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prepare (just in case)

That old Chevy of yours—you love her, don’t you. You’ve had her for years. She’s so dependable, always there for you, always starts right up. But what if it’s 20 below? You hope she’ll come through for you! But past faithfulness does not automatically ensure future faithfulness.

Timothy was a faithful follower of Christ, and yet in 2 Timothy 3, Paul felt compelled to teach him how to weather persecution. When the atmosphere turns cold, how will you handle it? You know how to prepare for a blizzard, but persecution? How do you prepare for that?

Paul offers four things you can do now—just in case.

Study the lives of those who have endured persecution. Timothy not only followed Paul’s teachings; he observed how Paul endured persecution. How did he conduct himself? How did he keep his aim in life intact? You, too, can study others who stood for Christ under fire. Learn how faith demands patience, love, and steadfastness and follow their lead. You’ll find that God “rescues” his people by carrying them through persecution (2 Tim 3:10-11).

Decide now not to be offended. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). So get over it. Accept the fact that there is a cost to becoming like him.

Refuse to attribute corporate guilt to Christians for the work of impostors. “Evil doers and impostors will go from bad to worse,” exploiting the faith, “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). But as for you, don’t betray your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Stick with them. “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” along with the rest of God’s faithful (3:14).

Immerse yourself in Scripture. Notice that it’s in the context of persecution that Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15-16). Every moment you read the Bible, God is breathing life into you, teaching, correcting, training, and equipping you for what’s ahead—whatever that is. 

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when the lost persecutes

You know it’s wrong to hate. But what if YOU are hated? Let’s look at one of those Jesus statements that we don’t like.

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:21-22). What kind of Devo Tip is this? 

How can the gospel, which offers a message of hope, love, and grace, be taken as an evil thing, and its message-bearers as deserving heart-wrenching intimidation and betrayal? In Matthew 10, Jesus forces us to consider the reality of “lostness”—which is harder to accept when it comes to family and friends. But it gets even tougher for us when “the lost” persecutes. 

When you share the good news about Jesus, you are not likely to be called “Beelzebul” (“the prince of demons,” Matt 10:25). Being labeled as “narrowminded” or “backward” isn’t so bad. But what if you’re called an “extremist” or “radical” or worse?

  1. Persecution aims to silence or bait you—but God wants to sanctify the words of your mouth. “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say … For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt 10:20).
  2. Persecution often creates a strawman fallacy (it alters and exaggerates to attack the extreme distortion)—but God wants to get creative and reveal himself through you. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matt 10:25).
  3. Persecution intends to paralyze you—but God intends to deliver you from all your fears. “Have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matt 10:26-27).   
“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit … Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands” (Matthew 10:21-28, The Message).
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spiritual reading

In last week’s Devo Tip, we learned that the incarnation was an event and a vital principle in discipleship. God not only embodied his word in the person of Jesus; he intends to embody his word within our character. What kind of reading does that?

There are four common reading techniques that people use today. 

  • Skimming = glancing to grasp the main idea 
  • Scanning = searching for something in particular 
  • Intensive reading = highly focused to understand as much as possible 
  • Extensive reading = less focused to cover large amounts of material 

But how can you read the Bible in such a way that it becomes who you are? Is there another way to read? Yes! Some people call it: “spiritual reading.” Spiritual reading reads words in order to be formed by the living Word. Want to try it? It’s simple. 

  1. Acknowledge and ask. Before you begin reading, acknowledge God’s presence and simply ask the Lord to speak through his word. Then believe that he will. 
  2. Read buffet-styleFirst, scope it out (slowly read the passage two or three times). Notice what you are being drawn to (a specific word or phrase). Now you’re ready to “reach for the plate” (hear God’s voice in Scripture). 
  3. Enter NarniaBy quietly lifting your thoughts and heart to the Lord, the Holy Spirit will begin to open up a new reality (a truth about living in God’s kingdom). Whatever the Holy Spirit reveals to you will always be consistent with what the biblical author intended. 
  4. Walk in the light. Carry your devotional “plate” with you all day and be ready to serve it up to others! Awakening to kingdom realities will require faith in God and humble obedience.

You can do this! Quiet yourself in God’s presence and ask the Lord of Scripture to reveal himself in Scripture. There is a reason that Jesus embodies his word within your character. His very life is being formed in you because he wants to reveal himself to others through you. Let the adventures begin. 

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salt & light

God intends that societies should be ordered under wise human stewardship. However, as history unfolds, two threats to society quickly emerge: anarchy and tyranny (Genesis 4).

The threat of anarchy. “My punishment is greater than I can bear,” says Cain after killing his brother Abel, “and whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen 4:13-14). Cain feared a world of lawlessness and terror in which God would pay no attention to rampant, arbitrary violence. The irony is thick, isn’t it? Cain feared the anarchy he himself practiced.

The threat of tyranny. “I have killed a man for wounding me,” boasts Lamech, “a young man for striking me” (Gen 4:23). By taking a life to avenge a bruise, Lamech turned justice into a weapon for personal vengeance. What kind of justice is that? Threats of violence only enhance the power to control people.

Both threats reflect “the culture of death,” where “choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense,” gradually become “socially acceptable” (Pope John Paul II).

If you think Jesus simply wants people to try harder to behave so that the world is a better place, you’ve left the gospel station. His list of “blessed are …” is not a pep talk. Jesus was making an announcement:

“You are the salt of the earth … You are the light the world” (Matthew 5:13-16).

“If a piece of meat goes rotten, it’s no use blaming the meat. That’s what happens when meat is left out on its own. The question to ask is, Where is the salt? If a house gets dark at night, it’s no use blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask, Where is the light? If society becomes more corrupt and dark, it’s no use blaming society. That’s what fallen human nature does, left unchecked and unchallenged. The question to ask is … Where are the saints who will actually live as saints—God’s different people, God’s counterculture—in the public square … and pay the cost of doing so?” Christopher JH Wright

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prove Satan wrong

Sometimes we are given a perspective that the characters in the Bible lack. In the story of Job, we have the inside scoop: what happened to Job had nothing to do with God’s discipline or punishment. 

Conversation 1: Satan approaches God to insult him by slanderously accusing God of bribing people with blessings so they will worship him (1:9-11; 2:4-5). (It’s like saying that we only love Grandma because she’s got ice cream. Take away the ice cream and who cares about Granny?) Such a nasty allegation had to be answered by putting someone to the test.

So Satan destroys everything near and dear to Job. Job himself was infested with worms, had difficulty breathing, and was reduced to skin and bones (7:5; 9:18; 19:20). Before Mrs. Job abandons him, she tells him to curse God and die (2:9)—which is exactly what Satan hopes Job will do. Job is suddenly alone and homeless. He has to move to the city dump and use broken pieces of garbage to scratch the burning itch that covered his body (2:8).

Why would Job love God anymore? If you lost everything, would you still love the Lord?

Conversation 2: When Job’s buddies got to dump, they initially didn’t recognize him. He looked so repulsive they were speechless. After a full week, Job breaks the silence with anguish. Do his friends pray for him? No. They slanderously accuse Job of having some secret sin that brought all this down on him. They offer no comfort, encouragement, hope, or grace. No wonder Job says, “miserable comforters are you all” (16:2).

Have you ever questioned what someone did to deserve their trial? Why not evaluate your spirituality by what happens to you?

Conversation 3: God appears in a whirlwind with 77 questions. Does he explain why people suffer? No. He talks about his wisdom and power over creation—including one creature in particular: the 7-headed sea serpent-dragon (Job 41; cf. Isaiah 27:1). Why highlight him? Is it a coincidence that the sea serpent reflects the cruel nature of the ancient dragon behind Job’s suffering? “Terror dances before him … his heart is as hard as stone … he is king over all the sons of pride” (41:22-34).

PRAY: Lord, through good times and hard times, I want to make bold statements to the dark side. I want to prove that Satan is wrong about me, too. I love you Lord because of who you are. I love you Lord no matter what happens. Bring to light the unsearchable riches of Christ’s victory “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Amen. (Ephesians 3:10)

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5 levels of forgiveness

There was a face, a real person, and a boatload of stories behind Peter’s question. He’d been hurt too badly, too many times by someone. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Can you relate? “Lord, you know what I’ve been through. It’s not fair to let it go. Not after what they’ve done. Forgiveness is too much to ask from me. It’s too painful to even talk about.”

What if you tried to think of the “seventy-seven times”—not as an exact number to calculate, but as steps you can take toward healing?

Steps into LEVEL 1 FORGIVENESS: acknowledge the hurt. One guy really hurt Paul. Did Paul pretend that nothing happened? He doesn’t go into detail but simply states a fact: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” (2 Timothy 4:14). He named him. He dared to call out the damage. This is where you start. You cannot forgive what you refuse to acknowledge.

Steps into LEVEL 2 FORGIVENESSbelieve that God’s grace is greater than any sin. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Grace is greater than fear, greater than bitterness, greater than manipulation. What Jesus has done for you is greater than anything that’s been done to you. Grace >                          .

Steps into LEVEL 3 FORGIVENESS: let grace flow by releasing the offender to God. Let’s go back to Paul. After acknowledging the harm done to him (Level 1), Paul released Alexander to God: “the Lord will judge him for what he has done” (2 Timothy 4:14). Releasing someone is not letting them off the hook; you are placing them in God’s hands. As God deals with them, Paul says to “beware of [that person]” (2 Timothy 4:15). In other words, releasing frees you to protect yourself and others from further harm.

Steps into LEVEL 4 FORGIVENESS: ask God to forgive them. Think about Stephen. People are stoning him to death (Acts 7:54-60). Did Stephen look his murderers in the eye and say, “I forgive you”? No, he looked to heaven and said, “Lord, forgive them.” Ask God to do what you haven’t been able to do (which is what they really need anyway)!

Gently ease into LEVEL 5 FORGIVENESS: full forgiveness. You’ll know. Along the “seventy-seven” step journey toward forgiveness, you’ll realize that Jesus is healing your heart.