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Election

In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Silas come to Phillipi. On the Sabbath, they search out a place where people gathered to worship. Evidently, there wasn’t a synagogue there, but they found some women who had gathered to pray. One of the women was Lydia, a local businesswoman who sold purple goods. We know that she worshipped God.

Dr. Luke brings out something interesting that we cannot overlook. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) She believes and is baptized, along with her household.

We don’t know if Lydia is a Jew or a God-fearing Gentile. But Dr. Luke seems to indicate that she isn’t saved.

Application

Going to church will not save you. Only believing in Jesus and trusting His sacrificial death as the payment for your sin will save you.

As you talk with people whom you think may not be believers, ask God to open their hearts to pay attention to what He would say through you. Unless God opens their heart, they will not hear, believe, and trust in Christ. And they will not experience God’s transforming power.

When you talk with people about Jesus, remember that praying for God to move in their hearts and minds is more important than saying the right things. Absolutely share your faith with everyone you can. But don’t worry about getting the words right. Trust God to be sovereign over their salvation, just as He was sovereign over yours. And speak the truth in love.

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Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.

It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.

As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?

Application

The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!

The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.

See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.

Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)

The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?

The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.

On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)

Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?

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Stephen is martyred

Preachers are always concerned about how their sermons will be received. We agonize over the Biblical text, wanting so much to be true to what God says. We want our hearers to receive the Word as good soil. (Matthew 13:23)

In today’s Bible reading, Stephen (one of the Seven who were chosen to serve tables) recounts the history of the people of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. He begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave everything familiar to him to go to a land he didn’t know about. The trip would take a couple of months, traveling up to twenty miles a day with his family, his servants, and his livestock. Stephen continues through Moses’ call to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. So far, so good. Finally, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 and then makes his application:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53 ESV)

Now, if a preacher was trying to attract new convert with a “seeker-sensitive” sermon, he definitely wouldn’t have concluded his message with those three verses!

But Stephen was true to God’s Word. He applied it to his hearers in such a way that they stoned him to death. They understood his message. They rejected his message. So Stephen became the first Christian martyr.

Application

The Greek word for martyr means “witness”. Stephen was a witness and shared the Good News with these religious leaders. But before you can get to the Good News, must understand the implications of the Bad News. And that makes the Good News all the more attractive. Unfortunately, much of modern preaching and evangelism overlooks the Bad News and its implications. Instead, it offers an incomplete Good News message and cheap grace without the mention of sin and our need of repentance.

We (all of us, not just the ordained, but also the ordinary) need to follow Stephen’s example and be willing to be the witness/martyr that he was. Stephen was unfazed as his audience picked up stones to kill him. He continued to bear witness to the glories of heaven.

Being a witness for Jesus may cost your life. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? A call to salvation is a call to come and die. (Luke 9:23)

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In today’s Bible reading, we see the religious leaders’ influence over their people. People who had cheered Jesus’ arrival just a few days earlier are now calling for His head today. How does this happen?

One cannot overstate the influence of peers and leaders over the decisions we make. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ popularity. He didn’t do things as they did. He even questioned their ways of doing things as they questioned His ways of doing things. And because they felt threatened, the religious leaders colluded with government officials to have Jesus executed for baseless accusations. (Mark 15:11, 13, 14)

As I type this (admittedly a few days late, but back-dating it for consistency with the Reading Plan), the US Senate is beginning the Impeachment hearing for the President. This is the third Presidential Impeachment I have known in my lifetime. And this is unlike the others in so many ways.

I will not make this a political post. But I will say that the influence of some popular political leaders with an agreeable “mainstream” media and other “elite” individuals in Hollywood have made this sham what it is.

For the first time in our Nation’s history, a US President has been impeached by the US House with charges that in no way approach the seriousness imagined by the Framers of the US Constitution. The Framers set the bar very high for a reason. Impeachment is a big deal. And now, for the first time, a duly-elected US President could be thrown out of office simply for having policy differences with a (slight) majority political party (and a handful of unelected State Department bureaucrats) and asking the Judicial Branch to rule on unconstitutional subpoenas.

Now, I will not draw messianic implications to Donald Trump. He is not the messiah. but it’s important to see similarities for the falsely-accused.

Application

The main application point is that the crowds were given “fake news” and they acted on it, even when it contradicted what they knew to be true.

As you live your life and see things portrayed in the news media, commercials, and talk with friends and family, it’s crucial to ask if what you’re hearing is the truth. It may be fake news. Yes, major TV network “journalists” and hollywood stars don’t always tell the truth. Church leaders don’t always tell the truth either.

So before sharing things on social media, spend a few seconds considering is this really true? Who will be helped or hurt by what you post? And most importantly, will God be glorified by sharing this information you have received.

Let’s aim for truth. Let’s aim for glorifying God.

And let’s pray for our country! May God reveal the truth, regardless of the political party. And let’s prosecute the liars and deceivers. Regardless of the political party.

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How do you respond when someone says, “I have good news and I have bad news”? Several times in today’s Bible reading, Jesus does just that.

He talks about the Last Days and His return. In the way He describes things, it would be very easy to be anxious. But that’s not why He tells His Disciples about the end times. Instead, He gives them this information so they would be encouraged. As they see things happen in the future, instead of being anxious, they should be encouraged, knowing that the end and Jesus’ return is coming soon.

Note: The “End Times” isn’t something that will happen sometime in the future only. When Bible teachers talk about “the End Times”, they’re talking about the time that began when Jesus arrived preaching His good news. In other words, we are in the “End Times” now. Yes, we are closer to the end than when the church was birthed in Acts 2, but we have been in the “End Times” for almost two thousand years. We are in an overlap of this Present Age and the Age to Come. A time of “already, but not yet”. Some of the things Jesus prophesied have already been fulfilled, such as the fall of Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70 and prophesied in today’s reading. (Mark 13:2) But Jesus hasn’t yet returned in all of His glory to take His bride — Believers — to her eternal home with Him. 26-27)

Application

Are you ready for Jesus’ return? What does it mean to be ready? It means to live with an expectancy that Jesus will come soon. It means to live an obedient life, telling other people how they, too can have an eternal hope.

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus tells His Disciples — and us — that we should always be ready because no one knows when He will return. Even He doesn’t know when His Father tells Him to bring His children home. If you’re one of His children, He will come for you, so you want to make sure that you’re always ready.

As we continue reading through the Gospels and Revelation during this year, it’s important to see Jesus’ warnings as both good news and bad news.

Spend some time today thanking God that He has a plan to bring His chidren home to live with Him for eternity.

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