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Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

In Acts 19 Paul decides to go to Jerusalem and in passing he adds, “I must visit Rome also”. I have learned one thing about Paul; he does what he says he will do. It takes him 5 months, but he eventually ends up in Jerusalem. And little did he know when he mentioned visiting Rome that he would arrive there in chains, but again, in another 2 ½ years, he finally arrives in Rome.

Paul had just finished a meeting with the leaders of the church at Ephesus. The ship he caught had a layover in Tyre. I like what Luke says; “Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them for seven days”. It made me realize . . . who we look up when we go out of town, says a lot about us. In another town, they “stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven”. What a cool reunion that must have been.

So, Paul is now on a ship heading for Rome. While in a severe storm, he hears these words, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar”. How often do the words we hear from God go so contrary to the situation we are in.

The next line is a little hard to write. “Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” It is so like life to have to run aground a while before seeing what God said we would see; and the test of faith while we are run aground to still believe what He said.

Paul does reach Rome, and “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ”.

How cool that God gave him a period of time ‘without hindrance’. Everywhere he went, he tried to convince people to believe that Jesus was the One they were looking for. Some believed and some didn’t. Those that didn’t caused him a lot of trouble. God finally gave him a break from that trouble, and for a while he enjoyed a time ‘without hindrance’.

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I was working on this a few nights ago, and developed a bad case of writer’s block. I couldn’t get past the first line which at times I thought was perfect and other times I just wasn’t sure. When I went to bed, I prayed as I drifted off to sleep, asking God to help me with the thought I was trying to convey. I had a dream, and when I woke up I realized the Lord had answered my prayer.

In the dream I was on a farm, walking along a hillside toward a barn. I noticed a few dogs that had surrounded and was barking at an injured bird. I shooed the dogs away and picked up the bird. It had been burned on one side. I held it up to eye level. Our eyes locked just long enough for me to sense that it was hoping I would help it – long enough for me to feel that if I did, it would get better.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself . . . and the Lord knew it. It’s a fitting story for the text that had caught my attention. In Acts 20, listen to what Paul tells the leaders of the church at Ephesus.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard.”

It’s not a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. It is a ‘fittest keep watch and be shepherds’ mentality. Paul just happens to be talking to leaders here; he called a special meeting for them. He was encouraging them to do what he did himself. As he traveled about, this is a big part of what he did.

As much as he did to point people in the right direction, there were always those who came in behind him to point them in the wrong direction; not too terribly different than how it is today. How many go into church on Sunday and here a good representation of the gospel and by Monday or Tuesday it is neutralized? By the end of the week, at least spiritually, they are like the injured bird surrounded by barking dogs.

We may not have as many to care for as Paul did, but we can all at least keep watch over ourselves. We must keep watch over ourselves. And then, whether over 2, 20 or 200, we are to be shepherds. This, at every level, is our mission.

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Does it ever seem like the more you pray, the worse things get?  It does to me.  Sometimes I can relate to how the disciples must have felt when in their storm they heard these words; “Where is your faith?”

Recently I read about another storm that Paul was in.  I saw something I had never noticed before.  Paul’s storm didn’t let up; in fact it got worse.  But there was never anything said about ‘his’ lack of faith.  I wondered why the difference.

If you look closely at both stories, it wasn’t so much about faith to calm the storm; as it was about faith to believe they would be okay in it.  In Paul’s story, even though the storm kept getting worse, he believed he was going to be okay. 

The disciples gave up before they ever started.  Luke describes it this way; “A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown’.”

Paul didn’t give up quite that easy.  Listen to how his situation went down. Addressing a crew that has given up hope, he says, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and who I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul.  You must stand trial before Caesar: and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’  So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.  Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Paul’s faith didn’t calm the storm; but it did lead to a calming of all who were in it.  Even though the storm got worse – even though it caused them to ‘run aground on some island’, Paul’s faith held up.

It is natural to pray that the Lord would calm our storms.  Sometimes He does.  Paul was probably praying for the Lord to calm his storm when He heard the angel speak.  There is a phrase in there that I like; “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me”.  We can bear a lot when He stands beside us. 

I thought too that had Paul’s storm let up, he would have missed the island of Malta.  Sometimes when we pray and our storms continue to get worse, it may be that God wants to run us aground somewhere for some reason beyond what we have the ability to see.

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I read where ‘Paul, as his custom was, went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead’.

I thought about his audience; they were Jews.  For as long as they could remember, they had been taught that the Christ would come as a king.  Understandably, they had trouble accepting that this lowly Jesus was the one they were looking for.  In spite of the fact that ‘God had accredited Him by the miracles He was able to perform’, and then further accrediting Him by raising Him from the dead, many, just simply, were still not buying it.  And so Paul and the other church leaders of the day spent much of their persuasive energy trying to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

But what about today?  We, for the most part, have been taught that for as long as we can remember.  We don’t need to be convinced.  We already believe it.  Somewhere though, there has been some kind of breakdown.  To varying degrees, our believing has just become a part of all the other stuff we believe.  It doesn’t occupy the space within us through which and from which all other stuff flows.  We have given it its spot, or corner, and we call on it or take it out occasionally when it seems appropriate or beneficial.

Today, with this kind of believing, many are still able to shack up, overindulge, speak with foul language, use crude humor, watch inappropriate movies, listen to inappropriate music and read inappropriate books and magazines; all contrary to the principals of the One in whom we believe, yet all coexisting semi comfortably.

Today’s gospel is not so much that we should believe; we already do.  We need to be convinced that if we believe it should change the way we live.  It’s not enough to believe ‘in’ God; we need to believe God.  We need to believe what He said – know what He said – and then adjust our lives to align with what He said.  It is not living as we please; it is living as would please Him.

No matter where we are, there will always be room for improvement; I have plenty.  But I believe, overall, there is much room to become more acquainted and committed to the things that please the God in whom we believe.  Conversely, I believe there is much room to become more acquainted and committed to the things that displease Him.  This, I believe, is the gospel we need to hear and be convinced of today.

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Personally, I would much rather go around them. Wouldn’t we all? But then there is this thing called ‘life’. Every where I turn lately, there seems to be . . . ‘life’. There is good, but bad just seems to not be willing to let go – to not get out of the way.

Paul’s comment to the believers in Antioch struck me. Not just that we must go ‘through’ hardships, but that we must go through them ‘to enter the kingdom of God’. I like the part of God’s kingdom that is free of hardships. They are like front door blessings – blessings that everybody sees and associates as ‘God’s blessings’. But Paul is talking about another kind of blessing – another part of the kingdom of God that is not seen. They are more like ‘back door’ blessings.

These blessings and part of the kingdom of God are found when we, with the help of God, go through our hardships. It is like a trailer I was pulling one time. One of the 4 wheels was a little too low on grease and burned up. The wheel was still there – it endured the haul – but the hub was burned out. The other 3, with the right amount of grease, didn’t even get warm.

It is possible in our hardships to enter the kingdom of God and relatively speaking, not even get warm. (Well maybe a little) But that is what Paul is referring to; and in chapter 16 he demonstrates it. Amidst all the good that happened in the chapter, he also experiences the bad of being thrown in prison. He was put in the inner cell and his feet were fastened with stocks. (Hardships are like that; they can lock you up.)

But through prayer, Paul entered the kingdom of God. Before his hub got hot he added the grease of prayer. He wrestled with God until he gained God’s perspective. Once he did, he was able to sing. Afterwards, the doors and chains that locked him up opened and fell off.

The Lord may not always cause the doors and chains of our lives to open and fall off as He did with Paul; but, at a minimum, He can keep our hub from burning up. As I am learning about most things lately, it is not just all or none; we can enter a little, or a little more, or a lot. We can keep from burning up. We can keep from getting warm. In some cases . . . we can enter enough to sing.

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You would think there would be more to the beginning of what we now know as one of Paul’s missionary journeys, but it really seems like Paul and Barnabas were sitting around one day and Paul said: “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing”. And with that, a missionary journey was born.

I guess I’ve always thought of these journeys as something bigger than life. But really it is just the record of what Paul did. He went about encouraging and strengthening the churches. He was an evangelist. It’s what he did. It’s what he was good at.

But right after Paul’s ‘good’ idea, comes a ‘bad’ one. He didn’t want to take Mark but Barnabas did; and from there things got really ‘ugly’ fast. In Acts, Luke tells us that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”

How often do our good ideas get sidetracked before they ever get off the ground? This exchange could have resulted in one less missionary journey; but in spite of how ugly it got, neither Paul nor Barnabas let it keep them from the good they had thought to do.

There will forever be an enemy to any good idea that God gives us. As much as God tries to initiate them for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening other believers, Satan does his best to stifle them.

Lord help me to see the ‘good’ ideas You give me, through to their end; to not let the ‘bad’ or even the ‘ugly’ keep me from what I think to do; to more and more use what I am good at for this purpose.

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‘There is Just Life’

In the movie ‘Tombstone’, there is a scene near the end where Doc Holiday is on his death bed and Wyatt Earp has come to visit him. There is an exchange that goes something like this. Wyatt asks Holiday what he wants out of life. Holiday in return asks Wyatt the same. Wyatt’s answer was ‘to live a normal life’. I love Holiday’s response; “There is no normal life; there is just life.”

It is easy in life, to focus on what we think life ought to be like. By doing so, we can miss life. I have become convinced that at any time in our life, there is usually a mix of good and bad. We struggle over one thing while rejoicing over another. At best we can hope and pray that there is more of the latter than the former, but the bottom line is . . . it is all life.

I thought when I read this story in Acts 12 of how Peter was miraculously rescued from prison, how much that is our focus. That is what we have heard sermons on. I’ve never heard a sermon on what happened to James. James was put to death with a sword. Why did God rescue Peter but not James?

Does it help us to read of Peter and hope that God will rescue us? In the end, He either does or He doesn’t. Who in their right mind wouldn’t hope that He would, but if our ‘life’ is dependent on it, we are focusing on what we think life ought to be like – on what we think is normal. But . . . there is no normal; there is just life.

After Holiday told Wyatt ‘there is just life’, he added ‘so just get on with it’. We cannot predict. It does no good to speculate. We can just live. And we can be sure that if God lets us live, He will take care of us. Beyond that . . . ?

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