Friday, June 05, 2020

"Rage and Redemption"

Acts 26:9, 11 NASU

“So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth… 

And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.”

Anger is an effective drug. Uncontrolled negative emotion creates massive surge of energy and the addict is consumed by its power. He feels no pain as he presses deeper and deeper into his false reality. With a dark sense of fulfillment, he masks guilt with the pleasure derived from his unrestrained expression of anger. He is dimly aware of the havoc his rage causes but easily justifies himself...
  • “I am doing the right thing.”
  • “They are wrong and deserve tthis treatment.”
  • “I am called by God to do punish wicked.”
Rage is destructive but the ‘rage-oholic’ can’t stop himself, especially when he claims divine authority. He is driven by a force greater than himself to coerce others by the strength of his personality. Nothing can stop him. Nothing; that is, except the Lord.

Paul, at the height of his fury, met Christ and everything changed. He was driven by a self-righteous anger and described in the Luke's account of the early church as “being furiously enraged.” For Paul, it took an extraordinary encounter with Jesus Christ before he could see himself for what he was… out of control.

Remarkably, God did not perform a spiritual lobotomy to cut out the ‘passion center’ of Paul’s brain. Rather, He miraculously redeemed it. The amazing reality is... Paul had the same personality before and after his encounter with Jesus! There was a difference, of course. Paul’s driven and forceful persona came under the control of the Holy Spirit and his passion was re-directed toward the way and purpose of Christ. This man was destined to become the inspirational powerhouse of the early church and the motivating force for the expansion of the kingdom of God into regions untouched by the Gospel. This was no job for a milk-toast. God needed a real man. A dynamo. Paul was that man.

I too must learn relinquish control of my negative emotions to Him who is able to redeem my passion and make me wholly zealous about His cause alone. I need not apologize for the force of my emotions but I must earnestly seek Christ’s grace to display them in a godly way. I pray to become a ‘fully redeemed and forceful man’... fully engaged in the forceful advancement of God’s kingdom on earth.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven
has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”
Jesus, Matthew 11.12 NIV
___________________

The sketch above is entitled "The Angry Man" and used by permission of Calcutta born artist Samita Basu whose amazing work you can view at http://www.samitabasu.com/. In the artist's own words: "This is a conte pencil drawing. I was intrigued by this elderly relative of mine because whenever I said something that he didn’t approve of, he would go into a sulk and he work himself into a kind of repressed anger. I noticed how his facial muscles changed when he was angry. This drawing doesn’t resemble the subject, only the expression".

Thursday, June 04, 2020

"Religion and a Dead Man Named Jesus"

Acts 25.19 “The Message”

“The accusers came at him [Paul] from all sides, but their accusations turned out to be nothing more than arguments about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who the prisoner claimed was alive.”

Many people think Jesus was a good man who lived a long time ago. To say He lived is to imply He died which, of course, He did. Their concept of Jesus leaves out an essential element of the story, namely, the resurrection. Without the resurrection, Jesus is nothing more than “a dead man.”  This common view presents Jesus as a good “dead man,” and forms the foundation of a system of “religion;” that is, the teachings of a good man who once lived, or more aptly, the teachings of “a dead man.”
  • Buddhism ~ the teachings of Buddha
  • Islam ~ the teachings of Mohammed
  • Judaism ~ the teachings of Moses 
  • Mormonism ~ the teachings of Joseph Smith
These religious teachers all have one thing in common… they’re all “dead” and gone. Christianity is different. It is not just the teachings of “a dead man.” Jesus was a dead man, but is no longer.

Christianity is not a “religion” about “a dead man named Jesus.” It’s a personal relationship with the living Christ.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

"The Betrayal of Justice"

Acts 24.27 “The Message”

“After two years of this, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Still playing up to the Jews and ignoring justice, Felix left Paul in prison.”

Marcus Antonius Felix, the governor of Judea around 52-60 AD, was known as “a master of cruelty and lust.”[1] He had three wives and believed himself “capable of committing any crime and avoiding punishment because of his influence.”[2] Felix considered himself above the law and so defined the meaning of corruption. He maneuvered for political advantage at the expense of those less powerful than himself. Paul was at his mercy and left in prison for two years because the governor both hoped to gain money from Paul (v. 26) and further his influence with Paul’s enemies. Felix was not ignorant about Christianity. To the contrary, he was “well acquainted with the Way” (v. 22) and was therefore without excuse for his deplorable act of injustice toward Paul.

Have I been infected by the spirit of Felix?
  • ...maneuvered for personal gain without regard for my affect on others?
  • ...befriended powerful people at the expense of weaker, less influential individuals?
  • ...catered to the controlling interests of those I deem advantageous to my cause?
  • ...ignored justice due to one without the ability to stand up for him/herself?
I hope not because the Bible has something to say about that kind of behavior:
 
“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Psalms 82:2-4 NIV

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV

“Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor.”
Jeremiah 5:26-28b NIV

If I do not “speak up and judge fairly” or “defend the rights of the poor and needy,” I leave them in the prison of their circumstance when I could have set them free. Do I allow my own apathy or selfish ambition to betray the very persons God asked me to protect and befriend?

God, give me eyes to see the betrayal of justice when it snakes its insidious path to my heart. Help me crush its ugly head the moment it becomes recognizable. Empower me to resist the seduction of strategic alliances with people whose foremost interest is something different than the welfare of the weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed, and needy.
_________________

[1] International Children’s Bible Handbook, Lawrence Richards, Word Publishing, 1989, p. 186.

[2] “Felix”, Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.

The child crying is a photograph by Philippe Champoux taken in the Piave community of Nakuru, Kenya (http://www.flickr.com/photos/62584794@N00/).

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

"Let's Roll"

Acts 23:11 NIV

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”


Courage. Where do you get it? In his last act of courage, Todd Beamer led a band of Flight 93 passengers to their heroic end and successfully thwarted an evil plan on September 11th, 2001. This kind of leadership takes guts, nerve, courage. Where did he get that? Eleven days later Newsweek magazine reported on Todd’s final moments:
“‘We’re going to do something,’ Beamer tells [Verizon supervising] operator Lisa Jefferson. ‘I know I’m not going to get out of this.’ He asks Jefferson to recite the Lord’s prayer with him. The last words Jefferson hears are ‘Are you ready guys? Let’s roll.’” [1]
Prayer and action precede courage. Todd Beamer informed his fellow passengers, “We’re going to do something.” The “something” they did earned the courage they got. Courage came when a man prayed and took action.

The questions are not “What should I do?” or “Where do I get the courage to do it?” These are usually false inquiries. What to do is almost always apparent. There are no questions. Only options. Take action or don’t. It’s a choice. When presented with an obvious need, pray, then take the obvious course of action. Courage will follow.

You might as well “do something” courageous because like every human being, the coward and courageous alike, you’re “not going to get out of this” world alive.

Paul testified of Jesus in exchange for his life in Rome. Todd Beamer of Flight 93 prayed and took action to do the right thing. I want to be a little more like these guys. 
____________________

[1] “The Final Moments of United Flight 93” by Karen Breslau, Newsweek Web Exclusive, September 22, 2001.

One unverified source I read claimed that, according to the 9/11 Commission, Todd Beamer’s last words were actually “roll it,” referring to the serving-cart presumably used as a battering ram to access the cockpit. Regardless of his exact wording, Todd and his fellow Flight 93 passengers took courageous action and earned their hero status.

Monday, June 01, 2020

"The Big Screen"

Acts 22:6-9 TEV

“As I was traveling and coming near Damascus, about midday a bright light from the sky flashed suddenly around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute,’ he said to me. The men with me saw the light, but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.


Somewhere around 1930, sound was introduced to film and the “talkies” came into vogue (“talking pictures” evolving from “movies” or “moving pictures”). Audiences were delighted to graduate from silent films and watch the action with synchronized sound.

Paul’s traveling companions were not so lucky. They “saw the light, but did not hear the voice.” The men with Paul followed the action but not the plot. They were captivated by the light and may have heard an indistinguishable sound. Perhaps the voice of Jesus revealed itself like angelic thunder, as in the case of the bystanders who witnessed the thunderous sound of God speaking to His Son from heaven (John 12.29). Paul’s friends probably heard something, but it was garbled and incomprehensible.

I want the full revelation of God’s will in all its Technicolor glory and digitally mastered Dolby sound. I am not satisfied to preview the move of God from the comfort of a padded chair in a silent movie. Give me the “talkies” so I can hear and comprehend the voice of God on the big screen of life. 

Jesus, if necessary, push me off my high horse. Blind me temporarily if You must. But do not take away the sound of Your voice. Let me hear it clearly so that I may know how to fully perform Your purpose for me. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Don't Make Fact-Finding Harder than It Needs to Be"

Acts 21.34 NAS

“The Commander… could not find out the facts because of the uproar”.

High emotion and an argumentative spirit, mixed with strong opinions and uncontrolled passion, serve to cloud the facts and overshadow the truth. Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem after his third missionary journey created a stir. Jealous “Jews from Asia” (Acts 21.27) incited the Temple crowd with lies about the apostle. The Bible says, “Then all the city was provoked.” Due process was discarded and the frenzied mob rushed upon Paul. They drug him from the Temple intending to beat him to death.

The author of the book of Acts records that “all of Jerusalem was in confusion” (see Acts 21.31). The local military Commander, whose authority included oversight of a thousand troops, temporarily disbursed the crowd and apprehended Paul in the midst of his beating. His attempt to gather an explanation from the unruly throng was futile:

“...the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar.”
Acts 21.34 NIV

I tend to turn emotional at the early sound of difficult issues arising in the natural course of life... concerns around kids and family, money, schedules, business, etc. Mostly, I can’t be bothered with the unpleasant details arising from my less than perfect world. I’m tempted to treat them like intrusions and occasionally react negatively without thoughtful consideration. When my spirit is in an “uproar” it becomes difficult to “find out the facts” or “get at the truth.” I am inspired by godly men and women whose stabilizing demeanor calms even the roughest sea of controversy. These kind of people make fact-finding easy. They empower themselves to take appropriate and intelligent action. They control their spirit and, armed with the facts, rise to the top of any crowd. They are true leaders and faithful truth-seekers.

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”
Proverbs 16.32 NAS

___________________

The lake images are called "Blue" and "Virihaure (Sweden)" by German photographer, Peter Block, who kindly gave me permission to use them here. You can view his work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pblock74/. In Peter's words: "Virihaure is a lake in northern Sweden. It was a wonderful day and the lake was as smooth as glass. The guy in the boat is one of the natives living in a really small village nearby." These photographs speak to me of calmness of spirit, clear thinking, and self-control.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

"The Honor of Work"

Acts 20.34-35 NAS


“…these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,...

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’



General Colin Powell said, “All work is honorable, so always do your best. Someone is watching.” How true. The apostle Paul claimed, “by working hard in this manner you must help the weak.”

In the outrageous book Brain Droppings, comedian George Carlin observed, “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit!” According to Carlin “most people” know nothing about the honor of work.

Sales guru Brian Buffini recalls with audiences working in his father’s painting contracting business as a youth in Ireland. At the end of the day Brian’s dad would review his work and inquire, “Brian, can you put your name to that?” If not, Brian had to stay late and finish the job the right way.

Why do I work hard? Is it for the money? Definitely not. Is it to serve my ego and become the best in my field and win the praise of my colleagues? I don’t think so. Is it because I’m a workaholic and mask the pain of unresolved personal issues with the one thing I know how to do well? I hope not. Paul tells me why I work hard. “…by working hard in this manner you must help the weak.” Apparently, by working hard, I help people less fortunate than me and those unable to provide for themselves. By working hard…
  • I help my family enjoy the quality of life they deserve.
  • I help less diligent people learn by my example the meaning and value of hard work.
  • I help the cause of Christ through the dollars I am able to give.
  • I help my treasured clients get what they want and need.
Why do I work more? To give more. It’s simple. I work to give. After all, nothing I earn is mine. All commissions, paychecks, and investment income belong to God. I work hard to bring honor to Christ and fulfill, if possible, His wish for my life: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

There is honor in work and great honor in hard work. The thing I do is not ‘just a job.’ It’s an honorable endeavor and an opportunity to serve Jesus and give to others. Consider this…
“You are your work. Work is personal. The firefighters and all the people in the world Trade Center were at work when they died on 9/11/01.” [1]
With God’s help, I will begin this day with a positive attitude toward my job and take to heart the command of Paul: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men”, (Colossians 3.23 NIV).
____________________

[1] Alan Weber of Fast Company and former managing editor of Harvard Business Review.

The black and white image is "The Hand Work Press Logo" for Matt Borghi's East Lansing, Michigan-based letterpress and design studio and used by permission (http://www.thehandworkpress.com/).

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"Who are You?"

Acts 19:13-17 NASU

“...the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’

And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”

“Who are you?” It was a leading question pointing to an obvious conclusion… “Nobody! That’s who we are. We’re nobodies.” The evil spirit nodded in agreement, wickedly smiled and warned, “That’s right! Jesus and Paul are somebody, but you are nobody. Prepare for a thrashing.”

The seven sons of Sceva were in over their heads. They earned their beating. They thought they knew what they were doing but, when faced with the reality of pure evil, these boys were forced to understand... they knew nothing at all.

The sons of Sceva held to “the appearance of godliness, but denied its power” (2nd Timothy 3.5 ESV, NAS). They had the right idea but failed to execute. Why? Because they knew not, but thought they did. The demon’s question was legitimate. These guys should have re-read Solomon’s advise:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
Proverbs 16.25 NIV

…or, subscribed to Paul’s counsel:

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself
with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Romans 12.3 NIV

Lord, open my eyes to my true self. May I possess the right mixture of faith and humility leading to an honest self-appraisal. Deliver me from the evil guaranteed to produce pain when I overreach my God-imposed limitations. Grant me the grace to know who I am in Christ and the authority to stand my ground in the face of the evil I confront daily in and around me.
___________________

Industrial designer and web developer Nelson Sanchez drew "White Demon Illustration" above and gave me permission to use it here. Check out his photography and artwork at http://nelsonsanchez.com/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/pulpus/.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"A Vocational Shift"

Acts 18:3-5 NIV

“…and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ”.

Paul made a vocational shift when former traveling companions Silas and Timothy arrived to assist him with the church in Corinth. The strength of their friendship formed an unshakable bond. The apostle had invested in the lives of these men for years and could now depend on their support. Until now, Paul had remained fully dedicated to his profession as a tentmaker and preached “every Sabbath” in his spare time.

Consistently and over time, Paul earned a reputation as a consummate tent-making professional and a dedicated synagogue volunteer. He also proved his love for those who would eventually underwrite his full-time ministry. Paul earned the right to make a vocational shift.

There is honor in work and the Lord blessed me with a terrific job. I was devoted to my clients and they continue to send me referrals, even though I have not worked in that industry since my wife was diagnosed with Leukemia in October 2014. Those referrals go to my adult daughter who has taken charge of our family business. Since my dear wife passed away nearly five years ago, I have continued in my new role as full-time parent to my teenagers at home and in college. My days have been filled with domestic activities like household chores, home finances, grocery shopping, and cooking. I also receive a small salary as the executive director of an addiction recovery program which has helped approximately 2,000 men and women since its inception in September 2009. I am passionate about this ministry and plan to continue in my leadership role until my retirement at age seventy.  

My life is not over. I have a new job to do. I greatly miss my wife and, on some days, I even miss my role as a business leader providing for the financial needs of my family. Paul made the vocational shift. “He was a tentmaker who eventually “devoted himself exclusively to preaching.” I have now made a similar shift. I hope and pray I am worthy of my new role in this full time ministry God has gifted to me. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

"His Spirit was Provoked"

Acts 17.16 NKJV

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.”

Something inside me longs for order. I become agitated when things begin to fall apart. My insides sound an alarm: “Quick! Get this thing fixed!” My antennae are up and poised to receive the ‘things are not as they should be’ signal. I am alert to any sound of advancing chaos and I am ready to re-order as necessary.

This quality can be troublesome for me and others. It indicates a tendency toward perfectionism. I’ve heard it said “a perfectionist is someone who takes great pains… and then passes them on to everyone else.”

While there is a downside to the need for order, there is also an advantage. When under the control of the Holy Spirit, the longing for order may be the gift of discernment in operation. The voice of discernment presents immediate solutions to future problems when others are only vaguely aware of impending trouble. Quick attention to disturbing inner feelings may help avert small issues before they become big ones. I am learning to trust my instincts and respect unsettling thoughts when they arise. It could be a warning by the Holy Spirit.

I am inspired by Paul who, when “his spirit was provoked within him,” instantly engaged a plan to right the wrong. Lord, thank you for those times when I am uneasy in my spirit and sense the provocation of the Holy Spirit. Help me to listen carefully and respond quickly. ____________________

The black and white photo of a person in a reflective mood is called "thoughts..." and used by permission of photographer Simran Kaur. You can view her excellent photography at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaurflicks/.

Friday, May 22, 2020

"Without God, I Can't. Without Me, He Won't."

Acts 16.14 NAS

“Lydia… was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the message spoken by Paul.” I have messages to deliver to a variety of audiences… my kids, friends, clients, vendors, neighbors, and many chance acquaintances. Sometimes I am certain of my message and confident in my delivery. I somehow know what must be said. I can be persuasive and effective.

Most of the time I am less sure of myself and it makes no difference what I say. The message will not be received, at least not in the way it was intended.

Paul did not predetermine the response of his listeners. He did not short-circuit the communication process. The apostle understood he was part of the interaction between his audience and the Lord for whom he spoke. For this reason, Paul was confident of his message. He trusted God and did not abdicate his role in the message-giving process. The apostle tried to persuade people everywhere he journeyed, in spite of the rejection he so commonly suffered. 

Ultimately, it was the Lord who opened the hearts. Paul knew that. His role was to speak at every opportunity. God’s role was to open hearts. The combination worked perfectly in the case of Lydia for whom “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the message spoken by Paul.”

God designed it that way for Paul and for every ambassador for Christ. I must do my part and He will do His. Without God I can’t. Without me He won’t.
________________

The graphic of God with a human fingerprint speaks of our (human) role in His (Divine) desire to reach the world for Jesus. The artist / graphic designer is Josh Boston from San Diego who kindly allowed me to post this image he calls "A Logo for God." According to Josh, this graphic is "my best attempt at giving the God of the Bible a visual representation." You can find more of his creative art and graphic designs at http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshbostonlabs/.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

"Us and Them"

Acts 15:9a, 11 NIV

“He made no distinction between us and them,… No! 

We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

It’s commonplace to identify differences with other people and maintain emotional distance. This behavior is a form of pre-judgementalism or ‘prejudice.’ I do not like to make the admission of prejudice. I take pride in possessing (what I think is) an open mind and a loving spirit toward all people. Is this self-perception really self-deception? I wonder how others perceive my approach-ability? Would they say I am inclusive, generally open and loving toward them? Some may not. That would be the true test of my prejudicial leanings.

I occasionally lack the energy or courage to venture outside my comfort zone, away from the people who are like me and who like me. Fear of rejection, loss of control, the need to be liked, or the desire to live only with what is predictable and easily controlled by me may have led me to pre-conclude others don’t need or deserve the love I have to offer. Am I guilty of making distinctions between “us and them?” 

Jesus Christ is the cure for prejudice. Does He make similar distinctions between people. Of course not. Jesus offers redemption to all people. I am saved “just as they are.”

God, today, I must confess an “us and them” attitude. Help me overcome this form of prejudice. Teach me to view all people as candidates for the love of Christ and myself as a channel for that love.
____________________

The collection of faces above comes from "2k Bloggers - The Face of the Blogosphere."

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"Follow the Leader"

Acts 14.19-20 NIV

“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.”

The “Jews... from Antioch and Iconium” stoned Paul and left him for (what they thought was) dead. His executioners dragged Paul out of Lystra (in modern day southwestern Turkey) and quickly departed. The disciples appeared and surrounded the apostle’s lifeless body, quietly planning his burial and mostly wondering what to do next.

In the midst of the tragic scene, Paul did what all great leaders do… “he got up and went back” to the place of defeat. At the very site of his attempted murder, Paul showed his bloodied, nearly unrecognizable face again. Imagine the disciple’s surprise, mourning the loss of a great man of God whose body lay mangled near a path leading to the city whose citizens violently rejected his message. In the midst of their grief, the semi-conscious apostle ignited his remaining spark of life and struggled to his feet. He was an apparition of a man, unstable, wobbly, and waving like a willowy branch in a strong wind. Paul barely stood before his followers. Their eyes locked. The disciples, astonished and motionless, witnessed Paul’s utter determination to do the thing God told him to do until he really did die trying:

“...he got up and went back to the city.”

Slowly, with or without the disciples, in serious pain, against all logic, not waiting for the counsel of those whose primary interest was his welfare, but with only the interest of God at heart, he “got up and went back into the city!”

I used to have the audacity to pray “Lord, make me like Paul.” Today I would be satisfied if He gave me the courage to follow a leader like Paul.
_____________

Photographer Mark Wilson (Sparks68) kindly gave me permission to use his picture of the mother goose and her chicks entitled "Follow the Leader". Check out his photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sparks68/.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"But God..."

Acts 13.30 NAS

But God raised Him from the dead...”

I heard a sermon about forty-five years ago preached by a young man preparing to be a Baptist missionary. He made a point I have never forgotten.

“Everything” he said “hinges on that little word ‘but.’” Make the comparison yourself…
  1. “I know God is able BUT... I am broke, my kids are in trouble, my wife is leaving me, and I have incurable cancer.”

  2. “I have huge and seemingly unbearable problems with money, family, and illness BUT... God is able.”
Paul understood the proper placement of the conjunction, as he demonstrated in his message at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch 

“…they asked Pilate that He be executed…. they took Him down from the
cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead.
Paul, Acts 13.28-30 NAS

When compared to execution on a cross, my problems seem (and truly are) quite small. God’s resurrection power dwarfed the impact of the cross by rendering death absolutely impotent. Like everyone else, I face my share of sorrow and suffering in life. Sometimes it seems overwhelming, BUT… “God raised Him from the dead,” and that makes all the difference.
___________________

The image above is entitled "Overwhelmed" by photographer Tamara Gentuso who allowed me to place it on my blog. It's a close-up of a gravestone statue at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. You may preview Tammy's photography at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsgentuso/.

Monday, May 18, 2020

"Answer the Door!"

Acts 12:16 NIV

“But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.”

After Peter’s miraculous escape from Herod’s prison with the help of an angel of God, his first stop was Mary’s house, where “many people had gathered and were praying” (Acts 12.12). Peter knocked at Mary’s door but was unable to make an entrance. Apparently his presence created a major stir…
  • Servant girl Rhoda was so overjoyed she forgot to open the door!
  • The praying crowd accused Rhoda of being crazy: “You’re out of your mind.”
  • The saints argued about the possibilities while Peter "kept on knocking!"
I wonder how often I am guilty of debating the peripheral issues while ignoring the most important task at hand… opening the door! How many good people stand outside looking in, just waiting for insiders to ‘get their act together’ and extend an invitation? Am I waiting to perfect my theology of the Bible or practice of ministry before I open my doors to those in need? Could I and other good church-goers be too busy making debating politics or theology and sitting in endless strategic committee meetings to bother with the needs of those outside our community of faith? Open the door and let them in!

Jesus commanded His followers to “go into all the world.” Gatherings of Christians can become so internally focused they forget to reach out to the lost. When the believers at Mary’s house stopped bantering over meaningless issues about who was knocking (“It must be his angel”) and actually “opened the door... they were astonished.” I would be as well.
_________________

The picture of the door knocker at the top of this entry was taken by photographer Andra Ilea and used by permission. You can view her excellent work at http://flickr.com/photos/85267140@N00/.

Friday, May 15, 2020

"Shake a Tree and Save a Life"

Acts 11.14-15 “The Message”

‘He’ll tell you something that will save your life...’

So I started in, talking. Before I’d spoken half a dozen sentences, the Holy Spirit fell on them”.
  
An angel of God promised Cornelius that “a man named Simon, who is also called Peter ” (Acts 10.5) would say something that would forever change his life. He was ready for the message Peter came to deliver. Cornelius and his household were ripe fruit ready to fall from the tree. All Peter had to do was shake the trunk a little.

I must obey God and shake a few trees. Fruit will fall. There are people who need what I have to offer. Ripe fruit is everywhere. It’s ready to fall. Trees just need a little shaking. When presented with an opportunity to share my faith, I should start “talking.” My audience may be thinking: “He’ll tell you something that will save your life.” I mustn’t disappoint them. 

Shake a tree and save a life.
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Drawing from "Fruit of the Barren Tree (http://www.fruitofthebarrentree.com/) and used by permission of blog author, Michael Loenard. The drawing was created by Adam Todd(http://livingtower.com/).

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"While Peter Was Still Speaking"

Acts 10.44 NIV

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”


I am a salesman. I am trained to speak in a way that conveys truth and inspires trust. I truly care for prospective clients and believe my service will add value to their lives. Like many good salespeople, I have a little problem with talking, or should I say over-talking. Most of my business comes from repeat customers and referrals, so trust may be established before we sit down to speak together. Nevertheless, I eagerly launch into my sales presentation in all its glorious detail even when it is apparent that the client is already convinced I’m the right man for the job. 

I’ts not hard to read a fidgety client’s mind. Glazed-over eyes, apologetic yawns, throat clearings, paper shuffling, and wrist-watch glancing are all non-verbal hints suggesting, “Let’s wrap this thing up! Where do I sign?” I usually get the hint, but I don't always take the hint. I want to say, “You can’t buy yet! I’m not finished with my presentation!” In those moments I try to remind myself that the goal is not to talk. Rather, the goal is to complete the sale so I can get on with serving my new customer.

Peter was sent to Cornelius by an angel of God. That’s an excellent referral source! Cornelius was ‘sold’ even before he met the apostle! Peter’s contact with Cornelius confirmed the client was ready, willing, and able to make the purchase. In fact, if anything, it was Peter who was reluctant to make the sale. He had to be reminded three times that the prospect was worthy of the product.

“What God has cleansed no longer consider unholy.”
Acts 10.15 NASU

The Lord intended to impart the Holy Spirit to the household of Cornelius and demonstrate His universal love for all people. Peter finally got the message:

“God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”
Acts 10.28 NASU

With an attentive and ready-to-buy audience, Peter launched into his full gospel presentation. Luke’s record states, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all those who heard the message.” Peter wisely recognized the signals, stopped preaching, and closed the sale with the water of baptism.

Lord, make me wise enough to shut up long enough for You to work in the lives of those you want me to reach with the message of Christ.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"A Man and His Bed"

Acts 9.33-34 NASU

“Aeneas… had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up.”

Aeneas was “bed-ridden” for eight years. He was very acquainted with and dependent upon his bed. It was his home for almost a decade. Aeneas’ bed was his crutch. Sleep was his drug of choice. Bed was a magical place of retreat and isolation from the harsh reality of his crippled condition. Bed eventually became indistinguishable from the disease that kept him there. Aeneas fully identified with his bed. He was “paralyzed” and incapable of enjoying the sights and sounds of his home town, Lydda. Instead, bed became his only real friend offering the comfort and solace he needed to make life bearable. Bed, for Aeneas, was an escape into fantasy and unhealthy friendship. Driven to isolation, he hid from his misery in the comforting embrace of bed, his best friend... 

“When you’re down and troubled

 And you need some loving care

 And nothing, nothing is going right

 Close your eyes and think of me

 And soon I will be there

 To brighten up even your darkest night.”[1]

Peter crashed through the pitiful relationship between a man and his bed. He made the killing of that unnatural affinity a condition of healing…

“Get up and make your bed.”

You have been raised to new life in Christ and, like Aeneas, your life has a purpose…
 
“Get up and make your bed.”

Say good-bye to your old friend. You no longer need a “bed” (an unhealthy dependency, an emotional pacifier, a cherished drug, an addictive behavior, a comfort zone). “Make your bed” and do not return while there is still light in the day. Close the bedroom door behind you. End your dependence. Receive power from the Holy Spirit. “Get up... make your bed,” and go on with your life.
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[1] You've Got a Friend, Carole King, Tapestry album, 1971.

The picture of a man's feet poking out from under the bed covers is called "My own bed. 365 Days, day 176" and used by permission of photographer Mark Radford at http://www.flickr.com/photos/misterrad/

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"Get an Invitation"

Acts 8.31b NIV

“So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

An Ethiopian official with a fascination for the prophet Isaiah invited Philip to “come up and sit” in his chariot and explain the Scriptures. How did Philip get an invitation from a complete stranger? Philip was an inclusive and invitational Christ-follower. He warmly received those who sought truth. A good evangelist is friendly and easy to talk to. Philip was so welcoming, he inspired an invitation. The Ethiopian was compelled to ask Philip to join his entourage. The Holy Spirit arranged the circumstances and Philip made the invitation happen.

Jesus was like that. Jesus informed Zaccheus He was coming to the tax collector's home for dinner, and received no argument from His eager host...

Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.
And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.”
Luke 19.5-6 NASU

Jesus Christ was more than controversial and courageous. He was also kind and approachable. Jesus was welcoming, and so inspired the tax collector's invitation. I suspect most people, given the opportunity, would jump at the chance to invite Jesus home for dinner.

Philip and Jesus make me wonder what kind of person must I become to make others want to welcome me into their quiet home, their circle of friends, their close confidence? How do I inspire an invitation?

Monday, May 11, 2020

"BE One!"

Acts 7.38c NAS

“Moses… received living oracles to pass on to you.”

Just prior to his death by stoning, the first Christian martyr preached with passion to his accusers. Stephen recounted Jewish history highlighting the lives of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon. He concluded with a stirring portrayal of Jesus as the persecuted Messiah whose “betrayers and murderers” (v. 52) now stood before him, rocks in hand.

The bulk of Stephen’s sermon was spent on Moses who is arguably the greatest leader who ever lived, second only to Jesus. “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds” (v.22). As a young man of forty “it entered his mind” (v. 23) to offer some leadership and help his downtrodden people.

“He thought his brothers would be glad that he was on their side; 
and even see him as an instrument of God to deliver them. 
But they didn’t see it that way”!
Acts 7.25 The Message

Leadership is the highest of all callings the greatest of all leaders are those who receive living words from God and endeavor to pass them on. A young or new leader should not be surprised when his or her words are not readily received. Although he was forty years old when it first “entered his mind,” it was not until an encounter with a burning bush, at the ripe age of eighty, that Moses’ impact was felt and his leadership recognized.

“After forty years had passed” (v. 30), Moses led two million people from the bondage of slavery through the wilderness to the brink of the promised land. His amazing gift of leadership was made possible by God who chose Moses as a receptacle for “living oracles” which he faithfully passed on “to you” and me.

You are a receptacle for the “living oracles” of God, qualifying you as a leader.  So,... be one!
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The woodcut illustration above, called “Moses and the Burning Bush” was created by German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) and originally published in Das Buch der B├╝cher in Bilden.