In our Bible reading passage for today, Acts 20:18-35, Paul is speaking to the elders from Ephesus. In 2002, John Piper challenged  men and women who are in positions of leadership in youth and college ministries:

I want to begin by asking you a question that comes from the book of Acts. When your present generation of students graduates will you be able to say what the Apostle Paul says in Acts 20:26, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

Have you even set a tone where a statement like that could even be heard with any seriousness?

Listen or download “Imparting A Passion: A Challenge to Youth Workers.”

J. C. Ryle with encouragement gleaned from Matthew 14:22-33 at “Grace Gems!”–

There is encouragement here for all true Christians. Let them know that there is nothing created, which is not under Christ’s control. “All things serve Him.” He may allow His people to be tried for a season, and tossed to and fro by storms of trouble. He may be later than they wish in coming to their aid, and not draw near until the “fourth watch of the night.” But never let them forget that winds, and waves, and storms are all Christ’s servants. They cannot move without Christ’s permission. “The Lord on high is mightier than the voice of many waters, yes than the mighty waves of the sea.” (Psalm 93:4.) Are we ever tempted to cry with Jonah, “the flood was all around me. All your waves and your billows passed over me.” (Jonah 2:3.) Let us remember they are “His” billows. Let us wait patiently. We may yet see Jesus coming to us, and “walking on the sea.”

pursueWhat does it mean to seek after God? How does one pursue the Almighty? Sam Storms, Enjoying God Ministries,  explores Psalm 34. He notes six things to consider as essential in pursuing God. Here are the highlights. Read the entire article.

First, celebrate God (vv. 1-3)! Observe the passion and intensity of David’s worship.

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (vv. 1-3)

Second, pray to God (vv. 4-7).

Third, enjoy God (v. 8)! “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”

Fourth, fear God (vv. 9-14)! Wait a minute. First David tells us to “taste” God and savor his goodness, then turns around in the next verse and commands us to “fear” him! Are you kidding? Not at all. We must both enjoy God and tremble at his greatness. We must rejoice and revere. We must both adore him and fall on our knees in awe of his power and authority and holiness.

Fifth, obey God (vv. 15-18)! “The eyes of the Lord,” said David, “are toward the righteous” whereas the Lord “is against those who do evil” (v. 15-16).

Sixth, and finally, trust God (vv. 19-22)! The key statement in this closing paragraph is David’s promise that none are condemned “who take refuge in him” (v. 22).

To read the rest of the article, click here:

‘Place the incense altar just outside the inner curtain, opposite the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. I will meet with you there.’ Exodus 30:6.

For those of us reading this in 2012, our eyes may glaze over and the geography of the temple just doesn’t seem to mean much.  But what IF the position of the incense altar was significant? In Exodus 30:6, God says, “I will meet with you there.”  I guess we should sit up and pay attention!

Henry Law, 1855, had some helpful insights into Exodus 30, at Grace Gems!

The expiating altar is behind. His steps have brought him to the borders of the holiest place. He has passed the spot where dying victims bleed (the bronze atoning altar). Heaven’s clearest emblem (the Ark of the Covenant) is now close by. Thus the Incense Altar’s chosen position seems as a link to join the cross and crown.

Reader! the spot calls you to pause and look within. Say, have your feet attained this position? Has the first altar seen you humble, guilt-stricken, smiting on your breast, and confessing all your miserable sins before it? Has eager faith there touched the atoning Lamb? Is pardon in your hand? Is your soul calm in knowledge of the curse removed and full remission given?

Have you thus pressed towards this inner Altar, where the incense burns? If so, the veil is almost touched. This screens the sanctuary, which pictures heaven’s bright rest. The space is narrow now, which parts you from eternal bliss. The ever-smiling smile of God, the ever-present presence of the Lamb is your near portion. Swift-flying moments will soon waft you to the kingdom from all eternity prepared, throughout all eternity prolonged.

Reader! is such in very truth your place? If so, adore the grace which led you to it!

  • You may have wealth. It cannot profit long.
  • You may have health. Decay will cause its flower to fade.
  • You may have strength. It soon will totter to the grave.
  • You may have honors. A breath will blast them.
  • You may have flattering friends. They are but as a summer brook.

These boasted joys often cover now an aching heart. They never gave a grain of solid peace. They never healed a conscience-wound. They never won approving looks from heaven. They never crushed the sting of sin. But floods of peace surround this golden incense altar! Its worshipers grasp mercy and survey glory. They look back on all transgression blotted out. Heaven’s rays are breaking on their blood-washed souls. The Incense Altar is so set that these truths sparkle from its instant sight.

February 11

Acts 20:13-38 (ESV)

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and [1] the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by [2] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, [3] which he obtained with his own blood. [4] 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

February 11

Matthew 14:22-36 (ESV)

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way [1] from the land, [2] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, [3] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

February 11

Psalm 34 (ESV)

Taste and See That the Lord Is Good

 [1] Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

34:1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

February 11

Exodus 30-31 (ESV)

The Altar of Incense

30:1 “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit [1] shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.”

The Census Tax

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel [2] according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), [3] half a shekel as an offering to the Lord14 Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord‘s offering. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord‘s offering to make atonement for your lives. 16 You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.”

The Bronze Basin

17 The Lord said to Moses, 18 “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, 19 with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20 When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering [4] to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21 They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

The Anointing Oil and Incense

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, 24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin [5] of olive oil. 25 And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. 29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy.30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 31 And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’”

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

Oholiab and Bezalel

31:1 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, [6] the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

The Sabbath

12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever.17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

Steven Cole, in a sermon from Acts 20:1-16, “HOW ONE MAN CHANGED THE WORLD”

The apostle Paul changed the world as few other men have ever done. He lived in a day before jet airplanes or cars and paved highways. He had to go everywhere by foot, on donkeys, or by sailing vessel, none of which were very speedy. He did not have a telephone to call and talk with the leaders of churches that he had founded around the Roman Empire. He couldn’t even call someone across town. If he wanted to see the person, he had to walk across town and hope to find him at home. He didn’t have computers, email, copy machines, or other modern tools that make communication easier. He spent many years of his ministry in prison, unable to move about freely. He contended with fierce opposition both from outside and inside the church. And yet, after 25-30 years of ministry, he left a lasting impact on the world, not only in his time, but also for all times.

How did he do it? Much of it must be explained as God’s sovereign working through this man. As Paul taught, God has allotted to each of us various gifts and measures of faith (Rom. 12:3- 8; 1 Cor. 12). Thus even if we’re all faithful to the Lord, we will experience differing results in our ministries. It would be wrong to condemn ourselves because we don’t see the same results that Paul or Hudson Taylor saw. But we can learn from the apostle the biblical principles that governed his ministry and seek to apply them to our own lives, whatever gifts and calling God may have given us.

I am convinced that at the heart of Paul’s strategy was his unswerving commitment to establish and strengthen local churches.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. —Matthew 14:19-21 ESV

J. C Ryle writes:

To satisfy the hunger of more than five thousand people with so small a portion of food as five loaves and two fish, would be manifestly impossible without a supernatural multiplication of the food. It was a thing that no magician, impostor, or false prophet would ever have attempted. Such a person might possibly pretend to cure a single sick person, or raise a single dead body–and by jugglery and trickery might persuade weak people that he succeeded. But such a person would never attempt such a mighty work as that which is here recorded. He would know well that he could not persuade ten thousand men, women, and children that they were full when they were hungry. He would be exposed as a cheat and impostor on the spot.

Yet this is the mighty work which our Lord actually performed, and by performing it gave a conclusive proof that He was God. He called that into being which did not before exist. He provided visible, tangible, material food for ten thousand people, out of a supply which in itself would not have satisfied fifty. Surely we must be blind if we do not see in this the hand of Him “who provides food for all flesh,” and made the world and all that therein is. To create is the peculiar prerogative of God.

We ought to lay firm hold on such passages as this. We should treasure up in our minds every evidence of our Lord’s divine power. The cold, orthodox, unconverted man may see little in the story. The true believer should store it in his memory. Let him think of the world, the devil, and his own heart, and learn to thank God that his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is almighty.