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.

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...


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?
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...
"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."

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.