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Freedom

As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.

Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)

As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.

Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!

Application

How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.

But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?

The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.

When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!

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Babylon intolerance

In today’s Bible reading, John records the fall of Babylon the Great. I won’t go into the theories of what Babylon the Great is. But I will point out the command from God for His people: Come out and don’t participate in the sin of the world. (Revelation 18:4-5) While the rest of the world grieves the fall of Babylon, God’s people are to expose Babylon’s sins. (Revelation 18:6)

The world will never accept Believers who take their stand for righteousness. Regardless of what we may say or do, the world will never respect or tolerate those who are serious about their faith. Oh, they may accept, highlight, and celebrate it when a Believer rejects the faith. But unless that happens, the world knows it and the Christian faith are at odds.

Why would a Believer want the endorsement and recognition of the world? Why would a Believer want to “be cool” and try to be accepted? Tolerance will only be afforded to those who capitulate and endorse sin. Look at Paul’s chronicling of the progression of sin in Romans 1. First, sin is tolerated. Next, sin is accepted. Finally, sin is endorsed and celebrated. That is the natural progression of sin. It will always go that way… unless God performs a miracle and rescue a believer from the clutches of sin.

I have said on many occasions, lost people will act like lost people and we shouldn’t be surprised when they do. Only when God intervenes do sinners repent and turn to Jesus. As I stated in Saturday’s devotional, our natural way is to choose anything other than God. Reformer John Calvin rightly pointed out that our heart is an idol factory. We will always choose something, anything over God … unless God does a work in us.

Application

Has God done a miracle in your life? Have you turned your idol-making heart over to Him for Him to do a supernatural work? Self-justification and self-righteousness won’t work. Moralism (working hard to do the good and avoid the bad) won’t work. Only a miraculous work of God which results in your repenting and turning to Jesus, trusting His payment for your sin-debt will work.

If you haven’t turned to Him, don’t delay! Turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. Ask Him to do a miraculous work in you to make you more like Him from the inside-out.

If you have turned to Jesus, spend a few minutes today thanking Him for all that He has done (which is everything!) to make you right with His (and your) perfect, holy Father.

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Sinclair Ferguson on God's acceptance of us

In today’s Bible reading, John says something that is difficult to grasp. “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. … For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.” Revelation 17:13,17 (CSB)

What’s difficult to grasp is that these kings give their power and authority to the beast because God put it in their hearts to do so. Did they not have a say in the matter?

Is there anywhere else in the Bible where something like this occurs? Look at the story of the Exodus. When Moses asked Pharaoh’s permission to take the Hebrews to the desert to worship God, Pharaoh hardened his heart, right? Yes. (Exodus 8:15, 8:32, 9:34)

And yet, no.

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had told Moses.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may do these miraculous signs of mine among them,
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the Israelites go.
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go.
Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his land.

(Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10 CSB)

We want to think that we are completely independent and can do whatever we want. After all, we have free will, right? Not so fast.

Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and Isaiah says that our righteousness is worthless. (Isaiah 64:6) The Fall affected us to the core of our being. Human beings were radically corrupted by the Fall in Genesis 3. The Reformer Martin Luther pointed out that even our will was affected by The Fall. So no, our will is not as free as we think it is!

God is capable of bending our will. And He must do so if we are to hear and respond to the Gospel message. Otherwise, we will never respond to His call to salvation. Because of The Fall, our natural inclination is to choose other than God.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:44 (CSB)

Application

Without God’s intervention, human beings — you and I — are lost. We are destitute. We are objects of God’s wrath. We are separated from God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are enemies of God. We are hopeless! (see Ephesians 2 for the condition of those without Jesus)

Sinclair Ferguson said, “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather, He accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. nor does He mean to leave us the way He found us, but to transform us into the likeness of His Son.”

Praise be to God that God accepts us despite the way we are! Spend a few moments today praising God for His grace and mercy.

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humble repentance

In today’s Bible reading, we see more trumpets blown and more calamities sent to earth. Each is worse than the previous one. One-third of the people died. (Revelation 9:18)

And yet, those remaining two-thirds of the people do not repent.

If you’ve ever read 2 Chronicles 7:14, you’ll remember that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive sin, and heal the land if His people will simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their evil ways.

That’s a tremendous promise! But the promise comes in the context of a response to God bringing calamity on His people because of their wickedness. Before this verse, God promises to bless His people. But if they turn away from Him, He will bring hardship. If they respond with humble repentance, God promises to act.

In our reading, God brings calamity, but no one repents. (Revelation 9:20-21)

How incredibly sad.

Application

Indeed, God’s promise to answer the prayers of His people, forgive their sin and bring restoration to their land is a tremendous promise.

As I type this on Tuesday Night, the US House of Representatives has handed down two Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States. I’m not going to go into my feelings about this other than to say that the Articles — even if glaringly true — do not qualify as treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, the only provisions in the US Constitution for impeaching the President.

The United States is in a crisis. It’s (past) time for God’s people to cry out to Him in humble repentance, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wickedness.

Nothing short of this will restore civility to our beloved nation.

This is not a Left vs. Right political problem. This is a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.

Spend a few minutes right now, asking God to bring conviction of your sin. As He reveals areas where you have sinned, confess those sins (“God, I am a sinner. I was wrong. I did ___.”) and repent (something like, “God, forgive me. Give me a renewed heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit that I might follow you.”) If God leads you to periods of extended prayer and/or fasting, don’t delay. Obey Him immediately!

Ask God to unite His people and draw us to Him. Ask God to raise up a mighty army of men and women who are committed to following God’s prescription in 2 Chronicles 7. Ask God to bring another Spiritual Awakening and revival to our country.

The big application here is to repent whenever God brings correction.

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we inherit Adam's sin

Last week, we looked at what happened when the seals were removed from the Scroll and God’s judgment began to be executed.

It was bad.

In today’s Bible reading, angels blow trumpets and more calamity is hurled at the earth. Without the context of the rest of the Bible, these actions sound cruel, both to mankind and to the rest of creation (sun, moon, etc.)

We tend to think that Adam’s choice in a garden so long ago wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just a “missing the mark” moment. A mistake.

But when taken in the context of the rest of Scripture, much more happened that day in the garden. So much more!

When taken in the context of a representative — THE representative head — of creation choosing Creation over Creator, the enormity of the offense comes to light.

When Adam bit into the forbidden fruit, he snubbed The Cosmic Benefactor.

When Adam bit into the forbidden fruit, Adam raised his middle finger at God.

And the book of Revelation records the Cosmic, cataclysmic effects of that seemingly innocuous act of satisfying a hunger. The hunger Adam was trying to satisfy was more than an empty stomach. Adam was trying to fill Adam with Adam. And Adam was created with a hunger for His Creator.

Application

Sin is in our DNA.

Each of us inherited sin from our first father. Each of us inherited lostness. Each of us inherited alienation. Each of us inherited an inclination to tell God where He could go with His plans for an eternal relationship.

And there, but for the grace of God go all of us.

All of us.

All. Of. Us.

Praise God for His grace! Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His patience. For His second chances. For His 8,000th chances.

If you haven’t turned from your sin and turned to Him, please do it today! Don’t wait, because once The End begins, there are no 8,000th chances.

There are no second chances. And eternity is a long time.

So turn from your sin and turn to God. Stop trusting yourself and your plans. Trust God and His plans. Come to know Him. Spend time getting to know Him better. And fall in love with Him.

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