Acts 18

Read Acts 18.

In this chapter Paul met a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would become his friends and ministry associates. Verse 3 tells us that, in addition to having Christ in common, they also made a living by making tents just as Paul did when he needed money. That work allowed Paul to travel and give the gospel anywhere without asking anyone for money. However, earning a living that way meant spending less time preaching the gospel.

In verse 5, Luke dropped this into the story: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Why would he do this? Why would he work part time with Priscilla and Aquila until Silas and Timothy showed up and then stop making tents and start preaching the gospel exclusively?

The answer is found in Philippians 4:15-16 which says, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” Second Corinthians 11:9 conveys the same information. So here in Acts 18:5 Luke alludes to the financial support the Philippian church sent by saying that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Their financial contributions made it possible for Paul and his team to concentrate on giving the gospel instead of splitting time between giving the gospel and earning a living.

Because of this passage, missionaries who provide for themselves by doing secular work on the mission field are called “tentmakers.” There are some good reasons to do tentmaking, but in most cases the gospel advances better when God’s servants can give it our full attention. That happens when God’s people give faithfully and generously to his work.

So, let me close this meditation by saying thank you to everyone who tithes to Calvary! Your faithful giving allows me to make a living for my family and funds our other staff members and expenses. The same is true for the missionaries our church supports. Their work is funded by our giving.

If you are not giving–or giving very little–please understand how important financial support is to our church and to our missionaries and re-prioritize your finances to support God’s work.

Note: Tomorrow we take a break from Acts and turn to reading the 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Luke 13

Read Luke 13.

A few weeks ago, workers in China built a new hospital. The hospital was needed to quarantine and treat victims of COVID-19 which was spreading rapidly.

Construction on the hospital took 10 days. The time-lapse video of it being built is very impressive.* It’s incredible how rapidly they were able to built it.

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. God does not build his kingdom rapidly. Instead, Jesus said it was like a mustard seed that grew into a tree (v. 19) or yeast that permeated a huge lump of dough (v. 21).

Both of these things happen slowly, imperceptibly. You can plant a mustard seed and look at it everyday. You will see that it has changed over time but you can’t see it changing in time. The growth is happening too slowly to see in real time, but it is happening.

So it is with the gospel. There have been times in church history when thousands came to Christ at the same time (Acts 2:41) but every salvation happens individually and usually those individuals believe alone or in a small cluster. Yet, everyday, all over the world, people are being saved. The church worldwide grows a little bit all the time and, when Jesus returns, we’ll enter the kingdom and see how that little mustard seed has become a massive tree.

If you’ve lost faith in God’s saving power, take heart. The kingdom of God is not a hastily assembled hospital built by people forced to work around the clock by their tyrannical government.

Instead, it is a tree, growing slowly but constantly. And you and I contribute to that growth as we share the gospel message with others.


*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VvV10S4QSw

Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, Acts 17

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, and Acts 17 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 42.

Parts of this chapter in Isaiah are quoted and said to be fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. The chapter describes Christ one who brings justice to the earth (v. 1, 3b-4) yet is gentle toward the weak (v. 3a: “a bruised reed… a smoldering wick”).

In the middle of the description of Christ’s work on earth is the passage that says, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison  and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” This was a signal to Israel that they were not chosen by God to be the exclusive recipients of his saving grace; rather, through his chosen people Israel, God would bring the light of salvation to millions of people all over the world, meaning people like us who have not a drop of Jewish blood in our bodies.

Simeon may have alluded to this passage in Luke 2:32 as he held baby Jesus in his hands and gave thanks to God for him. Though thousands of years have passed since Christ walked this earth, God’s purpose for him continues to unfold as people all over the world see the light of Christ and come to him for salvation.

Take a moment today to pray for people we support in Thailand, England, Canada, here in the U.S. and areas where security is sensitive. They are bringing the light of Christ’s salvation to these areas in fulfillment of this passage. When that work is completed and the time has come, Christ will come to establish his kingdom for us.

Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7

Read Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 19:23-25:

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’”

Isaiah 19 and the little stub of a chapter that is called Isaiah 20 are both about Egypt. Egypt had a long and mostly negative relationship with God’s people in Israel/Judah. Abraham nearly lost his wife there (Gen 12:10ff) and Joseph was enslaved there first before God caused him to rise and become powerful. Joseph’s situation saved God’s people from starving in a famine, but within a few hundred years the Israelites were completely enslaved to the Egyptians.

I could go on here but you get the point: other than during the days of Joseph’s leadership, Egypt and Israel were basically enemies.

The same is definitely true of the Assyrians. They were cruel, oppressive people to Israel and everyone else which is why Jonah did not want to go and preach grace to them. God used the Assyrians to remove the Northern kingdom of Israel from the land in exile.

God’s people may have enjoyed hearing Isaiah prophecy judgment on the Egyptians here in Isaiah 19-20 as he did in 19:1-17 and 20:1-6. But they may also have been confused by Isaiah’s statements quoted above in 19:23-25. These verses prophesied a peaceful situation between Egypt, Assyria, and Israel. God went so far as to say, “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'” That must have sounded almost like heresy, except that it came from the mouth of God himself. 

But God made this statement based on his plan to show grace to all the nations. This peace accord would be accomplished by these nations becoming genuine believers in YHWH. As verse 23-24 says, “The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.” 

The phrase, “a blessing on the earth” bears the echoes of the Abrahamic covenant. God promised Abraham in Genesis 20:3c-d, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” and now, here in Isaiah 19 he restates the promise with more detail. God’s plan, then, was always to save the world through the people of Israel. That salvation came to us through the Lord Jesus Christ and now God is gathering people for himself from every nation on earth. This prophecy will be fulfilled when Jesus reigns on earth during the time we call the Millennium and then beyond that through all eternity. 

Does this passage give you hope? Does it remind you that, despite all the racial, ethnic, and religious tension we see in the world, God is working to resolve that tension by saving different kinds of people all over the world?

Does this give you a desire to pray for world missions? Do you feel any desire to be part of God’s work in missions either by supporting missionaries financially or by volunteering to go to other parts of the world yourself?

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Today’s we’re scheduled to read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord. Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped of Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy she prayed so earnestly for but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Here are your readings for today: Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world–and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear….” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel–ourselves and through missionaries around the world–God is appointing people to eternal life and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

1 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions. Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus. Why? Because he “gave himself as a ransom.” Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “…for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is exclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way–Jesus–so he is the exclusive way to God. But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth–Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives….” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man–our Lord–Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).