Christian Devotions

Posts tagged ‘Paul’

Focus on Building

I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. ~~ Philipians 4:2-9 (KJV)

There was division and dissension in the church at Philipi when Paul wrote this letter. Two of the ladies (I can see them now), probably strong-minded and willful, had disagreed on some point. The rift grew between them and started to fracture the congregation.

That happens when people focus on the differences between them and on the ugliness each of us shows.

But Paul is telling them to focus on the good things. Our minds naturally dwell upon the things that are important to us. But the reverse is also true. We begin to become the things we let our mind dwell upon.

My friend and I meet weekly, to visit, to encourage one another, to talk about the Lord, to pray together. We do not always agree. She sees things from one perspective. I see them from another. But we do not argue. She allows me my focus, and I respect hers. Frequently we edify one another because between the two of us, we have a binocular vision of what the Lord is doing in our lives.

When she is in the middle of a crisis, she doesn’t see the hand of the Lord working because of the stress of the crisis. I can see through her crisis to a plan that the Lord might have for her. The reverse is also true. When I’m in crisis, I see mostly the crisis, not the eternal perspective. She helps me put a different spin on the matter.

Frequently we agree to disagree – that is to hold different opinions of a matter. We are both aware that our opinions are not God’s law – they are merely personal interpretations of the facts. Both of us are old enough and wise enough to know that we are not the ultimate authority.

So she thinks about the things in me that are good. And I think about her good points as well. We are, in the best sense, sisters in Christ.

But if we each focused on the short-comings of the other, we would never have become friends. I have way too many faults. And even she has her share. I recognize her failings, much as I recognize my own. But I don’t labor the point either with her or myself.

Together, we have become better people, with fewer faults than we each had at the outset. Focusing on the good, the true, the praise-worthy, we have gained some of those virtues. I sincerely hope we can gain more of these virtues to swallow up our remaining faults.

Father, God,

Thank You for putting Your church together with diverse people. Help us to see the good in all the members of Your body. Keep us focused on building one another up so that the church is strengthened.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

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Love Is the Key

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 

~~ I Corinthians 13:1-13 (KJV)

Love is the key to the Christian life. But I think, sometimes, we miss the mark on our definition of love. While this chapter is frequently read at weddings, I believe it has less to do with weddings than the everyday relationships between friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

Jesus said the first commandment was to love the Lord. But what kind of love is this? It certainly isn’t the same kind of physical desire and emotion that men and women sometimes feel for one another. It is, in fact, not a “feeling” so much as a decision and commitment. You seek the Lord and His will for your life, so that what you do pleases Him. It is His approval that you are wanting. His “well done, good and faithful servant” is your goal.

We love the Lord by loving what He created. This kind of love is committed to the well-being of the other. We are to work for the benefit of the Lord’s creation. Since man was created in the image of God, when we look at another person, we should strive to see the mark of God on him or her. It is that essence of the divine in each person that we respect and admire.

The qualities of love in Paul’s list spring from the recognition of God’s image in man. We have no clear picture of God except what of God is reflected in man. In eternity, we shall see Him face to face – no veil, no shadow, no dim mirror.

Father, God,

Prepare us to see You face to face. Create in us Your love for all mankind. Help us to hear as You hear, see as You see, and feel as You feel.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen

Firm in Faith

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;

And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

And did all eat the same spiritual meat;

And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.

Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear i t. ~~ I Corinthians 10:1-13   (KJV)

My grandmother used to say “He who will not learn from history is condemned to repeat it.” Our culture today seems to be dedicated to chasing the new and not regarding the past at all. In our schools, history is no longer taught the way we were taught half a century ago. Our children may have to repeat history because we are not teaching them correctly.

In this passage, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth. Corinth was a notoriously wicked place in its day. Believers were in danger of yielding to the current culture rather than standing firm in their beliefs.

So Paul takes them back to the wandering in the desert with Moses as their leader. The fact that they were following Moses didn’t save many of them from the consequences of their own actions. When they grumbled against God and Moses, they were bitten by snakes. But God made a way out for them with the bronze snake.

Notice that the way out requires obedience. When they look upon the bronze snake – when they do what the Lord says – then they are cured.

You see, looking to the Lord is the answer to any problem. When we are in a quandary, the answer is before us if we take the time to focus on the principles of God. When we focus on the problem, it seems insurmountable. When we look at God, the problem fades into perspective as the small matter that it is.

We need not repeat history. We can learn from it. But we must be reading the correct history text. The Bible is the history of mankind on a spiritual plane. That is the territory we must cover when we learn from history.

Father, God,

Teach us to look to You as the source of all wisdom and knowledge. Grant that we may never be so taken with our own intellect that we are beyond teaching. Give us a humility of spirit that we may be forever your students and disciples.

In Jesus’ most precious name.

Amen.

First published 1 December 2009 on Garment of Praise

Loving Paternal Advice

Read I Timothy Chapter 6

Here we have a father-figure, Paul, speaking to someone he loves as a son. The letter covers the gamut of Christian conduct and church structure. It contains encouragements and admonitions from Paul to Timothy.

I am sure that Timothy treasured this letter, read and re-read it over and over. And he probably shared it with the churches he was planting.

But I want to focus on the last two verses.

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.   ~~ 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (KJV)

When Paul says “keep that which is committed to thy trust,” he is talking about the gospel, the good news of Christ’s redemption of sinful man. Earlier in this letter, Paul has talked about himself as the worst of sinners, recalling how he once persecuted the church.

This good news that Christ can change the vilest sinner into the serving saint will change our lives, if we but hear and believe. What we believe shapes our actions, and our actions shape our lives.

Paul admonishes Timothy to “avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” We have a lot of that going on in our lives right now. We have scientific theory being taught in our schools as if it were proven fact when it is in direct opposition to the Word of God.

There is an arrogance in the intellect that wants to believe that we can “know it all,” that we can wrap our puny finite minds around the knowledge and purposes of an infinite God. That’s never going to happen.

Paul’s concluding remark is “Grace be with you.” Grace, God’s endless mercy, God’s righteousness at Christ’s expense. Grace, you were bought with a price. You are not your own.

Father, God,

Help us to be faithful to Your word at all times. Keep us from wandering into endless philosophies and arguments about the faith. Remind us that Your word is the final word on everything.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

First published 17 December 2009 on Garment of Praise

Purpose

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;

Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:

Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.

And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.  ~~ 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15  (KJV)

In Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, he warned them against idleness. What he referred to was the idleness of not earning your way in the world. Not doing the work of the Lord with the purpose He had in mind for your life.

He points to himself as the example of working while teaching. This was not because his teaching was not worthy of payment, but because he wanted to show them the industriousness that needs to accompany the teacher. It is not enough to sit idly by and just think in an ivory tower. One needs to have the experience of the work at hand to base one’s theories upon.

I don’t believe it is any accident that this warning immediately follows Paul’s dissertation on the second coming of Christ. Early church fathers knew and accepted the principle that our time is short (in light of eternity) and that we must be busy about the Lord’s work.

The book of Proverbs was well known in Paul’s time. I memorized Proverbs 29:18 in the KJV when I was a child.

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Sometimes it is a struggle to see the vision God has for your life. When the world seems to cave in upon you, when everything you thought you had is ripped away, when tragedy and destruction mark your path, you have great difficulty seeing a vision of your purpose in God’s world.Those minutes and hours, once spent, are irredeemable.

Our purpose is to serve the Lord and His church. For that we need all the time eternity can offer.

Father, God,

Teach us to number our days so that we may give a good account of them when Your Son returns. Grant that we may be useful in Your kingdom. Help us to see the vision You have for our lives.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

Almost Is Not Good Enough

23 And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought forth.

24 And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer.

25 But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him.

26 Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write.

27 For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.

26 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:

2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:

3 Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.

4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;

5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers:

7 Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.

8 Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?

9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.

11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,

13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.

14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.

16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,

18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:

20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.

22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:

23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.

24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.

26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.

28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.

~~  Acts 25:23-26:29  (KJV)

Paul tells his story time and again. In fact, from the testimony in his trials, we should be able to assume that this is the message he preaches when he talks to the people. Conversion after conversion follows Paul in all his travels.

But in Jerusalem, he is prosecuted as a trouble maker. He stands trial three time, before Felix, before Agrippa, and before Festus. Each time he tells the same story of his life as a Pharisee, his encounter on the road to Damascus, and his life after his encounter with Jesus.

In fact, Agrippa is so moved by his testimony that he says he is almost persuaded (KJV) to become as Paul is.

Paul’s reason for appealing to Rome for his trial is not told here, but it would seem reasonable that he was playing for time, more opportunities to speak his piece in front of gentiles. At least that is the effect it had.

But what has this to do with us? Today there are people with a nebulous sense of God. Many people pray in times of crisis. But whether we have had a dramatic encounter like Paul’s on the road to Damascus, or a simply a growing in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, some of us are not truly Christian.

We are almost persuaded by our intellect, but we have not made the commitment that Paul has made. We have not put telling the story of Jesus at the head of our to-do list each day. We are his witnesses in this world. Our need to defend our faith in Him should be the motivation for all we do and say.

We cannot be a sometimes Christian. We must not be a pseudo-Christian. We must be fully committed to Christ alone. Our fidelity to Him must be foremost in our lives.

Father, God,

Help us to put You first in our lives. Keep us from being distracted by this world. Grant that we may serve You completely, wholly committed to spreading the good news of Jesus and Your love for us.

In Jesus’ most precious name.
Amen.

First published 12 December 2009

Three Little Words

Titus 2:15    These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Paul is an uncompromising mentor. Here he tells Titus exactly what to do and gives him the power to do it in those three little words – with all authority.

But exactly where does that authority come from?  With Paul, it came from the authority of the apostles who lived and worked with Jesus. And it came from his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus.

We don’t have Paul here, except in print. We don’t have the first century apostles except in their writings. So if we want to speak and exhort and rebuke, our authority must come from the written word of God, the Bible.

All the credentials in the world, all the college degrees, all the certificates of completion from symposia and seminars and conferences are of no avail, if we do not speak with the authority of the written Word of God.

So let”s check up.  How much time do we spend in the Word?

Father, God,     

Strengthen our resolve to spend more time with you in quiet contemplation of your love letters to us. Grant that we may be a blessing to those in our sphere of influence. Set a guard on our hearts and tongues that nothing may be said or done that is not of you.

In Jesus’ most precious name. Amen.