“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Acts 21:13
Paul was a man on a mission, headed for Jerusalem—even when common sense stood in the way. In Acts 21 we see the story of Paul’s travels and a couple of uncommon occurrences. First, in Acts 21:4 the disciples warn Paul (through the spirit of God, no less) not to set foot in Jerusalem.
Yet, Paul appears to ignore this counsel, instead moving toward that very city, stopping in Caesarea to stay with Philip the evangelist. While there, we have our second uncommon occurrence: A prophet, Agabus, came from Judea. He took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands saying, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
Those gathered did what any of us would likely do; they begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:12). Common sense, right? How many times did God have to make this clear?
Everything added up perfectly. Paul’s response then, should have been, “I’ll stay right here with you folks; Jerusalem is off my list of destinations.”
But Paul decided to go anyway. Some might read this and say, “This was Paul’s mistake.” Maybe they are right.
Perhaps however, Paul was being given a choice. Knowing danger awaited in Jerusalem, he could choose the common-sense path and avoid persecution. Or, he could go forward in service to Christ, knowing exactly what was ahead.
Agabus’ prophecy proved correct. In Jerusalem, Paul was dragged from the temple, beaten and bound with chains (Acts 21:30-33).
Yet something else happened in Jerusalem, too. Jews and Gentiles alike were encouraged through Paul’s visit there. In addition, the good news flourished, even as Paul experienced incarceration and several trials.
In our lives and in our work, sometimes all the arrows appear to point toward a common-sense decision. Sometimes, those arrows are correct. But we need to at least leave room for uncommon-sense decisions which appear to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
We must also be aware that “uncommon” decisions can lead to trial. We might lose something—as Paul lost a portion of his freedom—through an uncommon-sense decision.
Biblical historians may argue over whether Paul made the right choice, but we can know this: Paul’s decision was based on a desire to serve his master, and to take the good news message anywhere it was needed—no matter the personal cost. Because of Paul’s decision to think in terms of serving, God continued to use him in a mighty way.
When we find our work has a cost, we can take heart. We may not always make the correct decision, but we can know that if our heart is one of servanthood, God can work through us in ways we cannot imagine.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” James 1:19
We’ve been told countless times how we should be “slow to speak and slow to anger,” as James writes. Many of us have been taught to “count to ten” before we speak, so that we won’t be driven by impulse and say the wrong thing.
This is important wisdom we should live by each day.
And yet, there is something else in James’ exhortation to his readers: an admonition to be “quick to hear.” It’s an interesting use of words, isn’t it? For how can we hear “quickly?”
As we know, James is not talking about jumping to conclusions on what we are hearing, or listening “fast” so we can get it over with. Perhaps James wants us to focus in on those we are listening to, saying to ourselves, “What this person is about to say is important to me. They need my undivided attention, and quick-like.”
Too often we can find ourselves “waiting to speak” instead of stopping to truly listen. Because of this, we have miscommunication, which can lead to frustration, division and anger. But when we are “quick” to listen, we set aside our desire to create a retort and instead wait patiently to hear the core of what our friend is saying.
James is a practical writer. Later in his letter he will tell us how faith must lead to actions on our part, or it is not faith at all.
In this short excerpt, James wants us to know faith leads to listening with our whole heart. When we choose to listen with all we have—and choose to focus on our speaker in a hurry—many potential problems are averted.
As we serve those we see, let’s be quick to listen. We might hear a heart which is open to the love and faith we offer.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” Colossians 4:5
When we see attacks on pregnancy help ministries by those who oppose us, our first reaction can be to fight back, and sometimes we must do those things necessary to repel these onslaughts.
For instance, when we see false reviews of our ministries on Facebook, Google and Yelp we must set the record straight. It’s unfair not just to us, but to our potential patients and clients, when a false review deters them from seeking our services.
And yet Paul, in wisdom that can only come from the Lord, writes that we must “conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders . . .” Outsiders are those outside of the faith, like so many who work with the abortion industry.
Wisdom dictates that in our communication with these outsiders, we must, as Paul says, make “the most of the opportunity.” Where we see a threat—and it is—Paul sees something greater; an opportunity.
When attacks come, we have an opportunity to do so many things: We can show the world how Christians best respond to attacks, shining the light of Christ in a dark world. We can show our clients and patients we are never deterred and always looking out for their best interests.
In addition, we can show the abortion industry—the very group attacking us—that we will not cower but will choose to advance as we love those who come in our door.
Every outsider, whether a client, patient or even one who wishes to tear us down, is an opportunity. When we begin to look at each person or each situation as an opportunity instead of as a trial, we find the wisdom we need to reach out with love, compassion and strength.
So, who is coming in the door today? Is it someone with a problem? Or is this someone who presents an opportunity to show the love of Christ?
Paul had the wisdom to find opportunities in all situations, whether in a jail with Silas in Acts 16 when they sang and a miracle took place, or in front of kings, as he shared his message. Paul was an ordinary person with an extraordinary message.
And that makes us . . . just like Paul. Let’s look for opportunities. We never know what God might do.
“By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
One of the easiest answers in the Bible is found when we pose the question, “How can I show others my faith?”
While there are a variety of characteristics a Christian might display—including the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)—there is one salient attribute the outside world will never overlook: Love for one another.
Jesus’ words in John 13:35 often wind up on our refrigerators, in memes on the internet and on tee shirts. But here’s a question: Do we really get it?
I’ll be the first to admit, I enjoy digging around in scripture to find powerful truths and unique ways to highlight these thoughts. But in the middle of reading, studying and writing on these subjects, am I taking the time to love those who share this faith with me?
Am I making it the priority in my life to love my fellow believers so that others will know—without a doubt—we are all Christians, faithfully following Jesus Christ?
There are evangelism courses all over the place. There are writings on topics relating to defining our faith, sharing our faith and defending our faith. These are all good, and important. No question about it.
But I must ask the question of myself: Is living my faith by loving my fellow followers the key focus of my faith? Or is “the love thing” simply a sweet ditty of Jesus; a nice thing to hear, or a good subject for an occasional devotional?
Just before speaking the words above Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Do I take this command to heart so strongly that I truly believe our love for each other is all we need to identify ourselves to a hurting world?
Because if I believe “love for one another” will make everyone see the power and the impact of our faith, I also understand the first logical step in reaching more people with the message of Good News Jesus offered is . . . love.
“Love one another” is more than icing on the Christian cake. It is the nourishment which fuels a healthy body of Christ. When we love, we create a powerful, engaging incentive for those outside of the faith to say, “Can I join, too?”
The woman said to him, “I know that messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when that one comes he will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:25-26
Before his interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus referred to himself as the “son of man” and as the son of God. While we understand the meaning and power of these terms today, if we read Jesus’ first references to himself, those listening might not have captured their importance.
For instance, God referred to the prophet Ezekiel as “son of man” on many occasions. And the Israelite people saw themselves as children of God, so “son of God” could have had multiple meanings without full context.
The point here is that early in his ministry, few if any fully realized who Jesus was. Except for a woman of Samaria; a woman with a checkered past, drawing water from a well outside of her city.
Remember, the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting their messiah, the Christ. In their minds, this messiah would usher in a new kingdom. They were right that the messiah will rule a coming kingdom; they didn’t understand this kingdom would not come immediately.
Who would Jesus tell first that he was the messiah for whom all of Israel was waiting? Would he tell a religious leader? One of his disciples? A power broker in the Roman Empire?
None of the above.
In a quiet, one-on-one conversation, Jesus chose a woman who was likely called many names for her improprieties with men. With her, he spoke directly, saying, “I who speak to you am he.”
This woman didn’t have to answer carefully-crafted questions, or work through parables. Instead, Jesus was direct and forthright. And her entire life changed. Suddenly she was telling those in her community about this man who she believed to be sent from God to save the people.
The result? “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.’” (John 4:39)
Those entering the door to a pregnancy help ministry appear—at least to most—to be the most unlikely to spread the gospel message. Sure, many applaud us for reaching out to these with checkered stories. But they don’t think much change will take place. Perhaps we don’t, either.
Yet we must keep in mind, this is who Jesus chose first. Because he did, the good news of the kingdom of God took off in a Samaritan city.
Apparently, Jesus gave hope to a Samaritan woman. We can do the same. And when we do, we never know how far that hope might spread.
“And grant that your bond servants may speak your word with all confidence.” Acts 4:29B
At many of our ministries we start the day with prayer. We may do so individually, or in a group as the early church in Acts 4. Few of us face the situation they confronted, but even today we would be wise to pray as they did.
Setting the context, the religious leadership arrested Peter and John for the “sin” of healing a lame beggar and following up the miracle by preaching the good news message. After a quick convocation amongst themselves, they ordered the two apostles to stop preaching—immediately.
Peter and John’s answer? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Once released, the two reported to their friends that heavy persecution could be on the way.
The early church’s response was to pray.
Let’s note first what they did not pray for. They did not pray for the Lord to halt their enemies, nor did they pray for safety. Or even for positive responses to their message.
Are any of these reasons to pray somehow “wrong?” Not at all. There may be times to pray for each of these outcomes.
Yet in this situation the early church, knowing they would face beatings, imprisonment or death, asked of God, “Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while you will extend your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.”
They did not ask for escape, but for boldness and confidence.
What a powerful example they set for us. When we pray before beginning our day, may the Lord give us the confidence to speak clearly, in love, to impart God’s truth to every situation. This is the boldness of the first followers, a boldness which literally changed the world.
When they finished praying together, “the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
God answered their prayer. When we pray for confidence, we can expect God to answer us as well.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6: 11-12
All of us can run into those times when we are dragging in our faith; when we are trying but just can’t seem to bring vitality to the challenges we face each day. We are, as the writer of Hebrews notes above, sometimes “sluggish.”
Sluggishness may not necessarily be a sin, but when we get sluggish it certainly slows us down in our journey of faith. So how do we get going again and recapture the energy of a vibrant faith?
The answer is a simple one; we imitate those around us—or who walked before us—who are clearly winning the race of faith.
We can certainly try to imitate those in the Bible who won victories of faith and Scripture is a great place to start in our search for the spiritually strong.
Yet there are also those around us who are winning. These are people we need to stick close to, asking questions and watching for patterns of victory.
For me, it was a family at a school where I worked. Every one of their children was walking in faith, living a life of strong character and of integrity. I watched them at church. I asked them questions. And hopefully, I imitated. This was a vibrant family—I wanted to be like them and they made me better.
It was also a guy I watched regularly who had a quiet, yet strong confidence in God. His life is never rushed, just like Jesus. So I asked, “What are your habits? How do you balance work and family and everything else?” He talked, I listened.
Looking at my life I can find more and more people God placed in my path, whom I could imitate. This wasn’t about idolizing and I’ve never viewed these people as perfect, nor would they. But they were, and are, directional markers for me on a pathway to a stronger, vibrant faith.
The writer of Hebrews challenges us to find those around us whom we can imitate in some form or another, because God wants us to see examples of vibrancy, so that we are protected from sluggishness as we press on.
Who are your “Imitation-Worthy” acquaintances and friends? If we want to stay energized in our faith, let’s seek them out. It’s a great way to stay sharp and focused as we seek to change the world around us.
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:4
Like the Proverbs in the Old Testament, many see James’ letter as the New Testament’s letter of wisdom. Throughout James we see practical advice on how live out our faith (“faith without works is dead,” for example), and this counsel begins in the opening verses as James talks of trials and their role in our lives.
Trials, James tells us, produce endurance and perseverance in our character. This perseverance he concludes, makes us whole, mature and complete, “lacking in nothing.”
Honestly, I do not wish for trials. If I want good company in this view, I need look no farther than Jesus who, when facing crucifixion—the greatest trial of all—asked that “this cup pass from me.” Yet Jesus knew that unless he submitted to God’s will, even he would not be complete in fulfilling his mission to save humankind.
Jesus pushed forth through this unfathomable trial and was able to say with his final words, “It is finished.” This was his defining moment, when all could see Jesus was “mature and complete, lacking in nothing” just as James wishes for us in his letter.
We only get to completeness by trial. Apparently, this is the path. The trials may sometimes be small, asking us to persevere when someone treats us poorly. Or, the trial may be incredibly large, such as a physical or health challenge, the loss of a loved one, or rejection by others.
Our next trial could be financial, relational, physical or mental. We don’t know, and that’s the thing about trials. Rarely do we see them coming.
Trials are surprising, sometimes shocking. Many times we do not understand the “whys” of our trial. All we know is that it is our mission to persevere, and to count this trial as “joy.”
Why joy? Because we know that when we persevere, we grow in the character of Jesus Christ. As we follow Jesus, we prepare ourselves for entrance into his kingdom.
And we are reminded of Jesus who saw his greatest trial as one of joy. We are told in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “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.” Jesus persevered. He endured. If anyone is “perfect and complete,” it is Jesus.
God offers us a similar opportunity. The path includes trial. It is not the easy way, but it is the only way.
Trials are coming. We will look at those trials not with happiness, but with joy. Because we know when we persevere, we will be everything God wants us to be.
Ten years ago my family moved to Tennessee, which carries the motto, “The Volunteer State.” The University of Tennessee’s athletic teams are the Volunteers, a moniker carried with incredible pride.
Most historians agree the nickname comes from a call for militia to fight in the Mexican-American War from U.S. President James K. Polk, a Tennessean. As the war ramped up in 1846, Polk asked for 2,600 men from across the country to join the battle. Stunningly, 30,000 fellow Tennesseans heeded Polk’s request and enlisted. Hence, “The Volunteer State.”
The story of the Volunteer State makes for an interesting history lesson, certainly. But this makes me think as we celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week, what does it mean to be a true volunteer, a state of being incredibly valuable to God? In short, what is The State of a Volunteer?
When we choose to volunteer, we truly do enter a new state of being. It changes those around us, but it also changes us.
In the State of a Volunteer, we understand our battle is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).”
In the State of a Volunteer, we stand before God as servants, willing to step forward when called upon even when the stakes are high, even when the odds are against us.
In the State of a Volunteer, we place our trust in God, knowing He is not moved by what we might see, knowing He can work in any situation.
In the State of a Volunteer, we are confident that God chooses to work through anyone who says, “Here am I, send me.”
In the State of a Volunteer, the words, “It can’t be done” are replaced by “I’ll give it my best.”
In the State of a Volunteer, a natural desire to be recognized is replaced by a passion to serve.
In the State of a Volunteer, “It’s not my job” is replaced by “How can I help?”
We celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week because when we volunteer, the entire world better understands the meaning behind the words, “Set your minds on the things above.” The State of a Volunteer is focused on the eternal—on the truly valuable.
This week—and every week—take heart. God sees the volunteer . . . and smiles.
He therefore answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” John 9:25
The story of the blind man in John 9 is fascinating in so many ways. Here we find a stunning miracle, where a blind man receives his sight. Yet, the Pharisees vilify Jesus and toss the young man out of the temple for one of the silliest reasons imaginable: Jesus picked the “wrong” day—the Sabbath—to help a person in need.
But every time I look at this passage something new pops up. For instance, the once-blind man’s response to the Pharisees when they ask him to condemn Jesus as a sinner. “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know,” the man says. “One thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Isn’t it fascinating to see that when a person’s life is dramatically changed, they are no longer interested in quibbling over non-issues? The blind man was confronted by the Pharisees regarding Jesus’ working on the Sabbath; he just doesn’t care. In his mind the Pharisees could argue over the Sabbath all they wanted; all he knew was he could do something now he could not do before: See!
It’s the same with us in the pregnancy help community. A salient example are the babies born because of our help; babies who otherwise would never receive their first breath of life.
As these babies grow into young men and women, they will no doubt be told they owe their very lives to their moms and possibly dads who made courageous decisions. And the same time, many are also reminded of a debt they owe to a pregnancy help center, clinic, maternity home or adoption agency.
Of course, there are the modern-day quibblers who will question or complain that we are somehow “anti-choice,” “anti-woman” or whatever “anti” they can come up with.
These who are alive today because of our work may be confronted by the false idea that we are somehow “sinners” in today’s society. When they are, I suspect their answer will be, “What their label is, I do not know. But one thing I do know; today I am alive for all to see.”
So take heart. Each day, our mission confounds many of the leaders of this world. But each day, we reach more and more who will one day tell the world our story. And our story of life is one this world truly wants to hear.
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