Day 381: How Good is Your Conscience?Acts 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day."
Thoughts for Today:Easton's Bible Dictionary defines the word "conscience" as follows:
"that faculty of the mind, or inborn sense of right and wrong, by which we judge of the moral character of human conduct. It is common to all men."
Throughout his writings of the New Testament, Paul uses the word "conscience" at least 28 times -- I guess that would mean it describes something he is both familiar with and feels is very important. Yet over the last ten years modern man has abandoned the term almost completely.
Think back to the last television show, news program, magazine article, book you read (non-Christian), or movie you watched. Does anyone ever use "conscience" as a reason for any decisions? The answer is mostly no. The government, Hollywood, the judicial system, big business, higher education -- all want to determine right and wrong for us, not our own "faculty of the mind... inborn sense... common to all men." When did we stop trusting ourselves to make the right decisions? How did right and wrong become so confusing?
The Apostle John gives us the explanation in 1 John 4:4-5, "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them." If you sometimes feel like Paul from our passage today, standing alone with your "good conscience" against the entire world, take heart, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
Questions to Ponder:Do you sometimes feel outnumbered and outgunned? Does it seem like everyone around you accepts as truth the world's point of view? Does this surprise you? Even in the Apostle John's day, Christians dealt with similar issues. Paul's example is to follow our conscience and John's instruction is to accept our ultimate victory ("You are from God and have overcome them"). What about today's lesson needs to be applied in your own life? Have you begun to let majority opinion sway your beliefs? Have you compromised the absolute truth of the Gospel?
Day 380: Positioned by the Lord and at Peace Regardless of the OutcomeActs 22:30
The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.
Thoughts for Today:Unable to "beat" a resolution to this issue out of Paul (illegal because Paul was a Roman citizen), instead the Roman commander decided to bring him before the Sanhedrin hopeful that he could thereby get to the bottom of the disturbance. Despite being thoroughly outnumbered, somehow I don't think Paul considered himself to be at a disadvantage. In fact, I believe God had Paul just where He wanted him -- strategically positioned to witness before the crowd.
I personally have been in a number of tight spots as well, yet somehow I wasn't worried. Close friends and family members who were aware of my predicament were amazed at how well I handled the stress. I was calm throughout. I can somewhat relate to Paul from our passage today, because I too felt God was in control despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles before me. I was certain God had already given me the tools I needed (experience) to meet the challenge of my current ordeal, yet I had no idea of how it would ultimately turn out. Why wasn't I worried? Because my trust was in the Lord, not in the notion of worldly justice, and as a result I was at peace regardless of the outcome.
Questions to Ponder:Are you in a particularly tight predicament yourself right now? Perhaps a project at work, a teenager at home testing boundaries, or any of the countless challenges we face while on this earth? Are you worried, losing sleep, and otherwise letting it affect other areas of your life? In my opinion, the majority of stress is caused by obsessive concern over the outcome of an event. Think about that the next time you find yourself awake at night grinding over a problem. Remind yourself of God's promises and that He has prepared you in advance for this particular event. Don't run from it and don't fear the outcome -- whether it works out the way you hoped or doesn't -- it is still God's will. Do you have that much faith? This is the key to peace in all circumstances.
Day 379: A Case of Mistaken IdentityActs 22:23-29
As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "This man is a Roman citizen." The commander went to Paul and asked, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" "Yes, I am," he answered. Then the commander said, "I had to pay a big price for my citizenship." "But I was born a citizen," Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
Thoughts for Today:It seems authorities confused the identities of two young women -- Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn -- following a devastating collision between a semi-truck and a school van on April 26, 2006, that took the lives of four students and a staff member from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Their blond hair and even some facial features were similar. One of the survivors, Whitney, spent five weeks in a coma while the parents of Laura stood watch by her side, believing she was their daughter. Meanwhile, the parents of Whitney grieved as they buried the girl (Laura) who they believed to be their own daughter.
There were hints, early on that Laura Van Ryn's family missed. While tending to the swollen and bandaged young woman, the family did not recognize the shoes that hospital staff told them belonged to Laura. Her brother noticed her teeth seemed different and, later, her sister was surprised to see her navel was pierced. Their doubts grew when a therapist asked the college student they believed to be Laura to write her name, and they saw what she printed in big letters: W-H-I-T-N-E-Y. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. One girl was joyfully and miraculously reunited with her loved ones (Whitney); while the family of the other was left to belatedly mourn the loss of their precious daughter (Laura).
Lisa Van Ryn (the sister of Laura), wrote these words as she closed out a blog which chronicled Whitney/Laura's recovery: "Our final encouragement to all is this: do not hang on to the things of this world too tightly. Life here is but a vapor and there is an eternity ahead. As you remember the Van Ryn and Cerak families, let us encourage you to look to your neighbors as well. God calls us to love."
In our passage today, Paul suffers from a case of mistaken identity as well. I have often wondered why he waited so long to identify himself as a Roman citizen. Clearly the first act by the Roman soldiers of throwing him into chains was illegal. Yet he waited until just before they were to flog him before he asks the question: "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" These words caused the Roman commander to be greatly alarmed (as he well should have been because the penalty for falsely accusing and/or harming a Roman citizen were quite severe). So how did it happen? The same way Whitney was mistaken for Laura -- being too quick to judge. In other words, looking at surface events and appearance, and then making a decision before all the evidence is in.
Questions to Ponder:Have you ever looked at someone and made up your mind before you ever got to know them? If you later took the time to get to know that person, did you change your mind? I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me. No matter how much we try, we all have a tendency to judge by surface events (hair style, tattoos, dress, language, etc). Is there someone you can think of that you've judged too quickly. Who might deserve a second look?
Day 378: Inclusion and Exclusionary RulesActs 22:22
The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. [Previously, Paul speaking: "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' "] Then they raised their voices and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!"
Thoughts for Today:Recently I was witnessing to a man I met about Jesus. Everything was going fine until I mentioned one word: Savior. I said, "We are all sinners and without a Savior we deserve to be punished for our wrongdoing." That concept is where I completely lost him. It seems it is the same place so many in our society today are lost -- on Jesus. He is the "stumbling block," just as He is the "capstone" or key to eternity.
In our passage today, Paul lost the crowd as well when he mentioned the one word "Gentile." The Jews didn't like a lot of what Paul spoke about (for example: Jesus as God, the resurrection of the dead, etc), but the one thing that angered them most was the idea that the Gentiles could be "grafted" into what they considered their "private" family of God. It caused them to reject everything else Paul had to say. On the other hand, in our modern society the idea of exclusion ("If you don't believe in Jesus...") causes a similar type of reaction (although hopefully less violent).
The Jews didn't want anyone other than themselves to be included within God's family; and just the opposite, modern man doesn't want anyone excluded. Both are rooted in two major fundamental flaws dating back to the Garden of Eden: Man's desire to be God's equal, and his unwillingness to submit and obey God's will. My friend didn't want to acknowledge his need for a Savior, a higher power who could and would judge his life. And the Jews didn't want Jesus as God (Leviticus 26:12 "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people") to change the rules of their very exclusive club. Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions?
Questions to Ponder:We don't get to make the rules for this life or the next; God does. Does that statement bother you? It certainly bugged my friend and caused the Jews in today's passage to riot. In what area of your life are you having trouble following God? Is it because of what you need to do (include), or what you need to stop doing (exclude)? Both require a willingness to submit and obey God. Why is that so hard for us?
Day 377: Open or Closed For DiscussionActs 22:17-21
"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' "
Thoughts for Today:The Lord instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem immediately because the Jews would not accept his testimony about Jesus. As we've seen throughout the Book of Acts there was just something about Paul (certainly his message -- perhaps the way he said or did things) that incited the Jews to fury and outrage. However, no matter how many beatings he took at the hands of the Jews it never seemed to stop Paul from trying to witness, debate, and convince his countrymen -- despite the Lord's orders to the contrary. The Lord was fairly specific with Paul, "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles." Now that's pretty clear to me.
I wonder if someone were to read my life story, would they feel the same way about me? Am I hardheaded like Paul -- willing to do the Lord's will yet stubbornly trying to do mine at the same time? I have prayerfully struggled with Paul's presence in Jerusalem. It seems like such a willful act on his part. On one hand he had multiple occasions when his brothers in Christ spoke to him in the Spirit and pleaded with him not to go -- yet he went regardless. Was his presence in Jerusalem (and his current predicament) the Lord's will or simply the result of his own bullheadedness? How much different and peaceful would his life had been had he just done the will of the Lord without regularly placing his own personal twist upon it? Paul wrote this verse in Roman 8:28 which I believe deals with this issue, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." In other words, even if you are doing your own will rather than God's as long as our heart is in the right place (love God), then He will work it out for good. Just remember, some things work out better than others.
Questions to Ponder:Do you see a little of yourself in Paul's behavior as well? Do you regularly go somewhere or do something that the Lord has warned you against? Has your passion left you beaten and bloodied? Sometimes what we want to do for God and what He wants us to do are vastly different. What is your response: "yes Lord," or your own will?
Day 376: Meeting God's Job RequirementsActs 22:14-16
"Then he said: 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' "
Thoughts for Today:Who is speaking these words to Paul? That's right Ananias! Let's look at this event for a minute from Ananias perspective: He heard the Lord's Word; initially argued with the Lord yet ultimately responded by seeking out Paul; then spoke the words from our passage today given to him by the Lord -- the rest is history so to speak. Have you ever wondered what might have happened had Ananias not responded to the Lord's call?
So often in Bible stories we focus on the main characters without realizing what important roles others play in God's plan. In my opinion, Ananias had an extremely important part -- one that he was uniquely qualified to fill. So what are God's main employment requirements? There are four: availability, faith, willingness, and trust. We find these present in virtually every hero throughout the Bible. For example let's look at the story of Gideon from Judges 6:
* Availability -- Gideon was busy just like we are (after all he was threshing wheat when the angel of the Lord appeared to him). However, he stopped what he was doing to listen.
* Faith -- he was strong in his faithfulness to the Lord (unlike his father who had succumbed to worshiping foreign gods).
* Willingness -- when the Lord asked, Gideon responded, "Yes Lord!" (Although not without some discussion first).
* Trust -- despite the improbability of the mission and the seemingly insurmountable odds, Gideon trusted the Lord and proceeded.
Gideon was a rather inconsequential young man ("My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family") until God's call; yet God used him powerfully and effectively. In our passage today, God used Ananias in a different way, yet with just as much power and effectiveness -- to motivate and direct Saul to ultimately become the apostle Paul. God's requirements were met by both men. They were available, faithful, willing, and trusting. Does that sound like you?
Questions to Ponder:If this topic seems familiar to you it is because I covered it in a previous devotion, although from a different approach. The Lord spoke to me today about these key words: Availability, Faithfulness, Willingness, and Trust. We change the world for Jesus when we respond to the Lord's call. Will you answer today?
Day 375: An Important or Small Omission?Acts 22:12-13
"A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him."
Thoughts for Today:My seven year old daughter Amanda has been on this honesty kick lately. She somehow has gotten it in her head that everything she says must be the complete and absolute truth. While honesty is a worthy objective, you can only imagine how complicated it can become at times for a child. For example, when I asked Amanda, "Did you have a good time making pottery with Natalie (her older sister)?" She didn't answer for five minutes as she wrestled with the truthful answer. Impatiently I asked her, "It's not that hard; either you did or didn't. Which is it?" Afterwards we must have talked about the right way to answer the question for thirty minutes. She had no idea how to "honestly" answer the question.
A few weeks later I accompanied my wife to the hair salon for a new cut and style. Following her appointment we picked up Amanda at school (I stayed in the car to finish a phone call). When they climbed in the car, the first thing Sherry said to me was, "Amanda doesn't like my new hairstyle." I looked back to the rear seat and recognized Amanda's "deer in the headlight" look, the one that says, "Oh no, I'm in really big trouble."
I looked encouragingly into Amanda's big blue eyes, silently nodded yes to her, and said, "Amanda, doesn't Mommy look pretty?" She looked back at me on the verge of tears, resolutely shook her head, and said "No." My wife and I couldn't help ourselves -- we both burst out laughing!
I suggested that Amanda think of at least one good thing she could say about her Mom's hair. After thinking about it for several minutes she cheerily offered, "Mommy, your hair looks really clean!"
In our passage today, Paul is leaving out some important information as well regarding Ananias. Certainly Ananias was a well respected and devout Jew, but he was also a born again Christian. How do you think the audience would have reacted had Paul included this tidbit of information? Did Paul make a moral mistake by not being completely honest in his presentation of the events? Or would that information have created needless controversy when the story was really about Jesus? What would you have done?
Questions to Ponder:As my daughter Amanda is finding out, telling the truth is not always flat ground. It can be rocky and confusing at times. Most of us who are adults have learned this lesson, so we've become accustomed to telling people what they want to hear rather than what we believe. When it comes to a new hairstyle it's not very important in the scheme of things, however as it relates to Jesus it is a matter of life and death. Have you compromised the message of Jesus to make it more pleasant or acceptable? What have you left out? Is it an important omission?
Day 374: Your Own Road ExperienceActs 22:6-11
[Paul speaking before the crowd:] "About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. 'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me."
Thoughts for Today:Sometime ago my older son Ryan and I were discussing Paul's conversion experience and how the Lord appeared personally and directly before Paul. My son commented it would be difficult for anyone not to be converted if the Lord showed Himself in such a dramatic way. He then asked me if I had ever had a "Damascus Road" type of experience. My answer: almost every day, because that's how often I read God's Word.
The Bible tells us in Psalms 18:2, "The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." And in Psalms 27:1, "The LORD is my light and my salvation -- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life -- of whom shall I be afraid?" These are incredibly strong words that speak not only about the source of our strength and protection, but also the nature of our relationship with God, which is intended to be personal. So how do we develop this relationship? The answer is hidden in a little phrase that can be easily overlooked: "and the horn of my salvation."
In Old Testament times a horn (a trumpet call) was used to signal important events. It was a means of getting everyone's attention, a call to worship for example. The Bible and the embodiment of the Word in Jesus is the Lord's "horn" ("He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David", speaking of Jesus in Luke 1:69). The question is: Are we paying attention? When someone complains they haven't had a personal "Road" experience, I always wonder: how much time is spent listening to God through His Word? Isn't it interesting how people can read God's Word yet not hear his voice, not develop a relationship, and never have their own Damascus Road experience?
Questions to Ponder:When was the last time God spoke to you directly and unmistakably? Do you long for that type of relationship with the Father? If so, how much time have you actually spent reading the Bible over the last five days? I'll bet that you like all of us probably spent more time watching television, talking on the phone, or participating in some other activity more than reading God's Word. It's funny how we then wonder why God isn't speaking to us. Every time I begin to have that thought -- I reach for my Bible -- I guarantee that you too will have your own personal encounter with the Lord if you will only seek Him through His Word. Will you begin today? As you read listen for God's voice.
Day 373: Fully Committed to the Wrong CourseActs 22:3
Then Paul said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished."
Thoughts for Today:A few years ago one of my best friends and I traveled to eastern San Diego County to play golf with some other guys. Leaving just after dawn for an 8:00am tee time, we theoretically had ample time to arrive at our destination... if it wasn't for the jack-knifed semi-trailer blocking the southbound lanes of the Interstate. My friend had the great idea that we should get off and detour on side streets around the traffic jam. In his younger days, he had done a lot of work in this area so he had some familiarity with alternative routes. The problem was that we were still winding our way through these side streets at eight o'clock, which meant we missed our tee time by two hours!
I remember saying to my friend as we went deeper into rural areas that maybe we should re-think our approach. But my friend was fully committed to "saving us time." Years later I still kid him about that trip every time we get in the car, "No shortcuts this time, okay?"
In our passage today, Paul explained how he had been aggressively persecuting Christians, convinced just like my friend that he too was going in the right direction and doing the right thing. I wonder if any of his friends mentioned that he might want to pause before he got too far afield; perhaps reconsider his approach; maybe even consult the Lord and His Word (the map). We know from Acts 5 that Paul's teacher and mentor Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin (Paul was even present at the time) in verses 38-39, "Leave these men alone! Let them go! [speaking specifically of Peter and John, and Christians in general] For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Somehow Gamaliel's words fell on the deaf ears of Paul, and he continued on, fully committed to the wrong course.
Questions to Ponder:Have you ever been there before? Fully committed to the wrong course? How does that happen? I think Gamaliel answers this question: If from man it fails; if from God it can't be stopped. In other words, who is the author of our direction? In my own experience, whenever I've found myself off course I almost always find that I am authoring the plan, not giving control to the Lord. What about you? Right now: Are you working God's plan or your own? Are you fully committed to the wrong course? How can you get back on plan?