We begin reading through the book of Acts in our daily Bible reading; today is Acts 1.
When I began my most recent sermon series, I pointed out that Acts 1:26 records the last time in the Bible that anyone “cast lots” to determine God’s will.
A little background: In the Old Testament times, people would “cast lots” to determine God’s will. We see the same term used when we’re told that the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes during His crucifixion. (Matthew 27:35) So what is it?
Well… let me tell you a little of my own story.
Several years ago, I was preparing to attend a retreat on “Worship” and we were reading through the book of Acts in our month-long preparation. I had recently been laid off and I came across this verse in Acts 1. I thought, “Why not roll some dice to see what God wants me to do?”
Our family had a game chest with all kinds of board games, so I grabbed a handful of dice. (More backstory, I had graduated from Seminary, spent five years on a church staff, and due to situations at church, I was wounded and stepped down, telling God that I didn’t want to be hurt like that again. So, I “left the ministry” for several years.)
Like the Disciples in verse 24, I asked God to speak through the results of my
What are the odds?
I began to sort the dice into “even” and “odd”. There were seven “odd” dice and seven “even” dice. Bewildered, I did the same thing and came up with the exact same results!
Truly amazed, I began to ask God what this could mean. And then I realized that the reason why this is the last time anyone cast lots to determine God’s will: Acts 2 follows on the heels of Acts 1. As we’ll see in tomorrow’s reading in Acts 2, something very special happened in Acts 2.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but God fulfilled His promise that Joel prophesied in Joel 2:28-32 that God’s Spirit would be given in a new, special way — not just to “special” people like prophets, priests, and kings — but to all kinds of “ordinary” people.
A very practical result of this new, special anointing would be that ordinary people would be able to hear God. No longer would ordinary people need to consult with special people like a prophet in order to know God’s will. God would make His will known to ordinary people.
If you are one of God’s kids — an adopted child of the New Covenant — you have the same Holy Spirit living in you that lived in the Disciples. If you are one of God’s kids, you don’t live in Acts 1; you live in Acts 2! You have equal access to your Father and you can learn to hear His voice, too!
Just ask! He’ll begin to speak to you through His Word, His other kids, church leaders, your circumstances, and through an “inward” witness that some people call a “still small voice”.
So spend time in His Word, asking Him to reveal Himself to you. Remember that your purpose in this is not to have some kind of special gift, but to know your Father better and to love Him more.
I am amazed at how often a Bible teacher will come along, trying to convince God’s people that he knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return. I am also amazed how often these Bible teachers will “fleece the flock”, convincing them that he needs money to get the word out. As they give, he pockets much of the money.
Our Lord could not say more plainly that even He doesn’t know when His Father will say, “Son, it’s time. Today is the Day.” The Father is not sharing His timetable with anyone. And yes, that’s a good thing!
Sure, it would be nice to know that I have two years before the End. It would give me time to grow in my faith, tell people about Jesus, teach believers how to grow in their faith, read my Bible more, and pray more.
But Jesus’ point in today’s Bible reading from Mark 13 (specifically Mark 13:32-37) is that I should be doing those things anyway. I don’t know when the Master of the house will return, so I need to always be ready.
How about you? Seriously, are you more interested in knowing when Jesus will return than being ready for His return? Do you spend more time reading Last Days novels and listening to Last Days teachers than you spend reading your Bible and listening to teachers talking about God, and how you can know Him better and love Him (and others) more? Is your Bible reading broad-based, drawing from different parts of the Bible, not just your favorite books, chapters, and verses? (Note: That’s one reason we need to use a Bible reading plan goes through the New Testament or the entire Bible in a year.)
He says to be alert. He gives us signs to let us know that the End is near. Yes, we are in the Last Days. But know that we have been in the Last Days since He arrived on our planet two thousand years ago!
The Kingdom of God has come (Luke 11:20). Its consummation has not come yet, but His Kingdom has already come! For now, we live in a state of “already, but not yet”.
Are you ready?
Today’s Bible reading from Mark 11 includes Jesus cleansing the Temple (Mark 11:15-17).
To understand what’s going on, it helps to get an idea of the general layout of the Temple in the First Century, which was divided into several parts. The High Priest was the only man allowed into the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies), and then only once a year. Other priests could go into the Court of the Priests and the Holy Place. Men were able to go into the Court of Israel, but not into the Court of the Priests. Women were able to go into the Court of the Women, but not into the Court of Israel. Surrounding the Court of the Women and the Court of Israel was the Court of the Gentiles.
During the First Century, Jews would go to the Temple to offer their sacrifices. For convenience’s sake, instead of bringing the animals from home, they would often purchase acceptable sacrificial animals when they got there. The marketplace for buying their unblemished animals was in the Court of the Gentiles. And this is where Jesus created a scene. Well, a
So why was Jesus so upset? Think about it: The Court of the Gentiles was the only part of the Jewish holy place that Gentiles could access. So all they could see of Jewish worship was corrupt, crooked activity. Instead of it being a sacred place, it was a profaned place. Instead of it being a place of prayer, it had been turned into a “den of thieves”. (Mark 11:17)
Although He does not live in a building (Acts 7:48), God takes worship very seriously. Where we worship isn’t nearly as important what and that we worship. (John 4:21-24) And what was being done in the Court of the Gentiles distracted Jews from a God they could worship and kept Gentiles from knowing a God they should worship.
God is worthy of Worship. Christians do missions and evangelism because we want to help people to find the God Who created them to worship Him.
In today’s Bible reading, we came across Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds (Mark 4:3-9). It’s a familiar story for those of us who grew up going to church. We’ve heard it at least a million times, right?
According to the parable, as the sower scattered the seed, some of the seed fell along the path and was scooped up by birds. Some of the seed fell in rocky soil and when seeds began to grow, the plants withered because they didn’t have enough soil to take root. Some of the seed fell in thorns, which choked out the plants as they began to grow. Finally, some of the seeds fell into good soil where it produced a great harvest.
As I said yesterday, we need to guard our hearts. As God’s Word is sown into our lives, we must have receptive hearts, or the Word won’t be able to take root and grow to produce the Kingdom Life that God intends. Yes, God’s Word will accomplish everything that God intends for it
But if you want to make the most of what God has for you in His Word, you absolutely have to keep your heart prepared to receive the Word.
My dad grew up on a farm in Eastern North Carolina. A few days before it was time to plant seeds for the upcoming season, my Granddaddy, my dad, and my uncles would have to till up the hard soil so that when the seeds were sown, they would have fertile soil to grow in. Dad once told me that by the time the process was complete, the empty field would clean and smooth, looking like it had never been used before.
The process took several days and involved several passes of the farm equipment to chop up the leftover corn stalks (left in the field from last year’s corn harvest) and work them into the soil where those old, unused, “wasted” parts could decay and be fertilizer for this year’s crop. It was all organic. Truly, nothing was wasted in my Granddaddy’s field.
The same is true in your life: Nothing is wasted in the field of your life. Our Father is taking all of it — the old, decaying, wasted, leftover stuff that you think is what’s weighing you down — and using those things to prepare you for your present and future. Allow God to work. Allow Him to use the (ahem) dung in your life to be the fertile material for your future spiritual growth.
As you continue to read God’s Word with me this year, let God take all of your life — including the “wasted”, painful parts, the “stuff” that happens — with His Word to make a beautiful, bountiful field … for His glory.
In Mark 3:5 (part of today’s Bible reading) we’re told that Jesus was grieved by the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees.
You would think that men who had spent their entire lives studying the Bible and teaching the Bible could grow so hardhearted.
But unfortunately, it still happens all the time. It’s so hard to know so much in your mind, but miss so much in your heart. This is especially true of those of us who have spent many years as a Christian, even attending Bible College or Seminary.
Yes, on this side of eternity, each of us continues to deal with a deceptive and sick heart (Jeremiah 17:9). But when someone is saved, God gives them a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), one that is receptive to the things of God. And yet….
As you continue reading with me through the New Testament this year, let’s remember to keep our heart soft. Part of keeping our heart soft is marking time with the Spiritual Disciplines (Bible Reading/Study, Bible Memory/Meditation, Prayer, Sharing your Faith, Giving to Support God’s Work, etc.). But just “doing the deal”, going through the motions of Spiritual Growth is no guarantee of Spiritual Growth, or even Spiritual life (Matthew 7:21-23). We must guard our heart (Proverbs 4:23) because that’s where our life comes from.