-maker and Jesus a carpenter. Instead of seeking out moments of significance, practice faithfulness. When we do this each day, moment by moment, we will soon see it collectively as the most significant thing we could ever do with our lives.

Grow: We’ve all done it before; gotten caught up in coveting over some job or role we find more important than the one we’ve been placed in by God. It’s so easy to hear the stories- be it ones from Paul and Barnabas or ones from your pastor or best friends, about all the amazing and profound things they’re doing. Meanwhile, you’re filing papers, running errands, or clocking in and out of a job you pray is temporary, and constantly asking God when your big moment will be. Take it from the stories of those who’ve chased and chased and chased what they thought was going to give them significance- it never is what they imagined. In fact, it’s always painfully disappointing. Instead of putting all of our energy in the hypotheticals and the elsewheres, let’s say yes to dedicating the small things to the God who manifests and gives significance to the places and tasks we often try to push through and overlook. It’s no accident that God’s gaze tends to fall in places we never even thought caught His eye.