Sunday, December 27, 2009

Celebrate!


4 -5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6 -7 Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8 -9 Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Love - Sweet Love


Paul is in prison.

He is writing from his cell to the believers in Phillipi.

9 -11 "So this is my prayer:
that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.
Learn to love appropriately.
You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent,
not sentimental gush.
Live a lover's life,
circumspect and exemplary,
a life Jesus will be proud of:
bountiful in fruits from the soul,
making Jesus Christ attractive to all,
getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. "

Love - sweet love.
Its the only thing.
That there not enough of...

Even the Beatles knew that...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Run!


There is a road.


Find it.


Don't walk - Run!


Ephesians 4
1 -3 "In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

4 -6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

7 -13 But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift."
o
Find the road.
o
Run the race.
o
Together, but differently as well...

Mired - Embraced - Erased - Graced


There is a sequence in today's reading.

Mired.

1 -6 "It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin.
You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.
You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.
We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.
It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us."

Embraced.

"Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us."

Erased.

"He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
He did all this on his own, with no help from us!
Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah."

Graced.

7 -10 "Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.
Saving is all his idea, and all his work.
All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.
It's God's gift from start to finish!
We don't play the major role.
If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing!
No, we neither make nor save ourselves.
God does both the making and saving.
He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."

Oh Yeah!!

Baby No More!


Today is Christmas Day.

We celebrate a baby in a manger.

But here is the rest of the story.

Ephesians 1
1 -2 I, Paul, am under God's plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus. I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.
3 -6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him."

So when did Christmas start?

"Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son."

So - Why was Christ born?

7 -10 "Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth."

What does Christ have to do with us?

11 -12 "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone."

God has planned for us a praising and glorious life?

13 -14 "It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life."

Intelligent and discerning in knowing Him personally.

15 -19 "That's why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn't stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!"

Baby no more. Oh baby! Baby no more...

20 -23 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence."

The baby in the manger?
He is in charge of running the universe!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'm So Proud of You!


Perhaps the words we need and crave most in life.

We have spent most of the week with our nuclear family.To my son-in-law and older daughter - we are proud of you! How you have worked on your marriage these 11 years. How your active, energetic kids are coming up, healthy and strong and well adjusted. How you are both working with excellence in your job related lives.

To my son-in-law and younger daughter - we are proud of you! How you have shared the trials and joys of life together. How you fill in for each other. How you care for, and nurture, and discipline your kids. How you have worked at your jobs with diligence and excellence.

Today Paul talks with pride of a group of people...

1 "I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn't make any difference. Know that I'm on your side, right alongside you. You're not in this alone.
2 -4 I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God's great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we've been shown the mystery! I'm telling you this because I don't want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or "the Secret."
5 I'm a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I'm on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ. "

I'm so proud of you!

Don't forget to say it while you are together as families...

My Share of Suffering


There is a purity. A power to this message that has collided with lives all over the world and all down through history. It has regenerated and transformed people of all races and all stations in life.

Today I am particularly struck by paragraph 4. "There is a lot of suffering in this world... I welcome my chance to take my share... of that suffering..."

15 -18 "We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18 -20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

21 -23 You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.

24 -25 I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

26 -29 This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it's out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me."

We Can' Quit Thanking God for You!


Today the book of Colossians.

Paul was falsely accused. Beaten. Arrested for at least 2 years in Cesarea before finally being sent to Rome to stand trial. On the way there he gets shipwrecked. Now he is in jail awaiting trial. He never gets the trail. He dies waiting.

That is the background of these words...

Colossians 1
1 -2 "I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God's master plan. Together with my friend Timothy, I greet the Christians and stalwart followers of Christ who live in Colosse. May everything good from God our Father be yours!

3 -5 Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can't quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.

5 -8 The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn't diminish or weaken over time. It's the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you've been hungry for more. It's as vigorous in you now as when you learned it from our friend and close associate Epaphras. He is one reliable worker for Christ! I could always depend on him. He's the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit.

9 -12 Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven't stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

13 -14 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He's set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating."

His tone, his words, his love and interest in other people, his lack of concern for himself, the lack of whining.

They are all so convicting it is embarassing!

Why Me?


My sister Doris was a wonderful girl. When she was 12 a trusted friend of the family started raping her. The abuse went on for years.

Why me?

What did she do wrong to deserve that kind of treatment?

When she was 40, and happily married, with three beautiful children, she got breast cancer.

Why me?

After a long and painful fight against cancer, with lots of prayers and a health care system that was government run, so very slow and inadequate, she died. 700 people came to her funeral. She has been dead and gone for years. The man who raped her is still alive to this day. And never did any jail time.

Why me?

This year has been devastating for me financially. We are in the longest, and worst depression of our lifetime. Massive government intervention has only seemed to make it worse, and prolong it longer.

Why me?

Here is a guy who gave his life in service to God. He was accused unjustly. He spends his last two years in jail. Awaiting a trial to exonerate him that never happens. He dies before he goes to trial.

Why me?

30 -31 "Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open."

And thus ends the story of the greatest missionary who ever lived.

Of course, he wrote much of the New Testament from that house arrest in Rome. But still,

Why me?

You know, sometimes things just don't make sense this side of heaven!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rome at last!

14 -16 And then we came to Rome. Friends in Rome heard we were on the way and came out to meet us. One group got as far as Appian Court; another group met us at Three Taverns—emotion-packed meetings, as you can well imagine. Paul, brimming over with praise, led us in prayers of thanksgiving. When we actually entered Rome, they let Paul live in his own private quarters with a soldier who had been assigned to guard him.
17 -20 Three days later, Paul called the Jewish leaders together for a meeting at his house. He said, "The Jews in Jerusalem arrested me on trumped-up charges, and I was taken into custody by the Romans. I assure you that I did absolutely nothing against Jewish laws or Jewish customs. After the Romans investigated the charges and found there was nothing to them, they wanted to set me free, but the Jews objected so fiercely that I was forced to appeal to Caesar. I did this not to accuse them of any wrongdoing or to get our people in trouble with Rome. We've had enough trouble through the years that way. I did it for Israel. I asked you to come and listen to me today to make it clear that I'm on Israel's side, not against her. I'm a hostage here for hope, not doom."
21 -22 They said, "Nobody wrote warning us about you. And no one has shown up saying anything bad about you. But we would like very much to hear more. The only thing we know about this Christian sect is that nobody seems to have anything good to say about it."
23 They agreed on a time. When the day arrived, they came back to his home with a number of their friends. Paul talked to them all day, from morning to evening, explaining everything involved in the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them all about Jesus by pointing out what Moses and the prophets had written about him.
24 -27 Some of them were persuaded by what he said, but others refused to believe a word of it. When the unbelievers got cantankerous and started bickering with each other, Paul interrupted: "I have just one more thing to say to you. The Holy Spirit sure knew what he was talking about when he addressed our ancestors through Isaiah the prophet:
Go to this people and tell them this:
"You're going to listen with your ears,
but you won't hear a word;
You're going to stare with your eyes,
but you won't see a thing.
These people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won't have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look,
so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them."
28 "You've had your chance. The non-Jewish outsiders are next on the list. And believe me, they're going to receive it with open arms!"
30 -31 Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open.

A Winter Vacation on the way to Rome


1 -2 Once everyone was accounted for and we realized we had all made it, we learned that we were on the island of Malta.
The natives went out of their way to be friendly to us.
The day was rainy and cold and we were already soaked to the bone, but they built a huge bonfire and gathered us around it.
3 -6 Paul pitched in and helped. He had gathered up a bundle of sticks, but when he put it on the fire, a venomous snake, roused from its torpor by the heat, struck his hand and held on.
Seeing the snake hanging from Paul's hand like that, the natives jumped to the conclusion that he was a murderer getting his just deserts.
Paul shook the snake off into the fire, none the worse for wear.
They kept expecting him to drop dead, but when it was obvious he wasn't going to, they jumped to the conclusion that he was a god!
7 -9 The head man in that part of the island was Publius. He took us into his home as his guests, drying us out and putting us up in fine style for the next three days.
Publius's father was sick at the time, down with a high fever and dysentery. Paul went to the old man's room, and when he laid hands on him and prayed, the man was healed.
Word of the healing got around fast, and soon everyone on the island who was sick came and got healed.
10 -11 We spent a wonderful three months on Malta. They treated us royally, took care of all our needs and outfitted us for the rest of the journey. When an Egyptian ship that had wintered there in the harbor prepared to leave for Italy, we got on board.
The ship had a carved Gemini for its figurehead: "the Heavenly Twins."
12 -14 We put in at Syracuse for three days and then went up the coast to Rhegium. Two days later, with the wind out of the south, we sailed into the Bay of Naples. We found Christian friends there and stayed with them for a week."

Shipwrecked











I remember my beloved Auntie Doris would quote from a poem called,

"THE WRECK OF THE HESPERUS"

Here are parts of the poem...

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintery sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter, To bear him company.

Then up and spake an old Sailor,
Had sailed the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
for I fear a hurricane.

"Last night the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!
"The skipper, he blew whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable's length.

And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf,
On the rocks and hard sea-sand.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman's Woe!
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In today's story it is Paul who is sounding the alarm. Not because he is such an experienced sailor. Apparently God had warned him...

9 -10 "By this time we had lost a lot of time. We had passed the autumn equinox, so it would be stormy weather from now on through the winter, too dangerous for sailing.
Paul warned, "I see only disaster ahead for cargo and ship—to say nothing of our lives!—if we put out to sea now."
12 -11 But it was not the best harbor for staying the winter. Phoenix, a few miles further on, was more suitable.
The centurion set Paul's warning aside and let the ship captain and the shipowner talk him into trying for the next harbor.
13 -15 When a gentle southerly breeze came up, they weighed anchor, thinking it would be smooth sailing.
But they were no sooner out to sea than a gale-force wind, the infamous nor'easter, struck.
They lost all control of the ship. It was a cork in the storm.
16 -17 We came under the lee of the small island named Clauda, and managed to get a lifeboat ready and reef the sails. But rocky shoals prevented us from getting close. We only managed to avoid them by throwing out drift anchors.
18 -20 Next day, out on the high seas again and badly damaged now by the storm, we dumped the cargo overboard. The third day the sailors lightened the ship further by throwing off all the tackle and provisions. It had been many days since we had seen either sun or stars. Wind and waves were battering us unmercifully, and we lost all hope of rescue.
21 -22 With our appetite for both food and life long gone, Paul took his place in our midst and said, "Friends, you really should have listened to me back in Crete. We could have avoided all this trouble and trial. But there's no need to dwell on that now. From now on, things are looking up! I can assure you that there'll not be a single drowning among us, although I can't say as much for the ship—the ship itself is doomed.
23 -26 "Last night God's angel stood at my side, an angel of this God I serve, saying to me, 'Don't give up, Paul. You're going to stand before Caesar yet—and everyone sailing with you is also going to make it.' So, dear friends, take heart. I believe God will do exactly what he told me. But we're going to shipwreck on some island or other."
27 -29 On the fourteenth night, adrift somewhere on the Adriatic Sea, at about midnight the sailors sensed that we were approaching land. Sounding, they measured a depth of 120 feet, and shortly after that ninety feet. Afraid that we were about to run aground, they threw out four anchors and prayed for daylight.
30 -32 Some of the sailors tried to jump ship. They let down the lifeboat, pretending they were going to set out more anchors from the bow. Paul saw through their guise and told the centurion and his soldiers, "If these sailors don't stay with the ship, we're all going down." So the soldiers cut the lines to the lifeboat and let it drift off.
33 -34 With dawn about to break, Paul called everyone together and proposed breakfast: "This is the fourteenth day we've gone without food. None of us has felt like eating! But I urge you to eat something now. You'll need strength for the rescue ahead. You're going to come out of this without even a scratch!"
35 -38 He broke the bread, gave thanks to God, passed it around, and they all ate heartily—276 of us, all told! With the meal finished and everyone full, the ship was further lightened by dumping the grain overboard.
39 -41 At daybreak, no one recognized the land—but then they did notice a bay with a nice beach. They decided to try to run the ship up on the beach. They cut the anchors, loosed the tiller, raised the sail, and ran before the wind toward the beach. But we didn't make it. Still far from shore, we hit a reef and the ship began to break up.
42 -44 The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners so none could escape by swimming, but the centurion, determined to save Paul, stopped them. He gave orders for anyone who could swim to dive in and go for it, and for the rest to grab a plank. Everyone made it to shore safely. "

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If it wasn't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all


I don't know if you have ever heard the Ray Charles song with that title. Paul hadn't heard it, but he must have felt that way at this point in the story.

He is falsely accused.
Two years go by, while the politicians play with him, never resolving his case.
Finally he appeals to Ceasar.
They get in a boat to go to Rome, and even that does not go well!

Acts 27
A Storm at Sea
1 -2 "As soon as arrangements were complete for our sailing to Italy, Paul and a few other prisoners were placed under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, a member of an elite guard. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium that was bound for Ephesus and ports west. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, went with us.
3 The next day we put in at Sidon. Julius treated Paul most decently—let him get off the ship and enjoy the hospitality of his friends there.
4 -8 Out to sea again, we sailed north under the protection of the northeast shore of Cyprus because winds out of the west were against us, and then along the coast westward to the port of Myra. There the centurion found an Egyptian ship headed for Italy and transferred us on board. We ran into bad weather and found it impossible to stay on course. After much difficulty, we finally made it to the southern coast of the island of Crete and docked at Good Harbor (appropriate name!). "
0
Do you expect everything to go well for you?
o
Why?
Because you are an American?
Because you are a Christian?
o
Even more if you are serving God with your whole life?
What if you have given up everything to follow God? Does He not owe you to make sure everything goes smoothly for you?
o
What if you were the Apostle Paul? Planted churches? Wrote half the New Testament?
o
Would not God make sure that everything went comfortably and easily for you?

Paul's Story


Today Paul tells the story of his life. What happened to him to change him so radically, and what he wanted for every person who heard him...

Acts 26
"I Couldn't Just Walk Away"
1 -3 "Agrippa spoke directly to Paul: "Go ahead—tell us about yourself." Paul took the stand and told his story. "I can't think of anyone, King Agrippa, before whom I'd rather be answering all these Jewish accusations than you, knowing how well you are acquainted with Jewish ways and all our family quarrels. 4 -8"From the time of my youth, my life has been lived among my own people in Jerusalem. Practically every Jew in town who watched me grow up—and if they were willing to stick their necks out they'd tell you in person—knows that I lived as a strict Pharisee, the most demanding branch of our religion. It's because I believed it and took it seriously, committed myself heart and soul to what God promised my ancestors—the identical hope, mind you, that the twelve tribes have lived for night and day all these centuries—it's because I have held on to this tested and tried hope that I'm being called on the carpet by the Jews. They should be the ones standing trial here, not me! For the life of me, I can't see why it's a criminal offense to believe that God raises the dead.
9 -11 "I admit that I didn't always hold to this position. For a time I thought it was my duty to oppose this Jesus of Nazareth with all my might. Backed with the full authority of the high priests, I threw these believers—I had no idea they were God's people!—into the Jerusalem jail right and left, and whenever it came to a vote, I voted for their execution. I stormed through their meeting places, bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people. And then I started on the towns outside Jerusalem.
12 -14 "One day on my way to Damascus, armed as always with papers from the high priests authorizing my action, right in the middle of the day a blaze of light, light outshining the sun, poured out of the sky on me and my companions. Oh, King, it was so bright! We fell flat on our faces. Then I heard a voice in Hebrew: 'Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why do you insist on going against the grain?'
15 -16 "I said, 'Who are you, Master?'
"The voice answered, 'I am Jesus, the One you're hunting down like an animal. But now, up on your feet—I have a job for you. I've handpicked you to be a servant and witness to what's happened today, and to what I am going to show you.
17 -18 "'I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I'm sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me.'
19 -20 "What could I do, King Agrippa? I couldn't just walk away from a vision like that! I became an obedient believer on the spot. I started preaching this life-change—this radical turn to God and everything it meant in everyday life—right there in Damascus, went on to Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside, and from there to the whole world.
21 -23 "It's because of this 'whole world' dimension that the Jews grabbed me in the Temple that day and tried to kill me. They want to keep God for themselves. But God has stood by me, just as he promised, and I'm standing here saying what I've been saying to anyone, whether king or child, who will listen. And everything I'm saying is completely in line with what the prophets and Moses said would happen: One, the Messiah must die; two, raised from the dead, he would be the first rays of God's daylight shining on people far and near, people both godless and God-fearing."
24 That was too much for Festus. He interrupted with a shout: "Paul, you're crazy! You've read too many books, spent too much time staring off into space! Get a grip on yourself, get back in the real world!"
25 -27 But Paul stood his ground. "With all respect, Festus, Your Honor, I'm not crazy. I'm both accurate and sane in what I'm saying. The king knows what I'm talking about. I'm sure that nothing of what I've said sounds crazy to him. He's known all about it for a long time. You must realize that this wasn't done behind the scenes. You believe the prophets, don't you, King Agrippa? Don't answer that—I know you believe."
28 But Agrippa did answer: "Keep this up much longer and you'll make a Christian out of me!"
29 Paul, still in chains, said, "That's what I'm praying for, whether now or later, and not only you but everyone listening today, to become like me—except, of course, for this prison jewelry!"
30 -31 The king and the governor, along with Bernice and their advisors, got up and went into the next room to talk over what they had heard. They quickly agreed on Paul's innocence, saying, "There's nothing in this man deserving prison, let alone death."
32 Agrippa told Festus, "He could be set free right now if he hadn't requested the hearing before Caesar."

The Charge


We read this story from the viewpoint of history.
But if you were living the story, how would it feel?
Imprisoned for 2 years to investigate false charges.
Politicians jockeying for position. One of them looking for a bribe.
How do you keep from getting bitter?
Your life is wasting away for seemingly no reason at all.

Acts 25
An Appeal to Caesar
1 -3Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take up his duties as governor, he went up to Jerusalem. The high priests and top leaders renewed their vendetta against Paul. They asked Festus if he wouldn't please do them a favor by sending Paul to Jerusalem to respond to their charges. A lie, of course—they had revived their old plot to set an ambush and kill him along the way.
4 -5Festus answered that Caesarea was the proper jurisdiction for Paul, and that he himself was going back there in a few days. "You're perfectly welcome," he said, "to go back with me then and accuse him of whatever you think he's done wrong."
6 -7About eight or ten days later, Festus returned to Caesarea. The next morning he took his place in the courtroom and had Paul brought in. The minute he walked in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem were all over him, hurling the most extreme accusations, none of which they could prove.
8Then Paul took the stand and said simply, "I've done nothing wrong against the Jewish religion, or the Temple, or Caesar. Period."
9Festus, though, wanted to get on the good side of the Jews and so said, "How would you like to go up to Jerusalem, and let me conduct your trial there?"
10 -11Paul answered, "I'm standing at this moment before Caesar's bar of justice, where I have a perfect right to stand. And I'm going to keep standing here. I've done nothing wrong to the Jews, and you know it as well as I do. If I've committed a crime and deserve death, name the day. I can face it. But if there's nothing to their accusations—and you know there isn't—nobody can force me to go along with their nonsense. We've fooled around here long enough. I appeal to Caesar."
12Festus huddled with his advisors briefly and then gave his verdict: "You've appealed to Caesar; you'll go to Caesar!"
13 -17A few days later King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice, visited Caesarea to welcome Festus to his new post. After several days, Festus brought up Paul's case to the king. "I have a man on my hands here, a prisoner left by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the high priests and Jewish leaders brought a bunch of accusations against him and wanted me to sentence him to death. I told them that wasn't the way we Romans did things. Just because a man is accused, we don't throw him out to the dogs. We make sure the accused has a chance to face his accusers and defend himself of the charges. So when they came down here I got right on the case. I took my place in the courtroom and put the man on the stand.
18 -21"The accusers came at him 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. Since I'm a newcomer here and don't understand everything involved in cases like this, I asked if he'd be willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried there. Paul refused and demanded a hearing before His Majesty in our highest court. So I ordered him returned to custody until I could send him to Caesar in Rome."
22Agrippa said, "I'd like to see this man and hear his story."
"Good," said Festus. "We'll bring him in first thing in the morning and you'll hear it for yourself."
23The next day everybody who was anybody in Caesarea found his way to the Great Hall, along with the top military brass. Agrippa and Bernice made a flourishing grand entrance and took their places. Festus then ordered Paul brought in.
24 -26Festus said, "King Agrippa and distinguished guests, take a good look at this man. A bunch of Jews petitioned me first in Jerusalem, and later here, to do away with him. They have been most vehement in demanding his execution. I looked into it and decided that he had committed no crime. He requested a trial before Caesar and I agreed to send him to Rome. But what am I going to write to my master, Caesar? All the charges made by the Jews were fabrications, and I've uncovered nothing else.
26 -27"That's why I've brought him before this company, and especially you, King Agrippa: so we can come up with something in the nature of a charge that will hold water. For it seems to me silly to send a prisoner all that way for a trial and not be able to document what he did wrong."

The Mock Trial


Acts 24
Paul States His Defense
1 -4 Within five days, the Chief Priest Ananias arrived with a contingent of leaders, along with Tertullus, a trial lawyer. They presented the governor with their case against Paul. When Paul was called before the court, Tertullus spoke for the prosecution: "Most Honorable Felix, we are most grateful in all times and places for your wise and gentle rule. We are much aware that it is because of you and you alone that we enjoy all this peace and gain daily profit from your reforms. I'm not going to tire you out with a long speech. I beg your kind indulgence in listening to me. I'll be quite brief.
5 -8"We've found this man time and again disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over the world, the ringleader of a seditious sect called Nazarenes. He's a real bad apple, I must say. We caught him trying to defile our holy Temple and arrested him. You'll be able to verify all these accusations when you examine him yourself."
9The Jews joined in: "Hear, hear! That's right!"
10 -13The governor motioned to Paul that it was now his turn. Paul said, "I count myself fortunate to be defending myself before you, Governor, knowing how fair-minded you've been in judging us all these years. I've been back in the country only twelve days—you can check out these dates easily enough. I came with the express purpose of worshiping in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and I've been minding my own business the whole time. Nobody can say they saw me arguing in the Temple or working up a crowd in the streets. Not one of their charges can be backed up with evidence or witnesses.
14 -15"But I do freely admit this: In regard to the Way, which they malign as a dead-end street, I serve and worship the very same God served and worshiped by all our ancestors and embrace everything written in all our Scriptures. And I admit to living in hopeful anticipation that God will raise the dead, both the good and the bad. If that's my crime, my accusers are just as guilty as I am.
16 -19"Believe me, I do my level best to keep a clear conscience before God and my neighbors in everything I do. I've been out of the country for a number of years and now I'm back. While I was away, I took up a collection for the poor and brought that with me, along with offerings for the Temple. It was while making those offerings that they found me quietly at my prayers in the Temple. There was no crowd, there was no disturbance. It was some Jews from around Ephesus who started all this trouble. And you'll notice they're not here today. They're cowards, too cowardly to accuse me in front of you.
20 -21"So ask these others what crime they've caught me in. Don't let them hide behind this smooth-talking Tertullus. The only thing they have on me is that one sentence I shouted out in the council: 'It's because I believe in the resurrection that I've been hauled into this court!' Does that sound to you like grounds for a criminal case?"
22 -23Felix shilly-shallied. He knew far more about the Way than he let on, and could have settled the case then and there. But uncertain of his best move politically, he played for time. "When Captain Lysias comes down, I'll decide your case." He gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody, but to more or less give him the run of the place and not prevent his friends from helping him.
24 -26A few days later Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him. "That's enough for today. I'll call you back when it's convenient." At the same time he was secretly hoping that Paul would offer him a substantial bribe. These conversations were repeated frequently.
27After two years of this, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. Still playing up to the Jews and ignoring justice, Felix left Paul in prison.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Protective Custody


It is an odd thing when someone is denied their freedom to protect their lives. We are most familiar with in in terms of someone who got on the wrong side of the Mafia, or an abused wife with an estranged husband or boyfriend who is out to kill her.

Come to find out the custom in not new. In today's story Paul creates a riot so strong his life is in danger. The Roman soldiers (the occupying "police" of that day) were ordered to take him into custody to spare his life.

27 -29 "When the seven days of their purification were nearly up, some Jews from around Ephesus spotted him in the Temple. At once they turned the place upside-down. They grabbed Paul and started yelling at the top of their lungs,
"Help! You Israelites, help! This is the man who is going all over the world telling lies against us and our religion and this place. He's even brought Greeks in here and defiled this holy place."
(What had happened was that they had seen Paul and Trophimus, the Ephesian Greek, walking together in the city and had just assumed that he had also taken him to the Temple and shown him around.)
30 Soon the whole city was in an uproar, people running from everywhere to the Temple to get in on the action. They grabbed Paul, dragged him outside, and locked the Temple gates so he couldn't get back in and gain sanctuary.
31 -32 As they were trying to kill him, word came to the captain of the guard, "A riot! The whole city's boiling over!" He acted swiftly. His soldiers and centurions ran to the scene at once. As soon as the mob saw the captain and his soldiers, they quit beating Paul.
33 -36 The captain came up and put Paul under arrest. He first ordered him handcuffed, and then asked who he was and what he had done. All he got from the crowd were shouts, one yelling this, another that. It was impossible to tell one word from another in the mob hysteria, so the captain ordered Paul taken to the military barracks. But when they got to the Temple steps, the mob became so violent that the soldiers had to carry Paul. As they carried him away, the crowd followed, shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!"
37 -38 When they got to the barracks and were about to go in, Paul said to the captain, "Can I say something to you?"
He answered, "Oh, I didn't know you spoke Greek. I thought you were the Egyptian who not long ago started a riot here, and then hid out in the desert with his four thousand thugs."
39 Paul said, "No, I'm a Jew, born in Tarsus. And I'm a citizen still of that influential city. I have a simple request: Let me speak to the crowd."

So Paul, the multilingual world traveller, speaks to the hired soldier in his own language, Greek.

The chain of events to follow are created by man, but allowed, and used, by God...

They weren't pleasant, or happy.
But God used them. And Paul understood what so often escapes us...
That life is not just about our own comfort, advancement and wealth building.
No - there is a bigger purpose than that...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't go! Don't go!


Today's story is poignant.

It shows the deep love that believers in Jesus have for each other.

And how so many people (who are listening) can hear very clearly from God...

1 -4 "And so, with the tearful good-byes behind us, we were on our way. We made a straight run to Cos, the next day reached Rhodes, and then Patara. There we found a ship going direct to Phoenicia, got on board, and set sail. Cyprus came into view on our left, but was soon out of sight as we kept on course for Syria, and eventually docked in the port of Tyre. While the cargo was being unloaded, we looked up the local disciples and stayed with them seven days. Their message to Paul, from insight given by the Spirit, was "Don't go to Jerusalem."
5 -6 "When our time was up, they escorted us out of the city to the docks. Everyone came along—men, women, children. They made a farewell party of the occasion! We all kneeled together on the beach and prayed. Then, after another round of saying good-bye, we climbed on board the ship while they drifted back to their homes.
7 -9 "A short run from Tyre to Ptolemais completed the voyage. We greeted our Christian friends there and stayed with them a day. In the morning we went on to Caesarea and stayed with Philip the Evangelist, one of "the Seven." Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
10 -11 "After several days of visiting, a prophet from Judea by the name of Agabus came down to see us. He went right up to Paul, took Paul's belt, and, in a dramatic gesture, tied himself up, hands and feet. He said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: The Jews in Jerusalem are going to tie up the man who owns this belt just like this and hand him over to godless unbelievers."
12 -13 "When we heard that, we and everyone there that day begged Paul not to be stubborn and persist in going to Jerusalem. But Paul wouldn't budge: "Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene and making it even harder for me? You're looking at this backward. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can't you see that?"
14 We saw that we weren't making even a dent in his resolve, and gave up. "It's in God's hands now," we said. "Master, you handle it."
15 -16 It wasn't long before we had our luggage together and were on our way to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and took us to the home of Mnason, who received us warmly as his guests. A native of Cyprus, he had been among the earliest disciples."

I'll Never See You Again...


Paul loved the believers at Ephesus deeply.
Today he says good bye.
Forever...

17 -21 "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus for the leaders of the congregation. When they arrived, he said, "You know that from day one of my arrival in Asia I was with you totally—laying my life on the line, serving the Master no matter what, putting up with no end of scheming by Jews who wanted to do me in. I didn't skimp or trim in any way. Every truth and encouragement that could have made a difference to you, you got. I taught you out in public and I taught you in your homes, urging Jews and Greeks alike to a radical life-change before God and an equally radical trust in our Master Jesus.
22 -24 "But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I'm completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won't be any picnic, for the Holy Spirit has let me know repeatedly and clearly that there are hard times and imprisonment ahead. But that matters little. What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God.
25 -27 "And so this is good-bye. You're not going to see me again, nor I you, you whom I have gone among for so long proclaiming the news of God's inaugurated kingdom. I've done my best for you, given you my all, held back nothing of God's will for you.
28 "Now it's up to you. Be on your toes—both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people—God's people they are—to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for.
29 -31 "I know that as soon as I'm gone, vicious wolves are going to show up and rip into this flock, men from your very own ranks twisting words so as to seduce disciples into following them instead of Jesus. So stay awake and keep up your guard. Remember those three years I kept at it with you, never letting up, pouring my heart out with you, one after another.
32 "Now I'm turning you over to God, our marvelous God whose gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends.
33 -35 "I've never, as you so well know, had any taste for wealth or fashion. With these bare hands I took care of my own basic needs and those who worked with me. In everything I've done, I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, 'You're far happier giving than getting.'"
36 -38 Then Paul went down on his knees, all of them kneeling with him, and prayed. And then a river of tears. Much clinging to Paul, not wanting to let him go. They knew they would never see him again—he had told them quite plainly. The pain cut deep. Then, bravely, they walked him down to the ship."

Long Sermon - With a Surprise Ending

Have you ever had a preacher who went on and on?

In today's story Paul goes on and on. No 20 minute sermon here!

7 -9 "We met on Sunday to worship and celebrate the Master's Supper.
Paul addressed the congregation.
Our plan was to leave first thing in the morning, but Paul talked on, way past midnight.
We were meeting in a well-lighted upper room.
A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window.
As Paul went on and on, Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out the third-story window.
When they picked him up, he was dead."

Oh oh! That would certainly put an end to our church services! Call 911. Folks go to the hospital. Later everyone is calling each other with the terrible news. Paul's plans would be put on hold for several weeks...

That's not how this story ends at all!

10 -12 "Paul went down, stretched himself on him, and hugged him hard.
"No more crying," he said. "There's life in him yet."

The young man was raised from the dead!
THAT would certainly put an end to any of our church services! Disband in joy and unbelief. Go to your houses praising God...

That's not how the story ends either...

"Then Paul got up and served the Master's Supper.
And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn!
On that note, they left—Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves."

That is a surprise ending.
A 12 hour sermon, puctuated by - oh, a RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD - and then on to Communion, then the service goes on until dawn.

Would you call that gathering boring? I think not!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Motley Crew


We are back in Acts. Paul is doing what will be his last round of travels.
Check out "the gang".

Acts 20
2 -4 "Then he came to Greece and stayed on for three months. Just as he was about to sail for Syria, the Jews cooked up a plot against him.
So he went the other way, by land back through Macedonia, and gave them the slip.
His companions for the journey were Sopater, son of Pyrrhus, from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus, both Thessalonians; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and the two from western Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus."

Let's see: Three Greeks, Three Turks. Timothy was half Jew half Greek. Paul was half Jew half Roman. AND - they all got along.

Christianity has always been international. At one point it was mostly associated with Europe. Later mostly associated with North and South America. Now truly world wide. Christianity in Greece, in Russia, in Ethiopia goes back thousands of years...

Why?

Because God so loved THE WORLD - that He gave His only Son...

5 -6 "They went on ahead and waited for us in Troas. Meanwhile, we stayed in Philippi for Passover Week, and then set sail. Within five days we were again in Troas and stayed a week."

So begins a most momentous journey...

Monday, December 14, 2009

"How can I help?"


What a wonderful phrase!
"How can I help?"
Have you ever been out of gas or stranded and a stranger pulled up and asked this question? I have. It is a wonderful feeling.

Romans 15
1 -2 "Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us.
Strength is for service, not status.
Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves,
"How can I help?"

3 -6 That's exactly what Jesus did.
He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out.
"I took on the troubles of the troubled," is the way Scripture puts it.
Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it's written for us.
God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.
May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all.
Then we'll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
7 -13 So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory.
Jesus did it; now you do it!
Jesus, staying true to God's purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them.
As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God.
Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do!
For instance:
Then I'll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I'll sing to your name!
And this one:
Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!
And again:
People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!
And Isaiah's word:
There's the root of our ancestor Jesse,
breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy,
fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives,
filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit,
will brim over with hope!"
Our approach to others?
How can I help?...

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?


Convictions are great.
They guide your life and help you make right choices in hard circumstances.
The problems with convictions in the church - we impose our own convictions on those around us, and measure everything they do or say by our yardstick!

Listen to Paul writing to the Roman believers...

Romans 14
1 "Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do.
And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department.
Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently."

Are there ever differences of opinion within the church?
YEAH!
Some of the ones I have come up against in my short life:
Is it acceptable to clap in church?
How can you play rock and roll in the church. It is the devil's music.
Should women be able to wear pants?
Can you drink any alcohol at all, or is it completely and totally forbidden?
How can you work on Sunday and call yourself a Christian?
Is Jesus coming back BEFORE the tribulation, in the middle, or at the end?
Can you talk and visit in church or should you be quiet?

The list goes on and on...
The result of all of this is discouragement with each other, division and hurt. Here is Paul's direction on that:

10 -12 "So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother?
And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister?
I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse.
Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God.
Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit.
Read it for yourself in Scripture:
"As I live and breathe," God says,
"every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God."
So tend to your knitting.
You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
13 -14Forget about deciding what's right for each other.
Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is.
I'm convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it."

Why can't we all just get along?
19 -21 "So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault. You're certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God's work among you, are you? I said it before and I'll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don't eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.
22 -23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Path


When Paul gives a series of wonderful tidbits of advice, what is it?
Is it rules to live by?
How does that match up with a life of grace?
Is is advice?
If so, can they be wantonly disregarded with no thought?
Are they high sounding platitudes?
No - that is what political correctness is. A series of high sounding norms touted by a vicious and morally bankrupt culture that doesn't live by any of them.
How about a path?
A clearly defined road to follow. If you go down it, life is much easier. If you go off it, life is much harder.
Not rules. Not suggestions. Just guidance to have a truly good, happy, morally sound life...
o
"So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.
6 -8 If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else;

if you help, just help, don't take over;

if you teach, stick to your teaching;

if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy;

if you're put in charge, don't manipulate;

if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond;

if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

9 -10 Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it.

Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.

Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11 -13 Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.

Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14 -16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.

Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy;
share tears when they're down.

Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up.

Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.

17 -19 Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

If you've got it in you, get along with everybody.

Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do.

"I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."

20 -21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink.

Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.

Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good."
A path for good living.
I'm all over it!

Your every day ordinary life...


I struggle with the ordinariness of my life.

The "get up, get dressed, eat, go to work, come home, go to bed, repeat it all the next day" ordinariness.

It seems like Paul's life was so much more exciting than that. A LOT of people's lives seem more exciting than that!

Here is Paul's advice for me...

Romans 12
1 -2 "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
Instead, fix your attention on God.
You'll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

OK. OK.
So, give what you are, what you have, where you are in life to God.
As pathetic, or boring, or hum drum as it may be.
1 -2 "Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering."
Don't look so much to do something dramatic or amazing for Him, just embrace what God does for you - in your day to day, hum drum life.

But. BUT! Don't get anesthetized by your culture. It has a cumulative effect on you. That is how you can get so far from God's will that you are useless as a Christian.
"Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking."

Maybe that explains one of the oddest things about God's work on earth. He takes people from a culture where they fit perfectly, and transports them to a culture where they never completely fit in. And that is how he spreads the good news around the earth. Whether its Koreans in Brazil, or Chinese in Turkmenistan, or Americans in Ghana, God's Good News has always spread by Christians going across barriers.

Our job is to put God first. Put our primary attention on God and his work in our lives. And that creates the transformation internally that he desires.
"Instead, fix your attention on God.
You'll be changed from the inside out."

It doesn't stop there.

As I've read through the Bible this year I am always amazed at the simple, direct obedience of the people God used. God said - they did. Period.
"Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it."
So - I guess you have to listen.
But you also have to obey.
I think at the heart, disobedience is lack of faith. Lack of trust. I hear what you want God, but I am not sure that will work out so good. I think I will do what I want to do, because I am more confident that my own plan for my life will work out better than your plan.
Of course when you write it out it seems preposterous, but that is how we think, sometimes.

Then, ultimately, what God wants for you (for me) isn't dramatic, heart pounding action, it is maturity as a God following person. The kind of person that points people to God by their word, by their life, by their deeds.
"Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

And so Paul finishes his thought...

3 "I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you.
Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God.
No, God brings it all to you.
The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him."

Living in pure grace.
Our every day, ordinary life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Difference Between BC and AD

Do you know that every time you enter the date, many times each day, you reference Christ?

BC - before Christ. AD - after Christ (my way of remembering what it means). So when you say it is December, 2009, you are counting up from when Christ was on earth physically.

Today Paul explains the difference between BC and AD, even though he never heard of those terms...

Romans 8
1 -2 "With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

3 -4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

5 -8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

9 -11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

12 -14 So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Wildly Extravagant Life Gift

Today Paul is comparing the sentence of death with the sentence of life.

12 -14 "You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we're in— first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn't sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
15 -17 Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man's sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God's gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There's no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man's wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?"

The wildly extravagant gift.

18 -19 "Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.
20 -21 All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn't, and doesn't, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end."

The wildly extravagant life gift.
The aggressive forgiveness we call grace.
Can you see why the story of the Bible is called "good news?"

Standing Tall and Shouting Our Praise!


Is God for us, or is God "agin" us?

Romans 5
1 -2 "By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus.
And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us.
We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise."

What would a natural response to this be? How about "standing tall and shouting our praise?"

3 -5 "There's more to come:
We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.
In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged.
Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"

Even hemmed in with troubles, we "stand tall and shout our praise."

6 -8 "Christ arrives right on time to make this happen.
He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready.
He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready.
And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway.
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice.
But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. "

Our response? We "stand tall and shout our praise."
9 -11 "Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way.
If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!
Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose.
We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!"

We "stand tall and shout our praise."

The Promise



When we see the words, "The Promise" we more often think of promises broken than promises kept. Because we are human. Forgetful. Distracted. Victims of circumstance. I think of times when mothers promised their children that they would come for them, but couldn't. And time passed. And the children never saw their mother again...

The song, "The Promise" speaks of a bilateral promise. If you... than I...
o
Today we hear of God's promise. An almighty God, who has all power and who never changes, can make a promise that is never broken. And God makes a unilateral promise...

13 -15 "That famous promise God gave Abraham—that he and his children would possess the earth—was not given because of something Abraham did or would do.
It was based on God's decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.
If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract!
That's not a holy promise; that's a business deal.
A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect.
But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God's promise at that—you can't break it.
16 This is why the fulfillment of God's promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.

God's promise arrives as pure gift.

That's the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them.
For Abraham is father of us all.
He is not our racial father—that's reading the story backward.
He is our faith father.
17 -18 We call Abraham "father" not because he got God's attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody.
Isn't that what we've always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, "I set you up as father of many peoples"?
Abraham was first named "father" and then became a 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.
And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples.
God himself said to him, "You're going to have a big family, Abraham!"
19 -25 Abraham didn't focus on his own impotence and say, "It's hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child."
Nor did he survey Sarah's decades of infertility and give up.
He didn't tiptoe around God's promise asking cautiously skeptical questions.
He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said.
That's why it is said, "Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right."
But it's not just Abraham; it's also us!
The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless.
The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God."

God's promise.
Unilateral.
Unbreakable.

Your Story - can be a God Story


"Your Story". Where were you born. Your childhood. Education. Family. Career. Accomplishments. We all have a story.

Would it not be cool if "Your Story" ("My Story") was a "God Story"?

Listen to what Paul is writing to the Romans today...

"If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it.
But the story we're given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
What we read in Scripture is, "Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point.
He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own."
4 -5 If you're a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don't call your wages a gift.
But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it's something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God.
Sheer gift.
6 -9 David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man:
Fortunate those whose crimes are carted off,
whose sins are wiped clean from the slate.
Fortunate the person against
whom the Lord does not keep score.
Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised?
Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the disciplines of God?
We all agree, don't we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?"

How fortunate the person who lets "their story" become a "God story"!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lifes Highest Accomplishment


When Paul was in Corinth, before heading back to Jerusalem, he wrote a letter to some people he had never met. It was to be his life's highest accomplishment. It is called, quite simply - Romans.

"For ten years before writing the letter (approx. 47-57), Paul had travelled round the territories bordering the Aegean Sea evangelising. Churches had been planted in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Paul, considering his task complete, wanted to preach the gospel in Spain, where he would not ‘build upon another man’s foundation’.[11] This allowed him to visit Rome on the way, a long time ambition of his. The letter to the Romans, in part, prepares them and gives reasons for his visit.[12]"

God Has Set Things Right
Romans 3: 21-24 "What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
25-26God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness. "

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Rant


One of bloggings highest and best uses is for the rant.

Anyone can flail away about anything at all. And if you are careful to edit your words, the rant can be a harmless emotional outlet.

Today Paul does a rant. It is most interesting...

16 -21 "Let me come back to where I started—and don't hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you'd rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little. I didn't learn this kind of talk from Christ. Oh, no, it's a bad habit I picked up from the three-ring preachers that are so popular these days. Since you sit there in the judgment seat observing all these shenanigans, you can afford to humor an occasional fool who happens along. You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down—even slap your face! I shouldn't admit it to you, but our stomachs aren't strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff.
21 -23 Since you admire the egomaniacs of the pulpit so much (remember, this is your old friend, the fool, talking), let me try my hand at it. Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I'm their match. Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can't believe I'm saying these things. It's crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I'm going to finish.)
23 -27 I've worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews' thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
28 -29 And that's not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.
30 -33 If I have to "brag" about myself, I'll brag about the humiliations that make me like Jesus. The eternal and blessed God and Father of our Master Jesus knows I'm not lying. Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life. "

End of rant...