1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
We are certainly living in strange times! It seems that every time we wrap our minds around the way the world is changing, it just changes some more. Fear seems to be the norm and peace seems to be either stuck in 2019 or just beyond our reach in 2021. We have had to survive viruses and murder hornets. And, to top it off, this is an election year!
With the present in such disarray, anxiety regarding the nature of the future is escalating. I talk to at least one person a day who mentions their feelings of uncertainty about the future. Most of them reference how unsure they are about the state of our country and how Christians will navigate this uncharted future.
It is in our nature to fear the unknown. And change is always less than welcome. However, I do not believe that we need to fear. But the fact that we do not have to be afraid does not mean that there will be no trouble. Look at Jesus’ words in John 16:
“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
No matter the tribulation that we face, we can “take heart” because Jesus has already won the victory. We can withstand whatever may come so long as we keep our faith and trust in Him alone.
How can we be sure of this? It is because it can be seen in the Word of God. We have examples of people whose faith was put to the test. We can see how they reacted when the times got hard. We can see the substance of their faith, and, hopefully, learn from it and see that sort of faith grow in our own lives.
I can think of no better example of faith under fire than Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They lived under a corrupt government in Judah where even their king – a descendent of David – allowed his heart to lead him on to evil. These young men, along with many others, were kidnapped and sent into captivity in Babylon. They were living in times that were prophesied by Isaiah years before:
“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your father’s have stored up till this day, shall be carried off to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
They had their whole lives torn apart, yet one thing set them apart from the rest – their faith in God! And they followed Him before their time of trial began. Even though they lived long before Paul penned these words to Timothy, they exhibited that God gives us “power and love and self-control” instead of a “spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7). It was because of their standing relationship with the Lord that they survived, and that God received glory and recognition through their lives and actions.
These young men lived through things that I hope we never have to live through. After they were taken from their homes, they had their pasts and their futures stolen from them. All four of these young men had names that proclaimed something about God. Daniel (Hebrew – “God is my judge”) was renamed “Bel protect the king”; Hananiah (Heb. “the Lord is gracious”) was renamed “command of Aku”; Mishael (Heb. “who is like God?”) was renamed “who is what Aku is”; and Azariah (Heb. “the Lord is my helper”) was renamed “servant of Nego/Nebo”. Nebuchadnezzar knew that they were more likely to stray away from God if he isolated them from Him. He could not allow names that reminded them of their faith to get in the way of his own agenda. And he stole their future by having them made eunuchs. The fact that they could trace their lineage all the way back to Adam had become irrelevant since they were most certainly the end of their family trees.
Not only did he remove them from their heritage, but he sought to interrupt the practices of their faith by having them indoctrinated by “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4) and assigning them a “daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:5). They were being given permission to break the rules. I cannot imagine how appealing this must have seemed to these teenagers; it would be appealing to me as an adult! Their mouths must have been watering as they smelled delicious foods that were forbidden before. And God must have seemed so far away with all the terrible things they were going through. Yet they held on to their faith and the hope that one day Emmanuel (Hebrew – “God with us”) would come and bring the rescue they so desperately hoped for.
Look at the power that their faith held in their lives. “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:8). He went to his captor – the “chief of the eunuchs” and asked that they be allowed to keep the dietary restrictions from the Law. Literally everyone else was partaking and breaking the Law. They were keeping up with the status quo. They were seeking the opportunities that thriving in Babylon could afford. But “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:9).
It is interesting to me that Daniel did this instead of pursuing that God rescue him from his captivity. We have already seen that it was foretold that all these things would occur and can reasonably assume that Daniel and his friends were familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy. So, rather than seek out comfort for themselves, they sought to glorify God with their lives by being obedient to His Word where they were. God gave them “favor” but it is vastly different than what we hear today. God’s “favor” helped them to be faithful to Him amid the trial. When everyone around them was compromising, they were holding fast to the promise. And that promise was more powerful than their fear of Nebuchadnezzar. They were living out Psalm 119:38: “Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared”.
These young men give us such a good example of faith. The circumstances that we are confronted with pale in comparison to what these teenagers faced. Yet there is coming a day when we may have to deal with similar things. In fact, there are places in the world where this is already the case. I think that Sinclair Ferguson says it better than I can:
“The same pattern employed by Nebuchadnezzar to draw Daniel away from the Lord is employed all around us today: isolation from God’s influence to produce holiness in our lives; indoctrination with the worldly ways of thinking (of course, we do not share all of the world’s conclusions, but too often we think about everything in the same way and operate with the same value system – how many of us would rather die for the glory of God than live halfheartedly for Him in a measure of comfort?); compromise with the riches of this world instead of…’solid joys and lasting treasures’…; confusion about our own identity and purpose.”
I realize that this probably seems like a lot of bad news. And I know that the tone of today’s devotion is heavier than usual. But there is coming a time when we will wish that we had been faithful in the easier times. Let me assure you of this: the good news vastly outweighs the bad.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were right where God wanted them to be. When you look at the end of Daniel 1, you see clearly that God blessed their faithfulness to Him, and, even though He did not send them home, they were in a position so that many people – their kinsmen and Babylonians alike – could hear the truths about God. Their continued faithfulness during their trials showed the eternal value of following after the Lord. And no matter how faithful we are or are not to Him, He is alwaysfaithful to His people. It has been foretold:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
I hope that this finds you well and ready to dive into God’s Word together!
Last week, we started looking more closely at what it means to have been in the presence of Jesus. Our theme verses for this devotional are Acts 3:19-21, and, in them, we see that “times of refreshing…come from the presence of the Lord”. Those words came from a sermon that Peter preached, and we followed those events through to their end when the hearers of that sermon were “astonished” that “uneducated, common men” – working class fishermen – could have spoken so eloquently (Acts 4:13). It was clear to all that the only way this could have happened was that they “recognized that they had been with Jesus”.
So, today, we are continuing our look at what happens to one’s life when they have been with Jesus – when He has saved them and “caused [them] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Peter and John were standing trial for practicing their faith, and it is the same for Paul in today’s passage.
Paul was standing before King Agrippa and was given the opportunity to “make a defense…for a reason for the hope” that was in him (1 Peter 3:15). I am sure that it had to be tempting to speak up for release. In fact, Paul had been imprisoned for a while by that point. Yet Paul saw this as an opportunity to share the gospel with his captive audience.
King Agrippa was really nothing more than a figurehead, but he had been summoned to hear Paul’s case by the Festus, an official representing the Roman government. Paul was originally put in jail for his own protection as some Jewish men had made a vow to kill him. He could have been released, but he had instead appealed to the emperor (Acts 25:25) since 1) it was his right as a Roman citizen, and 2) he felt compelled to take the gospel to the household of Caesar (Philippians 1:13, 4:22). You see, he had no desire to free himself from his worldly bonds because he was right where Jesus had already freed him to go – “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
I have often heard people say that they wished that they had a life like Paul’s, but, hearing his testimony, I do not think that people have really thought that through. Paul did not candy-coat his story or gloss over the rough bits. He was unashamedly sharing his sinful past because there was “now no condemnation” for those actions (Romans 8:1); he had already been forgiven!
He testified to the fact that he had been heavily involved in persecuting those who are now his brothers and sisters. He testified to the fact that he put them in prison (where he now finds himself) and that he sought to have them speak against Jesus. Why did he share these terrible bits? He cannot have been proud of them. Why would he tell these strangers about his sinful past? He wanted them to understand that they too could be forgiven – that they too could be saved!
He moves on from his sinful past to the moment that he encountered Jesus. For us, it is through His Word and the prompting of His Holy Spirit as it is read or preached. But, for Paul, it was an experience like no other. The very same Jesus he was persecuting – and trying to convince people that He was dead – showed up on the road to Damascus! Talk about a life-altering experience! The very Light that he was trying to extinguish shined so brightly on that road that he became literally blind. And the gospel truth of the resurrected Christ that he was blind to suddenly became clear!
Any time that a lost sinner, dead in his or her trespasses and sins, gets saved and finds new life in Christ, it is a miraculous thing. Men and women dead in their sins can come alive in Christ through faith and repentance in Him – even today! Think of the awesome opportunity that Paul had that day: he stood before the political leaders of his day and shared with them how to be saved. Let us look at the message he proclaimed to them.
He shared with them that – just as his blind eyes were opened – the gospel of Jesus Christ could “open their eyes” (v. 18a). Isaiah 42:7 tells us that God can “open eyes that are blind” and “bring out…prisoners from the dungeon”. This is especially cool since the prisoner (Paul) is seeking for Christ to free his jailers from the true prison – sin! He hoped that – as he would later write – their eyes would be opened to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
He also shared with them how Christ can turn us from “darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (v. 18b). This reminds me of the imagery that we read about around Christmas time: “…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Paul introduced them to Jesus who was the “life and light of men” and who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome” (John 1:4-5)! He wanted them to have the opportunity to turn away from their lives of sin to the light and light that only comes from Jesus Christ.
The last part of his message focused on forgiveness. How many of us could forgive those who had wrongfully imprisoned us? How many of us can forgive things much less than that? But this was not some great character trait of Paul; it is a trait that comes from being forgiven of much ourselves (Matthew 18:21-35)! You see, Paul’s sharing of his former wickedness and life change through Christ showed that he remembered what Christ had done for him. And he knows and wants others to have it, too.
He wanted King Agrippa, Festus, guards, and anyone else who would listen to “receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (v. 18c). He wanted them to know that it is in Christ “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14) and that “to Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).
I want you to know that the same thing is offered today. I hope that you have looked at the life of Paul today and noticed whether your life shows that you have been with Jesus. One day, we will all stand before Him, and we will either stand on the merit of our own works and the “wages of [our] sin” or on the merit of the work He did on our behalf and “the free gift of God…eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
It is my hope and prayer that, if you are reading this, you have had your eyes opened by the gospel of Jesus Christ and moved from darkness to light, the power of Satan to God by repenting of your sins, believing in Him, and finding the forgiveness that only comes from Him. If you have, pray with me that God will make Himself evident in your life. If you have not received this eternal life, I would love to talk with you and introduce you to the One who gives it in abundance.
The Bible is clear that, as believers, our “citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior” (Philippians 3:20). But it is also apparent that we still have an earthly home. Living in these two realities can be quite challenging.
Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, gives us a little bit of guidance on this subject, specifically in regard to praying for earthly leaders:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
We are literally urged to make supplication (beg God sincerely) and to intercede (come to God on behalf of) for all people, specifically “for kings and all who are in high positions”. The scope of these prayers of supplication and intercession encompasses how we live our lives and are aligning ourselves with God’s desire for “all people to come to the knowledge of the truth”. Let us respond by praying for the American people and our current and prospective leaders during this election season. Let us also pray that many in both categories come to know Christ!
During this time when people are typically at each other’s throats politically, let us be on our knees in prayer, seeking God’s mercy and grace. This does not negate any other type of political activity or engagement. But it does recognize that seeking the will of the holy, sovereign God of the universe is literally the most we can do in this situation. It is good do one’s civic duty; but it is imperative that we seek Christ daily.
Over the next thirty days, we will look at and pray specifically for what God’s Word has for us our own hearts and minds, our nation, the election, the candidates and incumbents, the Church, spiritual warfare, and that God would grant revival to break out in America!
Sunday, October 4
Pray for God to give you wisdom – not just in regard to the election, but also to follow Him. Ask Him to lead you by His Holy Spirit and guide you through His Word. Ask Him to examine your heart and the choices/positions you are for/against and that He show you how those stances line up with His Word.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
Monday, October 5
Pray again for God to give you wisdom and that His wisdom will impact the way you live your life – not just how you vote. Just as His wisdom is pure, ask Him to cleanse you of your sin. As His wisdom is peaceable, ask Him to not only give you peace but to let you be an agent of peace for Him. Ask Him to make you gentle and open to reason as you converse with your neighbors, all of whom may not hold the same views as you. And ask Him that the mercy that He has shown you be evident in your life as you genuinely and sincerely bear fruit for Him.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Tuesday, October 6
Pray to God about the issues that are troubling you in your community and country. Let the issues that concern your heart be poured out to Him. Bare your soul to Him. Ask Him to be your refuge rather than looking to a politician to fill that role. Ask Him in His strength to solve the issues that pain you. Ask Him to give you strength to be part of the solution rather than merely worrying or talking about it. Ask Him to help you realize that He is not far off but that His help is “very present”, even in the things that trouble you about events, circumstances, and issues facing this country today.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Wednesday, October 7
Pray to the Lord and call upon His name. Trust that He hears you. Ask Him to move upon your heart that you may seek Him – not just in this election season, but for all time. Ask Him to remove idols from places of worship in your heart. Ask Him to grant you repentance where you need it. Ask Him to give you the hope and refreshing that comes from His presence as you seek Him.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Thursday, October 8
Pray to God and trust Him today. Ask Him to give you an eternal perspective in regard to this election. Ask Him to help you to trust Him no matter the outcome of the election. Tell Him that you trust His judgment and will for your life and for the future of this country. Tell Him that you trust Him more than the electoral college or your political party of choice. Ask Him to grant you the faith you need to believe that He has all of this under control despite the news and social media fear-mongering and trying to convince you otherwise. Trust in His Name – the name of our God and Savior Jesus Christ – over chariots and horses, and even elephants and donkeys.
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
Friday, October 9
On behalf of our nation, pray that people will turn away from their sin and to God. Ask God to soften hearts and allow people to share the gospel in their communities, cities, states, and all across this nation. Ask God to give you opportunities to share His gospel. Thank Him for coming and dying for our sins. Thank Him for raising from the dead. Thank Him for the opportunity to trust Him to be saved and pray that lost people around this country turn from their sins and to Him.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Saturday, October 10
Pray for God to open people’s hearts and minds to His gospel and the wisdom that comes from His Word. Rather than focus only on how America was built on biblical wisdom and values, ask God to make it so once again. Pray that God’s Word will bring the correction we desperately need. Then, ask God to pour out His Spirit on us and make His Word known throughout this nation.
How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.
Sunday, October 11
Pray for people who are walking in darkness. Rather than condemn them in their sin, remember that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1) and ask God that He help them to fear Him and obey His Word. Ask Him to remind us and the world that He is the Light. Thank Him for shining. Ask Him to grant our nation the opportunity to turn from darkness to His Light.
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
Monday, October 12
Pray to God and thank Him for the freedoms that we celebrate in this nation. Ask Him to preserve those freedoms that we may serve Him and His Kingdom. Ask Him to grant you repentance for wasting the religious freedoms here in America and taking them for granted. Thank Him for the example of those in persecuted countries who practice in persecution what we do not in freedom. Ask Him to give you opportunity and freedom to worship and serve Him. Then, do it!
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Tuesday, October 13
Pray to God and thank Him for the freedom and liberty that America represents. Ask Him to again let her shine as a beacon of right judgment and fair treatment. Ask Him to allow opportunity for reconciliation from whenever her people fall short of those ideals. Ask Him for opportunities for our nation to help those who need it. Thank Him for rendering such help to us in our times of need. Ask Him to help you to see the needs in our communities and to allow you to be a part of His work locally to benefit this nation.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.
Wednesday, October 14
Pray to God that His wisdom will be like a necklace for you during this election season. Ask Him to help you examine your behavior and speech in regard to this election. Ask Him to guard your steps and help you not to stumble as you navigate rough political waters. Thank Him for the Life that comes from Him and ask that He help you live it well and not stumble.
My son, do not lose sight of these – keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.
Thursday, October 15
Pray that God’s wisdom will influence your mind as you contemplate which candidates, parties, and/or platforms you support and are planning to vote for. Ask Him for insight in the midst of crooked media and campaign strategies. Ask Him to bring His Word to your mind when you need it so that you may not forget to whom you belong. Ask Him to bind His Word to your thoughts and that your mouth have opportunity to share the hope contained within it.
Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Friday, October 16
Pray for God to guard your behavior and character as the election draws closer. Pray that God will season your verbal speech as well as your social media presence. Ask Him to grant you opportunity to keep you mouth closed if need be. Ask Him to strengthen your thumb on the delete key rather than using it to tear down others. Thank Him that He gave you mercy and grace when you were His enemy. And ask Him to allow you to forgive those who vote and support differently than you.
But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Saturday, October 17
Pray for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Pray for the democratic party candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Pray for the third party candidates. Ask God that any and all of these who may not know Him as Lord and Savior will have the opportunity to hear His gospel, repent, and believe. Ask Him to fill those who are saved with His Spirit and give them the courage to follow Him alone as they lead or campaign. Ask Him that all of the candidates “come to a knowledge of the truth”. Ask Him for firm conviction for leaders to live “godly and dignified” lives in every way. Thank Him for the gospel and the life change that it brings through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
Sunday, October 18
Pray that God give His wisdom to those currently leading our country and to those who hope to one day fill those positions. Thank Him for those who lead who claim to know Him. Ask Him to fill those leaders with His Spirit and allow them the freedom and courage to practice what His wisdom shows us in His Word. Ask Him to let their understanding and practice praise Him and give Him glory.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
Monday, October 19
Pray to God to give firm conviction to us and our brothers and sisters across America. Ask Him to help us to see how He would have us to vote. Ask Him to keep us on the firm foundation of the Rock that is Jesus. Ask Him to keep our convictions firmly founded on the truth found in His Word. Thank Him for the faith you have in Him and ask Him to guard it for you.
If you are not firm in your faith, you will not be firm at all.
Tuesday, October 20
Pray for God’s protection from evil for our leaders and candidates. Ask Him to not only protect them from the evil around them but also for the evil that is within their own hearts. Ask God to guard and protect us from the evil that Satan wants to reign in this and all lands. Thank God for the victory that He has already won. Ask Him to show us clearly what is evil and what is good that we may follow Him in all our ways.
You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.
Wednesday, October 21
Pray for the Church in America. Pray that we will truly be unashamed of the gospel. Ask God to give us the courage to share His Word that we may see Him save people and work in this nation. Ask Him to give us faith enough to stand and live on His gospel in our every day lives.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Thursday, October 22
Pray for the witness of the Church in America. Ask Him to allow us to be salt and light. Ask Him for the opportunity to examine our presence in our communities. Pray for opportunities for healing where others have done great damage. Thank Him for the freedom we have in Christ, and, while so doing, ask Him to give opportunities for that freedom to exhibit love instead of selfishness. Ask Him to strengthen your local faith family that you may be known for your love for Christ and each other and not for hate.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Friday, October 23
Pray that the Church will be known for Christ-like characteristics above any other reputation. Ask God to give our local faith families unity based on our relationship with Him. Ask God to grant us the opportunity to be of one accord and mind as we are about His Kingdom work. Thank Him for your brothers and sisters in Christ and ask that He help you to genuinely see others more “significant than yourselves”. Ask God for opportunities, during this season and beyond, to show that we care about the interests of others and not just those nearest and dearest to our hearts.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in 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.
Saturday, October 24
Pray that God provide strength for His Church to respond to the wickedness in this world as Christ did rather than responding out of the wickedness in our own hearts. Ask God for the strength to live out the gospel in our lives. Ask Him for the opportunity to lead people to Him instead of distracting them. Ask Him to help us win souls to Him rather than winning arguments.Ask God to free those who see themselves as our opponents from the snare of Satan and grant them repentance that we may lose enemies by gaining brothers and sisters in Him.
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:24-26
Sunday, October 25
Pray that God will help His Church persevere and endure so that the gospel may be proclaimed. Ask Him to open our mouths to proclaim His Word. Pray for your brothers and sisters in your local faith family. Ask God to strengthen them. Pray for those in your local faith family who are charged with shepherding and preaching. Ask that God strengthen them and give them bold witnesses and opportunities to make much of Jesus.
To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel….
Monday, October 26
Pray that God will help His Church to look more like Him than the world around them. Ask God to renew our minds and remind us of the transformation that takes place when we move from being dead in our sins to alive in Christ Jesus. Ask Him to help His people to be able to “discern what is the will of God”. And ask Him for the strength to follow in those convictions.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Tuesday, October 27
Pray that we handle God’s Word well. As we notice people around us being blind to the gospel and teachings of God’s Word, pray that God would open their eyes to see the truths of Scripture. Ask God to make sure that our own eyes are open to His truths, as well. Ask God to help us to not be “underhanded” in our use of His Word and not to let us “lose heart” in the midst of the spiritual battles we face.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-4
Wednesday, October 28
Pray that God will show you “how you walk”. Ask that He help you to look at your personal walk with Him and see any deficiencies. Ask that He strengthen your walk and to help you to follow Him more closely. Ask that He make clear through His Word what His will is and to allow you to understand it. Ask Him to protect you, your family, your faith family, and your nation during these evil days. And ask that He help you to use the time that you have wisely and for His glory!
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Thursday, October 29
Pray that God strengthen you with His strength and protect you as only He can. As we “wrestle” with Satan’s forces, ask God to help us to trust in Him in the midst of the struggle. Thank Him that the victory has already been won by Him! Ask Him to help us to rely on that victory and not be overthrown by the “schemes of the devil” or to be used by Him to advance His schemes.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Friday, October 30
Pray that God will move powerfully across this nation and save people. Ask God that He remind you what it is to be saved and how He saved you. Thank Him that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”! There have been great revivals – Great Awakenings – in this country in the past, and they only come from Jesus. Ask that God will spark revival and awakening again. Ask that He make a way for us to get the gospel out and see people saved as in Bible days.
…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-10, 13
Saturday, October 31
Pray that God will produce a “humble” and “contrite…spirit” in you – that we will repent of our sin regularly and follow after Him. Ask God to help you to “tremble at [His] Word” – to have such a reverence and awe in reading it and hearing it preached that it impacts the way you live your life. Thank God that for making all things come to be. Ask God to help us to look only to Him for help and Life.
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
Sunday, November 1
Pray that our nation will learn to “tremble at [God’s] presence” in worship before it learns to in judgment. Ask God to make His name known among those who do not know Him. Thank God for the “awesome things that we did not look for” – things He did because He is God and knows best for us! Thank Him for acting on behalf of “those who wait for Him”! Ask Him to help us to make Him and His Word known where He has planted us so that people can see His surpassing worth and glory and turn to Him.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known among your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.
Monday, November 2
Pray that God will grant us the mercy and grace that we so desperately need. Ask God to give us strength to “hold fast our confession” and be faithful to Him. Thank Him for being our example. Thank Him for taking care of us in our weaknesses. On behalf of those in this nation who do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, “draw near the throne of grace” and intercede on their behalf. Genuinely ask God to save people. Pray for lost people you know by name and ask God for the opportunity to share His Word with them.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Tuesday, November 3
Pray that God grant you peace no matter the outcome of this election. Thank Him that, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, He is on His throne now and forevermore. Ask Him to come quickly and that our hearts will find more joy at His coming than in the returns being counted from a ballot box. And ask Him to give you an opportunity to share Him and His gospel today so that you will have cast an effort that will last longer than four years, showing that our hope is truly in Him.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
I learned a long time ago that you need to have a good hook in your writing and that, sometimes, a quote is a real attention-getter. My first thought was to go with a good Winston Churchill quote like, “Kites rise high against the wind, not with it.” But it was a little too abstract. I found a few more that would work for what I was looking for and decided to go with a tried-and-true idiom: “don’t shoot the messenger”.
Social media platforms are mainstays in our current culture. There are few who do not partake, and its uses vary widely. When Facebook first reached this area, it was used predominantly by college students to reconnect with people from their earlier school years. It has branched out quite a bit from that point and is used to connect with old friends, share pictures and life events with distant family, be a political platform, and everything in between. It leaves me wondering, for the believer, what our social media presence should be like.
As I sit here typing these thoughts, I must admit that I am afraid. Over the last twenty-four hours, I have watched self-proclaimed believers eviscerate other believers for warning against a cult-leader spouting medical knowledge in a viral post. I have seen self-proclaimed believers copy and paste rhetoric to support their stance against mask wearing that came from a basis of support in pro-choice abortion in contrast to their former pro-life stances. I have seen enough to scare me to the point where I vastly overanalyze everything that I consider posting to the point that I rarely post more than a few Bible verses and the devotions I send out weekly. Where is the gospel in all of this?
The word translated gospel can literally be translated good news, and good news is hard to come by on social media these days. In Romans 1:16, Paul tells us something about how our attitudes and lives should be shaped by the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul exhibited this in his life by having the sharing of the gospel as a defining characteristic in his life. His calling was to be a missionary to the Gentiles, and Scripture tells us that he consistently shared the gospel message wherever he went. He was clearly not ashamed of its message or the Christ he proclaimed. But, most importantly, his continual sharing of the gospel showed that he genuinely believed that it was “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.
I believe that we should allow the Bible to define the gospel message a little bit more. If one were to look to individual passages of Scripture to concisely define the Gospel, I have laid out a few that are more commonly known:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For I delivered unto you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Each of these passages very clearly present Jesus Christ. One might argue that more context is needed for any of them, and I would wholeheartedly agree – that is what sharing the gospel truly is, opening the Scriptures and pointing to Jesus! This information is extremely important. Furthermore, it should be a part of our life, our speech, and our conduct (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Before we go any farther in this discussion, we must ask ourselves the following questions: (1) do I truly believe the gospel of Jesus has the power to save people, (2) do I truly believe that Jesus has the power to change the lives of the people He saves, and (3) am I presenting other solutions for peoples’ salvation instead of the gospel?
Now, as I have discussed this with people recently, I have heard these two counterarguments most commonly. The first counterargument is that there is nothing wrong with posting other, non-gospel things on social media, and, to that, I mostly agree. We can post whatever we want. I am not arguing that our social media platform should look like what people perceive the church to look like. I am not calling for a removal of all memes, articles, songs, etc. I am not advocating for anything more that for believers in Christ to look at the message we are presenting to the world. Rather than me try to define what I want for my life and the lives of other believers, it would serve us all better for God to do that as He already has in His Word. Colossians 3:17 tells us, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This is a good admonition in Scripture that I fall short of quite often, but that does not change the fact that it is a good admonition for believers to strive to match up with – both in-person and virtually.
The second counterargument is that believers should be involved in politics. I do not disagree with this stance; however, I think we should define what being involved in politics is and is not. Firstly, I do not think that non-stop sharing of political memes and any article put out by members of your particular political party can be called being “involved” in politics. No political change is going to happen sitting on one’s couch. People often hail back to the founding fathers who were believers, and I think they set a good example. They did not merely write out the Declaration of Independence and sit back to watch others share it about in the villages and towns around them. The sharing of a document did not change the landscape of the new world. That would be ridiculous. They sent that declaration to King George, got off their rear-ends, and were active in their cause – not just on election days. Secondly, I find that little thought goes into much of what is viral in the present. I have seen people share articles from Snopes – a fact-checking website – because of their agreeing with the headline and ignore the fact that they are actually proving themselves wrong with the content of the article. We need to be discerning in what we say (James 3:1-12), whether with our physical mouths or through our thumbs via an app.
If we genuinely believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to change lives, it should be present in our lives. And before it can ever impact anyone else, it has to have impacted us in our own hearts. This means that the lack of gospel in our social media presences will not be fixed by merely adding some Jesus-y content to our regimen of copying and pasting. It means that we have some repenting to do in how we interact with others. We need to ask ourselves if Jesus would be pleased with the content we put out. We need to examine whether or not Jesus would agree with the overall message that we are presenting. It means we should repent – as often as necessary – and spending more time in prayer to God and in His Word than we do on social media in the first place. Maybe you need to go over to the settings on your phone and look at the screen time percentage for social media. I just looked at mine, I and am ashamed. I had to stop writing and repent to the Lord and to my family. We have had screen time limits for our daughter and content restrictions on all of our phones, and, before finishing writing this, we now have screen time limitations across the board.
Not only should the gospel be present in our lives, but it should also show up in the content we put out. I would urge you to look back on your social media platforms and see whether or not there is any gospel content going out. Are you proclaiming anything that you believe people need to see and learn? Are you proclaiming solutions for people’s lives that come from worldly places more than from God’s Word? If so, you need to repent. It is something I have had to do myself. It is not easy, but it is absolutely vital.
I do not want this article to be a finger-pointing, judgment session, and I am afraid that it will be taken as such. My hope for you is the same as I have for myself – that we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, Him bringing change in us. I have fought against the urge to write this for some time now, and, if you are reading this, I can assure you that I have prayed for you in your reading. But, rather than have me continue to type my own words, let me offer you some words from Scripture that I constantly try to bring to my mind when I get off-balance in my thinking and speech. Romans 12:1-2 are verses that I try to post on my desk at work and try to post in my mind as often as needed. I believe they have that gospel influence that I have been writing about and hope they help you on your way:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Context is key when looking at the Bible. It is easy to take a verse out of its context and really mess it up.
Before we dive into our passage for tonight, let’s look a little bit at the context of Titus 2. Verse 1 helps a lot: But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Let me translate that verse a little simpler: But here’s what you need to be doing – teaching people (the Word) with correct, healthy instruction.
Paul goes on from there and tells Titus why this is important for various age groups in the church there in Crete where he pastored:
older men – (v. 2b) sound in faith, love, and in steadfastness
older and younger women – (v. 5b) that the Word of God may not be reviled (the literally word from which we get blasphemy)
younger men – (v. 8b) so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us
slaves – (v. 10b) so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior
So, when we look at our passage today, we get a piece of the doctrine – the instruction – about salvation that Paul was giving to Titus. Let’s check it out. We’re going to see how God’s grace redeems us, reforms us, and rewards us in salvation.
Grace Redeems Us (vv. 11, 14a)
v. 11 – For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people….
Titus 3:4-5a – But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us….
1 Timothy 2:3-4 – This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
So, who can be saved? “all people”
Colossians 3:11 – Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Revelation 7:9-10 – After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Romans 10:13 (quoting from Joel 2:32) – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The Bible is clear: anyone can be saved. It is also clear on how one gets saved: by repenting and believing.
v. 14a – …[Jesus Christ] who gave Himself up for us to redeem us from all lawlessness….
Ezekiel 18:23 – Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from His way and live?
Let’s look at a little more of Titus 3:4-5b – But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved, us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy…
Jesus “redeem”s us by paying the penalty for our sin. And He does this simply because He loves us. Oh, what a love He has.
A few weeks back, I noticed a church sign that caught my attention. It said, “Come as you are. Leave changed.”
Jesus meets us in our sin (Romans 5:8) to save us, but He wants more for us afterward. Let’s look at how Grace Reforms Us
Grace Reforms Us (vv. 12, 14b)
v. 12 – …training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
Even though the world around us has not changed, our hearts are changed when Christ saves us.
1 Peter 4:2 – …so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
So, what does all of this accomplish?
Philippians 2:15 – …that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of truth….
The way we live our lives either shows God to be a powerful Savior or weak and not very effective.
v. 14b – …and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God has a plan for you. God has a mission for you.
But the best news of all, is the reward – but it’s not heaven and glory and mansions and crowns – we get to be with God! Let’s look at how Grace Rewards Us.
Grace Rewards Us (v. 13)
v. 13 – …waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
I will never forget June 17, 2006…. When those doors opened at the back of the church….
Revelation 21:1-4 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Amen, and hallelujah!
(Paul Washer) “Everyone wants to go to heaven. They just don’t want God to be there when they get there.”
He. Is. Our. Reward.
I know I’ve given you a lot to chew on today, but I hope that you have listened to the Scripture that I shared and examined your life.
Salvation is available to everyone who calls on the Lord and repents/believes in Him. How about you: have you called on his name? Have you repented of your sin and confessed your faith to Him?
Coming into contact with the grace of God is life-changing. Has it changed your life?
On July 4th, the United States of America will be 244 years old. Over those nearly two and a half centuries, this country has been through quite a lot, yet, in the general lifetime of the other countries like her, she is still fairly young and new to the world’s stage. If one wanted, it would be easy to track her development just like a child through to adolescence.
The United States was conceived from an idea: freedom. The people who would form that idea left the home they had always known and struck out to make a new beginning. When they found themselves on the shores of North America, that beginning was found to be more difficult than they had imagined as they had to live under the tyrannical rule of King George. They found their newfound freedom to be stifled by their lack of representation in the government that ruled them from across the ocean and were beaten down by unfair laws meant to take advantage of them rather than to help or build up. The same longing that brought them to this continent left them dissatisfied with their leadership and gave them a desire to strike out on their own – to overthrow the bonds of the government that ruled over them and seek to be independent, to be free.
When the idea of freedom was to give birth, the United States had quite the difficult delivery. In order to gain their freedom – liberty from the tyrant – there had to be revolution. And revolution would mean war and the battlefield would be their home. Yet they knew that liberty was an ideal worth having, and, since it was worth having, it was worth fighting for – even dying for if it meant that future generations could have what they hoped for. From 1773-1783 (and again in 1812), fighting is just what they did. And, thusly, the United States was born.
America’s journey to adolescence has not been easy, and some may argue that she has not quite grown up yet. Her people have squabbled among themselves for the majority of this country’s lifetime. The Civil War was won, lost, and has wounds that are still not healed. Reconstruction following the war never fully took place, and the scars are evident every day. Yet there is still something special and unique about this country.
The idea of freedom is still attractive. It is still more rare in the world than many would believe. People try time and time again to gain citizenship here. People cram into tight spaces in the holds of ships, they scramble across her borders under the cover of darkness, and they float in from closer countries on ramshackle, homemade rafts – all to have what is promised here through the ideals that are still sought after today. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says it all:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Thousands and thousands of immigrants have come through that particular harbor at Ellis Island, giving credence to those words and opportunity for a better future in this young nation.
This country has been heralded as a land of opportunity. It has allowed and seen many people realize their dreams and aspirations and given them the freedom to pursue them. In fact, the very pursuit of such aspirations has become known as the American dream.
One cannot help but realize that the freedom, acceptance, and hospitality realized in the American dream comes from the founding fathers who are still towering figures and examples of fulfilled opportunity and pursued destiny. In fact, the founding fathers injected this country with their beliefs and aspirations. Many tout that because of this the United States is a Christian nation. While this has not been the case, the Christian doctrine that many of the founding fathers believed is evident in the aspirations that this country set out to provide for her citizens – again and namely freedom.
This idea of freedom is one of the reasons that I am quite proud to be an American. I could have been born anywhere in the world, yet God allowed me to be born here. For that I am thankful. There is no place I would rather live. And, yet, I have aspirations and hopes for this country as she continues to grow and change. Those aspirations and hopes are based upon the same beliefs and doctrines that those founding fathers imbued into the foundations of our country. So, as Independence Day draws near, I have had two images weighing on my mind that have affected the way I view this country and how I fit in as one of her citizens. The first is a story relayed to me over a decade ago by a missionary to Jordan. The second is a monument.
A Tale of a Patriot Missionary
A Jordanian native heard the gospel preached and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Once he had done this, his entire life changed. He was born again sought to tell others about his new life in Christ. So, he began to share with his neighbors about what had happened in his life. Only 6% of Jordan’s population is Christian, compared to 92% Sunni Muslim[i]. While he was passionate about his message, he was cautious. He was cautious because he remembered what it was like to have not heard the gospel. He was also cautious because the gospel stands at odds with the status quo and encountering Jesus through the gospel changes lives. We will call him Sam for the sake of the story.
One of his neighbors was angry at his message. Rather than lash out right then and there, this neighbor went to the authorities. Rooting out this perceived missionary cell was high on the priorities of the local authorities, but they wanted to proceed carefully. They decided to partner with the neighbor and set up a sting operation. All the neighbor had to do was allow Sam to be caught sharing explicitly Christian doctrine and they would be able to swoop in to arrest him.
When it came time for the sting operation, they met in the neighbor’s garage under the cover of night. The neighbor drew Sam in with a few questions to get the conversation started. Once Sam began to lay out how Jesus saves, the neighbor was overwhelmed by anger. He lost all logic and was so irate that he grabbed a nearby screwdriver and stabbed Sam several times.
The police had to abort the sting and rush in to rescue Sam from the neighbor. Rather than arresting Sam, they had to send for emergency services and arrest the neighbor instead. They could have just counted the entire operation as a loss , but they decided to double down and interrogate Sam themselves. Even though he was wounded, they figured that they could still bait him into incriminating himself with the gospel. Yet, rather than directly asking what they wanted to know, they asked him, “Sam, why do you hate Jordan?”
Sam’s response is why this story has been on my mind this week. Rather than defend himself or try to come up with an excuse to get out from under the authorities, he simply responded: “Why do I hate Jordan? Everything I do is because I love Jordan. I want my people to experience what I have.”
This makes me think of my own relationship to this country. I can spout out plenty of history on the United States – good and bad. I can cite various quotes from the founding fathers to civil rights advocates that show how there is hope for the United States. I am passionate about any number of political issues that I genuinely believe to be important for the trajectory of this country. Yet I lack the patriotism – the ardent love of one’s country – that Sam had. Sam, like our founding fathers, was willing to impact his country with his beliefs. Because Sam loved Jordan, he tried to introduce as many Jordanians as he could to Jesus through the gospel. He did this because he knew that their encountering Jesus would be vastly more effective than any political rhetoric or argument.
A Picture of a Roadside Monument
If I had not been thinking about Sam’s story, I likely would not have given much thought to the second image that has been weighing on my mind. My family and I recently went on a trip that took us east across highway 82. It had been quite some time since I had been through there, and I had not realized that a cross had been built outside of Eupora, MS. As we drove past, I happened to notice it – likely because of the recent construction of a cross in my home town. It took me several days to finally be able to articulate what popped into my heart and mind when I saw that monument. When it finally began to come together in my mind, I contacted a friend of mine, Jenni Kilburn-Oswalt, who is the talented photographer who provided us with the picture here to help make my point.
What finally and profoundly struck me was how much bigger the cross is than the flag. Now, I realize that this is not necessarily a conscious effort of symbolism. But the idea that struck me here is the view of one’s country that must be had to see change take place. It is the same view that Sam had of his own country. His love of his country was such that led him to believe that the only good and lasting change that could take place would be for people to come to know Christ. Rather than try to be a political change agent, Sam introduced people to Christ. His view of the cross was simply bigger.
While he loved his country, he was unable to continue with the same old status quo. You see, the moment that one comes to faith in Christ, he or she ends up with dual citizenship between heaven and their native country. Paul explains it better in Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” That heavenly citizenship affects our earthly citizenship.
As stated earlier, I have much love and respect for my earthly country. I also understand the issues that this country faces. But I am one man, and I do not have a platform that would allow for national change. Were I to have such a platform, I lack the appropriate capabilities to affect the changes needed. But I can do what Sam did: I can share Christ where I am planted. And this is what I know I should be doing because I love my country. Christ, through the preaching of His gospel, is the only means that will affect change.
The image of the cross and the flag stirred this up in me. If I get sidetracked by pursuing many earthly solutions that are outside my control, I will accomplish little to nothing. I am not saying that one person cannot affect change. I am saying that I realize how this one person is intended to do so. My voice will be much more valuable to the United States if it is spent sharing Christ and proclaiming His Kingdom. My role as one of God’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) will further his kingdom more than trying to form my country into the way that I feel it should look, act, and progress. In doing so, my view of Jesus has to be bigger than my view of the government and this country.
Trust, Freedom, and Wrapping This Up
There is hope for the United States. For all of the ills that have befallen her, much change and progress has been made and, Lord willing, more will continue. The founding fathers were not the only movers and shakers in our history. In fact, the 244 years of America have seen people rise up time and time again to show that there is something to these ideals of liberty and freedom. Yet we live in a time period where people believe that typing into a box on social media and sharing the latest fear-inducing meme, video, or article will wake America up and affect change. We see people on both sides of the partisan aisle cry out that their guy (or gal) is the hope for America and that the other guy (or gal) is the emissary of destruction. I think we can look to Psalm 20:7 for guidance here:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”
To paraphrase: some trust in elephants and some in donkeys, but we trust in Jesus.
Thankfully, we have freedom here. We have freedom to disagree. We have freedom to group up. We have freedom to voice our opinions. And we have freedom to worship whichever god we choose. It is in this freedom where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Are we going to trust in God and be his ambassador, or are we going to trust in the government? Are we going to hold on to a heritage of the United States of yesteryear, or are we going to show patriotism like Sam and share the gospel with our neighbors because we love them and our country?
Think back to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. As powerful an image as it is, it is just a plaque on a statue. Jesus had a call that is similar and vastly more effective. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
One can come to America and, maybe, find all that the inscription promises. But if one comes to faith in Christ, one finds Life. And what is liberty and freedom without life? So, we need to be about pointing to Christ and watching him change lives. It’s time to be his ambassadors in this land that we love.
Ultimately, time will tell. But, if you will indulge me, I have a suggestion on how to proceed from here. Whatever concerns you have about this country, take it to God in prayer. Whatever aspects of this country that you believe are great, praise the Lord for them. But if you claim to love this country and love Christ, the greatest and most affective actions that can be taken will be to invest the gospel into your neighborhood, community, town, county, state, and country.
Acts 9:13-16 – But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has the authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings of the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
The Setting (Acts 25:23-27)
Festus, the local Roman governor, needed to have specific charges to send with Paul to stand before Caesar in Rome, but he could not come up with any genuine charges other than the complaints of the Jews.
Agrippa (Antipater -> Herod the Great -> Herod Antipas I -> Herod Agrippa I -> Herod Agrippa II) was brought in to help him form the charges. He was a joke king – a figurehead and puppet.
Paul’s Defense (Acts 26:1-23)
Agrippa invites Paul to make “his defense”. (v. 1) – So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense….”
1 Peter 3:15 – …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….
Paul begins his appeal to Agrippa – the same as was his custom in the synagogues. (vv. 2-3) – “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
Paul reminds Agrippa of the hope in God’s promises and introduces the gospel. (vv. 4-6) – “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by the Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
Genesis 3:15 – I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Daniel 7:14 – And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Micah 5:2 – But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days.
Paul testifies about his life as a lost person. (vv. 9-11) – “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Paul shares how he was saved and presents the gospel. (vv. 12-18) – “I connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
to open their eyes
2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
turn from darkness to light
Matthew 4:16 – …the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
from the power of Satan to God
Ephesians 2:1-2 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience….
Ephesians 2:4 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us….
forgiveness of sins
Matthew 1:21 – She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
1 Corinthians 15:3 – For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures….
Paul shows how his present actions are a response to Jesus’ call on his life and specifically/personally gives an opportunity to respond to the gospel. (vv. 19-23) – “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Festus & Agrippa’s Response (Acts 26:24-29)
Festus: (v. 24) – And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
vv. 25-27 – But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
Agrippa: (v. 28) – And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
v. 29 – And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.”
CoclusionThe Mission Continues (Acts 26:30-32)
vv. 30-32 – Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Philippians 1:12-14 – I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Philippians 4:21-22 – Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.