Thursday, January 28, 2010


“For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” (Acts 8:23)

The story of Simon the sorcerer is fascinating. We might prefer to just gloss over it, or ignore it, but it’s there. So, we need to look a little deeper and see what spiritual truth we may mine.

Why would someone want to become a sorcerer? The answer is very simple actually: power. If someone gets beaten up in their relationships, especially as they are growing up, anger becomes the order of the day for them. They got beaten up because of powerlessness, therefore the possibility of gaining power appeals to them. In the first century, sorcery was a genuine power-job which could also be lucrative, adding to its power effect.

Peter perceived that Simon was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Bitterness is not something people achieve or want to achieve but is the result of negative and hurtful experiences that occur repeatedly over time. But here’s what’s interesting: Simon had amazed crowds with his sorcery in Samaria for a long time, but when he saw Philip and the works that were done through him, he himself became a believer. Then, when Peter and John came to town and laid hands on the people for them to receive the Holy Spirit, Simon offered them money to give him the power to do the same. Peter then soundly rebuked him for thinking he could obtain the gift of God with money. Peter told him that his heart was not right with God, and that he needed to repent of this wickedness and ask the Lord to forgive the intent of his heart.

What are we to make of this? The Bible says that Simon believed. All we can do is simply take that at face value and conclude that Simon had a very basic faith. When someone comes to faith, however, that does not mean that suddenly all of the experiences of the past just disappear. We come “Just as I am,” right? We bring it all with us. The Lord changes us, but the past doesn’t just evaporate. And, if there are any spiritual or evil “strongholds” in our lives, they may be immediately broken, but also the Lord may lead us out of them over a period of time as we are discipled.

Simon was a man who came to the Lord but, as a new believer, had all of these years of bitterness and sinful holdovers from his past that had not yet been dealt with. The fact that Simon asked Peter to pray for him suggests that his faith was basic and real and needed to grow, so that he could then deal effectively with those strongholds.

It would seem that we could just dismiss Simon by saying that his faith was not genuine, but things are not that simple. There are many believers in our own day who have a simple and basic faith in Jesus, who also have spiritual strongholds they need to deal with. They need to grow in their faith and walk with other stronger believers, like a Peter and John and Philip, to find full release, so they can enjoy the freedom of being in Christ.

Lord, We thank You for the freedom we have in You. Help us to enjoy it daily. Help those who struggle to know this truth to find their way to the freedom You provide, by the power of Your Spirit and with the help of fellow believers. Amen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Joy in the City

“So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4)

The city was Samaria. The joy was the result of Philip’s work. He was among those scattered by the persecution Saul was leading. He went to Samaria and began the work of proclaiming the gospel. People listened intently, and they saw the signs he performed: healing and casting out “unclean spirits.” Thus there was great joy in Samaria among those who heard and believed.

What a great goal this would make for a church or even an individual Christian. What would your city look like if your church’s goal was to bring great joy to your city? What if that was your church’s vision as well as your mission, and everything you did and said centered around bringing joy to your city?

Whether or not a church might adopt this as a vision statement, or mission statement, or a goal, certainly each of us as individual Christians can make it our aim to live our lives, both in word and deed, in ways that will bring great joy to our city. Would you consider adopting this as your personal goal?

Lord, We pray that our city will experience great joy because of Your gospel, and we pray that we may be part of helping that to happen. Amen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


“Saul, however, was ravaging the church, and he would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3)

Imagine you are in your home having dinner with your family. All of a sudden, police break down your door, storm your house, and surround your family. Then, the leader enters with anger etched on his face and tells them, “Take them away!” The police drag you forcibly from the comfort of your own home and unceremoniously throw you and your family into jail. The leader then says, “This is what you get for being a Christian. Don’t worry, though. You’ll be given an opportunity to deny your faith in Jesus later.”

That is the kind of scenario that family after family faced when Saul went on his rampage against the church in the first century. He was intent on destroying this “cult.” Only, it turned out NOT to be a cult. Saul learned that when he met the resurrected Jesus on the road just outside Damascus. He was going there to arrest Christians in the city when Jesus appeared to him. Saul’s house of cards then totally collapsed.

What we see in Saul’s life is the power of redemption at work. We see what can happen when someone meets Jesus and asks Him into their heart. We simply call it “change.”

Lord, You have brought change to our hearts also, and for that we are eternally grateful. We have experienced the power of Your redemption. Amen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Soul Hope

“Lord, I turn my hope to You.” (Psalm 25:1)

The King James Version of Psalm 25:1 reads, “Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” The Revised Standard Version reads, “To Thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” The New American Standard Bible reads, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Most other versions say the same thing. So why does the Holman Christian Standard Bible read, “I turn my hope to You.”?

The Holman version seems to translate the idea. When someone lifts his or her soul to the Lord, it is essentially reaching out in the hope that God will respond with His gracious blessing. Hope, after all, is something that we each hold in our hearts and in our souls.

Sometimes folks feel like they don’t have much hope. Some may reach such a point of despair because of circumstances they face that they even feel that they have no hope. But hope is actually something we can control. It’s a little bit like words. We formulate them in our minds, and then we speak them. In a similar way, hope is something that is always there, and we can direct it wherever we want it to go. David knew this, and he knew that the hope of his life was something he could turn toward God and trust to God. Thus, lifting the soul to God is the same thing as turning one’s hope toward God in trust.

Lord, We turn our hope to You today and trust it to You. Amen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


“When one of those who reclined at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, ‘The one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God is blessed.” (Matthew 14:15)

A leading Pharisee, obviously well respected, a leader, invited Jesus to a meal. Jesus went. He noticed at the table how the invitees seemed to “jockey for position,” so He used a parable to teach them to practice humility. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” He said. (Mark 14:11)

One invitee responded, “The one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God is blessed.” (verse 15) True enough, but not far enough. His response also built on some assumptions. In fact, the assumption all around the room was that all of them were already members of the kingdom of God by virtue of their heritage and were just awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus pierced their perceptions and saw in their hearts their need to learn the truth about blessings, especially the truth that it is more important to bless than be blessed.

Jesus told the parable of a man who gave a banquet and invited many. Without exception, all those invited began to make excuses. There were three types of excuses offered. First was the “investment excuse.” These folks had some estate or property or monetary issues that they needed to make their priority, so they excused themselves. Second was the “work excuse.” These had work priorities and couldn’t come. Third was the “responsibility excuse.” These had family responsibilities (“I just got married!”) and couldn’t come.

Enraged, the banquet giver told his servant to go out and bring in the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. That done there was still room, so the servant was told to go to the highways and lanes (where robbers and thieves abide) and bring them in. The banquet giver decreed that all those previously invited would not get a bite of his banquet.

Jesus then addressed the Pharisee host and advised him to not just give banquets for friends and family would could return the favor but also give banquets for the poor, maimed, lame, and blind who could not return the favor. Jesus told him that he would be blessed for this and repaid at the resurrection.

The Christ-way is to bless others, whether they cannot or will not bless you in return.

Lord, Help us today to practice blessing others, regardless of the personal outcome to us. Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


“But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.’” (Acts 5:19-20)

We can only imagine the tensions the apostles were feeling in that jail cell. The high priest and his cohorts had taken action. They rounded up these so-called “apostles” and threw them in jail. They were to be tried the next day. To that point the apostles had pretty much been unfettered. They met with the thousands of converts daily at Solomon’s colonnade in the temple area. The priests probably had no problem with that until they learned what these guys were teaching. Then the feathers hit the fan. The high priest intended to exact a pound of flesh from each of them. When the apostles saw the temple police coming, they were seeing authority at work. All this could have created tension, but there is no indication this disturbed them. It seems more likely that tension would have come from the fact that they were forcibly separated from those hungry for the word.

If these tensions were in fact there, God resolved them during the night. He sent an angel who opened the doors and told them to go to the temple and teach. They were to tell the people “all about this life.”

This miraculous release of the apostles was significant as one event in a recurring theme in Acts. The theme is best stated in the last two words, “Without hindrance.” Time and again, the Spirit of God removed barriers, opened doors, and overcame other limitations to the gospel and to those who preached it. Even from prison for as many as five years, Paul kept preaching the gospel.

There is an important truth we must not miss. The Holy Spirit is always at work removing barriers, opening doors, and overcoming limitations. We may see barriers, closed doors, and limitations all around us as we work for the furtherance of the gospel. What we need to remember is that none of them are limitations for the Spirit of God, and He will either take them away, open them up, or show us how to use them for His purposes – all for the glory of God. There is more than one form of release.

Lord, If even the darkness is as light to You, then none of the barriers we face are capable of limiting You. We trust You to show us how we are to serve, so that our service experiences the release of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


“There is great reward in keeping them.” (Psalm 19:11b)

Psalm 19 is one of the more picturesque psalms, leading the heart to soar into the Lord’s presence with praise. It reminds us of how the heavens themselves declare the glory of God.

Verses 7-11 present a thing of beauty themselves in six variations that merge together and focus on one point. The variations are: the instruction of the Lord, the testimony of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord, the commandment of the Lord, the fear [awesomeness] of the Lord, and the ordinances of the Lord. The focal point for all of these is the word of the Lord. They all are communications of the word of the Lord.

We also see six descriptions of the word of the Lord. It is: perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and reliable. These make the word of the Lord desirable.

Then there are six impacts of the word of the Lord. His word: revives the soul, makes the inexperienced wise, makes the heart glad, makes the eyes light up, endures forever, and is altogether righteous. This is how the word of the Lord enables us to live.

There is great reward in knowing the word of the Lord. There is even greater reward in obeying it.

Lord, May Your word impact our lives today in all the ways You have intended, that we may experience the rewards of obeying it. Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lamp Light

“Lord, You light my lamp; my God illuminates my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28)

A human life is like a lamp full of oil. It has the potential for light, but it’s unable to light the lamp on its own. And there is only One who is qualified or capable of lighting it, and that is its Creator, the Lord. The Lord lights this lamp when someone turns away from sin and toward Him and decides to ask Jesus into his or her heart. Faith in Jesus thus becomes the spark, and we then have light in our lives.

This light of God in us illuminates the darkness, so that we can find our way. Have you ever considered what life would be like if there was no light at all and only darkness? If that were the case, there would be no life, in fact. The light of God not only lights our way, but it also helps us to show the way to others who are walking in darkness.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. That is entirely because His light shines in and through us. He is the One who lights our lamps.

Lord, By Your light, show us the way today that we may follow. Amen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


“Satan has bound this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for 18 years – shouldn’t she be untied from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)

On a Sabbath day Jesus was teaching in a synagogue and saw a woman in the vicinity who was bent over and unable to straighten up. The Scripture tells us that Jesus knew that she had been disabled by a spirit. He knew she had been this way for 18-years. So He called out to her that she was free from this spirit, and then He laid His hands on her. She was instantly released and was about to stand up straight. She began glorifying God immediately.

The only question that was raised at that time was whether someone should be healed on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue, in fact, objected and told the crowd they could get their healing done on the other six days but not on the Sabbath. Jesus rebuked the synagogue leader. He reminded everyone that they all untie a donkey or ox and lead it to water on the Sabbath. Why shouldn’t a daughter of Abraham be “untied” from her bondage on the Sabbath day. The people appreciated hearing that.

This event, however, leads us today into a flurry of questions from our modern worldview: How are we to understand today this idea of being “bound by Satan?” Why was this woman bound by Satan? How was she bound? How did Jesus know this? How does this relate to our modern understandings? Was this just a 1st century understanding of infirmities that no longer applies today? What are the implications of this and/or the applications?

Some may say that Jesus was a 1st century man, a product of his own times, with 1st century impressions and understandings, so his view about this woman and spirits was certainly understandable then, but in our day this woman would be seen as just having “thrown out her back” and suffered from it for 18-years until Jesus healed her.

Those who see Jesus as the Son of God and thus fully God while also being fully human have a different understanding. They believe this story is exactly the way things were in the 1st century and the way things are today. They believe that Satan is very real and that a spiritual affliction is as real as any physical affliction.

If we conclude the latter, then we also conclude that it is still possible for Satan to spiritually afflict a human being with a physical malady. He cannot do so arbitrarily, as we learn from Job. He can only do this when sin exists, or when God allows it by His permissive will, for purposes we do not comprehend. But we must also note that God is sovereign over this and can release people from this kind of spiritual bondage that is manifested in the physical realm.

Lord, We do not pretend to understand everything, but we ask that Your Spirit guide us in understanding what Scriptures like this are teaching us. Amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

White Space

“Lord, how long will You continually forget me? How long will You hide Your face from me?” … “But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance.” (Psalm 13:1, 5)

On a tombstone you will often see the name of the person buried below, followed by a birth date year and a death year with a dash between the dates. That “dash” represents an entire lifetime.

In a similar way, sometimes the white space on a page, the space between verses of Scripture, can contain a silent but important message.

David began Psalm 13 with a strong complaint to God about what seemed to him to be hesitation, or distance, or apathy on God’s part with regard to his life situation. It seemed to him like God had forgotten him or turned His face away, leaving him to wallow in his anxiety and discomfort. He felt that God was letting his enemies dominate him. David spent the first 4 verses of Psalm 13 voicing his complaint to God.

Then comes verse 5. “BUT I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance.” Obviously, something important happened between verses 4 and 5. That white space between the verses is silent, but like a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing, we pretty much know what happened, and probably because we’ve done the same kind of thing.

Between verses 4 and 5, some time elapsed, and in that time David obviously experienced a change of heart and attitude. This change came as a result of a time of reflection. As David “stewed in his juices,” so to speak, the Spirit of God came gently to remind him of his past history with Him, a history that began in the sheep pens of the Judean hills around Bethlehem. Probably the Lord reviewed one event after another in David’s mind, like a movie being shown on a screen, and that brought a conviction of sin, and a conviction of God’s grace, followed by a change of focus from “me” to “You.”

It might do us all some good today to take the time to do a little personal reflection before the Lord about the history of our walk with Him. It might help to change our focus and our attitude of heart.

Lord, We thank You that we in fact have a history with You, and in our walk with You through the years, we have experienced one blessing after another. Remind us of these as we walk with You through the day. Amen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Place

“When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1)

Who is “they?” It may seem that the “they” Luke refers to is the 12 apostles. There were 12 now, since Matthias had been added. It is more likely that “they” refers to the whole group of 120 who had been meeting in an upper room, in a house. For 10 days they had been in prayer.

They were all together in one place on the day of Pentecost when this phenomenal spiritual event took place. The event could only have happened by their being in one place.

The whole day of Pentecost event marks a wondrous spiritual occurrence, but we should not overlook the significance of the phrase “one place.” This group of believers was in one place physically, of course, but they were also in one place spiritually, emotionally, socially, and volitionally. This fledgling church was united. Just as this event required them to be in one place physically, it also required that they be in one place in terms of their spiritual, emotional, social, and volitional unity.

Maybe the unity of a church, born of concerted prayer, is a pre-requisite for any significant work of the Holy Spirit to take place in the life of a church. That at least seems to be something of what is being said in Acts 2:1. Maybe unity needs to be more of a priority than we really understand.

Lord, Show us the way and lead us to the kind of unity that honors You and invites the unleashing of Your Spirit’s power. Amen.

Monday, January 11, 2010


“So on your account, the skies have withheld the dew and the land its crops. I have summoned a drought on the fields and the hills… and on all that your hands produce.” (Haggai 1:10-11)

God spoke through Haggai the prophet after the exiles returned to Judah. The people planted much but harvested little. They had some food, drink, and clothes, but never quite enough. The Lord said through Haggai that the reason for this was because the people had said that was not the time to rebuild the Lord’s house. The question in response was stated this way, “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” The Lord went on to say that He was the Author of the drought, and that it was brought about by their self-centeredness.

There is a great truth here we need to see. We would probably not want to turn this into an absolute principle for every situation because it was specifically related to the failure of the Judeans to rebuild the Lord’s temple, but even so there is still a principle in this event that is absolute: Supporting the Lord’s work is always a matter of committed faith.

The argument against rebuilding the temple was that they did not have the resources to do so. They felt they were just getting by themselves. They just barely had enough food, drink, and clothing. They were viewing their situation through black and white glasses, and what they needed to do was see things in color, which God provided through Haggai. The reason they were just getting by was because God sent the drought, and He did that because they were exercising fear rather than faith. They were acting in self-centered ways rather than God-centered ways. God was not calling on them to stop everything they were doing and focus only on rebuilding the temple. He was calling on them to exercise a committed faith to begin rebuilding the temple and keep at it until it was finished, while continuing to carry out their own family responsibilities. He wasn’t asking them to hurt their families. He was just calling on them to demonstrate trust.

This story had a great outcome. “Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the entire remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. So the people feared the Lord.” (verse 12) Exercising committed faith (we call that “obedience”) brings the blessings of the Lord.

Lord, Help us today to demonstrate a committed faith in our support of the work of Your kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


“At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case before You and watch expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)

The events of life can build up layers of stress and duress until we feel beset by them. We find ourselves needing a place of refuge some days, a place where we find both rest and resolution. Sometimes we even feel the need to get there quick!

David had those days, and Psalm 5 seems to be one of them. In verse 3 he says that he went to the Lord at “daybreak,” and the repetition of that word reveals the urgency he felt. And, of course, seeking the Lord at daybreak reveals not only urgency but extreme need.

Urgency and need are clear in what David says, but maybe there is a parallel principle we should explore, one that could lead to a great practice. Maybe there is great benefit in seeking the Lord daily at “daybreak,” regardless of the level of duress. Daybreak is a wonderful time of the day for meeting with God and then watching as He leads us through the day. If a literal “daybreak” is difficult, then maybe “first thing in the morning” will do.

Those who seek the Lord early will find the rest of the day more joyful, for the Lord is a refuge of joy.

Lord, Today be our refuge as we early come to You. We trust Your faithful love. Amen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Heart Joy

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.” (Psalm 4:7-8)

Having life’s basics – like food and drink and shelter – creates a sense of safety, and having them in abundance creates a sense of security, causing people to relax and rejoice. The result is “heart joy,” and that is the kind of joy that allows us to lie down and sleep in peace. We can do so because we know all is well.

So where does this heart joy come from? Is it purely a matter of having basic human needs met? David says that it come from the Lord. “YOU have put more joy in my heart,” says David. But is this arbitrary? Does it just “happen?” No. An expanded examination of Psalm 4 teaches us how it’s done.

The psalm begins with David’s prayer before God. Prayer is always the starting point on the journey to heart joy. We simply turn to God in humility and dependence. His presence then becomes the ultimate source of joy.

The next leg of the journey is knowledge. Verse 3 reads, “Know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for Himself.” The knowledge or awareness that we belong to God and are set apart to Him helps us to relax in Him. Knowing that the Almighty is our refuge sets up joy.

The third leg of the journey is reflection. “Be angry and do not sin; on your bed, reflect in your heart and be still.” When we reflect on those events or people that have disturbed our “shalom,” and when we determine that we will not go the way of an angry sin response, and when in our reflections we move toward God and His sovereignty and come before Him in stillness, that is when we arrive at heart joy.

Lord, You are the Source of our heart joy. We turn to You in the midst of all that is going on in our day, or about to, and we rest in You. Amen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How Happy

“How happy is the man who…” (Psalm 1:1)

Most people want to be happy. They seek happiness as if it were some kind of commodity, or something actually achievable, though. It is not achievable. Trying to obtain happiness is as elusive as chasing the wind.

Happiness is always a by-product of something else. It is the state of mind or life that results from some other life action. For example, a student makes an “A” on a test, and he or she is happy. Someone who is unemployed finds a job, and the result is happiness. A husband and wife have a child, and they are happy. Happiness is always other-action-dependent.

The greatest happiness is dependent on direction. One direction is away from God. The other is toward God. And all of us choose one direction or the other.

Those who choose the path away from God align themselves with those who have little or no regard for the things of God, and they receive their life-input from folks who are disinterested in God. Ultimately, the sin of those they follow becomes their own. They snub God, and they will never experience any genuine happiness in life.

Those who choose the path toward God enjoy thinking about and learn from and applying God’s truths. Their lives produce endless fruit, and this fruit is what we call “happiness.” Those moving away from God have no real life substance (they are like “chaff”), but those moving toward God will enjoy His blessings and will discover what real life is all about.

Lord, May we each today experience the happiness that comes from knowing You and applying Your truth to our lives. Amen.

Monday, January 4, 2010

God’s Reign

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; Your rule is for all generations. The Lord is faithful in all His words and gracious in all His actions… The Lord is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts.” (Psalm 145:13, 17)

The reign of God is eternal. That is because He is eternal. All other kingdoms and all other governments eventually do fall, but the kingdom of God has no end. It endures forever. The Lord’s eternal rule in His kingdom is characterized is at least three ways.

The Lord is faithful in all His words. Whatever the Lord says, the Lord does. God always keeps His promises. When He gives His word, He keeps it. He does so because it is His character to be faithful to all His words.

The Lord is gracious in all His acts. Grace, love, mercy, and compassion are all descriptive of God’s nature. God does not act graciously toward us because we deserve it or because He has to, but because it is His nature to do so.

Then, the Lord is righteous in all His ways. God always does the right thing, and everything God does is right. His judgments are always right, and His ways are always right.

This God is worthy of our worship and praise and adoration. His Spirit calls us today to worship in spirit and in truth, and to then share this truth about Him with a world that gropes in the dark.

Lord, May Your light shine in and through us today as we share with our world that You are faithful to all Your words, gracious in all Your actions, and righteous in all Your ways. Amen.