The Devil’s Battlefield

Read:

“He who walks with integrity, . . .” Psalm 15:2


Reflect:

The world is a dangerous place. We are in peril of our lives. The life of living faithfully is seriously threatened. Living the character of Christ is under attack. The enemy is subtle in his schemes to undermine. We find ourselves slogging through a quagmire of the devil’s battlefield. The challenge to maintain our integrity and live from a place of character is always before us. 


Our response to so great a challenge falls into one of two categories: (1) we sink in the quicksand of paranoia, live in a state of panic doing everything we can to keep evil at a distance, or (2) we join forces with moralists, lead demonstrations, sign petitions, always defining our faith by what we are against. In other words, we live a negative form of spirituality by becoming “those” kind of Christians that the world loves to hate.


Granted, neither of these options are great. There are many who choose not to identify with either camp, but get along with a kind of timid, lukewarm, inoffensive, ineffective way of faith. But there is another option.


We take on our world with its issues by action and living out of who we are in Christ, neither in panic nor protest. We are called to realize and cultivate our unique identity as men and women living under the Lordship of Christ. We are witnesses to the unique and revealed way of life of the resurrection. Living our identity is more than an abstract ideology, more than strategy, it literally is Christ in us, the hope of glory.


Who we are takes precedence over what we do. Faith must be lived in this world. We must not act exactly the same as everyone else. We have a part to play in this world no one else can fulfill. As Christians we are the embodiment of the life of the trinity – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God materializes into this world. 


Respond:

In what ways does the character of Christ influence your decisions?


Tender Painful Moments

Read:

“they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, . . .” Acts 14:19


Reflect:

Nothing accelerates our personal discipleship like hard times. Be it suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, thwarted desires, broken friendship. Whether it is a circumstance so harrowing, so unimaginable, that it leaves us speechless, unable to ask a question of God, or turmoil that tears us open, exposing the deepest fiber of our nerve. In these tender, painful moments God is getting at one thing in us.


God makes us broken bread and poured out wine to please Himself. God never asked Paul’s permission as to what he would or would not do, nor if he was willing to suffer. God simply took a surrendered life and constructed a servant who suffered for the sake of the Savior. Suddenly every ambition, every desire of life, every outlook is completely blotted out and extinguished. The only thing that remains is completely identifying with Jesus and His purposes. 


Think of how Jesus trained His disciples. He placed them in circumstances to know whether they truly cared about God and to determine if their mood was to do the will of the Father. He used situations to reveal if they were held in the grip of God’s love and could be used as instruments in His hands. Jesus sought to root out any competing agendas.


It’s difficult to imagine what Paul must have felt as he was being stoned. It’s tempting to rush past the stoning of Paul with a devotional nod, or theological tip of the hat. But contemplating this moment in Paul’s life will help us to see what other Christians went through.  


Stoning was a brutal, gruesome form of punishment. It would often take hours to die. The person’s hands were tied behind their back, then encircled by the townspeople and pelted with stones until he became unconscious, then drug to the outskirts of the city. Worse yet, was the unseen pain, mental anguish, and humiliation. Yet, it did not dampen Paul’s enthusiasm for the mission of God. It shouldn't ours either.


Respond:

What are circumstances revealing about the depth of your discipleship? 


Crafted from Mutable Materials

Read:

“And they'll began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes . . .” Acts 14:12


Reflect:

There is no God like our God. Neither is there any other god beside Him. For He alone is the great King above all gods. Yet, everyday people fashion of themselves other gods. Whether this be formed from our own cosmology, biology, or theology. Whenever we form ourselves by ourselves, we leave out most of ourselves.


Upon seeing the lame man healed, the crowd had falsely assumed Paul and Barnabas to be incarnations of Zeus and Hermes. But Zeus and his entourage were nothing but empty things, images crafted from mutable materials and figments of human imagination, hollow, empty, and useless. 


The crowd of outsiders, to be fair, were prepared to put Paul and Barnabas on pedestals for public worship. Whoever performed the most tricks was, to their way of thinking, the most God-like. 


Idolatry today has a veneer of false dignity. It’s a down and dirty gritty practice. Idolatry takes imperfect things and exalts them to the place of God. It’s the nature of humanity to prefer firebrands who pretend to be God, to the God who condescends to become man. It’s the thirst for the spectacular and miraculous which causes us to be so easily satisfied with cheap imitations.


Even in our day of sophistication and technological savvy, it’s our natural instinct to take earthly imperfect things and idolize them as gods. Some idolize their nation and follow it with complete loyalty, a depth of allegiance which belongs only to the transcendent God. Some people idolize their business, and put its claims over their family. Some idolize other people and so surrender themselves so that there is no room left for higher loyalties that are over and above our deepest ties and affections.


Christianity stands in stark contrast to the base practice of idol worship. Oh, that we would see the futility of the temporary, and turn from all our sins and idols, and walk in the footsteps of our Lord, who set aside His prerogatives that He might taste the darkness and die a death on the cross.


Respond:

What things have you prioritized over Jesus?


Proof of His Love

Read:

“The gods have become like men . . .” Act 14:11


Reflect:  

So long as people continue to be carried along on the tide of a hedonistic culture, and without point or purpose, they are unlikely to see the significance of the gospel, and will continue to be ruled by base hungers and personal preferences.     


Paul was speaking to spiritual adolescents, who, after seeing him heal the lame man, thought that the gods had come down to earth. In their primitive understanding they wanted to make men god. Paul seizes the moment to tell them of a God so great that He could become man without losing His dignity or power. Then comes the great truth by which his listeners, and we, are awakened.


GOD HAS NOT LEFT HIMSELF WITHOUT A WITNESS 

There’s not a spot on the face of the earth where God has not left some sign or some trace of His presence. The rains, the seasons, the sun that starts each day, food and joy of life. Everywhere we look there are signs of God’s goodness. Wherever people have responded to truth, wherever they have thirsted for goodness and beauty, wherever they have loved selflessly, there God has left His footprints. However, when God is only the God of everything in general, He is likely to become the god of nothing.


GOD HAS NOT LEFT HIMSELF WITHOUT A WITNESS

God made Himself known specifically in Jesus, and apart from Him, there is no complete understanding of the character and the will of God. For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Every day in our city, in coffee shops, malls, business parks, office buildings, and shopping centers, there are people in need of a savior. But God has not left Himself without a witness, because you are in those places as proof of the love of Jesus.


Respond:

Today live as His witness.

Background God

Read: 

“This man was listening to Paul as he spoke . . .” Acts 13:9


Reflect:

The primary organ for receiving God’s revelation is not the eye that sees, but the ear that hears, which means our concept of God comes from hearing. It’s listening that gives birth to faith. God is speaking, just imagine Him swinging a pickax, digging ears in our granite blockheads so we can hear, really hear, what He speaks to us. Preaching has always been primary to helping people perceive the presence of God.


Paul and Barnabas followed their usual practice of going first to the synagogue to preach where many Jews believed, but many did not, resulting in Paul and Barnabas moving on to new listeners. They begin to preach to a totally new group who did not have the foundation of the Jewish faith. So they begin at the beginning by explaining who God is.


The interesting thing about this sermon is it’s about God. Yet, there’s no mention of Christ, no crucifixion, no resurrection. The reason is obvious, the Gentile audience had no knowledge of God. Before Paul could tell them about the revelation of God that was in Jesus, he first had to tell them something about God. It’s impossible to preach about God becoming incarnate, if you have no real God to become incarnate.


Today we find ourselves in the same situation. Because of materialism, greed, and want, most people have little, if any, sense of God to begin with. The first thing, we must do is awaken the mind and the hearts of those to whom we speak, to the awe and reverence which the thought of the presence of God evokes. 


All our faith in Christ, all our understanding of His actions, words, and His heartbeat to reach towards us, in love and redemption through the cross, all rests against the backdrop of God. Such a sense of the overruling purpose of God precedes any deep understanding of the incarnation. 


We must open our ears and listen again, lean close enough in to hear heaven whisper into our ears “God loves you.”


Respond:

What do we mean by the phrase, “personal God?”


One More Ingredient

Read: 

“. . . and there they continued to preach the gospel.” Acts 14:7


Reflect: 

The path to fulfilling God’s will does exist. Not only does God have a will, He also has a way to accomplish all He has intended for us. We need the vision to believe, we need the faith to find and follow His dream for us. As well, we need the courage to go get on to it. However, vision, faith, and courage are not enough, we need one more ingredient. 


We need perseverance. To have the ability to never stop fighting until we have reached our unique destined place. The key to success is the essential action of perseverance. Someone once said perseverance is falling 19 times and getting up 20 times. Perseverance is the secret of all triumphs.


Chapter 14 of Acts records the enduring activities of Paul and Barnabas in south Galatia where they traveled to the cities of Iconium, 90 miles southeast of Antioch. Then on to Lystra, which was 20 miles southwest of Iconium, and making a treetops journey from Lystra to Derbe, a 63 mile journey on unpaved track. Their travels were filled with incredible moments of conversion, as well as, conflict. After they had endured great suffering and persecution, after being misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated. After they had faced trouble that would have made anyone else head the other direction to seek comfort and rest, they proceeded to retrace their journey eventually sailing back to Antioch.


Perseverance is not just sticking-to-it-ness. It is endurance combined with the absolute confidence that the One for whom we are living, will win in the end. We fully embrace all Jesus stood for and fought for: love, justice, forgiveness, kindness, and full salvation for all who believe. Perseverance is a call to hang on to do all we can, to work deliberately with certainty knowing our Lord’s purpose will succeed in the earth. Perseverance shifts the momentum from fear of failing, to faith to finish the course. 


Respond:

If you are experiencing disappointment or discouragement don't give up, choose to go up, persevere in your faith in God.