Archive for April 2011

Acts 25: Confident and Blameless

There is a big difference between confidence and cockiness.

Acts 25 portrays Paul as confident.

There is also a big difference between being blameless and sinless.

Acts 25 portrays Paul also as blameless.

Imagine being blameless. I mean, really, totally blameless.

Most of us would be hard pressed to claim that title. Frankly, it’s not a title we should bestow upon ourselves anyway. It’s much better coming from others.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 6:9 that Noah was blameless.

In Job 1:1 we read that “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Neither of these men were sinless, because that is a description reserved for Jesus only. But they were denoted as blameless. Such is the case with the Apostle Paul. Throughout Acts 25, the ruling leaders simply couldn’t prove any charges of wrong-doing for which he was being held (vs. 7). Paul’s accusers struggled to pin anything on him. Everyone was at a loss as to how to investigate the charges brought against him.

Paul was blameless.

He was also confident. I shutter when I read verse 11: “If I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Whoa. Caesar. Paul pulled out the big guns. Now, that’s confidence.

The reason Paul could appeal to Caesar is because he knew he was not at fault. The most durable confidence is that which is built upon blamelessness. Did you catch that?

Confidence flows from blamelessness.

Acts 22: It Only Takes A Spark

I’ve gone to hundreds of camps and retreats. Ever since I was young, I’ve been a camper, counselor, staff member, camp director or regional overseer. Suffice it to say, I’ve slept in too many uncomfortable bunk beds, sung lots of “Friends are Friends Forever” and thrown plenty of pinecones into the bonfire while swaying to the melody of “It Only Takes a Spark.”

Around those bonfires we would often have “testimony time.” Anyone could share what God had done or was doing in their life. Many times the testimonies would begin with something like this: “I really didn’t want to come to camp this year, but I’m so glad I did, because the Lord did some cool things in me, etc. etc.” Other testimonies were WAY more dramatic. They involved crazy things that I thought happened only in Rated R movies. Things like drugs or hurting people. Girls would testify to promiscuity and deep insecurity. Guys would tells us how they used to “drink, chew and date girls that do.”

I recall the various testimonies I’ve heard at those camps, and now the ones that I have the privilege of hearing as a pastor of a church, and there is a irrational thought that pops into my head almost every time:

“I wish I had a testimony like that.”

Now to be fair, I am grateful that I, by the grace of God, was able to side-step many tragic and life-altering pitfalls. I’m not actually wishing I had done the things I’ve heard others speak of, nor would I want anyone to go through such trauma, but a small part of me wonders what my testimony would sound like if it had more…well…spice.

In Acts 22, the Apostle Paul is defending himself in front of a Roman Tribune. I found it interesting to note that his defense was his testimony – pure and simple. Paul addressed them with the only thing that was completely HIS…his testimony. No one else could claim that. No one could borrow or buy it.

Near the end of chapter 22, while the Tribune was up in arms over Paul’s claims, one of the centurions overheard Paul say that he was a Roman citizen. This was a deal-breaker to the case they were building against Paul. The Tribune asked “Are you a Roman citizen?” Paul said, “Yes.” They told Paul that they had gotten their citizenship by paying a large sum of money. In other words, they’re identity was purchased whereas Paul was a Roman by birth. When they discovered this, the tribune withdrew immediately.

You’re testimony is YOUR testimony. You can’t get rid of it. There is great power in it.

Nor can you borrow or purchase someone else’s testimony. It’s not worth it. Like me, you may have thought, “Man, I wish I could tell a shocking BEFORE & AFTER story like the ones I hear other share,” but honestly, it wouldn’t be your story. Your story is…your story, and your story, regardless of its level of “spice” is powerful.

Tell it. Speak it out. This is what we find Paul doing in chapter 22. Today I was encouraged by him and his boldness.

I encourage you to be bold as well.

Acts 20: The Softer Side of Paul

“When Paul said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.” Acts 20:36-38

This might be one of the more tender passages in Scripture and an intimate glimpse into the Apostle Paul that we don’t often see. Basically, it’s his softer side. Much of the time we follow him on his missionary journeys, teaching and preaching, working miracles, training and rebuking, and planting and shaping the direction of the fledgling church.

Here, however, he is weeping.

Why?

Because he loves the people of Ephesus.

Paul spent a handful of years with this congregation; more time than with any other group. He bonded. He grew with them. He was deeply concerned about their well-being, which was evident from the instructions he gave the Ephesian Elders before departing to Jerusalem. He asked them to carefully watch over the congregation, to guard it from ill-motived wolves, and to continue building up the church with the word of grace.

It’s probably similar to a Father giving away his daughter to the boy…I mean man, that she is marrying. With hopefully anticipation, and yet a wave of trepidation, one must trust that the hand-off will be successful.

Will the church/daughter be loved, cared for, and be nurtured?

These are the questions a Father asks, if he has any semblance of a heart. This is what Paul is asking as well. All too often, we miss the heart of Paul because we tend to focus only on his firm corrections and doctrinal challenges. But, this guy has a softer side too.

I like the softer side of Paul. How about you?

Acts 19: Viral Growth through Repentance

Four times in Book of Acts this little phrase is repeated: “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”

We see it again in Acts 19:20.

In this way.

In what way you may ask? That’s what I wondered also.

In Acts 19:13-19 we get some background clues at to “what way” the word of the Lord was growing. In this portion of Scripture the reader discovers some amazingly miraculous events. In the midst of this grace-filled season, a few itinerant Jewish preachers tried their hand at casting out some demons (if Paul can do it, why couldn’t we?).

Well, they were in for it, that’s for sure. The demons that they assumed they could cast out actually questioned who they were. They said, “We know Jesus and we know Paul, but who in the world are these goofballs?” Then, to make matters worst, they proceeded to beat the snot out of the men, leaving them naked and wounded.

When this embarrassing debacle was posted on Twitter and Facebook (or whatever social media tools they had then), it spread like a silly YouTube video. Soon everyone throughout Ephesus had heard about the beatdown and were filled with fear.

The next few verses describe nothing short of wholesale repentance. People confessed sin, divulged secret practices, and burned stuff that they knew to be evil. It was time to clean house.

Repentance is the way “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” In the Greek language it is called “metenoia”  which means a change of mind.  Repentance looks like a 180 degree turn.

Wanna keep growing?  Repent often. This is at the heart of the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” Matthew 4:17.

Why should we repent?  Well, because we are sinners. RC Sproul says, “We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.” Unfortunately one church historian has said that “…the appeal of modern evangelism is not for repentance but for enlistment.”

Sadly a large segment of the American Church has gotten to a place of wanting people to have rapport WITH Jesus rather than repent TO Jesus.

What are your thoughts about repentance?

Acts 18: Occupied with the Word

Acts 18 is a travelog of one of Paul’s breakneck missionary journeys. This chapter alone puts him in Athens, Corinth, Antioch, Syria, and Ephesus. I love this portion of Scripture in that Denise and I, along with a number of Foursquare pastors/leaders will be seeing these biblical sites in September 2011 on a “Footsteps of Paul” tour.

You can find out about this epic adventure by clicking HERE.

One of the primary purposes of our Footsteps of Paul tour is to be immersed in the land of a large portion of the New Testament and the culture of it’s teachings. Myself, my friend Tim Clark and a few other Foursquare leaders will be teaching our way through various sites – which is pretty much what the Apostle Paul did.

18:4 “He (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

18:8 “Many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”

18:11 “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

Perhaps the most poignant verse is this: “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (18:5).

Occupied with the Word.

In another version it says: “Paul was completely engrossed with preaching, earnestly arguing and testifying to the Jews that Jesus [is] the Christ.” He was constrained. He was pressed. Paul HAD to preach the Word. He simply HAD to, because it occupied him completely.

Are you occupied with the Word? When your friends see you do they recognize that you are an individual constrained by the Scripture?

One of my mentors is a man that is occupied with the Word. It’s always on his lips. He refers to it often, speaks it out loud, and quotes it in casual conversation. Almost any interaction with him can and will be navigated towards a passage of Scripture. For some time I used to giggle quietly when he did this. I was blown away as to how he would constantly drive the conversation back to the Bible. Then one day I mentioned it to him. I said, “Sir, I’m always amazed how you insert the Word of God into just about anything!”

He responded to this effect: “I’m amazed that more people don’t consider the Word of God in just about everything. So many people have memorized lyrics, batting averages, movie dialogue and current events, but don’t know any Scripture. Too many people are being led by talk show hosts, the internet and the opinion of friends but don’t rightly consider the authority of the Bible. I keep bringing the conversation back to God’s Word because it matters most.”

Ouch.

Are you occupied by the Word?

Acts 17: Responses to the Resurrection

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” Acts 17:32

Easter is a big deal.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundational truth of our faith. As Christians, we firmly believe that Jesus is ALIVE. Frankly, if he isn’t than we’re all in a heap of trouble. 1 Corinthians 15:17 echoes this: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

However, verse 20 goes on to affirm, “But in FACT Christ has been raised from the dead…”

Someone say Amen.

Obviously, not everyone would affirm this truth. Acts 17:32 says that a few that heard about the resurrection sneered and mocked. Understandably, everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions. Unfortunately, this is a big one to mock and reject.

Each Easter season the church I pastor mails out a bulk invitation to our community with our special weekend service times. Because we purchase the entire mailing list for particular zip codes, we have no control on who receives our mailing. Therefore, each year we get a number of calls from folks that “would like to be removed from our mailing list.” That’s easier said than done. To be removed from that list would mean they wouldn’t get other mailings such as grocery store coupons, political advertisements and such (on second thought, that sounds like a list I’d like to be off as well!).

So, each year the calls come in. This last week a gal left a not-so-kind voicemail for us. She gave us her name (most don’t), her full address, and an additional message for our listening pleasure. The loud and angry message said this, and I quote: “Jesus is NOT alive. He is DEAD. He has always been dead. He has never been alive, so STOP SENDING ME THIS SH*T!!!!!

This is how some people feel about the resurrection of Jesus.

Some sneer.

My heart was saddened, not because of her anger or cussing. My heart felt like that of Jesus when he wept over the city of Jerusalem and the people that were like sheep without a shepherd. I want this woman (and the countless others that are in a similar place) to know the love of the Lord and the Jesus that is ALIVE.

We The Church are called to reach out to the mockers, as well as “explain and prove that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (17:3) to those that “want to hear more about the subject” (17:32).

Let’s be The Church this Easter season!

Acts 8: Joy in the City

“For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many whole were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.” Acts 8:7,8

There was much joy in that city.  Did you catch that?  Joy in the City.

This concept captivates my heart. What would it be like to have a city full of joy because of the life of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel?  When Phillip brought the message of Christ to the people of Samaria, it had a considerable effect upon them.

Unclean spirits were cast out.

Paralyzed and lame people were healed.

And, there was a notable sense of joy in the city.

That puts a smile on my face. I am captivated with the idea that a city could resonate with the life of Jesus to the degree that there is a tangible tone of JOY.   Does the message that we proclaim today have a similar effect?

If not, then perhaps we’ve forgotten that the Good News is supposed to be…well…GOOD NEWS.

What would “joy in the city” look like in the place you live?

Acts 7: I Want to DIE Like Jesus

“And as they were stoning Stephen he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59,60

Many folks, including myself, have boldly said: “I want to live like Jesus!”

But how many people want to die like him?  I’m betting not many.

Jesus suffered a long, arduous death upon the Hill of the Skull. His crucifixion was horrible. Of course the greatest pain was not the spikes, but rather the sin of all mankind that was upon him. The sinless one became sin so that the unrighteous could become righteous. The price that he paid was a great one, and during the entire ordeal Jesus maintained a Godly dignity. The seven last words of Jesus upon the cross affirm that he died well. He extended forgiveness, grace, care, and compassion while being killed.

Many say they want to live like Jesus but not so many want to die like him. However, Stephen did. Notice that he didn’t die the exact way Jesus died. Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned to death. The point is not to mimic Jesus in his type of death but in his tone during death.

Stephen lived as a man full of faith and of the Spirit. Sounds like how Jesus lived.

Stephen died like Jesus as well.

Notice what both Jesus and Stephen said:

“Receive my spirit.” (vs. 59)

“Lord, don’t hold this against them.” (vs. 60)

Both Jesus & Stephen were surrendered to God.

Both Jesus & Stephen were forgiving to those that hurt them.

When we find ourselves pressed like Jesus and Stephen, how do we respond? It’s fairly easy to live in a Godly way when there is little at stake. But what about when we are experiencing death or “death-like” situations? Admittedly, when I am in trouble, angry or frustrated I find it difficult respond like Jesus and Stephen. But isn’t this the real test of our character?

We find out who we are and what is in us when we are squeezed. Thankfully, for most, if not all of us, that squeezing won’t involve stoning or crucifixion.

How do you respond when you’re squeezed?  Chime in.

Acts 6: Viral Growth through Practical Ministry

Four separate times in the Book of Acts one can find the phrase:  “So the word of God spread (NIV).” In the English Standard Version it says “And the word of God continued to increase.” Perhaps in the version you have the key word might be flourish. Regardless, in the original language it all boils down to GROW.

The Word of God grew, spread, increased and flourished.  It was anything but stagnant. It was viral.

In each of the four texts, there is a context for this viral growth. The context gives us some understanding about how The Church grows today.

Viral Growth Text: Acts 6:7

Viral Growth Context: Practical Ministry (Acts 6:1-6)

In Acts 6 we read how important duties were being overlooked or poorly executed within the upstart ministry in Jerusalem.  These duties included such valuable things as the care of widows, prayer and the ministry of the word. The disciples, however, were not establishing a ranking of value.  Each were important. Each were necessary for the health and welfare of The Body of Christ.

Often this passage is studied or taught as if the ministries of prayer and the Word are of greater value than that of the care of widows and the distribution of food.  Subtly the message is communicated that preachers have the highest role and that all the lay people would be smart to quietly handle their “piddly” duties so that the “men and women of God” can devote themselves to their loftier callings.

Not true at all.  We are ALL ambassadors of the King.  We ALL have a valuable role in the Kingdom.  Don’t think the role of a pastor as being better than the role of a lay person. Perhaps we need another Reformation to firmly reestablish the priesthood of the believer!

Each believer in the context of this passage had to discover their role and fulfill their task. Some were chosen to distribute food, others designated to pray and preach.

Everyone a minister.

It is this spark that I believe caused the Gospel to spread.  Practical, heartfelt ministry to one another made an impact.  Believers served according to their gifts and callings. Perhaps this was so foreign that many people sat up and took notice.  The number of disciples grew within the context of practical ministry.

This makes me think of Amy Carmichael in India. Her story is so powerful and inspiring. Amy discovered that little girls were being sold into prostitution at and near the Hindu temples. In 1901 she rescued her first girl, one that had been branded with hot irons. Fast-forward to 1943 and Amy and her ministry was taking care of almost 800 children. This is practical ministry. The world cannot help but take notice of this.  Simply put:  when believers speak the name of Jesus and attach it to care and practical love people will respond.

The Word spread because the believers were not only doing something but they were doing the right thing.   They were ministering in the name of Jesus, and within the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the kind of stuff that can go viral.

 

 

Acts 5: Waves in the Body of Christ

“If this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.” Acts 5:38,39

You know, sometimes even a Pharisee gets it right.

Throughout the Gospels the ruling class of leaders and teachers of the law are always getting slammed. Every time you turn around the Pharisees are taking it in the teeth. Jesus would often single them out for their internal contamination, and the Apostle Paul, having been in their camp at one time, would call them on the carpet. It seems like they couldn’t get a break…until now…

Gamaliel.

Gamaliel is a teacher of the law that was held in great esteem by the people of that time.  He spoke some profound things in Acts 5 that the Body of Christ ought to consider.  In response to the activities of Peter and the apostles, and their subsequent arrest, Gamaliel issued a caution: if God is at work then watch out, and if he is not then it will crumble.

In the years that I have been a part of The Church, and more specifically as a pastor of a local church, I have seen a number of “movements” surface and gain momentum.  Some have been loopy, some downright heretical and others just different from what I am used to.  Admittedly, I have occasionally been far too quick to decry them and label them as “not of God.” Maybe I poked fun, belittled or brought them under suspicion. Other times I outright called them out, or declared my hope for their demise.  Honestly, I didn’t feel very Godly during any of this.  I felt fleshly.

While reading Acts 5, I was reminded of something a great man of God, Ron Mehl, once said to myself and a group of pastoral leaders.  He was talking about his many years in ministry and all the waves of teaching, styles and flavors of church that had come and gone in the Body of Christ.  During those times folks would question why he and his church didn’t “rides the waves.”  He humbly told us that many of the “movements” that arose over his years in ministry were no longer viable. They had died.  The bubble burst.  The wave crashed.

In the end, what is still standing?

I think that Gamaliel nailed it.  If God is in it then you won’t be able to stop it.  If he’s not, then it won’t last.

That’s not to say that the “waves” that did not last were not of God, but rather, it is to say that I have become increasingly careful to not be too quick to pronounce judgment.

The last thing I want to be said of my life is that I opposed God.