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February 17, 2018

Every Thought Captive, a weekly devotional from Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Power of God When We Are Brought Low

 

by Mark Fulmer

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Acts 16:16-34 (https://pcpc.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=eba67192d3a27da52e93fefb8&id=e9938ebf4d&e=82a9a8f891)

Let's imagine for a moment that you are the composer, and it's time to pre-screen the film for which you've written the score. The hardest scene to craft was the "jail scene." The imagery is remarkable and chilling and raw. The prisoners are chained to one another and to iron rings in the stone floor of the near-dark dungeon. The director has asked the actor playing the jailer to cover his face with a cloth, to communicate the stench of the place. One of the prisoners pictured as the camera pans the cell is a rotting corpse. Now, cue music! And then your score swells with strains of, "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, Oh my soul, worship His Holy Name!"

The producer wheels on you fiercely. He screams at you, "Are you crazy? This is a dungeon scene, in ancient Philippi! Did you even read the script!? There's an earthquake and a jail break and a near-suicide, you fool! What is praise music doing in this scene?!"

"Well sir," you answer, "the praise music is actually what the scene is about! Did YOU read the source document for the script?"

Then you get fired and he gets a Bible. Not a bad outcome to imagine.

Paul and Silas are singing praises in the middle of the night in the middle of the dungeon after a very long day that included interrogations and beatings. Singing-how can that possibly true?

Paul and Silas did not know they were about to be rescued from the dungeon of Philippi, but they did know they had already been rescued from the dungeon of hell. They were God's men on God's mission, and they sang the songs they had been singing all along: songs like the Psalms, praises like the songs of Moses and Mary. Or maybe they remembered and sang the lyrics of King David in that dark hole in Philippi.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

These men knew the Lord and praised the Lord because that was their habit. For Paul, and for us, our circumstances are not the primary source of the joy in our hearts. It's the Lord dwelling richly in our hearts who teaches how to understand and manage our circumstances.

They also sang because they counted suffering for Christ's sake to be an honor, and evidence of their union with Jesus. They could have run away from that jail, or encouraged the jailer to kill himself by saying, "Go ahead! Your life's over anyway!" But instead, they proclaimed the truth that had saved them. And they baptized the jailer in the name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They went into the dungeon as prisoners of the guard and came out as brothers of the guard! That's something worth singing about.

Later, Paul would write a letter to the church there in Philippi. The jailer may have heard it read aloud. He would have thought back about that night when the prisoners didn't run, and I bet he would have praised the Lord for that memory!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11

About the Author

Mark Fulmer
Elder
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Mark Fulmer is an elder at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, and along with Steve Vanderhill, teaches the New Creations Sunday School class.

 

February 2, 2018

Providential Crossings

by Robby Higginbottom

...Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughterand like a lamb before its shearer is silent,so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Acts 8:26-40 (https://pcpc.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=eba67192d3a27da52e93fefb8&id=2e58878a57&e=82a9a8f89)

God uses Philip in a providential crossing to bring the Ethiopian eunuch to Jesus Christ. God speaks to Philip and asks him to leave a thriving ministry and go to a place he doesn't know, to a person he doesn't know, for a reason he doesn't fully understand. And Philip obeys! What would we have done? As we reflect on what could seem like a strange detour for Philip, we should consider how we relate to interruptions in our lives. In Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders shares a story to illustrate.

One busy man told me how he mastered the problem of interruptions. "Up to some years ago," he testified, "I was always annoyed by them, which was really a form of selfishness on my part. People used to walk in and say, 'Well, I just had two hours to kill here in between trains, and I thought I would come and see you.' That used to bother me. Then the Lord convinced me that He sends people our way. He sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. He sent Barnabas to see Saul. The same applies today. God sends people our way.

"So when someone comes in, I say, 'The Lord must have brought you here. Let us find out why He sent you. Let us have prayer.' Well, this does two things. The interview takes on new importance because God is in it. And it generally shortens the interview. If a visitor knows you are looking for reasons why God should have brought him, and there are none apparent, the visit becomes pleasant but brief. So now I take interruptions as from the Lord. They belong in my schedule, because the schedule is God's to arrange at His pleasure."

If we believe in an Almighty God who advances His church through providential crossings, shouldn't we reconsider the way we think about the detours, interruptions, and "chance" meetings we have every day? Shouldn't we believe that the Lord still sends people to us, and still sends us to people, even when we don't know the who, the where, the why, or the how? Today, will we wrestle to hold onto control-which is an illusion!-or will we surrender to the providential direction of our gracious God who is building His church? What if He really intends to use us today to extend His kingdom? As another author writes, "What if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities?"

About the Author

Robby Higginbottom
Assistant Pastor of College Ministry
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Robby Higginbottom was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. As early as high school, he sensed the Lord calling him to pastoral ministry. Robby is a graduate of Highland Park High School, Duke University, and Redeemer Seminary. Through the years, he has worked with high school students, college students, and young adults at PCPC. Robby currently serves as an assistant pastor. He is married to Ann, and they have two children: Will and John Harper.

 

 

January 19, 2018

Prison Break

by Mark Fulmer

The Apostles Arrested and Freed

"...But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, "Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people." Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles,
they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Acts 5:17-42 (https://pcpc.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=eba67192d3a27da52e93fefb8&id=c08a6106c3&e=82a9a8f891)

 

At the beginning of his message on this passage, our pastor Mark Davis asked, “Have you ever been arrested?” My pulse went up, my breathing got shallow, and I was seconds from a cold sweat. “No!” thought I. “Never!” Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been a few times when maybe I should have been, but just the thought of being locked up does its deterrent work on this generally law-abiding citizen. (Speed limits are not just suggestions, right?)

For the folks in the New Testament church, arrest was a common and dangerous reality. Accompanied by beatings, stonings and civic expulsion, arrest was an ever-present threat for Christians and often only a short-term formality preceding execution.

But why? Being a Christian wasn’t against the law. There was no Roman rule that said following Jesus was illegal. That bit of legislation wouldn’t come about for several decades. Yet the first followers of The Way often found themselves on the wrong side of the dungeon door, usually because of the ire they had caused the religious establishment in town. They were imprisoned because they kept telling everyone who would listen that Jesus was alive and that he was The Messiah.

So there they sat. Imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, the apostles were in a seemingly silenced, hopeless predicament. And you know what happened? An angel showed up in the middle of the night and set them free. I wonder if they thought they were dreaming. Maybe they were so scared they thought they had hallucinated their release. But the punch line of the account is that the angel didn’t just “turn them loose,” but also gave them instructions. “Go and stand in the temple, and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

What? They had been arrested for preaching, freed by a direct miracle of God Almighty, walked past sleeping guards, and then told to go back to the center of town…and preach some more! But this time the audience would be different. They would wind up preaching the Gospel to the very leaders who had attacked them in the first place. They were beaten, roughed up for good measure, and then released.

How did they respond? It’s remarkable. They offered praise to God because they had been counted worthy of suffering for Christ. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

And that’s the way with the followers of Jesus, isn’t it? God is building His church in and through His faithful servants. God’s Kingdom will prevail, empowered and emboldened by the same Holy Spirit that empowered Peter and the others. Who will you tell today?

###

About the Author

Mark Fulmer

Elder
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Mark Fulmer is an elder at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, and along with Steve Vanderhill, teaches the New Creations Sunday School class.

 


God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

God's Holy Fire is a daily devotional about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • United in the Spirit

    Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

    Ephesians 4:3 NLT

    Key Thought

    When we open the book of Acts, we hear Jesus promise twice in the first few verses to send the Holy Spirit to empower the early disciples as they go to all nations to share the good news of Jesus. As we read further, we see the Holy Spirit at work to break down every barrier — geographical, cultural, racial, economic, political, and social — to make the people who come to Jesus into one new people. Paul reflects on the great grace of God in Ephesians chapters 1-3. In today's verse, he challenges Jesus' followers to make every effort to keep what the Holy Spirit and the grace of God had worked to create: a people united by the Holy Spirit and held together with the bond of peace. He wanted them to "wage peace"! He wanted them to be peacemakers and not just "peacewanters." Making peace can happen only when we allow the Spirit to control our hearts while we earnestly and diligently strive to be united through the Spirit as God's children.

    Today's Prayer

    Father, please forgive me. I've been selfish, impatient, and harsh to some of your children. I sometimes haven't been committed to "waging peace" with the same passion as I have sought to get my own way and protect my own position. Please help me as I try to mend relationships and re-establish fellowship with those that I've alienated. Please help me as I seek to have your Spirit take control of my heart and as I seek to live in peace with your children. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

  • The Spirit's Work of Love

    [Epaphras is] the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit.

    Colossians 1:8 MESSAGE

    Key Thought

    Epaphras had told Paul about the Colossians' growth in Jesus. One vital element of this growth was their love for each other. Paul recognized that the power of the Holy Spirit is what had inspired, empowered, and worked this love into the fabric of their daily lives. The Spirit empowers God's character to be formed in us (Romans 5:1-5). We sometimes call this character the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as the Spirit works to form Christ in us (2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, let's daily invite the Spirit into our lives to do his transformational work so that the influence of God's Holy Presence shows up in the way we feel about each other and treat each other.

    Today's Prayer

    Father in heaven, I yield my heart to be molded by the work of your Holy Presence, the Spirit. I want to be conformed to the character and compassion of Jesus. However, I know for this transformation to happen fully, I desperately need the holy fire of your Spirit to empower my changes into a full likeness of Christ. Burn away what is false and selfish. Fuel in me a holy desire to be conformed to your holy character and gracious compassion. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.