Divine Platforms: “Alive in Dead Places” by Christian Williams

Read John 20; Mark 16

“Who will roll the stone away?” (Mark 16:3)

In the beginning there is nothing but beauty, harmony, and deep intimacy between humankind and God. It is fitting that it all begins in a garden. Life, the story of humankind, begins in a garden. Gardens are where things grow, where things flourish, for beauty and for glory. And then the story takes a turn for the worst. And consequently, the garden has become elusive. I think all of humankind is trying to get back to the garden. I know I am. But I often find myself in cemeteries.

When I did not know Christ, I had no idea that I was void and without form. Empty. And dead. Being made alive in Christ means being shaped in the image of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Father who is in heaven. But being made alive in Christ has not exempted me from dead places. I still find myself in cemeteries.

In the opening scene of Mark 16:1, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome choose to enter a cemetery to anoint Jesus’ dead body. They are entering a dead space intending to serve the Lord. And they ask the question, “Who will roll the stone away?” I so desire to be like those women, who not forsaking their grief, entered dead space with the intent to bring glory to God. Many of us are so intent to get back to the garden that we fail to realize we have graciously been given new life. And it is because of this new life that we serve the Lord and bring glory to God when we enter spaces filled with dead people, by living a life that smells of the Gospel.

I have a younger brother. He is not a believer. And it grieves my soul because he does not know that he is void and without form. He is dead, and the life he lives is a tomb. I know that God has the power to roll the stone away, to open his tomb, and to make dry bones live. I live in the tension of longing for the garden and realizing that God has not placed me there. I exist in a time and space where I am not trying to get back to the garden; I am trying to meet God at the entrance of the tomb that is my brother’s soul. If God has you in dead spaces, it is because there are dead people who need to hear, see, feel, touch, and taste the goodness that is the Gospel of Christ.

Divine Platforms: John 20

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Divine Platforms: “A Focused Platform” by Sher LaDieu

All devotionals have been edited by Sarah Stiles. 

Read 2 Cor. 6:6-10; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 12:1-3

I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 26:22-23).

What comes to mind when someone says the name, “Apostle Paul”? Maybe the image of an older boisterous man gallivanting around the outskirts of the Mediterranean? Or perhaps you think more along the lines of his accomplishments, such as authoring thirteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books?

Examining his life, we can conclude that Paul was not an easily-distracted person. He endured betrayal, beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, snake bites, imprisonments, and consistent harassments. Yet nothing could throw him off course (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28). He was determined to reach the known world with the Gospel.

Take, for example, the final minute of Paul’s appeal to King Agrippa. In this appeal for his release from prison, he turns to make an appeal for belief in Christ! Though he had been asked to give a defense for himself, he argues more for the Messiah. Could nothing deter him from speaking about the Christ? In true Pauline fashion, he seizes the opportunity to witness to the influential king and those listening: “But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike” (Acts 26:22-23 NLT). At this point in the appeal, Festus yells that Paul is insane. Paul denies this and then Agrippa chimes in: “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” Agrippa felt the push Paul was making—not one towards his own personal freedom, but one towards Christ. Interrupted and slanderously accused, Paul doesn’t miss a beat: “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains” (v. 29). How different would our world look if people focused on the goal that matters: to know Christ and to make Him known?

Where is your focus? When life and lies from the enemy knock you off the course of following the Messiah, do you remain off track, or do you find that Christ is soon back at the forefront of your decisions? Like a car whose steering wheel pulls to the right due to faulty wheel alignment, so is the distracted believer whose thoughts pull towards self. Where does your mind veer? Distraction is a modern-day tool of the enemy. People, problems, and expectations will consume our thoughts, but we must make sure we filter all through the lens of the resurrected Christ. Paul did.

Is your time being spent for the cause of the resurrected Christ or for the cause of having an empty email inbox, a couple thousands Instagram followers, a polished car, a polished family? Track this currency of time for a week and see when and where the resurrected Christ appears.

Neither distraction nor bitterness nor disappointed expectations dragged Paul from his goal to “teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:22-23).

Let’s focus on reaching the end of each day with peace and the knowledge that today we made Him known and got to know Him a little better ourselves. The author of Hebrews says it well: “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2 NLT).

Others need to hear what you already know—that there is hope and life in this messy world, and it’s found in the resurrected Christ. Stand on your platform and rid it of unnecessary distractions with fixed eyes on Jesus.

Are your eyes fixed on the resurrected Jesus?  

Divine Platforms: “Testing the Testimony” by Sher LaDieu

All devotionals have been edited by Sarah Stiles. 

Read 2 Timothy 4:1-8; 1 Peter 3:13-4:19

“Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not” (2 Timothy 4:2, NLT).

The judicial system of Caesar’s day was quite different from our modern democracy. What we would see as a small public disturbance was deemed by many as a crime worthy of death for Paul: Jews were not to bring Gentiles into the inner courts of the temple. Arrested and held prisoner for over two years without formal charges, there was much injustice surrounding Paul’s life. However, like today’s judicial system, truth should win the case.

In Acts 26, Paul confidently presents his defense before King Agrippa. After addressing the king appropriately, he outlines his testimony from his youth, interweaving details of the Gospel. He starts with his childhood (v. 4), shares what he used to believe before following Christ (v. 9), and even includes the painful and shameful parts of his story because he knows his past mistakes now brighten the grace and glory of Jesus (vv. 10-19).

When you stand before a crowd or an individual to tell your story, what words will you use? What memories will be shared? What sin will you uncover for His glory? How will you describe your life before accepting Jesus and the subsequent changes and victories? Acts 26 is a long account of Paul’s testimony, but at other times, he was also ready to give the five-minute or even thirty-second “elevator pitch” version of his story (see 1 Cor. 15:7-11; Phil. 3:4-11; 1 Tim. 1:12-17).

Paul spoke with convincing passion, not compromising one truth for the sake of self-protection: “For this reason, the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:21-23 ESV).

Until this point in his story, he had the audience’s undivided attention (it was not only the king he spoke to); but these few sentences in vv. 21-23 pricked fear, anger, and probable conviction in the heart of the hearers. Could Paul be right about the Christ? Festus interrupted Paul with the statement: “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (v. 24). But Paul continued to claim the truth of his words.

Despite your audience’s response, are you ready to share your story (see 2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:14-15)? The thirty-minute testimony? The thirty-second “elevator pitch”? I want to challenge you to sit down and write it. And then practice telling it. When cast into prison, how could Paul know he would later be placed before a curious king interested in hearing his story (see Acts 26:22)? Though nothing so drastic will likely happen to you (though it certainly could), what will you say to your neighbor who thinks there’s more than one way to God? To your unbelieving sibling who is bitter towards a “loving” God? To your co-worker or new friend who lives out “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”? Eternity is forever, but this life is short. Prepare your story. God’s Gospel is shared through the stories of His people. It’s shared through you.

Divine Platforms: “Prepping the Platform” by Sher LaDieu

All devotionals have been edited by Sarah Stiles. 

Read Acts 26

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the Law I became like one under the Law (1 Cor 9:19-20).

We live a world and a city of immense diversity. Our differences range from various levels of education to all manner of customs, food preferences, dress styles, and skin color. But one thing we all have in common is the need for an object of worship. God specially designed each human with a specific need for Him, yet many seek to fill that hole of a need with created gods, beings or things incapable of satisfying. How can we let people know that this God-shaped hole can only be filled by Jesus?

Paul was given the tremendous opportunity to present his case before a king, King Agrippa. Paul knew to whom he was addressing—someone well-educated, refined, authoritative, but most importantly, the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who was a Jew. Thus, Agrippa understood the Jews’ viewpoint and the Law. Selecting his words based on the audience before him, Paul delivered his opening statement: “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently” (Acts 26:2-3 ESV). Though the core of the Gospel remains intact as Paul shares, Paul’s platform of presenting his following argument molded to the individual before him.

Who do you encounter in your daily doings? The encounters are varied and many—Monday morning meetings, chilly soccer games, evenings at home watching college football, weekend camping trips, grocery store runs, Saturdays on the golf course, the salon—the list goes on. The people we encounter in these settings have their own way of viewing the world, which is often different than yours, and their individual experiences add to their views. How do we cater to them without compromising the Gospel? How can we become an effective witness?

Let’s learn from a master communicator, Paul, who wrote in one of his letters: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews…To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-20, 22 NIV). Notice the repeated “I became” and “I made.” And the purpose of this conforming? “That I might save some.” You can still be yourself in this becoming and making. You can still present the genuine Gospel. Even God did this when He took human likeness.

God has created the Gospel to fit any person; it conforms to us, filling in the cracks and crevices of our brokenness. So meet people where they are and present the Gospel of the Jesus who changes lives. When Paul appealed his case to the king, he honored and complimented Agrippa, as he should have. Knowing this situation was a chance to give his testimony along with the message of the risen Savior, Paul formed his platform accordingly.

Know your audience and take advantage of even casual conversations that open doors to say more. Let’s try to be relevant to all people, like Paul…like Jesus. After all, they were very effective in winning many people to the truth.

Divine Platforms: “Festus, Fetters, and Frustrated Feelings” by Sher LaDieu

All devotionals have been edited by Sarah Stiles. 

Read Acts 25

And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer…” (Acts 25:24 ESV).

It had been two years. Two years of unjust imprisonment since charges with no evidence were brought against Paul. Festus saw an opportunity to use Paul to gain favor with the Jews. He shared his prisoner’s story to the visiting King Agrippa, and King Agrippa saw Paul as an interesting case. Paul saw a platform to elevate Christ to these rulers. His chains were the platform to share his story.

Though Paul knew God was using this imprisonment for the spread of Christ (see 26:22), it’s likely Paul became discouraged during this two-year bondage, wondering at times why he was being held back from continuing his itinerate ministry. How would these misplaced chains advance the message of Jesus, the Messiah?

Before these years in prison, Paul had already endured imprisonment and stoning. It’s this Paul who wrote: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28-29). Paul saw purpose in his chains—purpose in his own refinement, but also more. He did not understand all of what God would use his imprisonment for, but his faith informed his feelings.

Have circumstances in your life taken you down a rocky road, leaving you with feelings of confusion and dismay? Intellectually, we know the truth. But our feelings and doubts may say otherwise. When things happen to us that are out of our control, we wonder, “Where is God?” Or “Where was God?” Keep this in mind: If God struck down every bad situation, opportunities for our growth and the proclamation of His Son to others would diminish. God refined Paul in that prison, and if He had released Paul immediately, who knows how different our New Testament would look? Many rulers, Jews, and Gentiles would not have heard a courageous prisoner speak of the God who came to save those He loves.

There is always a bigger picture that we cannot see. We are limited humans, created, flawed beings. Only our limitless Creator, who is completely good and outside of time can see the full picture. Ask the Father to grant you strength and to give you eyes to see what He does, to see a bigger picture beyond your pain and one that includes His purpose (remember Rom. 8:29). Faith trusts Him in the midst of a partial picture. There is a plethora of stories in the Word with heartache and pain that God used to bring about His purpose (e.g. Gen. 50:20). 

God is not a God who forgets, fails, or forsakes His children (read Lam. 3:31-33). With every day, He carefully organizes circumstances that have the potential to craft you into the image of His Son. These days have a platform from which you can stand to help others and reveal Christ.

What may feel like dead ends to us are never an end to God. God works in the midst of pain. When we feel stuck, God is working. When we feel lost or unseen or beyond redemption, God is working. Nothing is wasted with God. Begin to think and pray about how your experiences can be used as a platform to a hurting world. Victory sees beyond the pain and realizes there is purpose, although God may never reveal what that purpose for the pain was. Victory is allowing the message of Christ to be made known in chains, in pain, in death, in divorce, in loss, in loneliness. How will you use your platform?

 

Divine Platforms: “Accused and Imprisoned” by Sher LaDieu

All devotionals have been edited by Sarah Stiles. 

Read Acts 21-22; James 1

When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12 ESV).

In the book of Acts, the author Luke writes a detailed account of the struggles and victories of those faithfully carrying out the Gospel, especially highlighting the Christian named Paul. A converted Pharisee, Paul devoted himself to the dangerous preaching of the Gospel, daily placing his life on the line. There were many, especially his own countrymen, the Jews, who wanted his message about the Christ to end.

As his reputation of preaching to the Gentiles and befriending them grew, so did the number of Jews against Paul. Associating with non-Jews was vile and detestable, viewed as sinful by many. Therefore, a certain group of Jews became united in purpose and pursuit to falsely accuse and kill Paul. They were so determined to kill Paul that they refused themselves drink and food until their desire for Paul’s death would be fulfilled (23:12).

Before this oath was made, Paul had entered Jerusalem. In Acts 21, Paul goes up to the temple where the Jews in the temple falsely accuse him of bringing a Gentile into the temple, igniting a riot (see 21:27-32). (It was against Jewish law to allow a Gentile into the inner courts of the temple; death was the penalty of any Jew who did.) This temple-based riot quickly spread to citywide chaos. Soldiers intervened, and the beating of Paul ceased, but when a source of the violence could not be made due to the ruckus and screaming, the faithful Paul is thrown in prison, without evidence.

Have you ever been falsely accused? You may not have been accused of bringing a Gentile to church, but have you been in a situation you did not deserve? A false accusation is often sourced in a person with suppressed fear and jealousy. Known as the “accuser of the brethren” (see Rev. 12:10), Satan uses these false accusations as a weapon to demoralize the victim. And sadly, our enemy often succeeds. These allegations may arise from a co-worker, an angry spouse or family member, or even a jealous acquaintance. There is no sting like this attack on your character, although betrayal is a close cousin. The attack leaves you feeling frustrated, alarmed, helpless, wronged, and weak.

What do you do when you find yourself falsely accused? Be faithful, and be found in a lifestyle of truth and character of integrity. Truth fights for itself, so you only need to remain a vessel for voicing God’s Gospel, which is His message of inclusive love and acceptance to outsiders. God will use your difficult experience to minister to others who will later find themselves similarly struggling.

This imprisonment for Paul lasted two years. Yet, as he sat every day in a bed of false accusations, he continued to encourage those God sovereignly placed around that prison with the truth of Jesus. The location and situation often changed during Paul’s ministry, but the Gospel stayed the same.

Paul had already been imprisoned, stoned, and persecuted before this ruckus at the temple; however, the uncomfortable chains of prison did not derail his zeal to preach the Word. Not long before this two-year imprisonment, Paul wrote in Romans: “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink’” (Rom. 12:19-20). Paul had enemies who wanted him dead, and he chose to show them love.

Revenge becomes messy in the hands of sinful people. Only a holy God is to handle revenge. Our response, as difficult as it sounds, is to meet the needs of those who hurt us. It might help to consider that we ourselves are sinners a blameless Christ met the needs of on Calvary (see Rom. 5:8). May we be people who courageously live lives of integrity and love towards all, even towards those who hurt us.