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The true king

by Pauline Simonsen

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King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known … he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’ (Mark 6:14a,16b).

Read Mark 6:14–29

King Jesus has come, bringing his kingdom of healing and peace. Of shalom! In Mark 5, we watch as the king speaks his powerful words and frees a man from a hell of demon possession and a woman from a hell of physical infirmity and social exclusion. He raises a child from death. Then, King Jesus sends his disciple ambassadors to the common people to spread the shalom. These ambassadors are penniless and homeless but carry the king’s word of authority and power that brings life. People are healed and released into this kingdom of Shalom!

And then we see King Herod.

What contrasting kings!

What contrasting kingdoms!

The evil King Herod brings only death. His kingdom is one of greed, lust and selfish corruption. His ambassadors are wined and dined in the palace and entertained with dancing girls. The evil king’s words are foolish, and his drunken oath leads to a man’s death – the same man who spoke words of truth to Herod that strangely stirred him. Still, Herod has him killed, his will in service to a dancing girl and a vengeful wife.

Even as Herod presents to the girl the ‘fruit’ of his actions – John the Baptist’s head on a platter – Jesus’ disciples in the next verses present to King Jesus the fruit of their actions: repentant people, healed people, freed people.

Two kings – one evil, one good.

Two kingdoms – one of death, one of life.

What a stark contrast the evangelist Mark makes in these chapters! He asks an urgent question: whose kingdom do you belong to? Who is your king?

Thank God, the true king has come to us and claimed us. He spoke his powerful word that calls us to repentance. He gave his life so we can have life. He joined us to himself in baptism. He empowered us with his Spirit. He feeds us with his living bread. And he gives us his rest (Mark 6:31).

Long live King Jesus!

Open our eyes, Lord Jesus, to you as our true king and to the work of your kingdom in us and through us. Take your rightful place as Lord of our lives, and make us bearers of your shalom to those around us. Amen.

Pauline Simonsen is the dean of Emmaus, a Christian training provider for adults in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Pauline is also a spiritual director and enjoys leading retreats or guest speaking for the wider Christian church. She is married to Roger, and they live with two much-loved cats in the beautiful Manawatu region of New Zealand.

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Christmas in July and every day

by Pastor Matt Bishop

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Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in the land (Psalm 85:9).

Read Psalm 85:8–13

Many people think Christmas goes on too long. Are you one of them? If so, you probably hate the idea of Christmas in July. I quickly get over the crass commercialism of Christmas, but I ‘crazy love’ the Christian celebration behind it. So, a Christmas in July function – like the one my congregation is having today – is more than fun and being together. It is another chance to soak up the good news of God’s Son coming to dwell among us in human flesh so he could die for our sins and give us his flourishing life.

‘Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land’ (Psalm 85:8). It’s as though the psalm is written as a celebration of the Christmas message. Think of the Christ-baby coming near, and the angels over the field singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:1–20; see Psalm 85:1 for ‘favour’).

Verse 11 almost provides a narrative of the Son connecting with his Father during his earthly life: ‘Faithfulness springs up from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.’ You can imagine ‘faithfulness’, the Son, down on earth, communing with his Father, ‘righteousness’, in heaven, through prayer, obedience and devotion.

And so, quite famously, ‘Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other’ (verse 10). The Father and the Son, the Spirit through them, are pleased with their work of Christmas and the pending salvation of humanity it will unleash. Indeed, we are privileged to join in the celebratory affection embodied in the ongoing greeting to us that this kiss represents.

Therefore, I love a little Christmas every day. Christmas is God’s hidden reality we live in, even as the things of this world obscure and attack it. Therefore, ‘I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants – but let them not turn to folly’ (verse 8).

Thank you, Lord, for the obedience of the Son by which he became one of us so that we may know your righteousness and be eternally greeted by your holy kiss of affection. Keep bringing this truth to us by the work of your Spirit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Matt Bishop serves at St Paul Lutheran Church and primary school at Blair Athol SA. He is having a pretty full year supervising Vicar Sean Hotinski and chairing the General Pastors Conference planning committee and conference. That’s why he goes fishing to unwind – the beautiful Venus Bay on the Eyre Peninsula being a favourite spot.

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Money can’t buy everything

by Sean Hotinski

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You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God (Acts 8:21).

Read Acts 8:1b–13

Yesterday, we heard of Simon the Magician’s conversion to Christianity. In today’s devotion, we hear of his quick spiral into confusion. When Simon saw Peter and John giving people the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, he offered them money to ‘purchase’ this gift so that he could do likewise.

Peter was furious in response and sharply rebuked him. ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!’ (Acts 8:20). These are probably the harshest words of Peter. Perhaps Peter learned for himself the value of a sharp rebuke when Jesus said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ after Peter tried to convince Jesus to avoid the cross (Mark 8:33). Now, it’s Peter’s turn to correct someone’s error: we cannot purchase anything of God with money.

Sometimes, unfortunately, we can be a bit like Simon. It’s easy to think that money can solve all our problems in the church. For example, we might think that the church’s ministry and mission will sort itself out just by giving financially. It’s true some genuinely can only help this way (due to health problems or other reasons), and their service is something we thank God for. The problem arises when money becomes the solution in people’s minds rather than our Holy Spirit-led evangelism or acts of service, even when we’re capable of it. But Peter taught Simon a valuable lesson: money can’t buy everything. The Holy Spirit is a free gift of God. Sure, the Spirit can use ‘our’ money to the glory of God and the furthering of his work, but never to buy faith and the works of Christ. Those are free, undeserved gifts of God’s grace, which no amount of money could ever be enough to purchase.

Ultimately, the key focus in life must always be following our Lord Jesus Christ in faith. That is where we begin with solving problems in the church and the Christian life. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not lean on your understanding (or money!). Trust that as you follow Jesus, he will make the path clear in life.

Lord Jesus Christ, you know all things. Forgive me for times when I think money can solve my problems and the church's problems. Forgive me for all the times when I don’t go to you first and foremost in all my troubles or worries. Guide me in the path you want me to take in life. Make me the person you want me to be. In your holy name, I pray, Amen.

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When wonders and signs are enough

by Sean Hotinski

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Simon himself believed and was baptised … astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw (Acts 8:13).

Read Acts 8:1b–13

In Tuesday’s devotion, we heard that the signs and wonders performed by Stephen weren’t enough to convince his Jewish opponents, the Sanhedrin, about the truth of Christianity. They stoned Stephen to death.

Here, Philip (not one of the twelve but one of the seven) performs wonders and signs amongst the Samaritans – people who were hostile to the Jews and vice versa – and yet, surprisingly, the opposite happens. Not only do they listen to him attentively, but many of them also even believe him and put their faith in Jesus. What happens here defies all reason and logic and is truly a miracle of the Holy Spirit.

Simon was a pagan magician who practised magic in Samaria and was even called by the people ‘the power of God that is called Great’ (Acts 8:10). But when this influential pagan heard Philip preach about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, he also believed and was baptised (Acts 8:13).

What we learn in all of this is that God’s ways are not our ways. We have our thoughts and ideas about people. We think we know who we’ve figured out – whether or not they’ll accept the gospel. But the Lord alone knows. The Lord can make Christians out of the people we thought would never change. The Lord can defy our notions of what seems logical or reasonable to accomplish his good and gracious purposes.

Keep in mind that this happened after Stephen’s martyrdom and the persecution that drove the disciples out of Jerusalem. As a grain of wheat only bears much fruit when it falls into the earth and dies (John 12:24), sometimes we have to face rejection from unbelievers before we see the results of the gospel. But that’s okay: when we tell others about Jesus, we’re serving God above all, not people. It is God who commends us for our work, and it is God who works through our witness for his good and gracious purposes.

Heavenly Father, sometimes I see opportunities to talk with others about Jesus, but I don’t because I’m afraid of rejection. Please forgive me for my cowardice. I pray that You fill me with your Holy Spirit so that when the time is right, I can tell people what you would want me to tell them in the way that you would want me to say it. In Jesus’ precious name, I pray. Amen.

Sean Hotinski is from Perth, Western Australia. He is currently in Adelaide with his wife, Olya, studying to be a pastor, and is doing vicarage at St Paul Lutheran Church, Blair Athol. In his spare time, Sean enjoys reading and studying the Bible, looking into Christian apologetics, game design, and going on walks.

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Dying a Christian death

by Sean Hotinski

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Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (Acts 7:60a).

Read Acts 7:17–29

We’re now at the final part of Stephen’s speech, where he concludes his defence before the Sanhedrin. In response to their charges that Stephen has blasphemed the temple, Stephen quotes Isaiah, saying the temple itself cannot contain God. He then accuses the Jews of betraying and murdering Jesus, just like their ancestors, who did the same to the prophets.

Amazingly, we’re told that just before the Jewish leaders stoned Stephen to death, Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 7:55,56). Jesus fulfilled his promise not only to Stephen but also to all Christian disciples when he said the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say when they are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities (Luke 12:11,12).

Stephen died what we would call a ‘Christian death’. That is, he died at peace with himself and having forgiven others, which was the same way in which our Lord Jesus died (Luke 23:34, 46). Even though Stephen had every right to be resentful towards his enemies, he chose instead to forgive them and leave his fate securely in God’s hands.

This ‘Christian death’ is the sort of death every Christian should want to die. This isn’t a morbid thought, nor does it only apply to martyrdom. It applies to every day of our lives, because every day, death is a real possibility.

This should impact how we live day-to-day life. It should affect how we proclaim the gospel. It should give us assurance in Jesus as our only hope and Saviour in life. It should even empower us to say ‘I love you’ each night to our loved ones before we go to sleep.

I’m sure Stephen didn’t expect to die when he got out of bed that morning. But he did. And it can happen to us, too. So, love those who are closest to you. Tell them that you love them each night before you go to sleep. And, above all, before the beginning and end of each day, be at peace with God and forgive others.

Lord Jesus, I commit my life and all I have into your hands. Grant that I may continue doing this all the days of my life, by your grace at work in me. In your name, I pray. Amen.

Sean Hotinski is from Perth, Western Australia. He is currently in Adelaide with his wife, Olya, studying to be a pastor, and is doing vicarage at St Paul Lutheran Church, Blair Athol. In his spare time, Sean enjoys reading and studying the Bible, looking into Christian apologetics, game design, and going on walks.

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When wonders and signs aren’t enough

by Sean Hotinski

Click here to download your printable verse to carry with you today.

But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets (Acts 7:42a).

Read Acts 7:17–29

Today, we continue with the disciple Stephen’s speech before the Jewish chief priests, in which he presents his defence. Stephen says: ‘[Moses] led [the Israelites] out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness’ (Acts 7:36).

After the ten dreadful plagues of Egypt, the historic exodus and parting of the Red Sea, and the manna from heaven, one would think that people would have enough evidence by now to believe Moses was God’s prophet and messenger. But apparently, it wasn’t. The Israelites asked Aaron to make a golden calf because Moses was ‘taking too long’. Then, God gave them over to their idolatry.

That phrase ‘wonders and signs’ comes up earlier in Acts when the Apostle Peter says that Jesus performed wonders and signs in the Israelites’ midst, just like Moses and Stephen (Acts 2:22). Yet, in response, Jesus’ people crucified him by the hands of Gentiles. We’re seeing a pattern here, aren’t we? Holy prophets of God perform wonders and signs to point people to salvation, but people reject them in response.

Maybe this has happened to you. Perhaps you’ve done some evangelism and given people really good reasons to believe or convincing Bible passages. But those people just don’t believe. It can be easy to feel down in the dumps. But we need not feel this way. This is simply the reality of life: the natural human rejects the things of God. Only the Holy Spirit-led human accepts them.

By our own power, we can’t bring anyone to Christianity. Only God can do this. But this is good news: we know that just as God worked through Stephen, who proclaimed the word of Christ, he also works through us when we share the gospel. Because of this, every time we’ve witnessed someone was never in vain and never will be. Thanks be to God!

Heavenly Father, thank you for being with me in all the times when I shared Christ, your word, and your gospel with others. Please guide all people I interact with to you. Fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I can confess Christ faithfully. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Sean Hotinski is from Perth, Western Australia. He is currently in Adelaide with his wife, Olya, studying to be a pastor and is doing vicarage at St Paul Lutheran Church, Blair Athol. In his spare time, Sean enjoys reading and studying the Bible, looking into Christian apologetics, game design, and going on walks.

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God provides

Click here to download your printable verse to carry with you today.

He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand (Acts 7:25).

Read Acts 7:17–29

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, preached the gospel to some Jewish non-Christians. Because they couldn’t stand up against the wisdom and Spirit with which Stephen spoke, they slandered him before the high priest and accused him of several false things.

In response, Stephen gave them an outline of Israel’s history. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and Pharoah ordered that all the little boys should be killed, it seemed like all hope was lost. However, God protected Moses by sending him Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. God provided.

When Moses saw an Israelite being wronged by an Egyptian and struck down the Egyptian, he thought the Israelites would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand; however, they did not (Acts 7:25). Only later on did they realise this, when Moses led Israel out of Egypt. God used Moses to save the Israelites, which means that the ultimate ruler and redeemer of Israel is God himself. God again provided.

The point of Stephen’s words is that God was the one who provided for his people, Israel, all along, but they didn’t always see this. In the same way that the Israelite man didn’t understand that God was giving salvation through Moses (see Acts 7:23–29), the chief priests did not understand that God was giving salvation through the hand of his servant, Jesus Christ. Despite this, God still provided for his people in Stephen’s day through Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross.

How many times in your life have you felt like God wasn’t providing for you? Like nothing seemed to be going well? Like all hope was lost? And yet you haven’t perished; you’re still here, with the word of God, reading this devotion. God provided for Stephen by giving him the words to say to his slanderous opponents. Throughout your life, God has also provided for all your needs and will continue to do so in the future. Because no matter what, God our Father is faithful; he will always provide for his children.

Heavenly Father, help me to trust in you always as my eternal provider. Thank you for all the gifts that you daily give to me. In Jesus’ name, I pray, with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sean Hotinski is from Perth, Western Australia. He is currently in Adelaide with his wife, Olya, studying to be a pastor and is doing vicarage at St Paul Lutheran Church, Blair Athol. In his spare time, Sean enjoys reading and studying the Bible, looking into Christian apologetics, game design, and going on walks.

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If only we persisted

by Pastor Matt Bishop

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He was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village (Mark 6:6b).

Read Mark 6:1–13

‘If only … ’ It’s a phrase heard at every church level. ‘If only our church building was more comfortable, we would have more people.’ ‘If only the pastor preached better, people would flock here.’ ‘If only our church modernised our teaching, we would not be dying.’

Even if the above were all true, they wouldn’t necessarily lead to more believers. There is an old joke that when congregations think about the pastor they want, they start with Jesus and then have to make a series of drastic compromises until they end with the person in front of them. Yet today’s reading shows that even if you got Jesus as your pastor, that would still not be enough. It wasn’t 2000 years ago in his hometown. It still isn’t today. How many caring, impressive and intelligent colleagues, family and friends do you love who have heard his message but take offence at it? Not even Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the world could convert everyone to believe in his promises.

What Jesus does next is a beautiful encouragement, though. Amazed at their lack of faith, he then goes around teaching from village to village. In other words, he doesn’t give up. He persists. Despite the rejection, scorn and ridicule, Jesus goes even deeper into his mission. And not just alone in a sort of ‘I think I’m right, but I respect others may not, so I’ll just go on my own’ kind of way. Instead, he puts stubborn, must-be-obeyed calls on people’s lives, drafting them into the very work he knows won’t succeed with everyone. Beyond drafting us in, he keeps persisting all the way to his ultimate rejection embodied in his trial, torture, nailing, death and grave.

Thank God our dear Lord did. Risen eternally from death, he asks us also to keep persisting out of his living witness and power. He knows our ineptitudes, fatigues, distractions and sins. But he also knows they have been covered in his blood and new life. And he knows this message is worth a crack for every single person. For he knows his brothers James and Jude eventually got with his message.

So rather than ‘If only’ as a precondition to faithfully doing his work, how about ‘Let’s persist in the one who now lives in us’?

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for bringing us Christ, who persisted to death for our sins and now persists in making us alive in him. Give us your spirit of might that we may persist in his wisdom when our ‘wisdom’ says to give up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Matt Bishop serves at St Paul Lutheran Church and primary school at Blair Athol SA. He is having a pretty full year supervising Vicar Sean Hotinski and chairing the General Pastors Conference planning committee and conference. That’s why he goes fishing to unwind – the beautiful Venus Bay on the Eyre Peninsula being a favourite spot.

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More than enough to bear

by Carolyn Ehrlich

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Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt (Psalm 123:3).

Read Psalm 123

Have you ever reached the end of your tether? Have you been buffeted by the opinions of others? Experienced scorn and contempt? Bullied in your childhood perhaps? Bullied in your workplace? Frowned upon because you are different somehow?

Your heart aches for some space, for some mercy, to be shown some love. These are hard patches … wilderness living … prickles, desert, hot dry winds, drought, thirsting for a reprieve, thirsting for love, hungry to be noticed, desperate to be heard, aching to be understood, to be known. Everything feels dry and parched. Wandering, wondering, unseen, unheard.

And yet, there is a place to look, a lament to be made, a cry to be vocalised. It is okay to cry out to God when things are tough. Look up, not in. Look up, not down. Look up, not out. Look to the only One who knows, who has heard, who has experienced. Look to Jesus and cry out. In your despair, look to the Lord our God. Jesus knows. Jesus was scorned. Jesus was treated with contempt. Jesus suffered. Jesus the man-God experienced all the feelings that you are experiencing. He, truly, extensively knows. He cares. He loves you. He is merciful. He is faithful.

Look to him and cry out:

Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy on me. My soul has had enough, enough scorn, enough torment, enough contempt. I lift my eyes to you only. Have mercy on me. Amen.

Carolyn Ehrlich lives in retirement with her husband Wayne in Ipswich, Queensland. Prior to retirement, Carolyn worked as a researcher in the fields of disability and rehabilitation. Today, Carolyn is kept busy with hobbies, supporting the Ipswich Lutheran Parish in various leadership roles and supporting her family.

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