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March 24, 2018

A Holy Interruption

by Josh Keller

"...So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. As for the word that He sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…

And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

Acts 10:34-44 (https://pcpc.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=eba67192d3a27da52e93fefb8&id=001d8df7d8&e=82a9a8f891)

 

 

Mostly it’s annoying getting interrupted. In the middle of a conversation, when you’re on your horse galloping through a speech, getting bumped off course seems criminal. Sometimes it sits you down—slack jawed in the dust—watching your thoughts wander over the horizon. But every once in awhile, an interruption, like a clap of thunder, bolts your conversation forward to its stunning and beautiful conclusion.

I wonder if that is how Peter felt in Caesarea. God had given him a stunning vision, three times, about how new the New Covenant really is. Certainly Peter knew the power of the gospel. Peter could talk eloquently about forgiveness of sins, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the new creation. But he was just coming to understand how truly transformational Jesus’s redemption is.

Yes— no partiality, no unclean, people from every nation. But God, with a booming interruption, sent the Holy Spirit and threw Acts chapter 10 to its stunning conclusion.

In the old way God-fearing Gentiles, like Cornelius, had a place. It was near…ish. Just outside. But this conclusion is something new, so very near and so inside that Jesus in His High Priestly prayer simply said that Peter and Cornelius were now one. United. In the old way, Cornelius was never Peter’s brother. In the new, they share the same divine Breath.

Psalm 133 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” This Psalm refers to Aaron’s ordination as Israel’s high priest. The oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, running down from his head to his body, made it clear to everyone that when Aaron stood offering sacrifices at the Tabernacle, all of Israel stood there too in Aaron. They were united.

We have a greater High Priest. At Jesus’s baptism, God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. And as the oil ran down over Aaron, so too the Holy Spirit runs down from our Head, Christ, onto us, His body, the Church. So that where Christ is we are too. We are united to Him and to all who make up His body. Made one even as God himself is one (John 17.22).

Acts 10 interrupts us too. Who is the Cornelius in your life? The socially awkward? The politically backward? The day laborer in Cambodia or the refugee on a boat in the Mediterranean? In Christ, they all may be more intimately connected to you than the doctor who lives down the street, drives the same car, and celebrates the preferred beverage.

We may know that God shows no partiality, but without this sort of interruption, we may never see how near God is to those we keep at a distance, with what fire He adores them, nor how united to them we actually are. May the Spirit make us truly understand.

About the Author

Josh Keller

Assistant Pastor

All Saints Presbyterian Church

 

Joshua Keller, a native Kansan and graduate of Kansas State University, lives in Austin, Texas, where he serves as Youth Pastor to All Saints Presbyterian Church. He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary during which he spent some time working at PCPC in the Youth Ministry.

He and his wife Erin have three children, Elliotte, Oliver, and Adelaide, and one faithful dog, Ike.

 

March 3, 2018

Why Does God Use Us?

by Matt Fray

 

"...Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came
has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 9:10-22 (https://pcpc.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=eba67192d3a27da52e93fefb8&id=e1401a909e&e=82a9a8f891)

 

If you watched any of the most recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, you no doubt saw some mini-documentaries on some of the athletes. On a practical level, these stories are informative introductions to athletes whose careers and sports most of us know little about. On a personal level, their stories are inspiring affirmations that the right blend of talent and training can lead to amazing accomplishments.

In the book of Acts, we encounter conversion stories that are more than informative or inspiring; they are surprising. While faith in Jesus Christ is always reasonable and the Holy Spirit is always at work, it should nevertheless always surprise us to see sinners transformed to saints by faith in Jesus Christ. Conversions are not just unlikely; they are, in every way, miraculous.

In the book of Acts, chapters 1-8, we find several surprising group conversion stories as God draws thousands of people to faith in Jesus Christ. We don't know all of the names, but we see the glorious disruption of Jerusalem as nearly a quarter of its citizens become Christians. And in Acts 8-10, with the gospel spreading beyond Jerusalem, we find three surprising personal conversion stories. There is the unnamed African financier, the Ethiopian eunuch, who comes to faith by reading Isaiah 53 and hearing Philip explain its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:26-40). There is the Roman general, Cornelius, who comes to faith by the work of an angel, a dream, and the witness of Peter (Acts 10:1-48). And in the middle, the most famous and most amazing personal conversion story in Acts: the story of Saul, the Jewish terrorist, who sees and hears Jesus Christ Himself, causing blind unbelief to become clear-sighted faith and life-changing mission (Acts 9:1-19). Together, these
group conversion stories and personal conversion stories surprise us as readers and as participants in God's great work of redemption.

Living in the buckle of the Bible belt, we in Dallas may sometimes see our conversion stories as less surprising, less miraculous versions of the conversion stories in Acts. Perhaps we believe that the Holy Spirit need a miracle of lesser degree to save us, given the Christian mores of our culture and the general morality of our lives. Worse still, perhaps we believe that our conversion was somehow a result of being specially favored by God. But we have the same deceitful, debilitating, deadly sin nature as Saul and Cornelius. And we need the same atoning work of Jesus Christ, and the same regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Our conversion stories are just as surprising, and just as miraculous as the conversion stories in Acts.

Perhaps we could even push this point one step further: your conversion story should be to you the most surprising of any conversion story. Why? Because you should see and feel the weight of your sin and need for Jesus more than you see anyone else's sin and need for Jesus. Each of us should be able to say, "I am a log-eyed chief of sinners (Matthew 7:3-5; 1 Timothy 1:15)!" and "I am a prodigal heir of infinite grace (Luke 15:1-32; Ephesians 2:4-9)!" In the words of John Newton, our greatest wonder should be our own story of rescue: "If I ever reach heaven, I expect to find three wonders there. First, to meet some I had not though to see there. Second, to miss some I had expected to see there. And third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there."

About the Author

Matt Fray
Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Matt grew up in South Florida and first sensed a call to pastoral ministry while a high school student at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Dallas. After graduating from St. Mark’s, Covenant College, and Westminster Seminary in California, he spent four years serving as the assistant pastor of a PCA church in Savannah, GA. In 2014, he returned to serve at PCPC as the Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation.

Matt and his wife Erin have three children: Lydia, Hudson, and Samuel.

 

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.

 


God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

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

    May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Romans 15:13 NIV

    Key Thought

    We live in the overflow of God's grace. David said it well in Psalm 23, "my cup overflows." Because of the Spirit's presence, our hope overflows! In addition to goodness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17 NLT), the presence of the Holy Spirit brings deep, abiding, and personal hope! But let's not get overly focused on just the promise to us of the Holy Spirit's presence. Instead, let's also notice that this passage contains a blessing that we can share with other believers — releasing God's blessing of the Spirit into their lives. This blessing of the Spirit can bring them joy, peace, and hope! What a great gift to share with others who love Jesus.

    Today's Prayer

    Father, I thank you for your presence in my life. Your presence has brought me hope, joy, and peace and encourages me to live a good life. Please use me to bless others so that they can experience these blessings from your Spirit. Open my eyes to those who need this blessing of the Spirit. Give me the gracious words to share this blessing with others at just the right moment when they need to hear them. Finally, dear Father, thank you for the power to bless others. In Jesus' name, I thank you. 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.

  • Who Can Argue with These Qualities?

    For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too.

    Romans 14:17-18 NLT

    Key Thought

    Who can argue with goodness, peace, and joy? These three virtues are not obtained just by human effort. Yes, a passion to possess these godly qualities is necessary, but the source of these qualities is the Holy Spirit alive in us. Goodness, peace, and joy have their source in God's nature and are made real in us through the work of the Holy Spirit. As we invite the Holy Spirit to reign over our inner being, our character is transformed to be more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). So let's yearn for the Holy Spirit to transform us to be ever more like Christ and trust that the Spirit's influence will be displayed in our lives through goodness, peace, and joy.

    Today's Prayer

    Father, don't let me be distracted by, or addicted to, food or drink. I want to be sustained and fed spiritually and emotionally by the presence of your Holy Spirit within me. I specifically pray that your goodness, peace, and joy will become more and more apparent in my life as I seek to honor Christ and yield myself to the influence of your Spirit. 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.