Three weeks of devotional reflections

For your daily devotions

These devotional reflections appeared in the Come Ye Apart devotional quarterly (now titled Reflecting God).

Week 1


"God has the power to help or to overthrow." (2 Chronicles 25:8, NIV)

God's unlimited resources

King Amaziah was desperate. As he prepared for war against the Edomites, he began to fear that his Judean army would not be strong enough. So he hired 100,000 Israelites to fight alongside his own soldiers. After he had given these mercenaries some money, a prophet arrived to caution the king that he had sought help in the wrong place. The king was told that he should depend on the Lord God instead of on apostate mercenaries.

Amaziah did not always listen to men of God. But this time he did. And the victory was his.

Sadly, God's people still repeat Amaziah's mistakes. Facing mountainous personal, family, and even church problems we sometimes decide that our own resources are too limited. So we succumb to the temptation to look for help in the wrong places. It's good to remember the prophet's words to Amaziah: God's resources are unlimited. Count on Him.

My Haitian friends are fond of saying: "Bondye kapab." Translated, this means: "God is able." And indeed He is. Let's trust Him. [ e-book on Haiti ]

Reflection questions

  1. What are some familiar "wrong places" that people tend to look for help when facing personal, family, or church problems?
  2. In what ways can we cultivate a greater trust in God's ability to help us face challenging situations?


"How inexhaustible God's resources, wisdom and knowledge are!" -- Romans 11:33, Goodspeed

To see (and understand) at last

In Romans 9 Paul recounts God's dealings with His chosen people, Israel. Then, as he finishes talking about God's workings in history, Paul bursts forth into spontaneous adoration with the beautiful words of Romans 11:33-36.

I've seen the same kind of awe on the faces of Nazarene Missions Team members [mission trip resources]. As they've given praise in dedication services for buildings they've built with their own hands, they've suddenly caught a glimpse of the way God has been at work in their lives and in the lives of the people whose church building they came to help construct. What may have seemed a series of disconnected events suddenly revealed a designer at work as people saw the wise hand of God at work. Caught up in praise and adoration, they've turned their faces to heaven with tears streaming down their faces.

I've seen it happen at Nazarene General Assemblies. People gathered from all over the world suddenly become conscious of God's wise workings in beautiful ways through their denomination, the Church of the Nazarene. Overcome with adoration they've begun to shout praises to God and raise their arms.

We used to sing a chorus with the words "Isn't He wonderful wonderful wonderful? Isn't Jesus my Lord wonderful?" He really is. Praise His name.

Reflection questions

  1. How does recognizing God's inexhaustible resources, wisdom, and knowledge shape our perception of events and experiences?
  2. In what ways can understanding God's wise workings in history and in our lives deepen our attitudes of adoration and praise of Him?
  3. How does the recognition of God's wisdom and work in the world influence our perspective on the Church and our denomination, and how can it inspire us to express our praise?


"'All we have here,' they said, 'are five loaves and two fishes"' -- Matthew 14:17, NEB

Our human inadequacies

Five thousand people, and they were all hungry. When Jesus told His disciples to feed the crowd, all they could come up with were five biscuits and two sardines. Acutely conscious of how inadequate that would be, the disciples went to Jesus. He took what they had and transformed it into abundance.

He's still doing that. For example, some people think cross-cultural missionaries are superheroes of the faith with extraordinary spiritual resources. While we were serving as missionaries a lady told me: "I could never do what you're doing. You're a better Christian than I am."

While troubled by her inadequacies, she had mistakenly put me on a pedestal. Actually, I'm just as inadequate as she felt. Alas, in front of life's enormous problems, we are all merely five-loaves-and-two-fish people. However, that's also good news. Like the little boy mentioned in John's account of the story, we can give Jesus what we have. However inadequate it may seem, He will make it sufficient. God has the ability to take little and make much of it. Let's trust Him.

Reflection questions

  1. How can the story of the five loaves and two fishes illustrate the idea of human inadequacies and the role Jesus can have in transforming them into abundance?
  2. Are there ways that we perceive others as more capable or spiritually superior, underestimating our own potential and contributions? How can we overcome this mindset?
  3. What might the story of the boy offering his small lunch to Jesus teach us about the importance of giving what we have, no matter how inadequate it may seem, and trusting in God's ability to multiply and make it sufficient?


"Take courage. It is I. Don't be afraid." (Matthew 14:27, NIV)

Taking courage

As the disciples sailed across Lake Galilee, they were suddenly engulfed by a storm. With their little fishing boat bobbing up and down in the waves, they became terrified when they saw something moving toward them on the water. Then the seeming apparition spoke. It was Jesus.

"Take courage. It is I," He said. Jesus' presence immediately chased away the disciples' anxiety and distress. (Matthew 14:25-33)

One day I encountered Pastor Odius Merzilus on a dusty Haitian road. This 35-year veteran of the ministry was trudging up to a mountain village where he was trying to plant a new church. We talked about the lack of rain. We talked about the malnourished kids coming to his school. We talked about the open opposition some of his congregation were encountering at the hands of voodoo followers. Then, just as we were parting, our talk turned to the Lord and what He was doing in our lives. As I drove away, Odius' face crinkled into a smile. "Take courage," he shouted as he waved goodbye. [ e-book on missions in Haiti ]

In the desperate situations of life, we need to be wary of trusting our senses. We need to look up. He is there. In life's anxious moments, we need to listen for His voice: "It is I. Do not be afraid."

We need not fear even the worst storms of life. For we are in the hands of Him who is Victor and Master over all.

More on "Take Courage"

Discussion questions

  1. What lessons does the story of Jesus walking on water and calming the disciples' fears have for us when we are fearful and anxious?
  2. When circumstances overwhelm us, what steps should we take to find courage and reassurance?
  3. How would you describe to someone what it means to trust in Jesus as the Victor and Master over everything? How can this understanding give confidence and faith to Christ-followers facing the storms of life?


"The Lord said . . . 'Should I not be concerned about that great city of Nineveh?'" (Jonah 4:11, NIV)

The disease of prejudice

The Lord tried to use Jonah in cross-cultural missionary outreach. However, Jonah's prejudices against foreigners and his lack of love for them made him endure the experience rather than enjoy it.

At the end of the biblical account, Jonah sits overlooking the city God had just saved. From Jonah's actions and words, it was clear there had been no lump in his throat as he preached, no tears in his eyes.

Apparently exasperated at His prophet, God asks Jonah: "Are not people important?"

"Not these Ninevites," Jonah seems to reply.

His own prejudices had distorted truth, created barriers, and prohibited him from seeing the Ninevites with God's eyes. Clearly, Jonah didn't care at all for the people he had just preached to. Furthermore, it seemed distasteful to him to think that God would care for them. It was a tragic moment in salvation history.

God continues to lay great missionary opportunities before His people today. Let us not be guilty of Jonah's selfish callousness or of using his perverted narrow-minded scale of values. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to demolish those walls of division created by prejudice. [ Jonah, the reluctant missionary ]

Reflection questions

  1. How did Jonah's prejudices against foreigners and lack of love for them hinder his missionary outreach efforts in Nineveh? What were the consequences of his attitudes and actions?
  2. In what ways might Jonah's prejudices have distorted the truth and created barriers between himself and the Ninevites? How did this prevent him from seeing them with God's eyes and caring for their salvation?
  3. How can we guard against selfish callousness and narrow-mindedness like Jonah's? What role does the Holy Spirit play in breaking down walls of division created by prejudice?

More on Jonah for you


"You are my servant in whom I will display my splendor" (Isaiah 49:3, NIV)

God's splendor displayed

The first verses of Isaiah 49 form one of the great "servant" passages of Isaiah. Here, Isaiah shouts his vision of the exalted and glorified Christ. He had seen that the great light emanating from God was to be focused with brilliant intensity on a coming Son and Servant whom we know today as Jesus Christ.

Isaiah shouted this message not just to the Jews, but to the islands of the sea, to distant nations. This message of a Servant in whom was displayed the splendor of God Himself is still being proclaimed to distant nations. And the message is being heeded. One great evidence of this is the quadrennial Nazarene General Assembly where Christians from all over the globe gather to give witness to God's working in their lives and to lay plans for an even wider proclamation of the Kingdom.

Haitian Christians like to shout together: "Glwa a Jezi!" Sometimes they'll shout it even three or four times. It means: "Glory be to Jesus." Yes, indeed. Glory be to Him.

Discussion questions

  1. How does the concept of Jesus as the Servant in whom God's splendor is displayed resonate with you personally? In what ways does it shape your understanding of Jesus' role and significance?
  2. In what ways can we, as followers of Christ, be involved in proclaiming the message of the Servant to distant nations? How can we ensure that the proclamation of the Kingdom gets to those still unreached by the Gospel?
  3. Are there occasions where you have witnessed the global unity of the Church and the clear proclamation of God's Kingdom to all? How have these instances inspired and encouraged you?


"This so-called foolish plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man" -- 1 Corinthians 1:25, The Living Bible

The greatest mystery: The power of self-denial

Jesus died while nailed to a crude wooden cross above Jerusalem's garbage dump. As his life ebbed away, cynics talked smut, a thief cursed, and soldiers gambled. To passers-by watching him suffer and die, Jesus' claim to be the Son of the Living God must have seemed absurd. To those who called him Master and Lord, Jesus' public execution surely must have shaken their belief that He was to be the world's Savior.

As Jesus' friends took his body down from the cross that afternoon, the world scarcely took notice. As a messiah, Jesus appeared to have been a failure. But he wasn't. He has, in fact, emerged as the triumphant victor, the Messiah he claimed to be. His crucifixion has become one of the pivotal events in world history.

Self-denial has proved to be more powerful than self-assertion. Divine love, grace, and mercy had devised a plan of salvation so radical that some still refuse to accept it. Jesus' suffering, self-sacrifice, devotion to principles, and heedlessness of immediate consequences run contrary to all human wisdom.

But out of all that has come the greatest good the human race has ever known. [ a Easter devotional ]

Discussion questions

  1. How does the concept of self-denial challenge conventional wisdom and human understanding of success and power?
  2. In what ways does Jesus' crucifixion exemplify the "foolish plan" of God mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:25? How does it contrast with worldly expectations regarding greatness and triumph?
  3. Think about this statement: "Out of [Jesus' crucifixion] has come the greatest good the human race has ever known." How might this perspective on suffering and sacrifice influence our understanding of redemption and salvation?

Six devotionals from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

Week 2

For Monday
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:1-12

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8).

A design for life

Three months after arriving in Italy, I attended an interdenominational missionary conference in Florence. My dinner companions one evening included a veteran missionary from a mission board with Calvinistic theological leanings. In our hotel dining room on the bank of the Arno River, I was enjoying my spaghetti and trying to explain something to the man about holiness theology. Suddenly, he looked up from his plate and said, "And I hope you're not going to impose that on the Italians."

In the Beatitudes, Jesus says quite clearly that holiness — including a pure heart — is the design for life in the Kingdom of God. Holy living is the lifestyle for which Americans and Italians were both created. I had not gone to Italy to "impose" the attainment of holy living on anyone but rather to proclaim that it was a possibility.

Heart purity is synonymous with a tightly focused concentration of the whole self upon God. The lifestyle Jesus outlines here (and which some dispute as being attainable) can spring only out of a pure heart. The Master's words clearly indicate that one can live in this present world with a pure heart. I believe that includes both Americans and Italians!

Discussion questions

  1. How does the concept of holiness and a pure heart relate to the Kingdom of God, according to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12?
  2. What does it mean to live with a pure heart? How might a pure heart enable someone to live the way Jesus outlined in the Beatitudes?
  3. Some say the lifestyle described by Jesus in the Beatitudes is attainable. What are some arguments for and against the attainability of living with a pure heart in the present world? How might these arguments be used by people of different cultural backgrounds?

Worship in Song, no. 298:

Come to my soul, blessed Jesus.
Hear me, 0 Saviour divine!
Open the fountain and cleanse me;
Give me a heart like Thine.

    — "A Heart like Thine" by Judson W. Van Deventer

For Tuesday
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:13-16

"Don't hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5:16, TLB).

The Christian influence

Her name was Carol. In her late twenties, this South Texas girl encountered the gospel's transforming power. Formerly a prostitute who had dabbled on the edges of the drug subculture, she now desperately wanted to win her sinner friends to the Lord. But she had trouble "shining clearly." Her spiritual life was a roller coaster whose erratic ups and downs kept her from having a life that was plainly the work of her spiritual Father. As a result, her attempts as a verbal witness were merely laughed at.

You see, spiritual concepts do not stalk alone through the world. Jesus does not say we are to bring light or to give salt. He said we are to be light and salt. The gospel is not an abstract philosophy to be debated. God has chosen to send the Good News into the marketplace clothed with vivid concreteness in the lives of men and women.

We must be continually careful that the Source of our life is obvious. Gary Sivewright tells of a recurring dream of Judgment Day. As he remembers his high school of 2,000 students, Gary confesses that he was neither salt nor light. In that recurring dream, Gary recoils with horror and shame as many of his 1,999 classmates point at him crying, "All along you knew . . . you knew, and you didn't do or say anything."

Reflection questions

  1. In what ways does the concept of being "light" and "salt" in the world relate to the responsibility of Christ-followers to share their faith with unbelievers?
  2. What are some ways that Christians can let their "light shine" and their "good deeds glow" in their daily lives?
  3. Why is it important for the source of a Christian's life and actions to be obvious to others? How might this enhance or diminish believers' abilities to be effective witnesses for Christ?

Worship in Song, no. 318:

. . . but for love that claimeth
Lives for whom He died.
He whom Jesus nameth
Must be on His side.

— "Who Is on the Lord's Side?" by Frances R. Havergal

More on letting our light shine

For Wednesday
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:17-26

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17).

God's unfolding plan

The Incarnation was a continuing part of God's unfolding plan to deliver man from the consequences of his own rebellion. Emmanuel — "God with us"— came to expose the truest and most profound meaning of the law.

One Christmas, I gave our two-year-old son, Matthew, a toy music box. As he tore the last bit of wrapping paper off, I could see he did not know what it was. Looking it over, he finally decided its function was similar to that of a hammer. So he began banging away with it on everything in reach. I crawled across the room on my hands and knees to him. I showed him how to wind it up, and we sat enthralled by the music. Now, you see, I was the same person who gave my son a gift he did not at first fully comprehend and then showed him the full meaning of it. I did not throw away the music box because he had initially misunderstood the purpose it was supposed to serve.

It was the same God who gave Moses the law and who spoke through the prophets who, 2,000 years later, was "in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself' (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus' attitude towards the law demonstrates that God does not act capriciously. He is the Eternal, Unchanging One. In a world filled with uncertainties and seemingly devoid of absolutes, I can be certain that God will be true to His Word and that both His commands and His promises remain bedrock-firm.

Reflection questions
  1. What insights might Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17, "I have not come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them," provide into God's plan for humanity?
  2. In what ways might an understanding of God's "unchanging" character and faithfulness impact our relationship with Him and share how we live?
  3. In a world that often lacks absolutes and is filled with uncertainties, how might Jesus' attitude towards the law provide a foundation of certainty and trust in God's character and His Word?

Worship in Song, no. 133:

It will never lose its pow'r.
The Blood that cleanses from all sin
Will never lose its pow'r.

— "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" by Civilla D. Martin

For Thursday
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:27-37

"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).

Sin's seat — the heart

God does not totally legislate every possible act of our lives. He knows that purity in actions grows only out of purity of heart. Moral righteousness will never produce a pure heart. But a pure heart will produce moral righteousness.

Jesus points out that sin lies not only in committing an act but in the heart motive behind that action. A person may wish to commit an evil deed, but cannot because time, place, or opportunity is, at that moment, out of the person's power. However, in graphic illustrations, Jesus points out that the person is still fully chargeable for the iniquity of the action.

While we were in Italy, I spent one Sunday afternoon walking through old Pompeii, that city near Naples that was buried by the volcano Vesuvius 2,000 years ago. In several of the homes, pornographic wall murals are still intact. Pompeii was a wicked city, certainly in thought and heart, if not in deeds. As we walked, our Italian guide muttered, "No wonder God allowed the volcano to destroy it."

Today, let us pray the Psalmist's prayer: "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:2, 10).

Reflection questions

  1. How does Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:27-37 emphasize the importance of purity of the heart rather than merely focusing on external actions?
  2. What can we learn from Jesus' illustration of looking at a woman lustfully and its connection to committing adultery in the heart? Does this challenge the way many people understand sin and personal responsibility?
  3. Why might it be significant that, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the relationship between the heart's motive and the iniquity of actions? In what ways should this relationship shape our pursuit of moral righteousness and moral purity?

More for you on the concept of sin

Worship in Song, no. 34:

My soul, be on thy guard;
Ten thousand foes arise.

— "My Soul, Be on Thy Guard" by George Heath

For Friday
Scripture Reading — Matthew 6:1-4, 16-18

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).

Practicing your piety

Jesus never attacked the law of Moses; He only attacked the way in which it was being interpreted (or misinterpreted). He did not forbid public almsgiving or prayer and fasting. He simply censured those vain and hypocritical persons who do these things publicly to enhance their saintly reputations.

Charles Merrill Smith wrote a delightful book attacking ecclesiastical hypocrisy. In a satirical volume called How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious, this Methodist minister amplifies Jesus' distinction between being truly religious and just looking pious. Tongue in cheek, Smith writes, "You don't really have to be religious to succeed in the ministry — you just have to look that way!"

People have often tried to take shortcuts to get spiritual rewards. Often, they have mistakenly looked for those rewards from their fellow human beings. As a result, their spiritual life focused on outward actions, not on the inner life. God is under no obligation to this kind of person. They do little or nothing with an eye to God's glory, and so, from Him, such people can expect no recompense.

The Message paraphrases Matthew 6:1 this way: "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding."

Reflection questions

  1. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus warns against performing acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them. Why is it important for one's spiritual life to focus on the inner life rather than outward actions? How does this align with Jesus' teachings?
  2. There is a distinction between true religiousness and looking pious. How can we differentiate between genuine acts of righteousness and those done for the sake of appearance? What are the underlying motives that determine the authenticity of our spiritual practices?
  3. Why is it misguided to seek validation and recognition solely from fellow human beings for our acts of righteousness? How might this course of action affect our relationship with God and the rewards we receive from Him?

Worship in Song, no. 72:

Blessed be the name of Jesus!
I'm so glad He took me in.
He's forgiven my transgressions;
He has cleansed my heart from sin.

— "I Will Praise Him" by Margaret J. Harris

For Saturday
Scripture Reading — Matthew 6:5-15

"Do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers . . . for everyone to see them. . . But when you pray ... pray to your Father" (Matthew 6:5-6, NEB).

And when you pray

I met him in a tiny hotel off Piazza Independenzia, a block from Rome's central railroad station. He was a young American tourist, a student at a Nazarene college. "I guess I'm not a Christian," he said slowly, "I don't even know how to pray."

My heart broke for him. Prayer is not a ceremonial rite. Unfortunately, this young college student is not alone in his misconception of prayer. Others have said to me, "Pastor, say a prayer for me." The way Matthew 6:5-6 is worded in the New English Bible says it well: "Hypocrites 'say' prayers; true Christians pray."

The disciples had not been with Jesus very long before they realized the important part prayer played in His life. Strict performance of private prayer can be one of the surest marks of genuine piety and Christian sincerity.

Some time ago a photographer assembled a photo study of elderly brothers and sisters along with their marriage partners. Amazingly, the husbands and wives resembled each other in their facial features more closely than the brothers and sisters. Their living together over the years, facing the same trials and joys, had molded them into a likeness of each other.

R. A. Torrey says a close prayer relationship will do the same thing with us. He writes, "Our growth into the likeness of Jesus will be in exact proportion to the time and heart we put into prayer."

Reflection questions

  1. Why can it be said that the misconception of prayer as a ceremonial rite hinders individuals from experiencing its true essence?
  2. In what ways did the disciples' observation of Jesus likely emphasize the importance of prayer in their own lives?
  3. How might the analogy of elderly couples resembling each other more and more over time help us understand the transformative power prayer can have in shaping our spiritual resemblance to Jesus?

Worship in Song, no. 473:

Blessed hour of prayer!
What a balm for the weary!
Oh, how sweet to be there!

— "Blessed Hour of Prayer" by Fanny J. Crosby

More for you on prayer

For Sunday
Scripture Reading — Romans 7:1-6

We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Romans 7:6).

Serving in a new way

When Barbara and I lived in South Texas, we had some "Jesus people" friends who felt the central theme of the Christian's life was to be "freedom in the Spirit" rather than "service to the King." They define this as meaning there are few moral restraints on their lives. They neglected to see that human beings were created to serve God.

Paul reminds us that, though we now live under grace, we are still to serve God. Believers have been freed from the curse of the law. But because of that, they are now able to obey God from love, with spontaneity and gladness of heart. In itself, the law — though just, holy, and good — was insufficient for freeing people from the power of inbred sin. Thus, under the law alone, human beings could not serve God in the way they were created to.

Our joy in the Christian life comes not because we have been released from the law. Rather, our joy springs from the fact that now we can "serve in the new way of the Spirit."

Our service to God now is no less demanding than it was under the law. But now the Spirit makes power for service available to us. The secret of victory in the Christian life? It is serving "in the new way of the Spirit."

Reflection questions

  1. How should the concept of being released from the law and serving in the new way of the Spirit guide our understanding of how to balance the concepts of freedom and moral restraints in a life lived in the Spirit?
  2. In what ways does serving God in the new way of the Spirit differ from serving under the law? How does this understanding impact our motivation and attitude toward obedience?
  3. Think about the idea that, for Christ-followers, joy comes from being able to serve in the new way of the Spirit. How can we cultivate a greater reliance on the Spirit's power for service and experience victory?

Worship in Song no. 398:

Jesus is the Joy of Living;
He's the King of Life to me.

— "Jesus Is the Joy of Living" by Alfred H. Ackley

More on life in the Spirit

Week 3

For Monday
Scripture Reading — Acts 10:17-23

"So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them." (Acts 10:20).

A vision of universal grace

Peter's rooftop vision was a painful one for him. It meant a renunciation of his racial pride and prejudice. It meant repentance from his narrow Jewish parochialism. But he did not draw back from letting his attitude and motivations be altered by the Holy Spirit.

That did not solve the problem for all mankind, however. Racial pride and prejudice (anti-black and anti-white, anti-Jewish, and anti-Arab, as well as other expressions of racism), political imperialism, cultural insensitivity, sexual oppression, and indifference to the plight of the needy and powerless have continued to mar the church's testimony to the universality of God's grace.

So I may need my eyes opened, too. Whatever "us-them" lines keep me from witnessing across racial, social, political, or economic boundaries must be swept away. The only dividing line that counts is the one between those in Christ and those not in Him. All other divisions can easily be used by Satan to block the gates of the Kingdom.

Equality: everywhere else, it may often be only a hollow dream, but in the kingdom of God, it is a reality! May my life and attitudes ever be a testimony to that truth!

Reflection questions

  1. How does Peter's rooftop vision challenge the attitudes of racial pride and prejudice?
  2. In what ways do divisions based on race, politics, or social status hinder the church's testimony to the universality of God's grace?
  3. Reflecting on the concept of equality in the kingdom of God, how can one's life and attitudes serve as a testimony to this truth in a world marred by divisions and injustice?

Worship in Song, no. 337:

Hark, 'tis the Shepherd's voice I hear,
Out in the desert dark and dear,
Calling the sheep who've gone astray,
Far from the Shepherd's fold away.

— "Bring Them In" by Alexcenah Thomas

The Gentile Pentecost

For Tuesday
Scripture Reading — Acts 16:6-10

"We got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel unto them" (Acts 16:10).

A vision of enlarged ministry

Quite a few years ago the Holy Spirit laid before Denver First Nazarene Church a vision of enlarged ministry. They responded and became a potent spiritual force in that city as well as the largest Nazarene church in North America at that time.

In 1975, a group of "dare-saints" under Paul Moore moved into New York's Times Square with a Holy Spirit-inspired vision bigger than their pocketbooks.

The Oregon Pacific District of the Church of the Nazarene entered the 1980s with the aim of planting more than a dozen new congregations every year

A vision of enlarged ministry has pushed Los Angeles First Church into becoming a mosaic of linguistic, ethnic, and cultural groups.

This list could go on and on. Not of man-made dreams, but of Holy Spirit-given visions of ministry. Paul's vision at Troas was an example of how the Holy Spirit will lead both churches and individual Christians.

It is never a mistake for God's servants to follow His leading. As we follow Him, we will discover like Paul did, that to follow the Holy Spirit is to find ourselves involved in an ever-enlarging ministry. God will call. He will lead. Will we follow?

Reflection questions

  1. How do the examples of the churches mentioned demonstrate what can happen in response to a vision of enlarged ministry?
  2. How would you describe what the Holy Spirit can and will do to guide churches and individual Christians toward an ever-enlarging ministry?
  3. What can be learned from Acts 16:6-10 regarding the importance of following God's leading in ways that can lead to an expanded and impactful ministry?

Worship in Song, no. 356:

Proclaim to ev'ry people, tongue, and nation
That God, in whom they live and move, is love.
Tell how He stooped to save His lost creation,
And died on earth that man might live above.

— "0 Zion, Haste" by Mary AnnThomson

For Wednesday
Scripture Reading — Hebrews 12:5-11

"The Lord disciplines the one he loves." (Hebrews 12:6).

Discipline for servanthood

"I was really sailing along good, and then this happened . . ."

Maybe that is the wrong reaction when we hit a bump in the road of life. God can use what may appear to be unnecessary trouble to discipline us. True, it may be a bitter medicine at times. But consider this: It may be our Father's hand of love measuring out the dosage and asking us to drink it.

If we are honest, we will admit that, at times, we all need to be disciplined. God's gracious and firm discipline will improve us as believers. Divine discipline, which is perfect in every way, aims to make us sharers in the very holiness of God himself. While the suffering occasioned by divine discipline will not save us, it will produce in us more holiness.

Let us never lightly dismiss God's disciplinary efforts nor allow such rigors to discourage us. God's discipline shows us clearly that we are loved by Him as His children. May the correction efforts of our Heavenly Father produce in us the ever-growing peace (shalom) of a righteous life!

Reflection questions

  1. How might the concept of discipline challenge our initial reactions to difficulties we face?
  2. What can we do to ensure that we recognize and appreciate God's discipline as an expression of His love?
  3. How might understanding God's discipline as a means to share in His holiness affect our perspective on suffering and hardship?

Worship in Song, no. 279:

Deeper, deeper! tho' it cost hard trials,
Deeper let me go!
Rooted in the holy love of Jesus,
Let me fruitful grow.

— "Deeper, Deeper" by Charles P. Jones

For Thursday
Scripture Reading — Acts 16:23-34

"At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized." (Acts 16:33).

Bleeding to bless

Disorders. Floggings. Earthquake. Those were the headlines out of Philippi. The morning dawned brighter, though. Third-century preacher John Chrysostom — himself no stranger to persecution — sums it up this way: "The jailer washed them from their stripes, and was himself washed from his sins."

The jailer and his family may not have been the only converts that night. Maybe even some of the other prisoners were to become part of that congregation to whom Paul would later write a letter we know as his Epistle to the Philippians.

What could have been interpreted as just the calamities of life was actually God's way of leading someone to hope and salvation. Thus the good news is that God can be at work in the midst of trouble. Through the painful experiences of Paul and Silas the Spirit of the living and loving God was at work to bless other people.

Are you hurting in some way? Even in what may seem to be useless wounds, let's look for the hand of God at work. Let's pray that He'll use our bleeding to bless someone else.

Reflection questions

  1. How does the story of the jailer and his family in Acts 16:23-34 illustrate the idea that God can use difficult and painful experiences for a greater purpose?
  2. In what ways can we experience hope and salvation in the midst of personal trials and tribulations?
  3. How can we ensure that we are allowing God to use our wounds and hardships to bless and encourage others around us?

Worship in Song, no. 349:

Rescue the perishing; care for the dying;
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.
Weep o'er the erring one; lift up the fallen;
Tell them of Jesus, the Mighty to Save.

— "Rescue the Perishing" by Fanny J. Crosby

For Friday
Scripture Reading — Mark 14:32-42

"They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.'" (Mark 14:32).

Jesus prayed too

Prolonged anxiety often seems to turn the heart to stone. A spiritual life fed only by prayers of habit withers in the face of soul anguish and one finds himself the victim of the sin of prayerlessness.

I wasn't in the full-time ministry very long before I had already discovered that when many weary souls called for the pastor, they were not wanting their prayer life revitalized. More often than not, they're looking for temporary psychological props.

Jesus' response to heartbreak was radically different. On the night of deep agony of spirit, the Son of Man turned again and again to prayer. He knew that prayer was the quickest and surest way of recovering spiritual equilibrium.

Jesus came from that hour of repeated praying and submission with a sense of power and poise. As He prayed, His words reflected a growing perfectness of submission to the Father. This ought to be our pattern to follow.

Life's buffetings and long-prolonged struggles should not be allowed to exhaust us emotionally and spiritually. Instead, they should drive us to desire ever more intensely the intimate fellowship of prayer.

Reflection question

  1. What does Jesus' example of prayer in the face of heartbreak and struggle say to our prayer lives? In what ways can we emulate His pattern of repeated prayer and submission to the Father?
  2. Is there a danger of relying on temporary psychological props instead of cultivating a genuine prayer life? How can we distinguish between seeking spiritual equilibrium through prayer and seeking temporary relief or comfort in difficult times?
  3. How can we maintain a fervent desire for prayer even when faced with prolonged struggles or emotional exhaustion? What practical steps can we take to cultivate a consistent and vibrant prayer life?

Worship in Song, no. 479:

Oh, how praying rests the weary!
Prayer will change the night to day.

— "Did You Think to Pray?" by Mrs. M. A. Kidder

More for you on prayer

For Saturday
Scripture Reading — Job 1:6-12

"The Lord said to Satan, 'Very well, then, everything [Job] has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.;" (Job 1:12).

This far but no farther!

Numerous buildings in Florence, Italy, have little plaques marking the height of floodwaters on November 4, 1966. On that day the Arno River overflowed its banks and came swirling into buildings, depositing debris, mud, and oil everywhere. In some places the water rose as high as 20 feet, damaging and destroying businesses, homes, and art treasures.

Those little marble markers serve a tourist function. But I like to think they also say: Yes, the river invaded us. All the way up to here. It did its worst. But it had a limit. And we survived.

That's what Job's story tells us about Satan's demonic powers. Satan has his limits. And he can go no farther than God will permit. We, too, are a part of the cosmic battle which involved Job and Satan. Sometimes we feel like pawns in a battle between equal superpowers, but we need notsuccumb to pessimism and loss of the triumphant theme of the gospel.

Job's life teaches us that nothing can touch us except with our Father's knowledge and His permission. Alleluia! We are ultimately in God's hands. God's power is revealed even as Satan's limits are uncovered.

Reflection questions

  1. How might the story of Job demonstrate the limits of Satan's power and the ultimate authority of God?
  2. What can we learn from Job's experience about our lives and the battles we face?
  3. Why can we say that the knowledge that God is sovereign and has power over all things brings hope and encouragement in times of challenges and trials?

Worship in Song, no. 431:

In the midst of battle be thou not dismayed,
Tho' the pow'rs of darkness 'gainst thee are arrayed.
God, thy Strength, is with thee, causing thee to stand;
Heaven's allied armies wait at thy command.

— "Victory All the Time" by Lelia N. Morris

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For Sunday
Scripture Reading — Ephesians 3:14-21

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being," (Ephesians 3:16).

Enabled for every circumstance

Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you can't tunnel through?

Remember that classic little chorus? It echoes the last part of Ephesians 3. Here in the middle of a letter whose main subject is the Church, Paul breaks forth in a prayer for victorious strength in Christ. He seems fired to an incandescent glow by the thought that there is limitless power available to achieve God's goals for us.

Paul's prayer for believers battling in the thick of the fray reminds us that we do not have to be despondent stragglers in the rear. Like Paul, we can be happy passengers in the chariot of God, calling out to others with infectious enthusiasm: "Come up and ride with us!"

In these days when shadows of human error and apostasy hang dark on the world, let us live intoxicated by the thought that we can be divinely enabled to be victorious in every circumstance. There is no limit to God's power! Only our words and thoughts about it are limited.

Reflection questions

  1. In what ways does the affirmation about being "divinely enabled to be victorious in every circumstance" challenge your current perspective on facing challenges and adversity?
  2. What does it mean to live "intoxicated by the thought" that there is limitless power available to achieve God's goals for us? How might this mindset impact your daily life and decision-making?
  3. Think about what you have thought and said in the past about God's power. Are there any limitations or doubts you have placed on His ability to work in your life? How can you cultivate a mindset that fully embraces and relies on God's unlimited power?

Worship in Song, no. 362:

Trials many will beset my pathway,
And temptations I shall surely meet;
But my Saviour promised grace to help me
Till I lay my trophies at His feet.

— "My Soul Is Filled with Glory" by J. M. Harris

   -- Howard Culbertson,

The Come Ye Apart" is now published quarterly as Reflecting God by Word Action Publishing and available through what is now called The Foundry.

Preparing the way

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