The More Accurate Way

Apollos began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. ~ Acts 18:26 (CSB)

Apollos was a young man who had a great desire to tell others about Jesus. He spoke well and had a boldness that was evident to all who heard him. Yet, there was a problem. We’re told in Acts 18:25 that he spoke accurately about Jesus but only knew about John’s baptism. This seems to mean that Apollos was unaware of Jesus’ words we find recorded in Matthew 28—to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, welcoming them in as part of the Christian family.

We’re not told why Apollos was unaware of this, but it seemed to be deficient in his teaching. It was likely the case, then, that as he led people to faith in Jesus he did not proceed to see them baptized in obedience to Jesus. In this way, his teaching was lacking.

When he spoke in Ephesus he was heard by Priscilla and Aquila, a spiritually mature couple who loved Jesus and together proved to be a great help to Paul during his time in Corinth. When they discovered this deficiency in Apollos’ teaching, they took him aside (that is privately) and explained to him the bigger gospel story. And what was the result? Apollos continued on to the next town with the blessing of the church and “was a great help to those who by grace had believed” (18:27).

For us, we find here a lesson in correction. Christians who are more spiritually mature are humble. They can reflect back on their lives and they realize the growth they have experienced along the way. They understand they have had times where they had to learn the “more accurate” way. As they learned about Jesus through Scripture, some of their beliefs changed and sharpened with time.

What, then, is their response when they hear a younger Christian saying or doing things that might not be quite right? They seek to correct and offer guidance in love, just like Priscilla and Aquila.

This involved four things: First, they were willing to listen. They waited until Apollos had finished. They listened to everything that he had to say. Second, they were willing to engage. They didn’t say, “Oh, that doesn’t sound right” and then ignored it. They wanted to help this young man grow and mature. So, they went to him and engaged with him. Third, they corrected him in private. We don’t know exactly what this couple said to Apollos, but likely they opened scripture and shared things they had learned from Paul and others. In doing so, they didn’t make a scene. They didn’t browbeat the young man or try to show themselves superior. They didn’t want to embarrass him. They simply took him aside and spoke with him in private. Fourth, they encouraged him in his gifts. When everything was said and done, Priscilla and Aquila would have been among those in 18:27 who wrote to the disciples in Achaia to welcome Apollos. Though they had to correct him, they supported his continued efforts to share.

These same four things should be true for us. When we face a situation where we need to correct someone else, we should be willing to listen to them and observe what is happening, be willing to engage with them, be seeking ways to speak to them in private, and then be encouraging of them. This is a better path, or a more accurate way, than the harsh criticism that we see so much today in the world.

A Reflection on Love (thoughts for Valentine’s Day)

Many of us know the passage well. People quote it, read it at weddings, hang it on plaques on the wall—Paul’s famous words on love from 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians 13:6-8 (CSB)

When we read this passage in their context, we find that it’s not primarily about marriage or romance, but about serving one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus. Paul wrote these words right in the heart of correcting the church on how to use spiritual gifts to serve and not to show off or exalt self. Still, the application is broad. Serving others is a universal call for we who follow Jesus. So, we can apply this to marriage and friendship and how we treat our neighbors.

If we were to boil down Paul’s teachings into a single statement, it would say this: Love happily seeks the best for others. And, oh, how that should be us!

Love, in this way, is other-focused. It is like when Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. There’s an assumption here: We typically are patient with ourselves and want others to be patient toward us. We tend to be kind to ourselves and want others to be kind toward us. We tend to be… and want others… the list goes on. The Bible assumes that in normal situations, we love and want the best for ourselves. But it also knows that it is harder for us to freely extend this attitude toward others.

But that is the command here—we’re to be patient with others, kind to others, not envious of others, etc. And nowhere do we see that we are to be these things only if they reciprocate. Love is not self-serving through what we gain from others. In Christ, we are already perfectly loved by the Father. We love because he loved us. That should be enough to motivate us to love even if no one loves us back the way we would want. Love is other-focused.

Love also looks for the best. We can say this in two ways: First, love seeks to bring the best to others. True love seeks ways to better the life of another both in the present and in eternity. It seeks to show the person Jesus and meet their present needs—physical, emotional, and relational. Second, love looks for the best in others. Living in a fallen world and being repeatedly hurt in a fallen world can cause us to be jaded. We jump to conclusions, question motives, and make assumptions without the facts. Love fights against these trends. Love refused to ignore evil and will deal with it when necessary, but love is also willing to believe and hope. Love looks for the best.

Finally, love continues. Paul was making this point in light of eternity: Eventually, when Jesus comes back and we see things clearly and no longer as through a blurry mirror, the need for various gifts will drop away. But love will remain. God is love, as John the Apostle wrote. God is also eternal. So, if love will continue forever, our present moments of love should be long-lasting. The “loving feeling,” as the song says, sometimes gets lost. But love itself, as a commitment and an act to seek another’s best, should continue. If someone loves us, we continue to love them. If someone is indifferent to us, we continue to love them. If someone hurts us as an enemy, we continue to love them. Jesus, after all, loved us when we were his enemies. He loves us when our hearts turn momentarily apathetic. And he loves us all the same when we love him well. That is his example for us. Love continues.

heart 02 (pixabay 02132018)

Picture used with permission from pixabay.com

Prayer and Boldness

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:31 (ESV)

What do you do when you feel threatened? We hear about the fight or flight response. When someone threatens us, hurts us, or makes us insecure we either boil into a rage, ready to defend ourselves, or we withdraw and seek to distance ourselves.

Peter and John had already experienced this as part of Jesus’ Twelve. When Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and crucified, the other nine of the party scattered (flight). John stuck around but mostly kept out of the way (a type of flight) whereas Peter followed close but denied, even vehemently, that he knew Jesus (a type of fight).

Yet, something changed after the resurrection. Jesus commissioned them (and us) to take his gospel into all the world, even if it meant facing great dangers. And to empower us, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to be with us, strengthen us, and direct us.

So, in Acts 4, Peter and John went about healing people and proclaiming Jesus. This time, they were the ones arrested and taken before the leaders. There they were threatened and told to stop, or else worse would come to them.

After their release, however, they went back and joined their fellow followers of Jesus. They told of what had happened, and together they prayed. This time, though, there would be no fight to protect themselves and there would be no flight to escape. They prayed, the Holy Spirit strengthened them further, and they went out and faithfully spoke about Jesus, emboldened.

This is what prayer does when we’re threatened. When we feel tempted to fight or to flee, prayer takes the focus off our own anger, hurt, or fear. Prayer reminds us that we are helpless to be faithful in our own power. Prayer focuses and connects us to the God of all strength and grace. And God will answer those prayers for spiritual boldness because he loves us and he has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us away from fear.

Thus, we can be faithful to Jesus and we can say along with Peter and John, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:20)

The Loud, Visible Return of Jesus

“The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you won’t see it. They will say to you, ‘See there!’ or ‘See here!’ Don’t follow or run after them. For as the lightening flashes from horizon to horizon and lights up the sky, so the Son of Man will be in his day.” – Jesus, Luke 17:22-24 (CSB)

Something that distinguishes many cults is secrecy. They don’t want their true beliefs or inner workings to be publicly known. Some have even twisted views of Christianity, setting up secret sects or compounds, claiming that Jesus has returned and is among them.

But Jesus, himself, gives us a different picture of his return. Though in the Son of God’s incarnation into the world, he was born without much fanfare to a young couple from the lower end of the social spectrum, when he returns it will be anything but unspectacular.

There won’t be secret appearances or compounds in which to gather in the wilderness. There won’t be people disappearing and the world wondering what had happened. No, Jesus’ return is going to be visible and public. There will not be a person on the earth who will miss it.

Lightning, in it’s brief moment of existence, can make the darkest hour of night seem like day. You can’t not notice when lightning strikes. The same will be true with Jesus’ return.

The church at Thessalonica encountered some false teaching that said otherwise. Someone, pretending to be Paul, wrote telling them that they had missed the return of Jesus, and this upset them greatly. So, Paul reminded them not to be troubled. They knew what he had originally taught them and it was still true. Jesus wasn’t coming back in secret but he’d be revealed “from heaven with his powerful angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:6).

So, we can rest in what Jesus said. We don’t have to worry about missing his return or having to find him in some hidden gathering. When he comes back, the whole world will know.

Generosity

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Jesus, Luke 12:32-34 (ESV)

The Bible regularly calls us to generosity. In the Old Testament, the attitude is pictured with a wide-open hand. Instead of holding back for yourself, you open up to share with others.

Jesus gives us the foundational cause for our generosity in Luke 12–when God is our Father, we already have everything.

With this, there will be a disconnect that we feel between this life and eternity. When we live on budgets, balance our bank accounts, and try not to spend more than we bring in, it might seem like we don’t have much. But, our share in everything is coming. This is why the Bible describes our eternal gain through Jesus as an “inheritance.” An inheritance is something that is becoming ours but not yet in our hands.

The problem with earthly inheritances is that they are never guaranteed. Even if a parent or grandparent promises us a large sum of money, something could always happen that results in a far reduced share. Our eternal inheritance, however, will be ours without question. Jesus already gained it on the cross, and the God who never lies has promised that will we receive our full share through Christ.

This reality shapes what we do with our money now. Do we want to be wise with it? Of course. Is there still room for investing and saving? Yes, as we are able. But, we should not let gain in this life be a driving motive. What we do with our treasure reflects our hearts.

If we live as children of the Kingdom, we’ll be interested in helping out, as much as we can, those who are in need. We can be generous because we don’t live for the money in the account, but rather because we live for Jesus and he has promised us a treasure that will never fade.

Truly Blessed

We’ve been on a break from updating the website for a couple of weeks. We hope to be back regularly starting today. Our Bible reading plan for 2018 is a slower plan (typically a chapter a day) designed to take us through most of the New Testament and half the psalms at a pace to allow for more thought and reflection. Online devotional thoughts will draw from that day’s passage in the Bible Reading Calendar (you can download the calendar by clicking here).

Truly Blessed

As Jesus said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” – Luke 11:27-28 (ESV)

People talk all the time about being blessed. When athletes and entertainers win games or awards, they might speak of how blessed they feel. We even find on social media the hashtag #blessed used to describe something good that has happened.

To be blessed is to have an experience of goodness. The word essentially means to be made happy or to be in a happy state of being. This is more than a general sense of happiness that comes in day to day life. To be blessed typically involves and even greater cause for joy.

This is what the woman intended who called out to Jesus. She knew that Jesus was someone special, so his mother should be happy in a special way. And, indeed, Mary may have been. However, Jesus turned around the idea of blessing upon this woman. He replied to her that those truly blessed are those who hear and do God’s word.

Why is this so?

First, it’s because the Bible is God’s word about himself. God is great joy and he is the giver of great joy (Psalm 16:11, 1 Timothy 1:11, John 17:13). Therefore, to know God and experience his presence through his word is to be greatly blessed.

Second, it’s because the Bible is God’s word about our need for Jesus. The Bible is a book of “good news,” but we need the good news because of the bad news. The bad is that we all rebel against God and deserve death and hell. The good is that even though we had no way to rescue ourselves, Jesus came to rescue us from our rebellion. It is a great blessing to move from being enemies of God on a path toward hell to being children of God on a path toward eternal joys.

Third, it’s because the Bible tells us how to live “blessed” lives. As Jesus said in John 10:10—“The thief” (that is, sin, Satan, and death) “comes only to steal, to kill, and to destroy, but I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” When we turn to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, we have power to live different lives—lives that daily please God. Such lives rest in and reflect the goodness of Jesus who came to give us abundant life. The commands of Scripture steer us away from the way of the thief and into the way of Jesus, the way that is blessed.

So, cling to Jesus, hear the word of God, and do what it says. There you will find true blessing.

Out of Egypt (an advent devotion)

So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called my Son. ~ Matthew 2:14-15 (CSB), quoting Hosea 11:1

The book of Exodus details how God rescued his people, Israel, from their slavery and started them on the journey to the Promised Land. God had told Abraham that he would give a strip of land in the Middle East to his descendants, but first they would spend 400 years in a foreign country because God wasn’t yet ready to bring judgment against sin on the other peoples of the land (Genesis 15).

Israel’s time in Egypt started well, with Joseph (Israel/Jacob’s second youngest son) ascending to prominence and rescuing his family from famine. But Exodus begins by telling us that with the passing of time a new Pharaoh over Egypt arose who didn’t remember Joseph and enslaved and imposed harsh conditions upon the Israelites to keep them from becoming too large a people to control.

In response, once the 400 years were passed, God raised up Moses to deliver Israel and show judgment against Egypt. Through an array of miraculous displays of power, God crushed the Egyptian armies and safely led the people away.

Reflecting back on this, the prophet Hosea recorded God’s words, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

Several hundred years later, Matthew would apply these words not simply to his fellow Jews, but specifically to one Israelite—the child born to Mary to save the world. Jesus came to lead a new Exodus. Instead of calling a nation out of physical enslavement, he would call and enable his people to come out of their spiritual enslavement. He would defeat sin and death to pave the way. And he would lay the path for us to enter into the Promised Land of eternal joy—the new heavens and new earth to come at Jesus’ return.

Jesus could do this as the new and better Moses and the new and better Israel. Where both the leader and the people failed in various ways in the Old Testament and strayed from God, Jesus would never fail. And though he was a child, his life story took him into Egypt only to then come forth and deliver his people. Out of Egypt I have called my Son.

The Exodus, then, also serves as a reminder of the advent of Jesus and the hope that we have through him.