Monday, November 17, 2014

Paul's Lock-In- Acts 20:7-11

Original picture by Kumar83 and obtained from wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
You know, I've never really liked the idea of a lock-in. Well, I should clarify that. Since I've become a youth minister I've hated the idea of a lock-in. When I was a kid, of course, I loved the idea. But something happens when you get out on your own and you don't have parents telling you to go to bed all the time. You start wanting to go to bed! Not only that, but I also realized several years ago, that nothing really good comes out of a lock-in. I've had one where a kid tried to light the carpet on fire in my parent's house. I've had lock-ins where the chaperones had to be specifically assigned to track the movements of a teen or two because we didn't trust them. The last one I had for the youth group here before I banned them ended with a bunch of grumpy teens back talking their parents when they came to pick them up in the morning because they were too tired to speak respectfully. Ever since that day, I've decided that if teens and parents want to host a lock-in, they are more than welcome to! I just probably won't be there! :)

But whatever else has happened at lock-ins under my almost ten years of youth ministry, I have never had to take a kid to the E.R. because he fell out of a window and everyone thought he had died!

So I'm kind of happy to report that I may actually have a leg up on the apostle Paul in that one specific category!

But I don't really want to focus on this pretty interesting story of the young man Eutychus (who was probably around the early teen years) falling out of the upstairs window. What I want to think about briefly is what led to him falling out in the first place. Paul preached until midnight! And then after the commotion about Eutychus got settled down, they went back upstairs and kept talking until day break!

What we have here is the original lock-in! But instead of the parents trying to hold their eyes open while the teens run wild, it was the teen who couldn't keep his eyes open while all of the adults stayed up all night talking and sharing about their faith!

The reason I'm pointing to that is because their willingness to stay all night points to a couple of things. It points to their excitement about being together! They were truly a family. They weren't there to punch a time clock because good Christians are supposed to "go to church." They weren't watching the sun-dial (or the moon!) to make sure Paul stayed within his 25 minute sermon time slot. They were absorbed in the moment and they realized that whether or not the pot roast burned, the conversation they were a part of and the praise they were giving God and the encouragement they were giving each other to spur one another on to good works was the absolute most important thing in the world that they could be doing!

Just think about the reaction in most of our congregations if the service lasts more than 15 minutes over the usual time! Can you even begin to imagine the bickering that would happen if it went a full hour over time? 2 hours? Most of us head for the doors as soon as the amen is said because we are ready to move on to the next thing. Where is the sense of community? Where is the passion to be with people who are passionate about the same thing(s) you are? Where is the desire to lift each other up and be lifted up?

I don't know what the answer is to these questions. How do we change the culture of the American congregation? How do we recapture the sense of excitement and expectation that enables a group of adults...not just willingly stay cramped in an upper room all through the night because of a shared salvation, and a shared mission?

I'd love to hear your comments below. When was the last time you were a part of a meeting like this in your church? What can we do to encourage it again? Let's pray that the fire of the Spirit will burn just as brightly today when we meet together as the oil lamps had to burn 2,000 years ago when this church met in the upper room all through the night.

I can't believe I'm gonna say this...but let's get back to the passionate type of Christianity we read about in the book of Acts where Christians of all ages rejoice instead of groan about the idea of a lock-in!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Time to Start a Fire! - Acts 19:18-20

Original picture by Flickr User LearningLark and obtained under Creative Commons License 2.0

A while back I was studying with someone who was upset because a different congregation had refused to baptize her some years earlier. They continued to study with her and never told her that they would not baptize her in the future, but they could not, in good conscience baptize her at that moment. Without going into all of the details, from what I could gather from her side of the story years removed from the incident, the reason for the caution in taking her to the baptistery was because of a living situation that she was not ready to leave.
So we talked for a while about her past. And we talked for a while about her present and her future. The situation she had been in had ended and she could at least recognize that it was, in fact, a sinful situation. But she just couldn't get to the part that being willing to give up willful sin is actually a prerequisite for baptism. In fact, I asked her during our study if the circumstances worked out just right if she would be willing to compromise and go back into that situation provided their was an eventual plan to fix it in the future. And she was.

I tell you that story because I think it illustrates incredibly well a mindset of what it means to be a follower of Christ in our culture. In's pretty easy and it doesn't cost very much. Most of the people that we know at least claim belief in Christ even if they never worship Him. Most at least pray to God even if they never listen to Him through Bible Study. Most claim to be followers of Christ even if there is no actual following. So when a new convert is contemplating baptism, the death and burial that is what it is all about is oftentimes simply missed.

That was certainly not the case in the book of Acts. I love this story about the conversion of the Ephesians. And one of the reasons I love it is because there are some really incredible miracles recorded. There's a super cool story of a demon possessed man beating up some false prophets who were claiming the name of Jesus as the magic words necessary to drive demons out but they were not actually in Christ nor using the power of His they ran out of the house naked and bleeding! (I say cool because my sick sense of humor kind of laughs at the absurdity of the situation when I picture it in my mind! It obviously was not cool for those running away!)

And the result of all of these miracles and demons being driven out only by the true followers of Christ?
"When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor." (Acts 19:17)
But while the name of Jesus was held in high honor. I want you to notice the phrase that Luke uses after he recounts the true repentance that was demonstrated by the Ephesian brothers and sisters who had once practiced witchcraft.

In the verses above, we see that they came out confessing their past sins in witchcraft. And they were so serious about leaving their lives of sin that they burned all of their spell books. Luke even points out the total value of the scrolls they burned-- 50,000 drachmas! Now I know next to nothing about ancient Greek drachmas so I've been trying to figure out how much that was worth. I haven't found a good answer but what I seem to keep coming to is that most people think it was worth somewhere around a day's wages. Of course a day's wages looks different in different parts of the world, so it's kind of hard to put a number on that value, but let's break it down like this...50,000 days divided by 365 days in a year = almost 137 years worth of wages for one person!

If you know something about the Greek drachma and can enlighten us more I'd love for you to post a comment below, but here's the point...however much it was worth...IT WAS A LOT OF MONEY! We can know that just by the fact that Luke bothers to point it out. Why am I going on about this?

Because immediately after Luke records the extent to which they repented, he says this:
"In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power." (Acts 19:20)
Now remember...after recording the miracles that had been taking place and the story about the demons who recognized the power of Jesus, but pounced on someone claiming the name falsely, Luke said, "the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor" (Acts 19:17b). But now he says that it wasn't just held in honor...but that the word of the Lord actually spread and grew in power!

What's the difference? Well, maybe I'm making too much out of it, but I think there is a lot to say about the power of the gospel to change lives. And I think we have grown too comfortable praising Jesus' name and holding it in honor on Sundays  because we believe the stories we have heard about Him in the Bible, but not living like we have actually repented on Monday. And I think that lack of repentance is one of the main reasons we have such a hard time spreading the word of the Lord and allowing its power to grow in us and around the world.

The new Ephesian Christians recognized the glory that they had found in Christ. They wanted nothing to do with anything that was in opposition to the new abundant life that they had found. They weren't content to leave it in a closet or sell it to someone else to get it out of the house. They burned great cost to themselves.

Perhaps there are some things that we need to burn today. No, not literally (unless of course what you are holding onto from your past life is in the form of tangible things like movies and cds and magazines... then maybe there would be some real value in starting a fire in the back yard!). But maybe we need to completely burn some bridges to sin that have constantly tripped us up in the past. Maybe there are some attitudes that we have been content to keep in the back of our personalities for when someone really steps on our toes that we need to completely purify out with the fire of the Spirit. 

May we be a truly repentant people. May we not think about the cost of what it means to repent and be sad. May we think about the riches that are ours if we will only give up those temporary things and be joyful in our repentance! And may the word of God spread and grow in power as Christians everywhere start living on Monday what we are singing about on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Finding Common Ground- Acts 17:22-23

Original picture by Oliver Dixon and obtained from wikimedia under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic 

If you were to walk through a town...say Las Vegas, or New Orleans...and you were bombarded by sexual inuendo and advertisements and temples built to greed and gambling, how would you start a conversation with someone about the religious and spiritual state of that town? Better yet, let's make it more personal instead of just thinking about an entire city. Let's talk about seeing those things evidenced in a person's life. How would you react?

I hope, first of all, that you would be deeply saddened and upset because of the evidence of lives lived so far separated from the God who loves them and wants them. But what would you do with that feeling of revulsion, anger, and sadness that would come because of the sin and idolatry that you witnessed?

Would you lash out in anger at the disgusting state of affairs? Would you turn around and get out of town as quickly as possible? Would you warn others to stay far away?

Or would you look long enough to find some piece of evidence of something good...some deep religious inclination and spiritual leaning that you had in common with the people of that place and then use that to compliment them and establish common ground in order to share with them the glorious eternal alternative of the truly good life that they are currently missing out on because of their obsession with the very temporary "good life" that they are living now?

When Paul walked into Athens, that is pretty much what he walked into. The city was full of idolatry and with idolatry came sexual immorality. Luke says that Paul was "greatly distressed" when he saw the extent of the idolatry that the people of Athens lived in (Acts 17:16). It's worth asking before we move further into the text whether or not we experience the same pain that Paul did when we see evidence of separation from God. Or have we become so comfortable and accustomed to the sin all around us that we are perfectly content to laugh along with the rest of the world at acts and attitudes that are causing people to lose their eternal souls every day? If you are not concerned with the sin that you see around you, then there is no point in continuing to read. Instead, spend some time thinking about the greatness and the righteousness of God and then compare that to the world and ask God to break your heart over the rebellion that you see.

But if you are heart broken by the things that kill souls as Paul was, then keep reading, because I think we can learn from how Paul addressed the lost people that he so desperately wanted to save. First his began reasoning with them in a somewhat private manner in the synagogue where the people who had already denounced idolatry were. But before long, word of his teaching got out into the general public and he was invited to address the rest of the town in the Areopagus. So he did.

And did he blast their idolatry? Did he condemn their sinfulness? Well...not right off.

First, he complimented them on their deep religious inclinations and he pointed to the fact that they were so religious and concerned to please the gods that they even had altars to an unknown god. And he went from there to proclaim to them the truth of the One True God that they had never known. In his address, he even quoted some of their poets because because truth is truth no matter where the source. And what was the result of Paul's straightforward yet gentle approach to explaining that they had been worshiping many gods in ignorance but could now worship the One True God in truth?
"When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed."    - Acts 17:32-34a
May we first have our hearts broken every time we see someone who is living in a way that evidences their separation from God. May we be so distressed by their situation that we are forced to speak out about it. But may we have the wisdom and the love that Paul had when he stared at their situation long enough to see the good intentions. May we not assign false motives and labels to the people who are lost. May we see that the only difference between them and us is that someone had the grace and the love to bring us out of our ignorance so that we could know and worship the true God that is unknown to the rest of the world.

Some will still sneer at us. That's ok. They cannot possibly be any more lost. Others will be interested and just might continue to seek until they find Him. But some will believe. And your love and your wisdom in proclaiming the good news to them in a way that they can hear and understand will make an eternal difference in their lives.