Monday, February 20, 2017

In the middle of the storm, can I say, “I believe God?”

Monday 2-20-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Num 7, Psalm 23 and Acts 27
S = Scripture,  O = Observation,  A = Application,  P = Prayer,  SOAP for the soul.

S. Acts 27:22-26 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, 'Don't be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What's more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.' So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island." NLT

O. The first time Paul spoke, nobody wanted to take him seriously. He was a nobody, just another prisoner in chains. But now after his predictions came true, the prisoner, Paul, basically took control of the ship. Everything was out of control. All hope to survive was lost. So now Paul gets all 275 men aboard together and shouts over the storm, “Take courage, every one of you! I had a visitor from my God last night and he told me that even though the ship will go down, all of us are going to be saved alive!” Then he adds, “So hang in there, boys! Because I believe God!” Without doubt the atmosphere aboard ship changed with that “word” of assurance from God.

A. When the storm rages around me and all hope is lost, can I believe God? Do I need an angelic visit? Isn’t it enough that Jesus gave me His Word assuring me that He would never leave my side?

P.  Lord, I admit it. At stormy times like that, I need a heavenly visitor. I know that You are still there, but I need to hear a personal “Word” rising over the sound of the howling wind. Your special “Word” can change chaos into stability, for now there is hope… for I have chosen to say, along with Brother Paul, “I believe God!” Amen.


That tender moment is forever lost.

Sunday 2-19-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Num 5 – 6, Psalm 22 and Acts 26
S = Scripture,  O = Observation,  A = Application,  P = Prayer,  SOAP for the soul.

S. Acts 26:17-20 Yes, I am going to send you to the Gentiles,  to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.'  "And so, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to that vision from heaven. I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must turn from their sins and turn to God… NLT

O. Dr. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, must have been present in this solemn occasion, since he transcribes very clearly Paul’s message that day. It was a sermon directed toward these high-class Gentiles and especially to King Agrippa.  Paul discloses that he knows King Agrippa is, not only well acquainted with the prophecies of the Jewish scriptures, but he even believes they are true.  And now, with great passion, he gives this king a chance to meet the King of Kings… the Messiah that was killed and rose again.  The room is charged with Holy Spirit conviction when Governor Festus suddenly interrupts, yelling, “Paul, you are crazy!” It is so typical of the devil that wants to disturb an urgent “altar call” of a loving God for sinners to run to fall at the feet of the resurrected Savior.  

A. It is similar to many occasions while preaching to the lost. The preacher has poured out his or her heart with a passion. The message is heard. The Holy Spirit of God is touching the hearts of some who are balancing in the tender moment of decision… when suddenly someone sets off a volley of fireworks just outside the open windows or a little baby screams and will not be silenced… and an excuse is given for everyone to escape and leave the room without the miracle that Jesus had for them.

P. Oh Lord, I pray for those that “almost become Christians”. They were so close. They felt the tug of Your Holy Spirit, but the enemy of their souls distracted them and gave them the easy option to flee from the scene. Oh God! Please chase them down. Please let Your Word and Your Holy Spirit conviction follow them and trouble them until they crumble at Your feet in surrender. Then they will find a new life walking with You from now into eternity. Amen.


You are God’s Chosen Instrument

Saturday 2-18-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Num 3 – 4 and Acts 25
S = Scripture,  O = Observation,  A = Application,  P = Prayer,  SOAP for the soul.

S. Acts 25:22-23 "I'd like to hear the man myself," Agrippa said. And Festus replied, "You shall — tomorrow!" So the next day Agrippa and Bernice arrived at the auditorium with great pomp, accompanied by military officers and prominent men of the city. Festus ordered that Paul be brought in. NLT

O. Governor Festus has succeeded Felix and immediately the Jewish leaders hound him about Paul, still wanting him killed after two years in Felix’s prison. Festus asks Paul if he is willing to go for a hearing to Jerusalem as the Jewish leaders insist. Paul refuses. He knows that they will be lying in wait to murder him. Since he sees that he can get no justice from this lower court, he appeals to the Roman Emperor Caesar, himself.  King Agrippa comes to town to welcome Festus and wants to hear Paul’s case personally.
Here they come, King Herod Agrippa II and the new Governor Festus with “great pomp” along with a huge entourage of all the elite… coming to hear the words of a prisoner named Paul. The word for “pomp” here in Greek is “fantasias”. These are the cream of society who live in a fantasy world. But they are voluntarily coming to hear Paul preach about Jesus Christ. Go for it, Brother Paul!

A. Does God care about people in high places? Is He concerned with their lost souls? A humble Christian named Ananias of Damascus had heard the voice of the Lord the day of Paul’s conversion, “For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.  And I will show him how much he must suffer for me." (Acts 9:15-16) NLT Yes, God cares about those who live in the “fantasy world” and later even took Paul to preach to the emperor himself… the king of the entire known world at that time.  Should I tremble when God gives me a chance to share His message of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, His mercy and love… when He places me before the “fantasy” affluent?

P. Dear Father, Who sits high above all people of high rank, give me a heart to see the elite in their fantasy world as lost. Yes. they can be as lost as that drunkard lying there in the gutter. Their fantasy world will crumble to dust very soon as they approach their last days on earth. May I never forget that I, too, am Your “chosen instrument”… chosen to boldly proclaim Your message to any and all, when given a chance.  Amen.


Governor Felix was a wimp.

Friday 2-17-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Num 1 – 2 and Acts 24
S = Scripture,  O = Observation,  A = Application,  P = Prayer,  SOAP for the soul.

S. Acts 24:22-25 Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, "Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case." He ordered an officer to keep Paul in custody but to give him some freedom and allow his friends to visit him and take care of his needs. A few days later Felix came with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified. "Go away for now," he replied. "When it is more convenient, I'll call for you again." NLT

O. Governor Felix was a “put it off till another day” kind of leader.  Did he ever call for the garrison commander, Lysias? Apparently not. He was just biding his time until he could pass the decision concerning Paul to his successor… two years later. Felix was a “wimp.” He called for Paul, but not to free him. He was seeking a bribe. And he wanted his Jewish wife, Drusilla to hear this remarkable man. But things got hot as Paul struck close to his sin with a call to right judgment, self-control and the coming day, when he (Felix) would be judged. He stopped Paul’s sermon at the altar call with, “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.”

A. I’ve called myself a “wimp”, too, for I am slow to make important decisions. When the conversation is hot, with emotions running high, I have called for time to think it over alone. I need time alone with the Lord at my side. Even so, sometimes I make errors and the Lord has had to come to my rescue… which, by the way, He always does.

P. Dear Lord, where would I be without You? Certainly, I would have made wrong decisions that would have destroyed my usefulness and happiness. I am again reminded that without You, I can do nothing right. As I return to Argentina in a few weeks there will be many decisions to make. I always feel like a little boy trying to do a man’s job. I pray for Your divine wisdom. I depend upon You. And help me not to put off for tomorrow what I should do today. Amen.


Officer Alexander is puzzled

Thursday 2-16-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Lev 26 – 27 and Acts 23
S = Scripture,  O = Observation,  A = Application,  P = Prayer,  SOAP for the soul.

S. Acts 23:10-11 Finally, the commander, fearing they would tear him apart, ordered his soldiers to take him away from them and bring him back to the fortress. That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, "Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have told the people about me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome." NLT

O. My name is Alexander. I am a Roman military commander. I have been made responsible to take Paul to a Jewish religious court. I do not understand the Aramaic language and much less Jewish religious traditions. The court room is crowded and noisy. Suddenly there is silence as the Jewish High Priest takes his seat as judge. Paul is standing with hands chained behind his back. He is finally allowed to speak. He barely gets out a single sentence and I hear the “judge” bark out a command and the men standing nearest Paul smash him with a blow to the mouth. I find this amusing. But within two minutes the screaming begins. Some who are dressed in the obvious habit of the Pharisees now seem to be defending Paul. Others religious men are yelling something. Some grab Paul from one side are trying to pull him from the mob that is wanting to kill him. They are going to pull him apart. I am forced to intervene. I order my soldiers to drag him out of their reach and back to the fortress. The whole thing only lasted five minutes. I muse to myself, “These Jews make no sense.”  Paul is a little beat up, but cheerful as he is ushered into his prison cell.
The next morning I casually pass by his cell. He greets me, “Good morning, Officer Alexander, I hear it’s a beautiful day out there.” “What’s up with this guy? He’s smiling like he knows something!”

A. Paul has just heard fresh news from a higher power than Caesar. Yeah! In God’s timing, he will be given the privilege of preaching in Rome. He knows something Officer Alexander doesn’t know. I find that my spirit picks up as I am looking forward to something good, like another opportunity to preach. This coming Sunday it will be with the children of Modesto Neighborhood church. That fills me with joy. Then the following week I am scheduled to preach in an exciting Spanish speaking church, in San Francisco. That puts a smile on my face.

P. Lord Jesus, I find great joy as I look forward to coming ministry opportunities. Just the anticipation brings happiness. In a few weeks I will be back in Argentina with unlimited ministry possibilities. Help me to carry your joy and blessing wherever You send me. You do not send me alone. You have promised to go with me even to the ends of the earth. Amen.


The land below my feet is Yours, Lord!

Wednesday 2-15-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Lev 25, Psalm 25 - 26 and Acts 22
S = Scripture,  O = Observation,  A = Application,  P = Prayer,  SOAP for the soul.

S. Lev 25:23 And remember, the land must never be sold on a permanent basis because it really belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenants living with me. NLT

O. At God’s command, the Israelites had taken over a land that had been occupied by a people that had polluted the land with horrible, sinful practices, including sacrificing many of their babies to the god of Molech.  God had Joshua divide the land into sections for each of the tribes of Israel. They would live on the land and cultivate it. But now as the Lord presents the concept of the 50th year, the year of jubilee, and he adds this important revelation. “Your land is not really yours. It belongs to me!”

A. My grandfather William Frank Hiatt was granted a section of land by the government as a homestead in the 1880s.  But there were stipulations.  A home and a farm had to be established on the land within a certain time frame. I often have thought, “Who are we to say who “owns” a piece of land?” Was it taken by force from a former resident? I have the comfort to know that the area where my grandfather homesteaded had apparently never been “home” to anyone. It was a thick forest of trees and wild brush that required blood and sweat, axes and dynamite to clear an area for a homestead. He and his eleven sons and three daughters worked hard to make it into a home.  Maybe, as a Christian family, they had read this scripture and recognized that the land was really not theirs, but belonged to God, it’s Creator.

P. Lord, what might happen to our country if we recognized that You are really the owner of our possessions … not only the land beneath our feet, but of all the trinkets that we call “ours”?  Start with me, Lord. This house is not my own, this computer is not mine, my car is not really mine. You have just allowed me to live here like a foreigner, a tenant and a caretaker of Your property.  What a responsibility I have! Please help me to remember Who the real Owner is. I am only Your steward. Amen.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

We were invited to glean after the harvest.

Tuesday 2-14-17, Modesto, California
Today we read Lev 23 – 24, Psalm 24 and Acts 21
S = Scripture  O = Observation  A = Application  P = Prayer  SOAP for the soul.

S. Lev 23:22 "When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I, the LORD, am your God." NLT

O. Mixed in among many detailed ceremonial laws, we find that God shows his concern for the poor, the widows and the strangers. They were instructed not to glean** the remnants of their harvests, but to leave the edges and corners of the field and all that had been missed in the harvest for the needy.
This concept is displayed vividly in the book of Ruth who was both a stranger and a widow.
When I was a teenager, although we never knew it, we were among the poor. Oregon is berry country. Each summer we worked all day in the heat, harvesting black berries, strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and boysenberries. One of the farms where I worked belonged to David Tillstrom, known to be a devote Christian. He told us that after we finished the harvest, if we wished we could come back later and “glean” the remaining berries. I brought my father and sisters and carried home enough boysenberries to can them and enjoy them all the following winter.

A. Some very wealthy people carefully count their pennies and find it hard to release their leftovers for the needy.  God reminds us at least four times with these instructions for the farmer… and applicable to all of us: When He blesses us, we should be quick to share our excess with the needy.

P. Lord, You have been so generous with me. Give me a generous heart, like David Tillstrom, ready to share my possessions to bless the needy.  Amen.

**Historically the word “glean” means to gather the leftover grain or other produce after a harvest.

** When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. Deut 24:21 KJV