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March 3, 2018

Why Does God Use Us?

by Matt Fray


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

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

Acts 9:10-22 (


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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Matt Fray
Assistant Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

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

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


February 17, 2018

Every Thought Captive, a weekly devotional from Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Power of God When We Are Brought Low


by Mark Fulmer

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Acts 16:16-34 (

Let's imagine for a moment that you are the composer, and it's time to pre-screen the film for which you've written the score. The hardest scene to craft was the "jail scene." The imagery is remarkable and chilling and raw. The prisoners are chained to one another and to iron rings in the stone floor of the near-dark dungeon. The director has asked the actor playing the jailer to cover his face with a cloth, to communicate the stench of the place. One of the prisoners pictured as the camera pans the cell is a rotting corpse. Now, cue music! And then your score swells with strains of, "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, Oh my soul, worship His Holy Name!"

The producer wheels on you fiercely. He screams at you, "Are you crazy? This is a dungeon scene, in ancient Philippi! Did you even read the script!? There's an earthquake and a jail break and a near-suicide, you fool! What is praise music doing in this scene?!"

"Well sir," you answer, "the praise music is actually what the scene is about! Did YOU read the source document for the script?"

Then you get fired and he gets a Bible. Not a bad outcome to imagine.

Paul and Silas are singing praises in the middle of the night in the middle of the dungeon after a very long day that included interrogations and beatings. Singing-how can that possibly true?

Paul and Silas did not know they were about to be rescued from the dungeon of Philippi, but they did know they had already been rescued from the dungeon of hell. They were God's men on God's mission, and they sang the songs they had been singing all along: songs like the Psalms, praises like the songs of Moses and Mary. Or maybe they remembered and sang the lyrics of King David in that dark hole in Philippi.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

These men knew the Lord and praised the Lord because that was their habit. For Paul, and for us, our circumstances are not the primary source of the joy in our hearts. It's the Lord dwelling richly in our hearts who teaches how to understand and manage our circumstances.

They also sang because they counted suffering for Christ's sake to be an honor, and evidence of their union with Jesus. They could have run away from that jail, or encouraged the jailer to kill himself by saying, "Go ahead! Your life's over anyway!" But instead, they proclaimed the truth that had saved them. And they baptized the jailer in the name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They went into the dungeon as prisoners of the guard and came out as brothers of the guard! That's something worth singing about.

Later, Paul would write a letter to the church there in Philippi. The jailer may have heard it read aloud. He would have thought back about that night when the prisoners didn't run, and I bet he would have praised the Lord for that memory!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11

About the Author

Mark Fulmer
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Mark Fulmer is an elder at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, and along with Steve Vanderhill, teaches the New Creations Sunday School class.


February 2, 2018

Providential Crossings

by Robby Higginbottom

...Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughterand like a lamb before its shearer is silent,so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Acts 8:26-40 (

God uses Philip in a providential crossing to bring the Ethiopian eunuch to Jesus Christ. God speaks to Philip and asks him to leave a thriving ministry and go to a place he doesn't know, to a person he doesn't know, for a reason he doesn't fully understand. And Philip obeys! What would we have done? As we reflect on what could seem like a strange detour for Philip, we should consider how we relate to interruptions in our lives. In Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders shares a story to illustrate.

One busy man told me how he mastered the problem of interruptions. "Up to some years ago," he testified, "I was always annoyed by them, which was really a form of selfishness on my part. People used to walk in and say, 'Well, I just had two hours to kill here in between trains, and I thought I would come and see you.' That used to bother me. Then the Lord convinced me that He sends people our way. He sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch. He sent Barnabas to see Saul. The same applies today. God sends people our way.

"So when someone comes in, I say, 'The Lord must have brought you here. Let us find out why He sent you. Let us have prayer.' Well, this does two things. The interview takes on new importance because God is in it. And it generally shortens the interview. If a visitor knows you are looking for reasons why God should have brought him, and there are none apparent, the visit becomes pleasant but brief. So now I take interruptions as from the Lord. They belong in my schedule, because the schedule is God's to arrange at His pleasure."

If we believe in an Almighty God who advances His church through providential crossings, shouldn't we reconsider the way we think about the detours, interruptions, and "chance" meetings we have every day? Shouldn't we believe that the Lord still sends people to us, and still sends us to people, even when we don't know the who, the where, the why, or the how? Today, will we wrestle to hold onto control-which is an illusion!-or will we surrender to the providential direction of our gracious God who is building His church? What if He really intends to use us today to extend His kingdom? As another author writes, "What if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities?"

About the Author

Robby Higginbottom
Assistant Pastor of College Ministry
Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Robby Higginbottom was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. As early as high school, he sensed the Lord calling him to pastoral ministry. Robby is a graduate of Highland Park High School, Duke University, and Redeemer Seminary. Through the years, he has worked with high school students, college students, and young adults at PCPC. Robby currently serves as an assistant pastor. He is married to Ann, and they have two children: Will and John Harper.



God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

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

    Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

    1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

    Key Thought

    As beautiful as the promise of yesterday was (Ephesians 2:22), the underlined part of today's scripture is a chilling and ominous warning. Since God builds us together into his dwelling place in the Spirit and makes us his holy temple, then we must value our congregation and the people who are part of that congregation. Those who destroy a congregation by sowing discord, creating animosity, or spreading gossip and rumors must hear God's clear warning: You destroy his temple, and you will be destroyed! Why? Because the temple, the folks that make up a congregation of the Lord's people, are holy and precious to God. In a world that focuses on the negative and that cherishes the next juicy morsel of gossip, we must take a positive approach to life because we know the great value of those who belong to God!

    Today's Prayer

    O Father, please forgive me for not valuing your children and your congregation of your people as you do. Give me a deep appreciation of my brothers and sisters for whom Jesus died, a deep connection to those who share in your Holy Spirit, and a deep reverence for what is holy and precious to you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

  • A Dwelling Place of God

    And in [Jesus] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

    Ephesians 2:22 NIV

    Key Thought

    "Where can I go to find God?" Mortals have asked this question ever since they were driven from the garden and from their daily walks with God in "the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8-24). Nations have had wars over this question. Families have been split over this question. People have spent countless amounts of money to go on pilgrimages to answer this question. However, in this one passage, Paul reminds us of an inestimable grace: God lives in his people. Jesus had promised that where two or three are gathered together in his name, he would join them (Matthew 18:20), but we sometimes forget it. God chooses to come and live among people who offer themselves to him as followers of Jesus. That makes each Christian (1 Corinthians 6:19) and each congregation of Jesus' people (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) a sacred place where God dwells — no matter how large or small the group is or where it meets.

    Today's Prayer

    Almighty God, when I think of your awesome presence at Sinai giving the law to Moses or in Jesus as he stilled the storm, I am humbled to know that you choose to form us into your dwelling place and then join us, your people, through the Holy Spirit, both individually and when we meet together. In Jesus' name, I thank you for this grace and ask for a soft heart to value your people as you do. Amen.

    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.