Will We Act Boldly For God in the Face of Fear?

Ananias obeys God to heal Saul who wants to arrest him

Will We Act Boldly For God in the Face of Fear?I like the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, turning him from a murderous bigot into a passionate follower of Jesus. A flash of light, a voice from heaven. It has all the makings of a great story. In this account, God is the hero, and Saul is the focus, but an essential, though minor, character is Ananias. Without Ananias, Paul’s transformation would have been incomplete. Without Ananias, Saul would have floundered.

You see, after the flash of light and the booming voice of God, Saul is left sightless and befuddled. God then appears to Ananias in a dream. He says, “Go find Saul—the man who is here to arrest you and your friends for your faith—and heal him.”

It sounds like a trap to me, a ruse of Saul’s making. Though Ananias does object, God shows him the big picture, and then he obeys. From a human standpoint, Ananias takes a huge personal risk. All evidence suggests he will be the next follower of Jesus thrown into the pokey. From a human perspective the safe thing, the wise course of action, would be to ignore God, forget about Saul, and leave town. Because of Ananias, Paul becomes the church’s most traveled missionary and prolific writer. Click To Tweet

To be completely honest, I fear I would have done just that. But Ananias doesn’t. He boldly does what God tells him to do and heals Saul. As a result of Ananias’s obedience, Saul, later known as Paul, becomes the most traveled missionary in the early church and its most prolific writer.

Thank you Jesus, thank you Paul, and thank you Ananias.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 9, and today’s post is on Acts 9:10-17.]

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Where Should We Go For Jesus?

Sometimes we may need to go far away for Jesus and other times we may simply need to go home

Where Should We Go For Jesus?Before Jesus returns to heaven, he tells his followers to go throughout the world and let others know about him (Matthew 28:19). Does that mean we’re all supposed to travel to a distant country for Jesus? It could be, but it might not.

Consider a different account, one where Jesus gives an alternate instruction.

Luke tells us the story of Jesus exorcising a legion of demons from a man. Jesus permits the displaced demons to enter into a herd of pigs. They do. The pigs go berserk, jump into the water, and drown. (We know the pigs die, but I wonder if the demons die along with them. It’s an interesting thought, but that question has deep theological ramifications to consider at a different time.)

The demonic influence is now gone from the man. In his right mind, and likely full of gratitude, the man asks if he can hang out with Jesus. Jesus says sure, why not . . . No, that’s not what Jesus says at all.

Jesus tells the man no way. Instead Jesus instructs the restored man to simply go home and let his family and friends know about what God did for him by restoring him to full health. The man obeys and tells the whole town about Jesus (Luke 8:38-39). Our mission field may be in a foreign country, but it might be in our own home or next door. Click To Tweet

In both accounts Jesus tells his followers to go. One time it is to go to all nations and the other time it is to go home. While our mission field may be in a foreign country, it might also be in our own home or right next door.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 8, and today’s post is on Luke 8:26-39.]

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What Did Jesus Do?

Move from asking “What Would Jesus Do?” to asking “What Did Jesus Do?”

What did Jesus do?The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was popularized in the 1990s. Often epitomized by colorful bracelets that bore the acronym WWJD, the concept was intended to serve as a constant reminder for followers of Jesus to act as he would act. Therefore, in any given circumstance the goal of WWJD is for us to ask ourselves, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Then we should act accordingly.

I like WWJD as an ongoing nudge to always strive to behave in a manner consistent with Jesus. However, this requires that we presume to know how Jesus would act today. This necessitates interpreting his actions from two thousand years ago and projecting them into our modern culture, which we invariably do through the lens of our personal experience. Some call this contextualizing. The problem in doing so is that we make assumptions and might be in error.

Instead of presuming to know what Jesus would do, it might be better to look at the Bible to see what he actually did.

In reading the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the biographies of Jesus—here are some of the things that Jesus consistently does:

Jesus Loves Everyone: The Bible shows Jesus loving everyone, especially those on the fringes of society, the people who “good” folks avoid. Jesus does the opposite, going out of his way to love those who few people love.

Jesus Questions Spiritual Conventions: A paraphrase of a reoccurring teaching of Jesus is “You have heard it said ____, but I say ____.” It seems Jesus consistently challenges the beliefs people have and the way they act. His teaching delights the common people and frustrates the people who think they have everything figured out about God and what he expects.

Jesus Heals People: Jesus goes around healing people of their physical infirmities, from removing fevers to raising people from the dead. In this spectrum of need are people with odd afflictions that the Bible calls evil spirits. It matters not if these people are really possessed by demons or if their struggle is actually mental illness. The reality is that Jesus heals them; he solves their problems.

And for those who claim that miraculous healing doesn’t apply today, check out Jesus’s future-focused statement in John 14:12: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.Jesus healed people and said that his followers would do the same—and more! Click To Tweet

Jesus Feeds People: On two occasions Jesus feeds hungry people, miraculously multiplying a measly amount of food to feed a multitude. Before you assume you can’t do that, go back to read the above verse in John. Of course we don’t always need a miracle to feed people. We can just do it the normal way and feed hungry people from the resources we have.

Jesus Opposes Religiosity: Jesus opposes the religious status quo. Though Jesus clearly loves everyone, one group consistently earns his criticism: the spiritual leaders who follow regimented religious rules. They adhere to a spirit of religiosity. Though they are devote in their righteousness and adherence to their traditions and interpretations of the Bible, Jesus consistently has to correct their errant thinking.

These are the things that Jesus does. May we go out and do the same, to do what Jesus did.

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Should We Separate From or Include Those Who Are Different?

Leviticus warns against everything unclean, but Jesus has a different response

Should We Separate From or Include Those Who Are Different?I’ve never met anyone who likes the book of Leviticus, and many admit to skimming it when it comes up in their Bible reading plan, yet a thoughtful read of this often-tedious book reveals startling insights.

Today’s section talks about the unclean: unclean people, unclean actions, and unclean things. God gives instructions for dealing with the unclean (Leviticus 13:4); he wants to keep his people away from such things so they remain both healthy and pure.

Leprosy, an often-fatal condition, is a grave consideration in that day. If carries both a threat to others and a stigma in society. Physical separation is the only solution in confirmed cases. No one would touch a leper, who would live the rest of his or her life without the comforting pat of another human being.

Jesus, who comes to fulfill the Old Testament Law (Matthew 5:17), has a different idea. When encountering a leper he does the unthinkable; he reaches out and touches the man (Matthew 8:3). Then he helps the inflicted person by healing him. When Jesus encounters a leper he does the unthinkable; he touches the man and then heals him. Click To Tweet

Jesus, not the book of Leviticus, provides our example for dealing with those who society won’t touch, the unclean in our world. We accept them. We help them. They are not unclean. They are part of God’s creation, just like us. We love them just like Jesus.

How do we effectively treat others that society views as unclean? What can we do to touch those who others ignore?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Leviticus 13-15, and today’s post is on Leviticus 13:4.]

God Pursues Us, But Do We Notice?

When God calls people to him, some come and others run away

God Pursues Us, But Do We Notice?As the prophet Hosea wraps up his writings, he gives us some insight into the heart of God. He writes that the more God called his people, the more they ran away from him (Hosea 11:2).

Imagine God beckoning for us, longing for us to be in a relationship with him. With much expectation he calls our name. But instead of hearing his call and running into his arms, we turn our back on him and run in the opposite direction. It’s as if he offers us a high-five and we leave him there, hanging, poised to receive a response we will never offer.

How this must grieve him.

We’ve all had this happen to us. We extend ourselves to others: to family, neighbors, friends, and the church. But instead of receiving the response we hope for, the reaction we long for, we hear only silence or receive a sharp rebuff.When God calls us do we run into his arms or flee from him? Click To Tweet

Now multiply that by thousands, by millions, and by billions. That’s how many of humanity’s numbers snub God’s call and ignore his persistent love. It breaks my heart, and more surely must break his – a billion times over.

Yet God responds, not in anger, but in love. He still cares for his people; he still wants the best for them. Though he heals them, they do not realize it comes from him (Hosea 11:3). They do not attribute their good outcomes to his loving care for them.

When God calls us, may we answer. When he heals us, may we thank him.

How does God call us? How will we respond?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Hosea 8-11, and today’s post is on Hosea 11:2-3.]

The Early Church Had a Great Reputation. What Happened?

In the Bible, Dr. Luke notes that the gathering of folks who follow Jesus (aka, the church) enjoy the goodwill of all the people. In another place he records that all the people have a high regard for the church. Perhaps that’s why they grow from a handful of people to several thousands in just a few months.

Imagine that. Everyone holding the church in high regard and with goodwill; the result is rapid growth.

If only that were the case today. Yes, some people on the outside respect the church, but society as a whole, holds a much different view. They hate us and criticize us. They call us hypocrites and view us as filled with hate and always arguing. In large part, they’re right.

What happened? What went wrong over the past two thousand years? Here are four ideas to consider:

They take care of their own: The early church shares what they have with one another, and no one has any needs. (Notice the focus is on meeting needs, not fulfilling wants.)

They don’t ask for money: The early church isn’t constantly asking for money and doesn’t take weekly offerings. The few times they do take a collection, it is to give away to those outside their community.

They help others: The apostles go around healing people.

They rely on the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit plays a leading role. He is prominent, in the book of Acts, leading the church and empowering its members.

Today, the church does a poor job of caring for its own, is always taking offerings, forgets to help others, and relies on its own abilities instead of God.

That’s what happened. It’s time to change.

[Acts 2:47, Acts 5:13]

Women in the Bible: Miriam

Miriam is the older sister of Moses; she’s also the sister of Aaron, but we don’t know which one is older.

At the time Moses is born, there’s a degree to kill all baby boys. His mom hides him as long as she can, then she puts him in a basket and places him in the Nile River. Mariam watches at a distance to see what happens. When the pharaoh’s daughter finds him, Miriam pops up and offers to find a woman to nurse him; she picks her mom.

As an adult, Miriam is a prophet and worship leader of sorts, leading the women in song and dance to celebrate God’s rescue when they crossed the sea to escape the Egyptians.

Unfortunately, what we know most about Miriam is when she and Aaron oppose Moses over his choice for a wife and out of jealousy. God’s judgment is quick, instantly inflicting her with leprosy (a contagious skin disease, untreatable at the time). Though Aaron is also at fault, he is not so afflicted, suggesting that perhaps Mariam led their tiny rebellion. When Aaron sees what happens to his sister, he immediately admits his bad attitude and begs Moses to intervene. Moses does and implicitly God heals her. The whole nation then waits for her for seven days as prescribed by Jewish law.

A few years later Miriam dies; there’s no mention of the people mourning her death, a sad end to a promising life.

Though Mariam started well as a brave and obedient daughter and later as a prophet and worship leader, she let judgment and jealousy define her later life. God was not pleased.

[Read Miriam’s main story in Numbers 12:1-15.]

[Discover more about the Bible at A Bible A Day.com: Bible FAQs, Bible Dictionary, Books of the Bible Overview, and Bible Reading Plans.]

Book Review: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

By Phillip Keller (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)
Book Review:  A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
The idea of a shepherd overseeing his flock is a powerful metaphor of the relationship between God and his people. Unfortunately, today’s world has largely lost touch with its agrarian roots, missing much of the deeper meaning of a shepherd’s watch and care over his flock.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 takes an interesting and insightful look at the 23rd Psalm from the perspective of a shepherd, who is also the author. By learning how a good shepherd protects, cares, and provides for his sheep, we can gain a better understanding into how our Good Shepherd cares for us, his sheep.

Furthermore, as we learn about the sacrifices Keller made for his sheep and the ways in which they benefited — generally oblivious to his loving efforts — we gain insight into God’s sacrifices for us to keep us safe from enemies, healthy from maladies, and content in our existence. Sometimes, though, sheep thwart the shepherd’s efforts; in this regard, Keller again shares from his experience, in which we see the loving patience of the Good Shepherd emerge.

Reading this book will appreciably change the way you read Psalm 23.

[A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller. Published by Zondervan, 2007, ISBN: 978-0310274414, 176 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

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Book Review: The Poor Will Be Glad

The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty

By Peter Greer and Phil Smith (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)
Book Review: The Poor Will Be Glad
Over half of the people in the world live on less than four dollars per day and one billion of them live on less than a dollar a day. Most of them reside in developing countries. These people face a plethora of problems, including hunger, child mortality, lack of clean drinking water, death producing diarrhea, a dearth of education, limited access to healthcare, lower life expectancy, an absence of women’s rights, high unemployment, and a shortage of access to financial services. So opens Peter Greer and Phil Smith’s book, The Poor Will Be Glad.

Attempting to tell them about Jesus, without addressing the ravages of poverty in their lives, fail to produce long-term results. However, when physical needs are addressed along with spiritual needs, lasting change can result. Unfortunately, many aid efforts, although well intentioned, actually do more harm than good, training recipients to be dependent on and expectant of Western handouts.

The solution that authors Greer and Smith advocate is microfinance. Microfinance provides small, short-term loans to poverty-mired, but otherwise able individuals. These loans enable them to engage in income-generating work that can improve their standard of living and help them rise above the ravages of poverty. Succinctly, access to small amounts of capital empowers the poor. As the book’s subtitle suggests, microfinance can lift the world out of poverty – and the church should join in this revolution.

After laying out the severity and pervasiveness of poverty and offering microfinance as a liable and proven solution, Peter Greer and Phil Smith devote the latter two parts of the book to detail microfinance and connect it to ministry. When done properly and wisely, the results are an opportunity to help those in poverty on both a physical and spiritual level.

The Poor Will Be Glad is full of instructive and inspiring examples of microfinance in action. Unlike many books that are co-authored, where it is often frustratingly unclear which author’s voice and experiences are being shared, with The Poor Will Be Glad, there is no such confusion. The book also abounds with poignant pictures from professional photographer Jeremy Cowart. The inclusion of his work in The Poor Will Be Glad raises the work to coffee-table book status. This, however, does not detract from, but rather enhances, its central function of providing practical education on the power of microfinance, coupled with ministry.

Microfinance is not a poverty panacea, but it does offer the most realistic way to make lasting changes in the lives of the poor in third world countries. When it is coupled with biblically based principles and pointing people to Jesus, the change can be eternal.

[The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty, by Peter Greer and Phil Smith. Published by Zondervan, 2009, ISDN: 978-0-310-29359-0, 279 pages, $19.99]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

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Blindness Leads to Sight

When God needed to turn Saul’s life around, he used a supernatural light, an unseen voice, and temporary blindness to get Saul’s attention (Acts 9:3-9).

Some time later, Saul (Paul), under the power of the Holy Spirit, did the same thing to a guy named Elymas. Elymas was supernaturally blinded for a time so God could get his attention (Acts 13:9-11).

These two accounts have amazing similarities.

Before both of these occurred, Jesus healed a blind man. When questioned about it, the man said, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

What he said literally about Jesus healing him, we can say figuratively about Jesus saving us.