Translate

Only One risen Saviuor

Only One risen Saviuor
There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved - Jesus

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Acts Day 183 - Singing in the Rain

16:25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Image result for singing in the prison
Would you have been singing in that prison? Would you have stayed after the doors were opened and the shackles fell off?

It pains me to tell this story but I feel I must for all our sakes. I had a church member once who in her 80's got lung cancer. Her reaction was anger. I went to visit her and she explained to me why she was angry. She had served the Lord all her life. She had never smoked. She had tried to live a healthy life. Now she was going to die from a disease she felt she did not deserve. She was hurt. She felt betrayed and let down. Why would God permit this?

That is quite a contrast from Paul, Silas and Timothy. They were serving God too. They didn't deserve the treatment they received either. Yet instead of self pity and anger at God they are singing His praises.

Again I ask, would you have been singing in their position? Would you have stayed after the way of escape was right in front of you?

What made the difference between that sweet but disappointed and disillusioned member I had and those disciples? I believe the answer is theology, circumstances, and the resulting expectations. Let's start with us. We live in pretty easy circumstances. We are pretty far removed from serious persecution or hardship. This ease has allowed us to slip subconsciously into bad theology. What bad theology? The theology that good things happen to good people. This warped theology has been plaguing humanity for a long time.

The disciples lived in very different circumstances. They watched their Messiah be beaten and die. Those who came soon after like Paul and his companions may not have seen it but they were certainly aware of it. In addition Paul himself had been a persecutor of Christians. He well understood that very bad things can and do happen to very good people. Jesus words "in this world you will have trouble..." were not lost on Paul.

We on the other hand seem to have forgotten He said that. We learn about good health practices and other positive living practices and we read studies about how living in harmony with Bible principles will extend our life span. All the while we forget that although in general this is true it guarantees nothing. We also forget the goal of following Jesus is not living healthier and longer but it is saving lives.

So radically different was the worldview of these men that they counted suffering for the sake of Christ and for the sake of saving lives a privilege. It was a cause for celebration.

For me it's not hard to answer the question would I have been singing in that prison. All I have to ask is do I sing now when the needs of others change my plans, shorten my sleep, or otherwise cause me "pain". Do I rejoice to serve at personal cost? Do I remain in difficult situations when there is an easy way out or do I flee to greener pastures?

The call to follow is a serious one that is so rewarding that we literally can sing in the midst of terrible circumstances and mean it. Jesus rejoices over us with singing. He endured the cross despising it's shame for the joy (our salvation) that was set before Him. We were eternally worth it to Him. Now He says "Follow Me."

Monday, 29 August 2016

Acts Day 182 - Safety vs Service

16:25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

There are few events in the Bible that amaze me more than this one. These men were unjustly beaten and then chained to dark musty prison walls, likely empty of light but full of rats and the moans of other prisoners. How do they react? With prayer and singing. Silence falls throughout the prison. Nothing can be heard but their voices praising their Almighty God who used none of His Might to rescue them.

Suddenly at midnight, the very hour when Satan's strength is supposedly the greatest, the earth begins to shake. Every prison door breaks open. The chains break from the walls. They are free. Every man in the prison is free.
But that's not what amazes me about the story. The amazing part is that no one moves. No one runs away. Why? What held them there after the doors and chains were broken?

We aren't specifically told. Not exactly anyway. But if you have been following this journey of Jesus and His followers you already know they aren't normal. They don't behave like we do. They don't see the world like we do. In our world there are always sides. There is "us" and "them". That was never the case for Jesus. Whether it was a religious leader like Nicodemus or a Samaritan woman with a bad history rejected by her own people Jesus had time for them. Borders and cultural taboos meant nothing to Him. Every person was of infinite value.

Image result for suffering for ChristFollowers of Jesus start to see the world in the same way. Regardless of race, religion, gender, or station in life all are His and all are worthy of finding Him. It was for this reason they came to Macedonia. Never forget that. In our western culture we live for ourselves. Paul and his team live to bring Jesus to the world. God had called them to this heathen place full of idolatry and demon possession. They were needed here and when the prison was shaken open they didn't leave. They were convinced their work in Macedonia was not over so why would they leave? For them it was not an opportunity to escape but an opportunity to serve. 

Think about the other prisoners. Never had they heard men like this. They were accustomed to cursing and hollering, not praying and singing. They knew they were in the presence of something unlike anything they had ever experienced before. If Paul and his men were not leaving neither were they. They wanted to see what would happen next. 


Then comes the jailer. Convinced in the darkness of midnight that the prison was empty and his own life soon over he is about to end it himself. He is interrupted by the same voice that he had heard singing before he drifted off to sleep. Paul told him not to harm himself because they were all still there.


Think about that. The man who locked painful steel shackles around their beaten wrists and ankles they were now trying to save! My favourite author says this about it: "The severity with which the jailer had treated the apostles had not aroused their resentment. Paul and Silas had the spirit of Christ, not the spirit of revenge. Their hearts, filled with the love of the Saviour, had no room for malice against their persecutors."

Some day I hope to see my enemies this way. I long to see every human being with the eyes and heart of Jesus. I want a heart that is so full of His love that there is no room for anything else.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Acts Day 181 - Why Does God Let Us Suffer?

16:23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

God is love. That's what He says. God can do anything but violate our freedom. That's what He says about Himself. He rescued Daniel from the lions but permitted Paul, Silas, Timothy and probably Luke to be beaten viciously and put in prison. Either God is a liar or He had a very good reason for permitting that kind of suffering for men who did not deserve it.

I have had several people tell me they doubt God's power and love because the world is full of suffering. I have had some of those same people and others tell me they doubt God's goodness because of the judgments in the old testament like the flood and Sodom. When I put those two charges against God side by side I see us doubting Him for not intervening in the affairs of men and then doubting Him when He does.

Let's look at the situation in Philippi. These people know almost nothing about God. To them Paul and his crew are just spewing another religious theory which was fine until $$$ got involved. At that point something had to be done and the people rose up against them. Could God have struck the mob with blindness like he did the rapists in Sodom? Sure He could have. He could have intervened in countless ways but He didn't. Finally bloodied and beaten the men are in maximum security prison in shackles. Now God intervenes. An earthquake rocked the prison opening every door and breaking the chains from the walls. The chief jailer wakes and finds the prison open. He is about to kill himself when Paul stops him with the news that they are still there.

So violent was the society that the jailer knew he'd be beaten and likely killed for falling asleep on the job and to avoid all that was going to kill himself. At least it would be quick and less painful.
Do you see what happened?

When Jesus was facing the cross in the garden of Gethsemane He prayed to His Almighty Father who is Love and said "If it is possible let this cup (this entire situation) pass from me."

His Almighty Father who is Love never said a word. He never intervened. He never cushioned the blows or held back the hammer. There was no response from heaven and no cavalry of angels. Nothing but midnight silence.

Why?

Image result for suffering for ChristBecause to save us it was not an option to intervene. Paul and his team could have been snatched away from Philippi but what about the jailer and his family? What about others in the city who would hear the story of the innocent men who were beaten and locked up and refused to run away even when an earthquake set them free? How many people will be in the kingdom of God because our all loving God permitted His team in Philippi to suffer unjustly?

You see God is love. A love that will not let us go. To serve Him is to suffer with Him for the benefit of others.
"In this world you will have trouble but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world." - Jesus

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Acts Day 180 - Clarity Even in Chaos

16:18 But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The Romans prided themselves on being a peaceful, sophisticated, and highly cultured nation. So do we in the west. We get involved in the business of other countries all over the world. We quite openly flaunt that other countries would be far better off if they modeled themselves after our system of government etc...

Yet Rome is no longer anything close to what it once was and so great was the disintegration that historians can't even agree on what or when or how it happened. Rome rotted from the inside out. It was a kind of collective suicide. All the elements that made it great in the beginning disappeared, replaced with pretty much the opposite. Hard work and self-government gave way over the generations to extreme laziness and dependence. In every way the value system was turned upside down.

You can see in this brief encounter between Paul and the slave owner how unprincipled and feelings based the culture was becoming. When the slave owner complained to the city officials they immediately reacted without any kind of fair or proper investigation. A mob formed. A violent beating ensued. Everything denotes the behaviour of something more closely resembling rabid dogs.

Image result for Paul in prisonYet even amid the seemingly mindless madness there is an indication that these men knew they were fighting a power greater than themselves. Paul and his companions had no weapons. They weren't staging a coup or mounting any kind of political uprising. Nothing in their behaviour indicated they were a physical threat. So why the beatings? History tells us these beatings were vicious. Then in their weakened state they put these men in a maximum security section of the prison designed to house the most dangerous offenders. 

Why?

Because even in their depraved, irrational, reactionary state these men have enough sense to know they are up against forces far greater than themselves. That's why when this world (as we know it) ends, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess the greatness of God and His fairness, justice, etc...

They knew they were fighting against God just as so many today do. The amazing part is He left them free to do it, to beat His disciples just as He permitted His own Son to be beaten. Sin must be exposed for what it is to the point that even those who are evil will confess how wrong they are and that it all needs to stop.

We don't understand it because His wisdom far surpasses ours and no one has paid or is paying a higher price to end sin once and for all than He is.

God is love. Love Wins.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Acts Day 179 - Freedom Has a Price Tag

16:16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Now we have more evidence that Paul acted out of sympathy for the girl rather than for selfish reasons. Had it been because he was annoyed he could have just demanded the demon to keep silence. He also could have said "Go away" but instead he was very specific. He told the demon to come out of her. He wanted her to be free knowing it was going to cause a world of hurt for himself and it certainly did. This girl was a slave and her value to her owner was in her connection with the spirit world. Freeing her from their presence essentially rendered her useless in the eyes of her owner. No longer could he charge people to come to her to find out their future etc... He was understandably angry and not about to let it go.

It's actually a smoke screen when we say wars are fought over religion. Wars are fought over money. Trace the $$$ and you'll find the root cause of nearly every conflict. On the surface men are forced to say a war is about religion or freedom or a violation of rights or a threat of terrorism but trace the situation to the core and it's inevitably $$$ nearly every time. The man lost his cash flow and complained to the authorities about religion and a violation of Roman customs.

Image result for Freedom costs

That's an aside to the real point here. The real point is that the freedom of that girl came at a price. It always comes at a price. It was a price she couldn't pay. She was a slave and had no way to free herself. Paul had been a slave. A slave to bad religion. A slave to nationalism, pride, and prejudice. His slavery lead him into systematic murder. Now he was free. His freedom was obtained by Someone else. It came at a great cost. Now that he was free the passion of his life was setting others free. Freedom always comes at a high price but love never counts the cost. For Paul her freedom meant more than saving himself from beatings and prison and she was a stranger to him! Love knows no strangers and has no favourites.

Yesterday I sat eating my lunch watching a small group of homeless people in downtown Grande Prairie. I have seen them several times. I don't know their story but my heart is getting more grieved every time I see them. It annoys me that I have so much while they have so little. It pains me that I am free while they are enslaved. I don't know yet what to do but I have to do something and by God's grace and wisdom and power I will.

"Whatever you have done for the least of these you have done for Me." - Jesus

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Acts Day 178 - Something Is Off...

16:16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.
But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

Image result for Paul demon possessed woman

Have you ever heard something or read something and immediately knew it wasn't quite right? Today was one of those times for me. When I read that Paul was followed by this demon possessed girl for several days before finally getting so annoyed that he had to send the demon packing I knew something was wrong. Why would God work a miracle through Paul that was done from a selfish motive? Jesus never used miracles for selfish reasons. Why would Paul be permitted to do so?

So I went to biblehub.com and looked up the original Greek word that is translated as 'greatly annoyed'. It turns out I had reason to be suspicious. The original word is 'diaponeo' (G1278) and it means thoroughly worn out or exhausted with grief. Grief is very different from annoyance. Consider the situation. She wasn't saying anything bad or untrue. The demons used to do the same thing to Jesus. They would call Him the Son of the Most High God. Of course the goal was not to support His ministry but to confuse people. This girl was a fortune teller, a psychic. God strictly forbid Israel from having anything to do with them. Now a psychic is pointing people to Paul, Silas, and Timothy, telling them over and over that they are preaching truth. By doing so truth and error are being mixed in an effort to deceive.


For days they ignore her. They know the repercussions that will come. Their motives for doing nothing are selfish. However after several days Paul can't take it any longer. He must help her. He prays for her deliverance and immediately she is free. Tomorrow we'll read about the fall out but what a different picture one word paints. What a difference it makes when we become familiar enough with the character of God and His followers that we can see when something is off. Jesus said we would find Him when we search with all our hearts. Don't be afraid to question and search when something seems off. Those who translate the Bible are not perfect people. They are human and make mistakes. It's easy to see why someone would assume Paul was annoyed but love is not annoyed by broken people. Love feels sympathy for them. Grief for her caused Paul to aside his desire for selfish gain and did what was best for her. That's what love does.

Acts Day 177 - Practical Miracles

16:14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Sometimes I think we have it too easy. This morning a message was waiting for me on my phone asking if I had been fully reimbursed yet for our expenses for a speaking engagement I had earlier this month. Paul, Silas, and Timothy got no such messages. Traveling costs money now and it cost money then. Lodging and food cost money now and it cost money then. These men had no salary and neither were their expenses covered. They literally survived on faith. When Jesus was training the disciples for ministry He addressed the practical side of things. He told them when they entered a town to rely on the hospitality of someone in that town and if no one received them they were to keep on moving.

It takes faith to not know where you will lay down at night or where your next meal will come from. It really takes faith to go so far in your travels that there isn't even a local synagogue. Who would support them? When they ask around and find out a handful of Jews meet for prayer by the river they go. When they arrive they share the good news about Jesus to a small group of women. How could they expect food and lodging from them? It seemed impractical, inappropriate, and impossible.

We are not given all the financial details of how their basic needs were met on a daily basis but clearly they were. In this particular case we know a successful Asian business woman persuaded them to stay with her.

In a nutshell it goes like this: If we are doing God's will and following His lead He will provide. It's one of His names - Jehovah Jireh - The Lord Will Provide.


We walk by faith and not by sight. Our circumstances are different today but our need to trust Him remains the same. We may not have the same financial pressures they had but there are time pressures and balancing competing demands etc... In all of the practical pressures and needs of our lives we can trust Him and He will provide. Never be afraid to follow Him. It's the only safe path.

Acts Day 176 - An Asian Business Woman

16:11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Not much to see here right? Granted there is nothing obvious but there are a few subtle things worth noting. First of all this is the first time in their journeys that they have gone so far "off the map" that there aren't even enough Jews in the area to even have a synagogue. The few believers in God gather on Sabbath by the river. So few that there were only women.

One of those women was Lydia. She was a business woman. She believed their message about Jesus being the long awaited Messiah. She believed so passionately that she and her household were baptized. Clearly she was single so that may have included her children, servants, and/or employees. Either way she was a woman of means and insisted that Paul and his companions stay with her, a considerable commitment.

It is also interesting to note she was originally from Thyatira. Thyatira is in Asia Minor, the very place where they had just come from where the Holy Spirit forbid their preaching. So they went to Macedonia after Paul's vision and the first person they baptized was from Asia Minor. A woman of influence. A woman who travelled. Perhaps the very person God intended to use to open the way in Asia Minor in the future. God always has a plan that is infinitely better than ours even if it makes no sense to us.

One last point. What a cultural difference from Jerusalem and Judea where women were very much second class citizens. They could not own property much less a business. They could not speak in the synagogue much less lead worship which clearly women were doing in Philippi. God does not love us for our cultural norms, he loves us. All of us. From every place on this globe God wants to reach us no matter how different from other cultures we may be. Ironically some of the cultures deemed pagan or godless have aspects and norms much closer to God's character than the places who think themselves "His people".

To travel with Paul through his journeys is to have our eyes opened and minds stretched. Every subtle seemingly unimportant detail is a window into other cultures and ways and beyond it all is a God who has one consistent goal - to call us back to Himself.

Lydia was one of those people and He made sure to bring Paul from Asia to Macedonia to share with her the Good News about Jesus.

If you're interested in reading more about Lydia there is an interesting article here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Lydia

Acts Day 175 - He and We

16:9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Cults are formed when a single person claiming either to be Jesus or to have a special revelation from Him or connection with Him convinces others to follow him or her. The he/we phenomenon is definitely cause for concern. As Paul, Silas, and Timothy are hitting a "brick wall" in Asia Minor, Paul (he) has a vision that they (we) need to go to Macedonia and they go.

What's the difference between a cult leader and Paul? Should Silas and Timothy blindly follow. Is the he/we phenomenon always unhealthy? Why didn't God give the same vision to all three of them? Lots of questions.

Let's look at some basic principles that separate Paul from a cult leader:

First of all they were already a 'we' before the vision. Paul was not using the vision to gain a following.

Secondly Paul had nothing to gain personally by Silas and Timothy trusting him and going with him. Cult leaders always benefit personally from their "visions" or "revelations".

Thirdly they as a group were already in a situation where they needed a revelation from God to know what to do next since their own efforts were not working.

Lastly (even though there are more reasons) the pattern of God speaking through one person to a larger group is not new at all. Noah was told to build the Ark and his family had to trust him. Abraham was told to leave Ur and his wife had to trust him. Moses was called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and they had to trust him. There are many more examples too. God speaking through one to many. Why? The answer is simple. Trust. 

We are in the mess we are in because we didn't trust God from the beginning. God's government is built on trust. We will never fully know the mind of God. Heaven will not change the fact we need to trust Him. There will always be the "He"/"we" phenomenon. The question is not if we should trust but who will we trust.

The Bible says to test everything. See if it is from God. See if it is trustworthy. Trust is not easy for us. Our trust is often betrayed and violated. Many of us have had our ability to trust others violated from a young age. That is why God says "Taste and see that the Lord is good." He is patient not pushy. He gives us complete freedom to choose. He calls us but never forces us. He sends others to help us but we still get to choose. 

Trust is a big deal. It grows the more we know a person. Silas and Timothy had no reason not to trust Paul. They already had a relationship. Trust comes after a relationship is built yet a relationship is built on trust.

If you have a hard time trusting people try Jesus. He's the only man you can truly trust.

Acts Day 174 - Hearing From God

16:6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

So many questions and missing details. After finishing their journey through the cities where they had already been to encourage the believers Paul, Silas, and Timothy attempted to preach in some cities in Asia Minor but Luke (the author of Acts) tells us the Holy Spirit forbid them from preaching there. That is not problematic for me. Jesus had told the disciples that if they entered a city and weren't received, to keep on moving. Clearly some regions, just like some individuals, are not ready to hear about God and in those cases it is only right not to force Him on them. 

What I would like to know is how did the Spirit forbid them. That's a strong word. Clearly they traveled to those cities with the intent of preaching. Sometimes I feel guilty. I feel like they must have had a much better connection with God's Spirit to have such specific instructions. Then I realized if that was the case they wouldn't have gone to those cities to begin with. Think of the time, money, and energy wasted getting there only to be forbidden from preaching when they arrived. So it wasn't a superior connection with God that forbid them. It was something else. I can speculate but I'd prefer to know. Curious minds want to know! :)

My speculation is that they tried to preach and it didn't work. I have had that happen. It is eerie and unpleasant. Preaching is not speech writing or giving a speech. Preaching has a supernatural element that can't be explained. I was at a church once that shall remain nameless and I tried to preach. It was like nothing was happening even though I was talking. The congregation was almost frozen. They were present and sitting normally but it seemed my words never reached them. It was a bizarre and cold experience I never want to repeat.


Perhaps that is what happened to them in Asia? Perhaps they knew the Spirit was not with them because He did not bridge the language barrier as He had done at Pentecost? Or perhaps He literally prevented them from speaking altogether? We aren't told. All we know is that He forbid them until they received the vision to go to Macedonia and they went.

What I do know is that in our modern, educated, self-sufficient culture we think too little of what God wants us to be doing and where He wants us to go. Yesterday our guest speaker preached a powerful message on determining God's will. He talked about the superstitious and silly things we do and say to justify our choices, calling it God’s leading. We open our Bibles at random and blindly point to a verse and take it as His Word to us. We pray and then do what seems best to us. We plan and ask God to bless our plans. So many strategies that our basically just us doing what we want. His point was that we have His Word, the Bible. It contains His instructions and we ignore much of them and then say we want some special revelation of His will for our lives. The first step in getting further instructions is to follow the ones He has already given. Then His Spirit will become our teacher and give us further and clearer instruction.

I can say I want a better connection with God. It certainly sounds like the right thing to say. I can say I want His Spirit to fill me and lead me. It sounds like the right thing to say. However it's only true if I'm already actively following all of the instructions I've already been given. Otherwise I'm just fooling myself and doing whatever I want. Paul knew God wanted him to preach to those who had never heard so he went. In the going God gave him clearer instructions. Don't sit and wait for some miraculous Word from God if there are already things you know to do but are not doing them.

God steers moving ships. "Go into all the world..."

Acts Day 173 - Half breeds and Misfits

16:1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.

Yesterday we focused on the issues surrounding Timothy being circumcised in order to gain cultural credibility with the Jews. Today I want to look at another "but". One of the interesting ways to study the Bible is by looking at the "but" and the "if" verses.

Today's "but" is a messy one. Timothy's mother was a Jew who believed BUT his father was Greek. Why the but? Because that makes his father a gentile and since there is no mention of him believing that makes the marriage and home doubly divided. First they are culturally divided and secondly religiously divided. As I mentioned in passing yesterday Timothy would have been considered a half breed by the Jews and his mother's marriage a scandal.

The Samaritans were disdained by the Jews for the same reason. They had intermarried with the Assyrians. The only "advantage" Timothy had was that the Assyrians were far more hated by the Jews than the Greeks were.

What this all brings us to is the reality that we don't get to choose our culture, our parents, the religion or atheism of our home life as a child, or any of the social and economic dynamics that surround us. We are born into whatever they may be and live with the implications,  complications, and consequences, whatever they may be.

In Timothy's home his father clearly had a strong influence because Timothy was not circumcised. Jesus was crucified in AD 33 and it is now AD 49 so clearly the choice to not have him circumcised was not based on the decision of the Jerusalem council because the ink is barely dry on that letter and Timothy is now a young man. If his mother had had him circumcised it would have been done shortly after his birth. We can speculate on why she didn't but seeing as the rite was both religious and cultural even a back sliding Jew would circumcise their sons. The most obvious reason is that dad didn't want it done. However since we're speculating it is also possible the local Jewish priest refused to circumcise a half breed. Hopefully that wasn't the case but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

I bring all this out to show you the very practical real life issues Timothy was dealing with from birth. He didn't fit in with the Jewish kids because he was Greek. He didn't fit in with the Greek kids because he was Jewish. To the Jews he was a half breed. To the Greeks he was a Jewish misfit.

What is remarkable about Timothy is that he didn't play the victim. He never let the negative complications of his situation taint his character. How do we know this? Because others were drawn to him. He stood out in the crowd as a fine young man. Somewhere along the way his mother learned about Jesus and clearly Jesus had a stronger influence on him than any of the inherited baggage he was saddled with from birth.

The Bible is full of people who found the love of God and rose above their cultural, social, economic, and religious baggage. That's the beauty of the Story. He calls us all from wherever we started out and His sweet influence makes us sweet.

We can't choose where we came from but we can choose where we are going. Choose Him. Every day is sweeter than the day before. :)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Acts Day 172 - Building A Controversial Bridge

16:1 "Then he (Paul) came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily."

Working with people is tricky business. Even to His own disciples Jesus admitted "I have many things to tell you but you are not able to bear them now." We humans are "married" to our ideas, strapped to our cultures, and restricted by our religious ideas. Truth seems like a threat and an enemy when it crosses the grain of what we already believe.

Today we find Paul traveling again with Silas now and he meets a young man named Timothy. He is impressed by this young man and wants to make him part of the team. There is a problem though. Timothy is what elitist Jews called a half breed. His mom is a Jew but his dad is a Greek and as a result he was never circumcised. Does he need to be? No. Will it keep him out of God’s kingdom or make him less of a child of God? Absolutely not.

So then why does Paul do something unexpected and get him circumcised? Isn't this the same Paul who just came from a council in Jerusalem where he argued against the need for circumcision? Is he back pedaling? Has he begun to compromise his firm belief that nothing can be added to what Jesus has done for us?


For sure not. Paul's motive had nothing to do with the gospel or pleasing God. It had everything to do with wisdom and how to work with people. The Jews are struggling with the idea Gentiles don't need circumcision. Timothy is half Jew. In the minds of a Jew circumcision is not optional. A Jew is circumcised. Period. Paul wants Timothy to be able to preach and work for the salvation of his fellow Jews who did not yet know Jesus. The Good News was enough of a barrier. There was no need to add another barrier. Again let's be clear: Timothy was not circumcised to make him "more saved", he was circumcised to facilitate his acceptance among the Jews and eliminate an unnecessary barrier.

When I was 17 I went with a team of youth to the Ukraine for 6 weeks where we taught English classes by day and shared Jesus every evening. We worked closely with the church leaders. They coached us on the dos and don'ts of the culture. One of the don'ts was wearing shorts. Respectable people kept their legs covered. The average temperature when we were there was 44 degrees C. Another cultural norm was standing for prayer as a sign of respect for God.

Now neither of those practices were salvation issues. They had nothing to do with a command from God. But guess what? We kept our legs covered and stood to pray in order not to offend the locals and damage our ability to share Jesus with them.

Wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We must be wise, humble, teachable, and willing to do whatever it takes to reach people while never compromising the Gospel. The same Paul who wrote to the Galatians that to be circumcised was to make Jesus of no value to them was willing to have Timothy circumcised to bridge a cultural divide. See the difference? Motive is everything. That's why the Bible says man looks at the surface but God looks on the heart.


Never twist the Gospel to get "more saved" but always be willing to bridge a cultural divide.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Acts Day 171 - Beautiful Out of Bad

15:36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” ... And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Take out the fight and suddenly this last section of chapter 15 turns very positive. It reminds me of the promise in Romans 8 that says "all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose."


I often hear that verse either misquoted or twisted to say something it does not say. What the verse does not say is that when we love God everything is good. Jesus plainly said "In this world you will have trouble..." and He was talking to His closest followers.

What the verse does say is that when we love God AND are following His lead everything works together for good. In other words the good, the bad, and the ugly all end up creating something beautiful.

Paul and Barnabas loved God. They were following Him. The idea to return to the places they had already been to encourage them was a God lead idea. It certainly wasn't lead by the desire to have a relaxing vacation or a pleasant tour down memory lane. It was possible they would be facing jail time or death again. However that was not their concern. Their concern was to serve God and their fellow believers. This God idea lead to a fight. The fight lead to a parting of their ways. The parting of the ways created not one, but two ministry teams. More teams equals more territory covered. God used bad (the fight) to bring about good (two teams instead of one).

What does this mean for us? It means God is amazing and can and will make masterpieces from our messes. Remember this is all about Him. Our one "job" is to daily follow Him. The journey is the canvas God uses to make a painting far more beautiful than we could ever dream of painting. Abraham followed and despite all the disasters along the way God was painting. Same with Isaac and Jacob and all the way down through history. The disciples of Jesus were often failing but they were following and God was painting.

God wants to paint in your life too but He won't steal your canvas. Like Paul and Barnabas you and I have to choose to follow. The rest is all Him and He never fails even amid our greatest failures. Trust Him. Always.

Acts Day 170 - Arguments Are Unavoidable

15:36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” 37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Barnabas was determined and Paul insisted. Whenever two people have differing views and can have it no other way than their own the result is inevitable. Here we have two good men who love the Lord and want to see His kingdom grow fighting and then heading off in opposite directions. Surely this should not be.

Let's analyze what took place and see if we can learn from it for those times when we insist on having our way.
John Mark was the source of the dispute. As you will remember he had been traveling with them some time before but quit and went home. Now as they are about to head out again Barnabas wants to take him and Paul doesn't. Paul's reason is clear and supported by historical evidence. John Mark is a quitter and his being with them won't end well. Paul is banking on the theory that history always repeats itself.

So Paul has a valid reason for his position. Does Barnabas have a leg to stand on in this argument. I believe not only does he have a leg to stand on but it's the correct leg. Paul is seeing Mark for who he was on the last trip. Barnabas is seeing him for what he can be. Paul sees a failure. Barnabas sees potential.

Now before it seems I'm throwing Paul under the bus let me restate that both men have a valid position and the reason why they couldn't come to an agreement is because both refused to see the situation from any viewpoint but his own. There was room for a creative solution. There always is. However both dug in and we know the result which is a compliment to neither of them.

Now back to leg Barnabas is standing on; The second chance leg. The belief that people can learn and mature and grow. The belief that it's better to give a person the chance to fail than no chance at all. Where would any of us be if God didn't look at us like Barnabas saw John Mark? Paul would still be Saul and I dread to think of where I'd be.

The bottom line is always try and see the other persons point of view in any argument. In addition always question whether in the end your position has more potential to build people up or tear them down.

Blessed are the peacemakers but sometimes Jesus had to stand His ground because it's better to do right than make peace. Paul was a good man with a valid concern but Barnabas made the right call. The call to build up a person who had made a mistake.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Acts Day 169 - They Rejoiced

15:30 "So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. 32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. 33 And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.
34 However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there. 35 Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also."



I want to focus on the reaction of the believers in Antioch when they heard the message of the letter sent by the council in Jerusalem. The Bible says they rejoiced over its encouragement. On more than one occasion from more than one source I have had people tell me that unless the sermon hurts it wasn't a real sermon. Now I'm not saying every message from the Lord is lollipops and roses, but I am saying every message from the Lord is good news. Sometimes I think we forget that. Sometimes if not most of the time our thinking and our sermons, articles, books, and songs are more about us than about Him. The focus is too heavily on what we are not or what we lack or what we need to do or should be doing rather than on Him and His all sufficiency and what He has done, is doing, and will do.

Simply put we're self-obsessed. The truth is, it is this very self-absorbed mentality that makes it possible for "circumcision" teachers and preachers to come into our lives and our churches and find a hearing. It appeals to our self-centeredness to hear messages about us and how we can help God save us. The irony though is that while appealing these messages quickly rob our joy and peace. If there is something we must do to help God how much? Once we open that line of thinking the road is wide and endless and the peace that passes all understanding flies out the window on our race to help out grace.

When that new group of believers heard the message they rejoiced in its encouragement: 'God loved them and Jesus was enough.' God loved them so much that Jews had a council in Jerusalem to make sure these Gentiles were secure in their faith and that false teachers had no room or sanction to steal their joy.

I wish we were still as passionate about defending the purity of the good news today. I wish more of our focus was on the message that causes men and women who used to worship anything and everything but God to rejoice in His encouragement. However having said that I am not afraid. The same God who worked miracles in that council and brought the Good News back to Antioch a second time is not done with this planet. Not by a long shot.


Love Wins. Every. Time.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Acts Day 168 - "Rules" Are For Our Good But Not For Our Salvation

15:23 To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:

Greetings.
24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 That you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
Farewell.


For some eating Kraft Dinner with ketchup on it is heresy. For others not putting ketchup on it is a travesty. For the rest of us eating Kraft Dinner at all is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Each point of view is cherished by those who hold it and viewed with wonder, confusion, or even contempt by others. We struggle with different. Whether it is music or food or customs or culture we all have our tastes and preferences and an definition of "normal". When religion gets thrown into the mix things get really messy. The Jewish people were and are both a religion and a nation. That's a mixture we in our context don't understand. Being Canadian or American or Swedish has no religious implications. Being Jewish does which creates a whole other level of confusion. How do they distinguish between that which is cultural and that which is religious. In other words what customs and laws are tied to the nation and what laws are from God and apply to all people in all places for all time?

The men who came behind Paul believed circumcision was a law for all people for all time. They believed this because they never understood the purpose and intent of it.

Let me give you an example of instructions or rules God gives that are not universal. When God told Manoah and his wife that they were going to have a son (and that this son was going to be special) He gave them specific guidelines to follow. He was never to drink alcohol and his hair was never to be cut.

A religion could be built around these instructions. Certainly religions have been built around less. However the instructions were not for everyone. In fact they were only for their son Samson.

What the Jews were trying to do to the Gentiles was make them Jewish. They wanted these new followers of Jesus to be just like them. They wanted them to eat their Kraft Dinner exactly the same way they did. Sadly we have not changed in 2016. People move to North America from other places and we want them to sing our songs the way we sing them. We want them to dress in whatever way our culture deems appropriate. We get so stressed out trying to make them like us that we make cultural issues and issues of preference into religious issues. We imagine that Jesus is a white North American who loves hymns and haystacks (if that fits our list/culture/preferences).

In reality none of those things are a concern to Jesus. He is not worried about details. He wants to change our hearts. He wants us to be able to embrace different. He wants us to look at the world He created and see that He is a God who loves variety. Most of all He wants our confidence to be fully in Him and not in our customs and culture.

Abraham did not look like us. He did not sing our songs or eat our food. He had more than one wife which was a grave mistake and yet all those differences have no bearing on the fact he will live in the same heaven as we will around the same throne of the same God. And guess what? We and he will discover God is not entirely as we expected Him to be.

The "rules" the council gave to the Gentiles were not to make them "more saved". That's impossible. The "rules" were to help prevent them from slipping back into the idol worship from which Jesus rescued them. A system behind which there was no hope and no god at all. He brought them from darkness into the Light and the rules were a protection to keep them in the Light.


God is good. He meets us where we are and gives us custom tailored instructions to keep us on the only path that leads Home.

Acts Day 167 - Idols, Blood, Strangling, and Sex?

15:22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
23 They wrote this letter by them:

The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:

24 
Greetings,
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
Farewell.”

So an argument that started over circumcision ended with four "rules" which had nothing to do with the original argument. Or did they?

First let's affirm again that there is no "us" and "them". All people everywhere are saved (healed) in the exact same way, by grace through faith in Jesus.

I am reaffirming this so that no one leaves this reading of God’s Word thinking salvation for the Gentiles was Jesus + no meat sacrificed to idols, no blood, no things strangled, and no sexual immorality.

Notice how the letter to the Gentile churches ends. "If you keep yourselves from these you will do well."

That doesn't sound like: "You must do this or you will be lost."

So what's the deal? Why these instructions or suggestions? How did an argument over circumcision end here?

Let's be clear. The underlying issue is one of culture. The preaching of the Good News of what Jesus has done for all people has suddenly thrust together very different kinds of people with very different backgrounds and cultures. The Jews who have chosen to follow Jesus are still Jews in every other way. Being human it was their expectation that anyone from "them" who accepted "their" Messiah would become just like them in every way. This was a false and unreasonable expectation based on a misunderstanding of what following Jesus meant and on a lack of understanding of what some of their own cultural practices (like circumcision) meant.

Paul got it right away. He felt no need to turn Gentiles into Jews in a cultural sense. This is a problem we still struggle with today. Recently a seminar was held at a camp meeting on the topic of music and worship. Present at the seminar were believers in Jesus who were culturally diverse. Very diverse. When the presenter was finished and asked if there were any questions a passionate discussion followed. The discussion quickly revealed that people weren't having a problem with music and worship. They were having a problem with music and culture. Some had the idea that the music they grew up with was "holy" and anything else was not and anyone who was going to worship in "their" church must conform.

How quickly details become preeminent and Jesus gets pushed to the side.

Yesterday I preached about the freedom we have in Jesus, that He came to set captives free and that any belief in Jesus + __________ was lies. Nothing can be added to what Jesus has done for us. Any attempt is really treason. Someone I love and who was well meaning challenged me afterwards. They said "If anyone truly believes in Jesus there are certain things they will do."

It's true of course but what we struggle to realize is that none of those things have anything to do with our salvation. We do them because walking with Jesus changes us but they have nothing to do with our salvation. We don't become more saved when we start to become more like Him. We were saved the moment we made Him our Saviour.

So back to our original question. Why those four instructions to the Gentiles? Simple really. All four are practices they held as idol worshipers. The elders in Jerusalem were saying "You are following Jesus now. You need to cut all ties to idol worship."

The instructions make no sense to us and that is perfectly logical because the instructions are not for us. They were for a specific culture group at a specific time and place. The instructions were simple. "You need to stop doing anything that is related to worshiping your old gods and idols because no man can serve two masters."


Tomorrow we'll explore what these instructions might mean for us today and the reality that we will always struggle and that's OK because in our struggle Jesus has already saved us completely.