Time Alone With God daily devotionals

Time Alone With God daily devotionals

by Pastor Phil Stout, JAXNAZ church

Monday, September 26

Read: Matthew 5:10-12

Matthew 5:10-12
New International Version (NIV)

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Consider: Perhaps this final Beatitude—the blessing of the persecuted—is the most difficult one for us to bring into our context. While embracing poverty of spirit, meekness, mercy-giving and peacemaking are hard to do (5:3-9), it is difficult for me to even see how this final blessing pertains to me. I have never known persecution.

I read about the great saints and martyrs who have gone before us—“the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—and I hope that my faith, commitment and love are that strong. I doubt that I’ll ever be tested in the same way that Stephen, Peter, Paul, Justin Martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero were. And yet, it is possible for me to become like them—it is possible for us to be like Jesus.

I also understand that there are people in our neighborhoods and churches who have experienced some forms of persecution. I think of teenagers who have been bullied for their faith. That may not sound significant to some people, but to a young person who desperately wants friends and supportive peers, rejection is monumental. I think of some people who are married to spouses who are hostile to their faith and who make life miserable. In ways unseen by the rest of us, their pain is deep—almost indescribable. Yes, real persecution takes place in the lives of people around us.

But it’s important that we don’t paint ourselves as victims when we are not suffering for the faith. If people disagree with us, we shouldn’t see that as persecution. If we are verbally attacking others for their beliefs, we shouldn’t point out their viciousness when they respond in like manner. (Remember, Jesus said that “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”—Matthew 7:2.)

Jesus said that you are blessed “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you” because of your faith in him and your relationship with him (5:11). As we talk about persecution, it’s easy to focus on those insults and lies. But Jesus wants to focus us on the blessings.

This week we’ll look at some of the blessings he has for those who are beaten down—physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.

Pray: If you have been going through a time of persecution, thank the Lord that you are not forgotten. Praise him that you have been singled out for blessing. If you are not going through such a time, spend some time in prayer for your Christian sisters and brothers who are experiencing persecution. In some parts of the world our spiritual family is undergoing extreme persecution which includes the loss of churches, homes and even loss of life. They need our prayers.

Tuesday, September 27

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
New International Version (NIV)

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[a]

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Consider: We have a checkered history. We look back over two millennia of Christianity and we see times when the church was pure. We’ve never been faultless or free from error. But there have been times when the world looked at the church and clearly saw Jesus. The church displayed the unity of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and the beauty of the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7).

But, sadly, there have been times—so many times—when the church was so corrupt that it was a force for evil in this world. People were attacked, tortured and killed in the name of Christ. Those who claimed the legacy of the persecuted became the persecutors.

As you study our history, you’ll find something fascinating happening within you. Your heart will break as you read about the Christian martyrs. Those brothers and sisters suffered so much for Christ and for you and me. But your grief will be much deeper when you read about those who persecuted others in the name of Jesus. When you see how “Christians” attacked our Jewish brothers and sisters, tried to destroy Islam by the sword, launched inquisitions against and tortured one another, used the Bible to justify subduing Native Americans and enslaving African Americans, and even today justify evil in the name of Christ, your heart is truly shattered.

What is the difference between a pure church and one full of corruption? The answer is found in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Corruption revolves around power. When we pursue power, we are forgetting the One who set aside power to redeem the world. The oppressive regimes of the world take the view from the top. The Beatitudes show us how to take the view from the bottom. And it is from that vantage point that the pure Body of Christ can be used to save the world.

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

Pray: “Lord, I want your church to show forth the beauty of the Bride of Christ. I pray today for my church, the church in America and the church around the world. Help us to seek you rather than power. Forgive us of our arrogance and teach us to be humble. Help us to learn the values of the One who called us to humility of spirit and purity of heart (Matthew 5:3, 5, 8).”

Wednesday, September 28

Read: Acts 4:23-31

Acts 4:23-31New International Version (NIV)

The Believers Pray
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.[a]’[b]

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

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Consider: Tertullian, a third-century Church Father, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” And clearly he was right. Martyrdom didn’t destroy the church of Jesus Christ. It strengthened it and purified it.

The whole reason empires have persecuted and continue to persecute Christians is the belief that the vast power of an empire can crush the weak. From the perspective of this world, that only makes sense. After all, how could a small group who followed a carpenter the authorities had killed, stand up against the most powerful government and the strongest military the world had ever seen? Caesar probably didn’t think those Jesus followers would be too much of a problem.

The empires of this world are deeply deceived when it comes to power. They see it in all the wrong ways. When you hear a president or politician brag about our country, what do you typically hear? You hear about our strong economy and the world’s greatest military. Things like the “heart” of Americans or the “spirit” of Americans usually take a back seat or they are directly related to having pride in our military power.

But in Jesus’ kingdom, true strength is found in another source.

The Sanhedrin—the ruling Jewish council—detained Peter and John and jailed them overnight. The next day they were released after “further threats” as to what would happen if they continued to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (4:21). The council hoped that would be the end of it.

But after “Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them” we hear a remarkable prayer rise up from God’s people…

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (4:23, 29)

And the result was that they “spoke the word of God boldly” (4:31).

“Persecutions are to the works of God what the frosts of the winter are to plants; far from destroying them, they help them to strike their roots deep in the soil and make them more full of life.” — Alphonsus Liguori

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for empowering our forebears to endure great suffering for the cause of Christ. Thank you for what they have handed down to us. May their suffering be used by you to embolden us to follow you faithfully, no matter what we must endure.”

Thursday, September 29

Read: Hebrews 11:32-12:3

Hebrews 11:32-12:3
New International Version (NIV)

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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Consider: I’ve always heard the eleventh chapter of Hebrews referred to as the “Faith Chapter.” It begins with that wonderful description of faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (11:1). But I like to refer to it as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” The writer doesn’t really deal with faith at a theological level. He doesn’t try to explain what faith is. Instead, he shows us what faith is by reminding us of those who have gone before us. Those Hall of Famers—those heroes—lived and died for their faith in God.

The writer to the Hebrews links our faith with theirs. He wants us to be emboldened by them. To some it may seem absurd that we might be encouraged and emboldened by hearing that our forefathers and foremothers “were tortured…faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment…were put to death by stoning…were killed by the sword…destitute, persecuted and mistreated…” (11:35-37). But there is a reality underneath this that defies human logic. Jesus said they were “blessed” (Matthew 5:10).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Later in that same letter, we are again encouraged to remember those who led the way.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (13:7)

And then he added…

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8)

In other words, what Jesus did for them, he will do for you.

Pray: Thank the Lord for “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—those people who have gone before us and are cheering us on to victory. Take some time to remember people you knew personally who ran the race in a manner that you would like to emulate. Thank God for their lives and the powerful examples they gave us. Ask God to use you in the same manner for someone else who needs to see Christ at work in a real person’s life.

Friday, September 30

Read: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
New International Version (NIV)

7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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Consider: Since Paul described his weakness as “a thorn in my flesh” (12:7), I believe it was a physical problem—perhaps chronic pain. Paul called it a “messenger of Satan” that tormented him and kept him humble. People don’t usually talk about this as part of his persecution, but I believe it was. Consider what Paul had endured physically.

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move…I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (11:23-27)

Paul was probably in his late forties or early fifties when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians. But I’m sure he had the body of a much older man. Each of the five beatings he described would have taken him close to death. The tendons and muscles in his back would have been torn to shreds. I’m sure that Paul lived with chronic pain and that every movement he made was difficult for him in his later years.

How could he possibly go on with life? Why wasn’t he driven to despair? It was because he believed the promise Christ gave him…

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9)

The Lord taught Paul to see power differently than those who persecuted him. He had discovered that Christ’s power would be perfected in his weakness. To him that was a cause for celebration.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12:10)

Pray: “Lord, teach me what it means for me to proclaim, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ I am painfully aware of my weaknesses, so I need you to show me how your will, your way and your strength are perfected in me. I submit myself to you for you to use me—especially my weaknesses—in any manner you choose.”

Saturday, October 1

Read: Acts 1:1-8

Acts 1:1-8New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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Consider: Before Jesus left his disciples, he gave them a commission—the Great Commission—to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). But he reminded them that they could not do it on their own power. They were instructed to wait in Jerusalem for the “gift” that the Father had promised—the Spirit of God who would fill them, live in them and love through them (Acts 1:4).

This first account of the early Christian church is called the Acts of the Apostles. But it could also be called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit,” for in writing this account, Luke made it very clear that it was the Third Person of the Trinity who was transforming the world by working through human beings who were made in God’s image.

And Jesus was very clear about what the Holy Spirit would do through the lives of his followers.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8)

He didn’t say “you should be my witnesses” or “you ought to be my witnesses.” He said, “you will be my witnesses.” That would be the result of the indwelling power of God’s Spirit.

Now we tend to think of a witness as someone who verbalizes what he or she has seen. But that doesn’t communicate the full scope of this word as it is used in the New Testament. In the original language of Acts, the word is martures, from which we get our word “martyr.” The “witness” that those disciples would deliver would be communicated through their words, their actions, their lives and their deaths.

So we often refer to our “witness” as something that is revealed by our lives. We witness to grace. We strive to live out a witness for peace and justice. We bear witness of the love of Christ that is given to us and given to others through us. In other words, our lives are not ours. We have given them fully to him.

Paul said…

“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of witnessing to the good news of God’s grace.” (20:24)

I believe this is the true definition of a martyr. A martyr witnesses the good news, no matter what it costs.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:10-11)

Pray: “I’m grateful, Lord, that your Spirit will make my life a witness today. I give myself to you without reservation. Thank you for your promise that you will be with me always—‘to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).”

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