Monday, December 29, 2014

Never Stop! Acts 28

What would it take to get us to stop sharing about what God has done for us through Christ and what He wants to do for every person we come into contact with?

Do we stop talking when we feel awkward?
Do we stop when it is uncomfortable?
Do we quit when we meet resistance?
Would we quit if we were warned we could lose our job?

Would we quit if we were warned we would lose our life?
Would we keep our faith to ourselves if we knew we might lose our family by speaking?
Would we get frustrated and give up if we lost some of our freedom because of the cause of Christ?

What would it take?

As we come to the end of the year and to the end of the book of Acts, I can't help but think back to the overwhelming sense that the first century Christians would stop at absolutely nothing to serve their Lord. They endured beatings and imprisonment. They rejoiced in persecution. They deliberately disobeyed the authorities who tried to silence them because they claimed a higher Authority.

Here at the end of Luke's record of the early church, we see Paul under house arrest in Rome. It's incredible to me that Luke just leaves Paul imprisoned! But I think it speaks volumes that Luke concludes his history of the early church by saying that Paul just simply continued to proclaim the kingdom of God and continued to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.

That mission was his everything.

It consumed him and it drove every decision he made. It set his purpose in every day. His words, thoughts, and actions all flowed from the one supreme force in his life- the grace of Jesus that he met on the road to Damascus so many years before.

As you look toward the New Year and begin to think of resolutions and plans for the future, I want to challenge you to think of one question. Is there anything in the coming days and in the coming year that will keep you from proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching someone about the Lord Jesus Christ? Will your circumstances or your family? Will your time constraints or your finances? Will your pride or your selfishness?

If there is anything at all that you can think of that would keep you from proclaiming Him...I want to challenge you to knock that idol down and start 2015 with the passion and the purpose that we read about in the book of Acts.

May we not let anything ever stop us from proclaiming the kingdom that we have been given entrance into. And may that kingdom spread and God be glorified because of it.

Don't forget to post a response to this week's VOW or last week's with your suggestions for future VOWs. I am looking for promises of God from scripture to write about in the coming weeks. I really love researching and writing about things that other people hold dear because it challenges me to grow and study passages that I may not already be familiar with. May God bless you in the coming year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

What are you afraid of? Acts 27:25

What are you afraid of?

In Gary Smalley's book The DNA of Relationships, Smalley points out that almost all fights and confrontations follow a very familiar path to destruction. He calls the process "the fear dance." Without going into too much detail, let me try to summarize the main thought.

When people are afraid of something, they react...or better, they over-react in order to try to protect themselves. In a family relationship, as in a husband and wife or a parent and child, each person tends to know instinctively what the other persons "fear buttons" are. Without even being aware of it, we fall into patterns of reacting when our fear buttons are pushed by pushing others fear buttons. And the dance escalates until it is out of control and the damage is irreparable.

I don't really want to focus on relationships...although it might be highly appropriate as you head to family gatherings this week! But I do want to focus on the idea of how we typically lose control the most when we are afraid.
A parent's wrath is the worst when the child runs into the middle of the road and is nearly hit by a car.

A superviser begins attacking and abusing employees because he is afraid of not hitting his mark and losing his position.

A child fears losing independence and rebels hatefully and spitefully in small and large ways to ensure keeping control.
A father fears he will not make enough money to provide adequately for his family so he begins to make business decisions unethically.
A girlfriend fears losing her boyfriend so she compromises her purity to attempt to save the relationship.
Why do I point to all of these bad decisions stemming from fear when talking about this verse?

Because if we could have the faith of Paul, that everything will turn out exactly as God has already said it will, then we will finally be able to have courage. And people of Godly courage make courageous Godly decisions.

The context of Paul's statement is a storm while he is a prisoner in transport to Rome. He tells those on board this in order to boost their courage. What he refers to is that God had already told them that if they all remained on board, then no lives would be lost. It was a very specific promise of God given to Paul for a very specific moment.

I want to be fair to the application of this verse. I would love to hear the voice of God in my dreams giving me specific promises about specific situation that are coming up in the next few days. But that is not typically how God works. That is the exception.

But God most definitely has made some very specific promises about our future and our security in Him.
  • Promises that he will never leave us or forsake us.
  • Promises that he will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able but with the temptation will also provide a way of escape.
  • Promises that he will be with us to the end of the age.
  • Promises that if we will confess our sins, the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 
  • Promises that if we are faithful unto death, we will receive the crown of life.
  • Promises that if he is going to prepare a place for us, then he will come back to get us so that where he is, there we might be also.
And those are just a few of the promises that I can think of quickly.

How different would we act throughout each of life's trials, both big and small, if we could remember those promises and have courage because we believe it will turn out exactly like God told us?

I want to ask for your help in the comments to wrap up this post and provide direction for the upcoming year (or at least part of it.)

What promise of God means the most to you and why? I am thinking that I will do the VOW on some of those promises of God with this statement from Paul as a constant reminder tagged with the promises you submit.

Have courage...for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told [us]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Lasting Christmas Wish- Acts 26:29

Have you sent out or given any Christmas wishes lately? Or have you asked any children what they are wishing for for Christmas?

This time of year in our culture is consumed with trying to figure out the correct gift to give someone. We want to pick out the perfect gift and we want to enjoy the look on someone's face when they open a present from us that they really are excited about and don't have to fake it!

We also change our greetings during the holidays. Instead of "See ya later," or, "Hey, How's it going?" now we say, "Merry Christmas!" If you've gone caroling, you've probably even sung, "We wish you a merry Christmas."

In all of the merry wishing and gift giving and holiday parties, have you wished for the one thing for the people you love that actually matters?

In Acts 26, Paul is on trial...unfairly. He had a right to be upset about it. People were accusing him falsely and maliciously. His life was on the balance. But as you read Paul's defense before Agrippa, Paul quickly pivots from defending his actions to placing Agrippa on trial in a way. Paul's very defense is focused solely on winning the souls of those who are listening! And after he talks about the prophets pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, he challenges Agrippa to see the truth for himself. I'm sure you've heard Agrippa's famous response before.
“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”                                  -  Acts 26:28
And that is the statement that provokes Paul's wish that whether it happens quickly or it takes a lifetime, he wishes that Agrippa and everyone else within earshot would gain everything that Paul had gained through Christ...except of course the chains!

I point to that verse, because as we get close to the end of the book of Acts, I hope one of the reasons the early Christian church spread as rapidly and as powerfully as it did has become extremely clear. I think Paul's comment sums up his entire life after conversion. It was all about the saving love of Christ! He saw no one whom he didn't wish for their soul to be saved! Why? Because HE HIMSELF HAD BEEN SAVED!

I'm not sure who said it, but I have a quote hanging on my door that says,
To be a disciple of Christ is to make disciples of Christ. It is impossible to know Christ without having an urgent desire to make Him known.
So here's my challenge as we close out this year. The next time you say "Merry Christmas" to someone...or the next time you ask a child what they are wishing to get from Santa. Let that be a trigger that reminds you to think about the one gift that really matters. It's not peace during the holiday season. It's not toys or sweaters or egg nog or fruit cake. It's the gift of salvation.

And when you think about that during your conversation. Say a quick prayer for that person right there on the spot. And then let that prayer guide your comments and your conversation. Is there anything you might say or do that would confront them with the love and truth of the Good News? Is there something you might do for the parents of the child that would allow them to grow up in a home that is filled with grace and love instead of just filled with presents under the tree?

It is impossible to know Christ without without having an urgent desire to make Him known.

Do you have that desire? If not, then my wish is also for you to know Him in a new way.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide- Acts 24:16

"Always let your conscience be your guide."

You can probably actually hear the voice of Jimminy Cricket saying that to Pinocchio. It may be one of the most recognizable lines from any movie...although we are so far removed from the movie now, that I would say there are several now who would attribute the line to the Bible instead of to the cricket!

And for the most ideal circumstances, it is a reasonable piece of advice to live by. After all, God created our consciences for a reason. They are designed to call us to higher moral ground. Paul even speaks in Romans 2 about the conscience that God put in everyone in the world to guide them even when they were not specifically given the Law (Romans 2:11-16). Having said that, of course, we also recognize that consciences can be seared beyond the point of working any more (1 Timothy 4:2). Therefore we need a higher authority, and the only real higher authority is God.

So how do we use the conscience that God has given us while not relying on it solely? I love the way Paul words it here in Acts 24 when he is on trial. Notice the verse starts with "In view of this..." So we really need to back up a few verse to find out what is in view that motivates him to keep a blameless conscience.
12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.                        - Acts 24:12-15
 Notice that there are three things- all bound together- that guide every decision that he makes.
  1. He worships God.
  2. He believes everything in accordance with the Law and Prophets
  3. He has the hope of the resurrection
 It is physically impossible to really strive to worship God in the assembly and in life and not take care to guard your conscience against offending sin. When you are focused on God's beauty, the feeling of filth and guilt that a healthy conscience inflicts because of the violation not so much of the law of God as much as a violation of the love of God is simply not acceptable to you anymore!

When you really believe that the Bible is God's inspired message for us...that it helps us to understand Who God is, how we can know Him, and what kind of life he wants for us, then the message of the Bible is what guides our consciences. We live by faith!

And when we are living by faith in Jesus and His word, then we are overwhelmingly living by the hope of the resurrection! That one day I won't even need a conscience as a warning system for when I have stepped outside God's plans because I will be perfected as I am surrounded by the very presence of God Himself!

May we strive to live by those three tenets today as well. Worship, and faith, and hope. And may those give us the motivation to live before both God and the people around us in such a way that we can also have a blameless conscience.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Worthles Life- Acts 20:24

I don't know about you, but I tend to avoid pain. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a least not unless you talk to one of my brothers! I can handle pain if it's a necessity. But on a typical day, if there is a fairly simple way to avoid the pain, I usually do. And if someone warns me that there is going to be a lot of pain involved, then you'd better believe that I will avoid it if possible!

There just aren't a lot of people around who actually enjoy and invite pain. And those that do are usually referred to a counselor! But if there is something that is more important to us than avoiding the pain...we will take it. The old saying, "no pain, no gain" just doesn't work out well when we can't see the gain! That's why Paul's statement in Acts 20:24 is even more impressive when you consider it's context.

While saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders, Paul tells them,
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." Acts 20:22-23
And that is the context for his declaration in verse 24 that he considers his life worth nothing to him. His only aim is to do what Jesus asked him to do. And what Jesus asked him to do was to tell people about the incredible grace of God!

That challenges me in my faith. Do I have that kind of unwavering devotion? Am I that single minded and intent on fulfilling God's will in my life? I'm afraid to say that I often avoid even just a conversation that might become uncomfortable because I am unsure about the other person's belief system and how they will react to me talking about my God. How pitiful is that? Paul was warned by the Spirit of God Himself that he would face prison and hardship by continuing his journey of obedience to the message of God's grace. I have to convince myself to overcome the fear of the pain of an awkward conversation!

Can I honestly say that my life is worth nothing to me? I love my life. I love the family God has blessed with me. Both the family of my childhood and the wife and children He has given me. I love my friends. I love being able to stay in my car and pay a couple of bucks to get a taco or a hamburger. I love being able to go to the grocery store without worrying too much about having the funds to cover the food I need. I love being able to watch TV online. I love playing disc golf occasionally. I'm very blessed and I love my life. But do those things get in the way of the mission that God has for me?

I know they are neither good nor bad things. But when I hold them up next to the mission of God, can I honestly say, "my life is worth nothing to me."

To be honest...I'm not sure what my answer is. I know what I want it to be. I pray for it to be. I don't want to take God's grace for granted, but I am most definitely going to have to rely on God's grace because I still find myself avoiding pain at times because my view of the gain still isn't quite where Paul's seems to have been. I pray that God will keep working on me and transforming me into His image so that I can confidently say with Paul, "my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me."

And yes, I believe God gives us different specific tasks. But in the end, whatever the specifics are, they all boil down to testifying in whatever way God gives us to the good news of God's grace.

All of those other things about my life are simply icing on the cake of a life lived for God expectantly waiting and working toward an eternal life in His presence.