Monday, June 18, 2018

"Dare to Trust"

Romans 4.17-18 
"The Message"

“Abraham was first named ‘father’ and then became father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do.

There are many possibilities in life.
Dare to trust.

There are just as many im-possibilities.
Dare to trust.

When asked to sacrifice what you cherish the most on the altar of no return…
Dare to trust.

To be a person in whom others will place their trust, you must…
Dare to trust.

A leader, a father, a man of influence earns his position because he…
Dared to trust.

Some things that must be done, only God can do.
Dare to trust.

To have hope when all is lost…
Dare to trust.

To have faith in life when hope is dead…
Dare to trust.

Do you need God to miraculously make “something”
of your “nothing” marriage, job, or future?
Dare to trust.

Facing the fear of crippling disappointment after decades of failure…
Dare to trust.

God has a plan to do what only He can do.
Dare to trust.

God raised Christ from the dead.
Dare to trust.

Jesus loves you. You matter to God.
Dare to trust.
_________________

I found the photo above "better catch me daddy!!!" originally at this now dead link: http://www.photoblog.com/abbeyh13. Photographer abbeyh13 kindly gave me permission to use it here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"A Hole in My Argument"

Romans 3.4 NASU

“May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.

I am a liar... if I disagree with God. I do not understand all things. I cannot know the reasons behind the actions of others. I often misunderstand my kids, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even my wife, when she was alive. I try to be agreeable but occasionally engage in an argument. Disagreements and confrontations are distasteful to me, however, differences of opinion are still a part of my life.

Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong but I think I’m right. Sometimes I am partly wrong and know it, but obstinate enough to cling to shreds of truth in my position. Others may see, more clearly than I, the glaring hole in my argument. Sometimes I see light shining through that hole and find the grace to apologize. Sometimes I have to compromise for the greater good. Sometimes I act stubborn longer than I should.

I have no argument with God. I may try, but He’s right, not me.  If I disagree with Him, I’m wrong. There’s no compromise, no change, no meeting of the minds or middle ground. God is true. I am a liar.

In the midst of my passion, when things are not going my way and the dawning of realization enlightens my over-determined soul, making it (often painfully) evident that I am (perhaps) wrong, may I clearly hear the distinctive voice of God. Against my own limited grasp of the truth, may I receive enough grace to plainly see the hole in my argument. May I go with the grain [1]; that is, cooperate with the obvious course of events over which God alone has absolute control. I want no argument with Him. 

________________

[1] On his way to Damascus, Saul heard a voice from heaven: "Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why do you insist on going against the grain?", (Acts 26.14 “The Message”).

"The hole in the argument" image was created by John Dalkin. Check out his photography at http://www.flickr.com/photos/59303791@N00/.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Who Are You?"

Romans 2:29 NIV

“No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”


It’s not what you do. It’s not who you know; or what you wear or drive or the house you live in. It’s not your bloodline, heritage, ancestry, or upbringing. It’s not your job or the amount of money you make. It’s not your friends or social standing. It’s not your reputation or past achievements. 

It’s not what others say about you, either good or bad. It’s not how pretty, desirable, or virile you try to be. It’s not your niceties, etiquette, or manners. It’s not how refined or educated you are. It’s not where you got your education. It’s not the things you own, the places you go, or the time you get off work to go there. It’s not the size of your company, congregation, bank account, or financial portfolio.  It’s not your SEP, IRA, or 401K. It’s not how popular or influential you are. 

It’s not what you want others to believe about you or even what you think about yourself. It’s not your self-esteem, self-image, or self-confidence. It’s not your philosophy of life, view of the world, doctrine of the Bible, or theological position. It’s not how much you once had, now have, gave away, or hope to gain. It’s not your goals, dreams, ambitions, or desires. It’s not how well you behave or how much good you do. 

It’s none of that.

Look inside. What do you see? That’s who you are. Jesus was a Jew... on the inside. I claim to be a follower of Christ. I am either Jesus-follower on the inside or I am not one at all.

“No, a man is a Jew [or anything at all] if he is one inwardly...”
Romans 2.29a NIV

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"I am Not My Creator"

Romans 1:25 NASU

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

We are made in the image of God…

“So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.”
Genesis 1:27 NKJV

God is Creator God. By His creative impulse we were made to exist. We are not our own “Creator.” We were “created.” We are “creature.” The Creator is not His creation. There is between us an un-span-able gulf; an un-cross-able expanse; an im-measure-able distance. No earthly power can bridge the gap between God and humanity. Only God can do that. We are creatures who exist at the pleasure and for the purpose of Creator God.

Having been made in His image, we may be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2nd Corinthians 3.18). We are blessed to share God-like qualities of Him who called us into being. Among these qualities is a creative impulse, creative instinct. There is within us a desire to build, produce, make, generate, re-generate, create, re-create, and pro-create. God made us that way. Like God, we want to form something from nothing. We want to “make” something of our lives, for example, and leave this world a better place than we found it.

Sometimes we are successful in our creative endeavors… and that can be a problem. In the joy of artistic expression, we may actually believe we did something that’s never been done before, forgetting Solomon’s wise caution:

“There is nothing new under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 1.9 NIV

Anything good an artist may create is merely an extension of the creative power of God who graciously bestowed the creative gift upon the worker of art. Occasionally, if we open our hearts, we may enjoy the privilege of creatively expressing the nature of Christ who lives among us. In those exhilarating moments, it is appropriate to direct all praise we may receive to the Source of our creative inspiration. We must resist the temptation to exchange “the truth of God for a lie” and worship (even with subtle devotion) “the creature rather than the Creator.”  

I am a creature. I am not my creator. 
_______________________

The DNA logo is from The Australian Motor Neuron Disease DNA Bank (http://www.dnamnd.med.usyd.edu.au/).

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"Why I Go to Church"

Acts 28:14c-15 NIV

“And so we came to Rome. The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.

Fellowship. What a wonderful thing it is. The magic of connection. The bonds of friendship. The comraderie. The sense of unity and single-mindedness. We are a family and the love is flowing. It’s fun. There’s joy. It’s automatic. I see a brother and I am compelled, as if by some God-empowered magnetic pull, to be near him. I have to be with my brothers and sisters to celebrate our common experience in Christ. It’s a measurable and instantaneous. I tingle all over. The original ‘God’s love at first sight.’ When my friends appear, a smile erupts. I can’t help it. Nor would I want to. I’m there. We’re there… together.

It’s unexplainable and undeniable. We all sense it. Our eyes lock. Our bodies relax. We feel safe, welcomed, and loved. We’re home and we know it. Joy wells up from somewhere deep inside and an overwhelming sense of gratitude invades the space surrounding us like an invisible army of angelic warriors, silently affirming the victory that soon shall be ours as we march arm in arm toward our home in heaven. A glorious parade of saints in formation behind Jesus raising His regal scepter and inspiring a following through the generations of saints who will enjoy eternity with each other.

That’s why I go to church. You are the church. At my first sighting of you, I want to celebrate. I thank God. I get encouraged. I wouldn’t miss the chance to be with you.

“At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”
______________

The caricature of two friends hugging is called "hug-a-friend-day" and used with the permission of photographer Mike Owens of Dallas, Texas, whose photostream is located at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dogsivu/.

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Euraquilo"

Acts 27.14-15 NASU

“…there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo [1]; and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along.”

When the wind of circumstance blows mightily in opposing directions, resistance is futile. We have no option but to ‘give way to it.’ Submitting to its force and power, we simply let go of the wheel and our ship is “driven along” to destinations unknown. Like Paul on his journey to Rome…

“They lost all control of the ship.
It was a cork in the storm.”
Acts 27.15 “The Message”

Loss of control is painful. I fight for control of my own destiny, to remain master of my domain, and captain of my ship. “Euroquilo” appears on the horizon as enemy of my still and quiet soul. I struggle to avoid her choppy seas and violent winds. But I am unable to resist. She is too strong for me. I am compelled to kneel before Euraquilo and bow to her will. I am forced to allow her intention to have its way with me. I am “a cork in the storm” of Euraquilo’s destructive purpose.

Who (or what) is this “Euraquilo”? Is it Satan? An angel? The unpredictable and difficult circumstances of life? A reappearance of Pentecost's “violent rushing wind” (Acts 2.2)? Is “Euraquilo” God? Or an act of God?

It is not mine know answers to questions like these. 

What is true is...

  1. Euraquilo’s purpose and identity is not for me to know.
  2. I will meet Euraquilo at various times throughout my life.
  3. If I remain faithful in the face of Euraquilo, Jesus will bring me safely to my destination.
_______________________

[1] EURAQUILO A wind of hurricane force translated "northeaster" (NIV) and "Euroclydon" (KJV). It was "the sailor's term for that particular wind, and Paul uses the word which was used by them on that occasion." "The precise name is doubtful, but 'the Euraquilo' is more easily explained as a compound of Greek euros, 'east wind,' and Latin aquilo, 'northeast wind,' hence, euraquilo, 'east northeast wind.'" (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996 by Biblesoft).

The article I quoted here from ISBE was written by Alfred H. Joy, Astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory, Pasadena, California from 1915 to 1952. This article has been replaced in the Revised Edition of the ISBE. It should be noted that Luke was the author of the book of Acts. It was Luke then, not Paul, who used the word "Euraquilo" in the account of the storm recorded in Acts 27.14. 

I found the paintings of ships at http://www.voc.iinet.net.au/vergulde.html and http://www.downshoredrift.com/. I was unable to locate the artist's names.

Friday, June 08, 2018

"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 07, 2018

"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 06, 2018

"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 05, 2018

"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 status hero status.

Monday, June 04, 2018

"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 heard something indistinguishable. Perhaps Jesus sounded like thunder, as in the case of the bystanders who witnessed the voice of God speaking to His Son from heaven recorded in John 12.29. Like Paul’s friends, they 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, June 01, 2018

"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 31, 2018

"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 30, 2018

"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 29, 2018

"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 three 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 eight hundred and fifty 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.” Now I have made 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 28, 2018

"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 25, 2018

"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.
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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 24, 2018

"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 me? Would they say I am open and loving toward them? Some may not. That would be the true test.

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 choice for comfort 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, I 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.
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The collection of faces above comes from "2k Bloggers - The Face of the Blogosphere."