Maturity is Expensive

Read:

“. . . he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, . . .” Acts 16:3


Reflect:

Maturity is expensive. It’s the bedrock of our ongoing kingdom experiences with others. The focus of true maturity is to anchor our affection for Him in the present reality of His rule. Our effectiveness to minster to others remains undeveloped until formed through the process of maturity. 


Circumcision is the marking of the flesh. It’s not what you might expect to read about for a morning devotional. Yet, there is in this verse an important lesson. 


It was Timothy’s mixed parentage that made Paul decide to circumcise Timothy before taking him along as a junior colleague. Timothy was a new Christian. Because he was the son of a Jewish mother, being uncircumcised made him an apostate Jew. If Paul wished to maintain his link with the synagogue, he could not be seen as part of any apostasy.


Paul was against the circumcision of Gentiles, especially since it was considered a condition for acceptance with God. Timothy’s situation was different, it was for the practical purpose of greater usefulness in the ministry of the gospel. Let us not miss the point. 


This act of marking the flesh was bringing all the activities of life and thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and suborning every other interest to the interest of the gospel. 


In our brokenness we have been identified with His death. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, we’ve been spiritually terrorized, we’ve been thrown down in trial and torture, murder, and mockery. Our lives are a constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus all the more evident.  


Our heart cries out, “It’s no longer I who live, and the life I live in the flesh, I live by the Son of God.”  We always bear the death of Jesus, that His life might spread to more and more people. While going through the worst, He gets the best of us, and others are reached for Christ. 


Respond:

Have you been crucified with Christ? 

One Cause

Read:

“Paul wanted to take this man to go with him; . . .” Acts 16:3


Reflect:

If Jesus were to have one cause for all He did, it wouldn’t be His success as a rabbi, or notoriety of His preaching, nor His own personal popularity. Jesus’ one cause, the one thing that motivated Him, was discipleship. So central was this cause to Jesus that it was His final call to us “to go and make disciples.” So vital was this cause that He passed it on as the central task of the church. 


The responsibility of the great commission given to the church is grounded on the authority of the risen Jesus, the supplier and sender of all who seek to implement the desires of Jesus and demonstrate His life to others.  


The full saving life of Christ is put on display through our confidence and obedience to all He calls us to do. We must refuse to redefine what He originally told us to do in order to fit within our paradigm of safety and human reasoning. We are not free to cherry pick our preference of the great commission. 


It’s easy for us to read the command to teach others to obey Jesus while overlooking the supernatural methods of healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing and casting out every kind of evil. We have to address the areas of our life which do not yet express God through deep prayer and stepping out in simple acts of trust, so that others everywhere will recognize King Jesus as the universal risen Lord and Savior. 


Paul had a plan to take Timothy with him, Timothy would learn the ways of Jesus in a real time, up close, one-on-one relationship with Paul. It’s the assignment of believers to disciple another. We should not expect people to know these things automatically. Becoming a disciple does not come naturally. It requires a new loyalty to a new ruler. It demands we acquire new habits. Discipleship is bringing another into the steady acclimation to the reign of God in their life. There’s only one question left to answer:


Respond:

Who are you discipling? 

WWPS?

Read:

". . . to the grace of the Lord." Acts 15:40


Reflect:

A brief stroll through any Christian bookstore, a scan of Christian television program guides and it’s easy to see the endless fascination of many believers with old covenant practices of feast, festivals, and rituals. Supposedly all done in the pursuit of obedience. One can only wonder what would Paul say (“WWPS”)?


He might remind us that our faith is not found in Old Testament practices, but in a person – the person of Jesus. In amazement, he would lament that if with Christ you've put all the pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? Do you really think the things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? All your festivals and feasts are just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. After all, what do you have that you haven't received? 


When we receive a gift, we express gratitude. Think of it, we have been given the utterly undeserved gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Through no merit of your effort, but by his mercy, you've been given a bona fide invitation to take part in the new covenant of the Spirit. 


The more we realize we've been given a gift we can never repay no matter how many feasts are reenacted, then the tenor of our life becomes one of joyful, humble thanksgiving. We simply rejoice in the gift. We understand to the very depths the theory of thanks. 


Paul could certainly quote chapter and verse of Isaiah 1:14 as God exasperatedly says "quit your worship charades, you've worn me out. I'm sick of your religion. When you put on your next performance, I'll be looking the other way." Stop seeking the substitutes of empty practices. Stop grandstanding trying to get attention from God and others. Do truth quietly and obediently.


Jesus acknowledged that everything was a gift from the Father’s hand. Jesus cried out, "How pleasing you are in my Father’s eyes when you have this attitude of being humble in spirit." That's the basic attitude for admission in the kingdom. 


Respond:

Think on these things. 


Fluctuations

Read:

". . . they separated from one another," Acts 15:39


Reflect:

Ministry between Paul and Barnabas had been good for a long time. Together they had faced great opposition. And now it was over between them.


One of the certainties of life is it fluctuates. There will be fluctuations, ins and outs, ups and downs, ebb and flow. There will be seasons of loneliness, eventually giving rise into connectivity, separation will be brought to an end with unity. There will be times we will be lied to by others, and we will have to know how to survive it and live through it. 


There will be dry seasons, as well as seasons of provision, seasons of barrenness, along with times of fruitfulness. In the moments when the floor drops out from under us, we will have to know how to draw sustenance from the memoirs of all the times God has been faithful to us. When our support systems in the present dissipate, our memory of God’s demonstration of provision will stabilize our heart to continue to trust Him. 


The principle of fluctuation is: for every open door there will be something in front of it, a storm, test, and trial of opposition. The challenge is to not let the fluctuations get the best of you. Don't allow yourself to slip into a state of depression over a temporary situation. 


Instead, stop, gather yourself, get clear in your thinking, let go of anything that’s hindering you from trusting God fully, and thank Him for all He's brought you through so far. When life fluctuates, you have to know how to keep the bubble in the middle. How, in uneven places, you have to know how to level up. After all, you have so many highs. In fact, more highs than lows. 


What we might not realize is faithfulness during times of fluctuations make us fit for the good fight. When life suddenly shifts on us, we must fight against stubbornness and selfishness. Get your eyes off of yourself, and remember your success is in the struggle. 


Respond:

Who can you help in their fluctuation? 


It Gets Worse

Read:

"And there occurred a sharp disagreement . . ." Acts 15:39


Reflect:

Spiritual growth is a messy process. Mishandling conflict creates confusion, hurt, it can prompt fear, anger. When handled redemptively, it can create love and trust. God is a good God and wants nothing more than to bring restoration into our brokenness. 


As we move toward wholeness, we will find our doubts, anger, and frustration intensify. Don't give up in your quest to be free of your hurts. Sometimes the more negative feelings that surface, the nearer we are to God. There are no tidy spiritual growth formulas. The truth is, it gets worse before it gets better. 


Don't let this defeat your hope. You are in good company. David, Jeremiah, Job, Habakkuk, were among the godliest people described in scripture. They suffered excruciating verbal, physical, and spiritual conflict. But they kept on walking with God. They pushed on towards intimacy with God. But their path led through deep struggle, they passed through a great furnace of doubts. It gets worse before it gets better. 


David, instead of withdrawing or quitting on God, lamented in Psalm 13:1-2, "long enough God you've ignored me, long enough I've looked at the back of your head, long enough. Long enough I've carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain. Take a good look at me God, I want to look life in the eye so that no matter can get the best of me."


These are some raw words David spoke to God. This passage has received little attention because it's shocking to see that such a godly man as David could have such dark feelings. Modern day Christianity has focused more on palpable feelings toward God, rather than becoming godly.


We set the stage for redemption by valuing our relationship with Him so much that we refuse to pretend everything is ok when it's not, we refuse to pretend, we trust Him when deep in our heart we don't, we refuse to pretend we are happy Christians, when we are deeply infuriated by His actions.


Respond:

Write a gut honest prayer to God, don't hold back, don't be polite. 

Jesus is our Strategy

Read:

"And there occurred a sharp disagreement . . ." Acts 15:39


Reflect:

The people in the Bible were real, there stories were unvarnished by fiction. No names were changed to protect the innocent. The quarrel between Paul and Barnabas was no different. In fact, the Bible doesn't gloss over the conflict between these two friends and fellow ministers.


In this story of Godly people having a disagreement, we see ourselves. There will be times of fallout between friends and family. There are healthy steps which lead to freedom. However, we learn from this story that our conflict with others need not hinder the work of the gospel.


Recognize the distortions

It's better to face pain than distort it, confronting the way things really are is a decision of freedom and vibrancy. Choosing to face and feel the force of a situation involves a deliberate act of worship based on God’s trustworthiness.


Refuse denial

Pretending a conflict is not important seems like a high spiritual posture. We tend to come up with different ways to avoid facing the truth of our situations. However, facing up to our brokenness is necessary for spiritual and emotional health. 


Repent of deadness

Numbing out may provide temporary relief, but it can never bring healing or freedom. Suffocating emotions is a feeble substitute for wholeness and will only make us more tired and disconnected from God. Healing requires an act of faith, we turn from our best practices and turn to God. 


Reclaim God’s design

The enemy creates lies to lodge in our heart designed to fracture our image in God, "God doesn't like me." "He's punishing me." "I can't trust anyone, they will only hurt me." "I deserve this." Mending our image in God returns to us the longing and ability to have healthy relationships with others. 


Thankfully, this process does not require brute strength. Jesus is our strategy. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to Jesus, you'll find both yourself and Jesus.


Respond:

Think of someone with whom you've had a conflict and prayerfully work through the four steps.