Archive for December, 2010

Acts 21

 Acts 21 is a chapter that makes me tired just reading it.  The first half is about Paul’s travels – and how he went from place to place – often for a day or a week – and then moved on to minister to the folks down the road or across the sea.  Everywhere he went they received him warmly.  And in each case they were saddened to see him leave.  He stayed the course – sharing the gospel and setting an example – as he did when he left Tyre “kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell”.  Paul was the real deal.  He lived Christ every moment of every day.  At Ptolemais, he stayed with Phillip and it was interesting that scripture calls out the fact that “he had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied”.  Now that would be an interesting environment to live in, wouldn’t it?  Phillip is called “the evangelist” and it makes me wonder if these girls were blessed with the gift of prophecy because of the way they were raised.  Parenting does matter – and whatever the reason – Paul’s trips here are filled with folks who are telling him the future – that he should avoid Jerusalem because things were not going to go well there. 

So what is Paul’s response to the warnings that he would be bound and beat and suffer in Jerusalem?  “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus“.  Paul is single-minded.  He is going to go and follow God’s leading to report to the church and face the suffering he has been called to.  Nothing is going to take him off his mission and course.  He is on the way and won’t be stopped.  So finally the local folks gave up trying to persuade him differently and realize he is on God’s mission.  A few even went along to accompany him on the trip.  Quite a change for a guy who had spent many years killing those who followed Christ.  Now he has many people who will follow him, even into a city that will cause much pain and suffering.

Paul first heads to the elders to report on what God has been doing among the Gentiles.  You may recall that this was not exactly an accepted thing early on in the church – to take the gospel to folks who were not Jews.  But Paul had been sent and now he comes back and “he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God”.  That is how the Body of Christ should function.  See what God is doing – not judge based on our own personal bias or expectations – and then respond positively as God reveals Himself around us.  The elders see Paul’s passion and impact and are excited – glorifying God.  But that isn’t how the mainstream felt and that is where the problem comes from.  Paul is advised to do as much as possible to “fit in” to the expectations of the crowd.  But even those attempts are not enough to sway the people who were set on punishing him.  So they whip the crowd to a frenzy and beat Paul mercilessly.  Had not the local authorities intervened he likely would have been killed.  They rescue him and as the chapter ends, Paul appeals to the authority to allow him to talk to the crowd that was set on killing him.  That is how we end this chapter – with Paul on the steps ready to speak.

Acts 20:4-38

Acts 20 gives us a picture of Paul’s travel schedule.  He is moving from place to place and on the road continually being faithful to his calling.  A few days here, a few there, but continually listening to the Holy Spirit and moving toward his final trip to Jerusalem knowing that “imprisonment and afllictions await me”.  Is that how you would be living knowing that bad things (at least in the world’s eyes) are just ahead?  Or would you pull a Jonah and run the other way?  I ask myself that question regularly.  Am I living God’s way or do I detour when that path seems to lead me to difficult situations?  Paul had his eye on the mark.  He was doing exactly what he was being led to do.  We should follow that example.

He does not cut short his efforts either.  Paul was with the people and in Troas “he prolonged his speech until midnight”.  No shortened version because the end was coming.  He gave them the full load of words and wisdom.  In fact, it was more than some of the folks there could stay tuned in for.  “A young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead”.  Poor kid couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer.  God used this for good as Paul brought the young man back to life, but the thing that amazes me about this story is what Paul does after the slight disruption.  Remember he has already extended his speaking until midnight.  Now a rather major event pops up and totally disrupts things.  Check this out: “he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak”.  Paul doesn’t shut things down because some unexpected major event happens.  In fact it just winds him up for a second wind to keep going – til daybreak.  That is endurance and staying singleminded to the task he was called.  Paul was there on a mission.  He was there to teach the truth.  And nothing derails him from that.  How many of us would sit all night and listen to anyone speak – Paul or not?  I know it would be more than a challenge for me to stay there.  It is tough to get people today to give up an hour for worship on Sunday morning. 

Paul gives us a glimpse of his approach to teaching and sharing the truth here as well.  “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks”.  He taught in public to large groups – so used the one to many approach.  He taught from house to house – so used the one on a few or one to one method too.  Paul wasn’t too big a star to touch people one at a time.  He did what it took to testify to anyone who would listen.  He was not bound by any kind of preconceived approach.  He did what it took to share truth.  And he did it with one goal in mind.  This is how we are effective.  When we come to the same goal as Paul has – we too will be true ministers of the gospel.  “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”.  Is that how you live life?  Focused not on self, but finishing the race and the assignment we have to testify to the gospel.  That is our calling.  We are God’s messenger.  We are His hands and feet.  We are His chosen way to share Jesus.  Are you living like Paul did – totally focused on sharing with those in your patch?  And sacrificing life to expand that patch so you can impact even more people?  That is what we need to do!

Romans 16

 Romans 16 is Paul’s farewell chapter.  He lists dozens of folks he is grateful for.  Who would make your list?  Who has made a difference in the patch you live in for Jesus?  Would you make it onto the lists of any others?  Are you living in a way that matters for Christ?  This list contains a variety of people – but they all have something in common.  They were serving the Lord in a way that impacted Paul.  Faith is personal – it impacts people individually if we are living it God’s way.  We can’t be a Christ Follower and just go through life without making a difference in the lives of those around us.  If we truly live Christ – we will touch people – in meaningful and impactful and significant ways.  And they will notice the touch!

So check out the list of things that Paul calls these folks out around.  There aren’t any great preachers here – no TV evangelists – no powerful ministry leaders.  These are folks who were in the trenches daily serving Jesus.  Look at the things Paul lists as their characteristics:

  • fellow workers
  • risked their necks for my life
  • first convert
  • worked hard
  • fellow prisoners
  • beloved
  • fellow worker
  • approved in Christ
  • belong to the family
  • chosen
  • mother to me
  • brothers

The reality is that Paul lists plain folks like you and me that lived life in a way that made a difference.  We need to take our role as a Christ Follower very seriously.  We have a job to do – it isn’t as simple as showing up on Sunday for an hour of church or serving a meal here or there.  It is a lifestyle of touching people in ways that matter.  Are you living like that?

Paul warns the church as he ends this letter to be careful.  “Watch out for those who cause divisions…..create obstacles contrary to the doctrine….avoid them”.  There is no question that not everyone in the church is there for the right reasons.  We need to pay attention that strife and division does not find its way in.  We need to stay true to the scriptures.  We need to realize that some “do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites…..they deceive the hearts of the naïve”.  But we have to rise above that kind of stuff and answer God’s call to “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil”.  We have to lift ourselves over the petty stuff that gets in the way.  The Body of Christ – His church – is not to be divided.  And when it is – it is not of God’s doing.  It is man’s foolishness.

Paul ends the letter with this benediction.  I will let it speak for itself.  Read it slowly and ponder the power and promises of his words.  We serve an amazing God.  He is able, more than able.  “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ”!

Romans 15

Romans 15 is the start of Paul winding down his letter to the Romans.  He begins by reminding them that they are all part of the Body of Christ and as such have an obligation to each other.  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak…..let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up”.  We don’t live on an island.  God put us in our patch to make a difference.  We are to bear one another’s burdens – to come alongside one another and lift up the load.  We are to build each other up.  We have an important role right where we live to make a difference.  Paul reminds us that “Christ did not please Himself”.  Life is not just about you or I doing what we want without regard to those in our patch.  It is about paying attention to the folks that need our assistance and coming alongside them joyfully.  We are obligated to get involved – not just stand idly by and watch things happen without our involvement.   Easier to look the other way isn’t it.  Easier to be too busy or out of touch?  But God has placed us where we are for a purpose.  We do matter in the lives of others.  We need to take action as He leads us!

Paul continues by challenging the people to live in “harmony with one another….together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you”.  We are supposed to get along.  We are to be as one in Him.  We are to treat our brothers and sisters warmly as Christ did each of us.  How did He welcome us?  With arms stretched wide – with love that took Him to the Cross to bear our sins – with a commitment to us that caused Him to give His life for us.  Not some wamby pamby handshake and weak smile.  Jesus welcomed us with all He was.  He gave it all for us.  That is the kind of unity and harmony we should have as the Body of Christ.  We should be one.  How can that be?  Paul gives us the answer “by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”.  We can’t do it on our own steam.  Someone will get under our skin.  Someone will irritate us and we will focus on the one or few we struggle to get along with rather than welcoming the rest.  The enemy is good at keeping division and dissention alive within us.  We have to let the Holy Spirit have control and make us one.

Paul reminds them that “I have written to you very boldly” and that is an understatement for this book of Romans.  He has been in our face on a number of very important issues.  But these things have been core to our faith – the basics of salvation – the foundation of how we are to live.  Paul writes about things we probably wish he would have left unsaid because they challenge how we live.  His words require us to face the reality that sin is real and has a price.  His words are clear that failing to deal with sin means death and separation from God.  His words are very clear that Jesus and God’s grace through Christ are the only way to eternal life with the Father.  And he reinforces the truth that there is no excuse – everyone will have to give account for what they have done with Jesus. “Those who have never been told of Him will see, and those who have never heard will understand”.  There are no free passes.  Everyone has to answer.  What have you done with Jesus?  Even if you don’t clearly understand – that will not be an excuse.  Make sure you have your answer because God will be asking!

Romans 14

Romans 14 contains some strong words from Paul about how we are to treat and live with one another.  We don’t live on an island.  We are part of God’s body and how we live does impact others.  He begins by asking this piercing question: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another”?  We do tend to have a desire to judge each other.  Why is that?  Because we can often justify our own behavior as we compare ourselves with someone else.  It is easier to judge than to clean up our own act.  There is always someone we can compare with and appear to be in a better spot.  But the reality is that we are not judged based on how we measure up with others in our patch.  God measures us in relationship with His standards – and we are going to fall short.  So again Paul says: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother”?  But then comes the clincher: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God”.  Being better than someone we judge doesn’t matter at all in God’s eyes.  What matters is how we are doing in relationship to God’s expectations of each of us. 

Those expectations begin with the truth that “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God”.  Have you put God where He belongs in your life?  This is pretty clear.  Every person will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord some day.  It won’t be optional, it won’t be a few, it will be all and all of us will put Christ where He belongs.  Along with that “each of us will give an account of himself to God”.  No free passes – no get off the hook cards – we all will have to stand before God and answer for how we lived.  Life matters – we will give an account.  The time to work on that is now – not later. Are you ready to face the God of the universe and explain why you lived as you did?  Have you lived well?

Paul goes on to remind us that we don’t live in isolation.  This is a reality we all need to take a very close look at.  “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself”.  We are part of God’s world, and as Christ Followers, part of His Body – the church.  We don’t get to ignore how our life impacts those in our patch.  In fact – it matters much.  We will have to explain why we did things that caused another to stumble.  We will have to stand before God and try to tell Him why we ignored the impact of our life on those around us.  How we live matters particularly in the Body.  Check out Paul’s words: “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother….if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died”.  Paul uses food as the stumbling block here – but it can be a variety of things. Movies we watch, places we go, people with hang out with – there are lots of things that can cause another to stumble.  We need to realize we have a responsibility to each other.  Our role is to build up the body – to lead others to Jesus – not to cause them to fall by the way we choose to live our own life.

We can argue that it is not our responsibility to make another walk in obedience.  It is true that every individual chooses to sin with their own free will.  But our actions can contribute toward leading another from obedience and that is not ok with God.  “It is wrong for anyone to make another stumble…..or do anything that causes your brother to stumble“.  God takes how we live in community very seriously.  It does matter.  We must not just live how we want without regard to the impact it will have.  We also have to realize how broad our impact can be.  God doesn’t address these statements to those in our family or our church.  It is broad – we are not to make anyone stumble – whether we even know they are watching or not.  And often it is those we don’t realize are paying attention where the damage is done.  Those closer to us may understand our motives – but those who only see what we do may not know the whole context.  Bottom line is – we are very responsible for how we live.  Choose wisely!

Romans 13

Romans 13 deals with the topic of authorities in our life.  Paul addresses a topic that many of us would just as soon avoid.  But God’s truth is clear here – we are to be obedient to those in authority over us – be it government, law enforcement, TSA – whatever has been put in place we need to be obedient to.  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities….there is no authority except from God….those that exist have been instituted by God”.  The command is universal – every person – it applies to all.  The requirement is to be subject to – to obey and follow the direction of – not when we want to or it fits our plan – but in every case.  We are to obey authority.  Does this continue on to relationships at work, for example?  I think other places in scripture would say that God’s plan is for us to obey all people in a position of authority over us.   Nowhere does it say you should obey when you agree with them.  Nowhere does it say you should be subject if it fits your timeline or agenda.  It is simply a directive to be subject to authority.

Paul goes on to say it this way: “do what is good, and you will receive his approval….he is God’s servant for your good….one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience”.  Authority is in place for our good.  God takes it seriously.  We need to be obedient.  And then Paul talks about another aspect of authority – how we handle money in relationship to those in charge.  “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed”.  So taxes are not an area we should be messing with – if we owe it we should pay it.  We also need to show respect which can be a bigger challenge than obedience in many ways.  But authorities – whether it feels like it or not – are instituted by God.   And our response cannot be based on our political party or whether we agree with their decisions or not.  It is about obedience to God’s commandments.  We are to be subject to, pay what is owed, respect and honor those in authority.  That can be a rather hard pill to swallow but it is God’s plan!

Paul goes on to say that all the commandments can be “summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.  Want to know how to live?  Follow this statement and you will be on the right path most of the time.  We need to love.  We need to realize that “love is the fulfilling of the law“.  How are you showing love to those around you?  Do you love them like you love yourself?  Do you put them in the center of your world and put self out of the limelight.  We need to love others.  Paul tells us that part of doing that is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”.  We lose track of what is important when we spend our time and effort gratifying our own desires.  We need to put off self and put on Jesus.  Then we will truly be able to love as God loved us.  But as long as self is in the middle we will struggle to love God’s way.  Put God in the center – Jesus on the throne – and love others!

Romans 12

 Romans 12 is a chapter filled with some powerful truths about the body of Christ.  Paul begins though by addressing our own body.  “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.  That is a mouthful of instruction.  We are to live as a living sacrifice – focused on serving our God.  That means we need to live His way – not conformed to the ways of the world.  Whoa – that means counter cultural – that means we will stick out like a sore thumb.  Yes it does.  We should not just blend in with the world my friends.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross so we could fit in.  He didn’t give His life so we just fell into the crowd.  In fact, He died to bring us out of the crowd – to lift us away from the norm – to live life differently.  How does that happen – by transforming our mind.  We have to think differently.  We have to have a mind filled with God’s truth and God’s ways which we learn through the scriptures and prayer.  We have to choose to be different.  That is what God has called us to do.

Sometimes as Christ Followers we tend to think we are pretty special.  We are in the fact that Jesus went to the cross for us.  In fact we are very special in God’s sight.  But we also need to remember that we must “not think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”.  Since salvation comes by faith and grace – it is not about us at all and there is nothing that should give us grounds to think we are better than the rest – inside or outside the body.  God has assigned us “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us”.  We have been created with a purpose and for a purpose in the body.  It is nothing we have done – it is another gift from God.  But we have been given these to work together realizing we are “individually members one of another”.  We are part of One Body.

So what are the gifts that Paul calls out here and asks us to use?  These are sometimes called the “motivational gifts” which mean they are the things that drive us at the core of our being.  Take a look at the seven different ways God wires us as Christ Followers:

  1. prophecy
  2. service
  3. teaching
  4. exhortation
  5. generosity
  6. leads (rules)
  7. acts of mercy

These gifts are all crucial to the body of Christ functioning well.  God assigns these to us as part of His body – as a Christ Follower we have been given gifts by the Father.  We need to identify what they are and life them out to the fullest.

Paul goes on to give us another list in this chapter.  A long list of things we should do – a how to live sort of list.  Check it out:

–       “Let love be genuine

–       Abhor what is evil

–       hold fast to what is good

–       Love one another

–       Outdo one another in showing honor

–       Do not be slothful in zeal

–       fervent in spirit

–       serve the Lord

–       Rejoice in hope

–       be patient in tribulation

–       be constant in prayer

–       Contribute to the needs

–       show hospitality.

–       Bless those who persecute you

–       Rejoice with those who rejoice

–       weep with those who weep

–       Live in harmony

–       Do not be haughty

–       Never be conceited

–       Repay no one evil for evil

–       do what is honorable

–       live peaceably with all

–       never avenge yourselves

–       Do not be overcome by evil

–       overcome evil with good

In case you were wondering how you should live – Paul spells it out pretty clearly here.  These are outcomes of putting the seven gifts into motion.  When we take God’s gifts and apply them to the world around us – we live God’s way.  That is what Paul is calling us to do.  Live all out for God.  Be transformed by a renewing of our mind.  Live for Him and for each other as part of the Body.  Do you know what gift you have been given?  Are you living this list?  It will definitely set you apart from the rest of the world!

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