Day 183

Transform Your World

Wisdom Psalm 79:1-13
New Testament Acts 21:27-22:21
Old Testament 2 Kings 4:38-6:23

Introduction

Our friend from Scotland, Dez, told me, ‘I was a doorman; a bouncer. I was quite a violent guy. I took a lot of drugs. I was a cocaine addict. My life revolved around fighting, taking drugs, partying and living in that cycle.’

He said, ‘One night I had taken a massive overdose. I felt like I was having a heart attack. My heart was jumping out of my chest. And I cried out in what I didn’t know then was a prayer: to live. And I woke up the next day and I never touched coke again.’

After that, Dez kept meeting Christians. One in particular was Fiona, who really lived out her faith. He asked her out a few times, but she said ‘No’. Mainly because he wasn’t a Christian.

She gave him a Bible and he started reading: ‘I started tearing through it trying to find something and I ended up finding Jesus. Suddenly, my whole life made sense.’

He called Fiona and asked her to take him to church. There he heard about Alpha. ‘On Alpha, I met Jesus and it changed my life. I was this drug-fuelled, violent person and now I love people and love God. I just want to share my story.’

Dez studied Theology and is now works for Alpha Scotland.

And, he married Fiona. He is now a happy husband and a loving father.

Dez sums up his complete transformation: ‘Jesus turned the questions I had about whether God exists into a belief that God cares about me. I have changed from a violent, loveless drug addict to a man who is happily married and full of love. I’m now running Alphas for all types of people, from gangs to grannies, and I’m seeing their lives changed.’

Wisdom

Psalm 79:1-13

A psalm of Asaph.

1 O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
  they have defiled your holy temple,
  they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
2 They have left the dead bodies of your servants
  as food for the birds of the sky,
  the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.
3 They have poured out blood like water
  all around Jerusalem,
  and there is no one to bury the dead.
4 We are objects of contempt to our neighbors,
  of scorn and derision to those around us.

5 How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?
  How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
6 Pour out your wrath on the nations
  that do not acknowledge you,
 on the kingdoms
  that do not call on your name;
7 for they have devoured Jacob
  and devastated his homeland.

8 Do not hold against us the sins of past generations;
  may your mercy come quickly to meet us,
  for we are in desperate need.
9 Help us, God our Savior,
  for the glory of your name;
 deliver us and forgive our sins
  for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say,
  “Where is their God?”

 Before our eyes, make known among the nations
  that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.
11 May the groans of the prisoners come before you;
  with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.
12 Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
  the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.
13 Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
  will praise you forever;
 from generation to generation
  we will proclaim your praise.

Commentary

Pray for the transformation of your nation

Change is possible. God can transform individual lives. He can also transform cities and nations.

In the sixth century BC, the people of God went into exile: ‘God! Barbarians have broken into your home, violated your holy temple, left Jerusalem a pile of rubble!... We’re nothing but a joke to our neighbors, graffiti scrawled on the city walls’ (vv.1,4, MSG). As the psalmist considers the destruction of the temple and the exile, he sees that God’s name is dishonoured.

In the UK today, we see churches being closed and God’s name dishonoured. God’s people are once again the object of scorn and derision.

The psalmist prays, ‘How long do we have to put up with this, God?... we’re at the end of our rope. You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break. Your reputation is on the line. Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins – do what you’re famous for doing!’ (vv.5,8–9, MSG).

This is a prayer of desperation. It is also a prayer of faith. God has the power to transform the situation. Dare to dream about a time when God answers your prayer for your nation: ‘Then we your people… will praise you forever’ (v.13).

Prayer

Lord, as we look at our city and our nation, we cry out to you for help. May this nation be a place where, once again, your name is honoured.

New Testament

Acts 21:27-22:21

Paul Arrested

27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”

Paul Speaks to the Crowd

37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: 221 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’

19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

Commentary

Testify to the transformation in your life

You have a testimony about the transformation Jesus has brought to your life. It may not be as dramatic as Dez’s story or the apostle Paul’s. Nevertheless, your story of a relationship with Jesus is powerful.

Once again, Paul was in trouble. The crowd had been ‘stirred up’ (Acts 21:27). People had made false assumptions about him (v.29); they were trying to ‘kill him’ (v.31). They beat him (v.32) and arrested him (v.33). He was ‘secured with two chains’ (v.33, AMP). He faced mob violence (v.35). How did he respond?

He told them about Jesus. As so often, he told his testimony, sharing what Jesus had done in his life. It is a very good model of how you should give your testimony whenever the opportunity arises. The Holy Spirit is living within you and he always brings about change in our lives as he transforms us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). When you have an opportunity to tell your story, what should you say?

  1. Tell them what you were like before
    Identify with your audience. Paul identifies with his audience. He speaks in Aramaic (Acts 21:40). He stresses the parts of his life that the people of Jerusalem would identify with. Because he is speaking to Jews, he speaks only of his Jewish qualifications: ‘I am a good Jew... I’ve always been passionately on God's side, just as you are right now’ (22:3, MSG).

    Paul points out that he used to persecute Christians putting them in chains, flogging them and having them thrown in prison (vv.4–20), just as they were attempting to do to him at that moment.

    When you give your testimony, find points of contact with your audience. For example, Alpha testimonies often begin with elements of their story that others can relate to, or which are likely to resonate with the guests. They start by saying things like, ‘I was an atheist… I was an alcoholic… I was a drug addict… I was antagonistic to the church.’

  2. Tell them what happened to you
    Paul then gives a very detailed account of what happened to him when he encountered Jesus. He heard Jesus’ voice when he appeared before him on the road to Damascus. Jesus asked him questions and gave him commands. Paul listened and did as Jesus instructed.

    We encourage people to describe their conversion in very concrete terms, as Paul does in this passage. It is the details that make it real and powerful.

  3. Describe the difference Jesus has made in your life
    Ananias told Paul to be a ‘key witness to everyone you meet of what you’ve seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptized, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God’ (vv.15–16, MSG). The one who had gone around persecuting Christians was called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (v.21).

    Again, we encourage people who give their testimony to describe in a concrete way, the transformation Jesus has made in their lives. There is great power in the story of a changed life. Telling your story is a way you can play a part in transforming the world around you.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the power of a testimony. Help me never to grow tired of describing the transformation Jesus has made in my life.

Old Testament

2 Kings 4:38-6:23

Death in the Pot

38 Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets.”

39 One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. 40 The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it.

41 Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

Feeding of a Hundred

42 A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said.

43 “How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked.

But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over. ’” 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.

Naaman Healed of Leprosy

5Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God . He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.

17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

After Naaman had traveled some distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”

21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

22 “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’”

23 “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24 When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left.

25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”

“Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered.

26 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? 27 Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.

An Axhead Floats

6The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. 2 Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.”

And he said, “Go.”

3 Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?”

“I will,” Elisha replied. 4 And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. 5 As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”

6 The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. 7 “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

Elisha Traps Blinded Arameans

8 Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”

9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.

11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”

12 “None of us, my lord the king ,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”

13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Strike this army with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.

19 Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria.

20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.

21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?”

22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

Commentary

Recognise that transformation is an act of grace

God performed several miracles through Elisha. There were feeding miracles (4:38–44), an axe-head floating (6:1–7) and blinded Arameans (vv.8–23). Not only were miracles performed through him, but he also had an extraordinary prophetic gift: ‘Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom’ (v.12). In the middle of these accounts we read of a remarkable transformation in a Syrian general’s life.

Naaman was general of the army under the king of Aram. He was ‘a truly great man’ (5:1, MSG). But he had a problem; ‘he had leprosy’ (v.1). He hears about the possibility of healing through the power of God via a young servant girl (vv.2–4).

He is used to getting things by using his power and his money: ‘So he went off, taking with him about 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothes’ (v.5, MSG).

When he eventually gets to meet Elisha’s messenger, he is told, ‘Go to the River Jordan and immerse yourself seven times. Your skin will be healed and you’ll be as good as new’ (v.10, MSG). Initially, he loses his temper and stomps off (vv.11–12). He expected to be healed in a grander and less humbling way. Pride can keep you from receiving everything God wants to give you.

However, encouraged by his servant, he dips himself in the Jordan seven times and ‘his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy’ (v.14). He is utterly transformed. He says, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel’ (v.15).

He offers to pay for his healing. Elisha refuses to accept anything. Gehazi makes the terrible mistake of trying to make money out of God’s grace (vv.19–27). Healing and transformation are a gift from God by grace. They cannot be earned.

Prayer

Father, thank you for your miraculous power to heal and to save. Help me to have the same attitude as Elisha and never to try to take any credit, whether material or otherwise, for myself. Thank you that transformation comes by grace. It is a gift of your undeserved love.

Pippa adds

2 Kings 6:16

‘“Don't be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”’

If you feel surrounded by difficulties and under attack remember that, when everything seems to be against you, God has a mighty army that can come and deliver you.

Verse of the Day

Psalm 79:9b, MSG

Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins— |do what you’re famous for doing!
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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers used by permission

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