Empowered for a Purpose: “At the Center of the Storm” (Acts 1)

poweredIn August 1992, I was living in Broward County in South Florida, as Hurricane Andrew hit the eastern shore of our state. In its wake, the storm left a total of sixty-five dead, and drummed the state with a “category five” storm, packing one hundred seventy-five mile an hour winds. The storm surge alone caused half a billion dollars in damage from Kendall to Key Largo. More than 1.4 million people lost electricity for a time and 63,000 homes were destroyed, leaving at least 175,000 Floridians homeless. The storm destroyed or damaged some 82,000 businesses, 31 public schools, 9500 traffic signals and 59 hospital and health facilities.

As the storm approached, we were treated on television to the methods of “saving our homes”, which included such bold measures as lining inner rooms of our house with mattresses and putting masking tape across our windows. In retrospect, I am thinking they should have simply told us to “Run like mad!” There is simply no way that the preparations they gave us could withstand 175-mile-an-hour winds in our neighborhoods and expect the tape on their windows to make any difference as such a storm blew through! In fact, traveling to areas that were hard hit the day after, one couldn’t even discern where neighborhoods and streets once were, even if they had taped windows. The place was thrashed by such insurmountable power it now seems pointless to have prepared to stand up against its arrival.

One of the worst feelings I can think of is the feeling of powerlessness in the face of some coming trouble. It is that “beat-down” feeling of being subject to forces that are so strong, no amount of effort seems to make any difference. It is depressing to watch things turn from bad to worse when you feel you have no way to avoid the onslaught. I believe many who follow Jesus in these latter days are being pushed down by exactly that perception – the days are too evil and the power of God’s people and message are too small. I have good news for you, the truth is far from that view, and perhaps we all need to look into the Word for a reminder of the truth!

Key Principle: God empowered regular, broken, fallible people to reach their generation, piercing the darkness with the light of the truth from the Creator.


Nearly two thousand years ago, the church of Jesus Christ was unknown in any neighborhood. Jesus was a name associated with a hated and marginal people group – the Jews. Within a few generations, what began as a small band of Jewish fishermen and their friends grew into a formidable and effective movement of people. It isn’t what many people think. It wasn’t because they were different people than we are today…The power wasn’t because of them. It wasn’t from within them. It wasn’t in light of their abilities, their history, or their connections to the power center of their day. Small people, broken people, insignificant people (from the world’s point of view), were empowered by God to change their world with the message of truth – and they still are being empowered. In the beginning they were not organized; they did not have an expansion plan. They did not all speak the same language, nor did they eat the same food. They were a diverse lot chosen by the Spirit of God and told to live out the power of transformation done by God in them. They didn’t need to worry about how their lives fit the overall plan of God beyond living in obedience to Jesus in their homes, their neighborhoods and their relationships. They were told to follow God’s Word, obey the voice of God’s Spirit, and trust that God had a plan that was bigger than they could understand and more powerful than they could imagine. They were on a quest that rippled through two thousand years of western history with the Gospel.

This lesson begins a series on their story – the tale of God’s move among men that began with a simple account of His gathering, instructing and then empowering of them.

Convinced Beginnings

What is clear from the beginning of the letter is this: these men and women were completely convinced they saw the Risen Christ, and they felt they tested Him so thoroughly there was no way they were duped or sold some myth. Luke began his account of their lives together this way:

Acts 1:1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up [to heaven], after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over [a period of] forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

The earliest followers said they walked with the Risen Jesus. They spoke to Him. They knew it was Him. Yet, if you look closely at the words in Acts 1:2, you will notice they had something more than evidence and a convinced heart – they had a promise of God’s Spirit. Jesus offered proof, but He also offered the promise of power. Though the occasion of the coming of that power didn’t yet take place in the narrative (that is a story for Acts 2), the promise of that coming power was clear from the beginning of the story

The story of the church began with those who met Christ. Don’t forget that! You are not part of the church of Jesus Christ because your parents were, nor because you generally agree with the moral statements of a church. Your part in the body begins with your commitment to Jesus Christ – everything else is secondary. You cannot give away a Jesus you do not know.

Notice also that their knowledge of Jesus and their firm belief that He was raised from the dead wasn’t all they needed to reach a lost world. Their natural strengths weren’t very impressive.

I think of the historian who recorded Benjamin Franklin in remarks to the Continental Convention, June 28, 1787. He said: “I have lived, Sir, a long time [81 years-old], and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God Governs in the affairs of men.” [as quoted in America’s God and Country, William J. Federer editor, Fame Publishing, Inc., Coppell, Texas. p.249]

It is worth recalling over and over again that God didn’t tell His people to do anything without the power God provided for them to accomplish it! Yes, He wanted the first century disciples to have sufficient evidence to follow Him – but that wasn’t enough. It never is! We don’t simply “win an argument” with evidence that brings people to Christ, because the issue isn’t simply cognitive. Salvation and transformation are both works of God’s Spirit within. That isn’t an excuse to get lazy on understanding the evidence at all – it is an admission that there is more to the story than simply showing the empty tomb and claiming Christ is risen.

If you scan the opening chapter of the Book of Acts, you will quickly note it contains not one, but three stories:

First, it was a story of Jesus’ redirection of the disciples toward the promise that they should anticipate being empowered by the Father to become apostles of the truth (1:1-8). They were the right people, with the wrong sense of timing and wrong emphasis of ministry.

• Second, it was the account of Jesus’ final instructions to them at His recorded “Ascension” to Heaven (1:9-11). Here the disciples were the right people with the wrong perspective – looking up instead of looking out.

• Third, the bulk of the passage was a simple record about selecting Judas’ replacement in the leadership line up (1:12-26). Finally, the disciples were the right people in the wrong number to accomplish the task Jesus gave them.

These three accounts, then, offer us the opening lesson of God’s movement in the right team – but before the empowering work took place. It is essential to remember that all three of these stories took place BEFORE the empowering of the Spirit. They had their best recollections of the Master from years of traveling with Him. They listened to His departing instructions and believed His evidences to them, and they understood the need for dedicated leadership – but they were not ready to change the world – because they didn’t have the empowering of God to do so. In some ways, the three stories of chapter one remind us of the absolute need for the Spirit in chapter two. The right team without the right guide will get to the wrong place.

Right People: Wrong Timing

There is more to bringing a message that transforms than simply being right about the story to which we testify. Go back to the men and women at the beginning. Listen to their story:

Dr. Luke recorded: Acts 1:4 “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” [He said], “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Jesus told them they needed to remain together and in the place He specified before they would get what they needed most. God’s choice was, from the very beginning, to empower people who stood together with the others. It is easy to view God’s empowering as an individual thing – since our ministry is accomplished with great personal effort. At the same time, you will find after studying the whole of the New Testament, the truth that God meant from the beginning for the work to be accomplished through a unified body of believers – diverse but cohesive. The simple fact of the story of the Gospel’s spread was this: the whole team needed each other. Individual work was always seen as a part of the whole. The work was borne along by yielded, humble team workers – not superstars that felt they needed to be highlighted as “apart from the others”. The message didn’t move until the team was assembled. The timing wasn’t right until they were clear on “team”. Luke continued…

Right People: Wrong Page

Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

I think it is significant that although they wanted to obey the Master, apart from God’s empowering they were on the “wrong page” about what was to become the center of the story. Even as a team, they simply weren’t on the right page at all. They weren’t ready for what God called them to do.

They were, in fact, a small group of frightened Jews huddled in Jerusalem, about to face the physical loss of their Master and trying to figure out what would happen next. Their story, as the Book of Acts reveals it, moved from that handful to hundreds, then thousands, and eventually to an articulate advocate of Jesus who made the public proclamation of the Gospel to the power base at the center of the Roman world. But… don’t jump to the end. The process of HOW God used them was also important. It is for that reason it was recorded.

Note the verses. They obeyed and stayed together. They began as convinced and obedient followers. Things were going very well (as is often the case with followers of Jesus) until they opened their mouths. They asked about TIMING, the queried about RESTORATION… but mostly they wanted to know about coming POWER. The term “Kingdom” was power–packed! That was at the core of the question. “Is Israel about to rise out of the ashes of Gentile domination?” they asked.

The earliest followers were plagued with the same problem every successive generation of believers has been – they thought they needed to understand the plan. Jesus made plain that wasn’t the problem. God never called us to understand His whole plan – only to follow His leading. They didn’t need understanding – they needed to lend to His empowering their trust and obedience. They needed His Spirit within. Their witness would be wholly ineffective without the leading, transforming, wooing and directing power of the God at work in and through them. He promised it would come shortly, and they were told to use it to reach the world. When the church feels it needs to understand what God is doing, it wanders. When she bows her knee and seeks the guidance of the Spirit with whole-hearted intent to obey, God unfolds the next step before her.

Right People: Wrong Gaze

A short time later, the earliest followers stood on the hill east of Jerusalem, gathered around their risen Savior. The time had come. Luke wrote:

Acts 1:9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

The problem now wasn’t one of speech, but one of gaze.

Looking up to look back:

The church was standing on a hill looking at the PAST. They saw Jesus taken up, but they weren’t ready to MOVE ON in obedience to what God called their generation to do. They wanted what USED to be. They wanted Jesus back. Truthfully, I don’t have any struggle understanding why they felt the way they did. It was BETTER with the Savior coming to visit. It felt like old times. They could reminisce about Peter’s dumb answers around the campfire and laugh together. They could spend more time asking questions about their prophecy charts and huddle together without having to walk among the infidels. Who wouldn’t rather spend time with brothers than walking the streets filled with pig-eating pagans?

The earliest believers looked BACK. They looked to what HAD BEEN. Though that can be comforting, it does little to move a vision forward. To do that, we must look ahead.

Looking up to avoid looking around:

Jesus ascended to Heaven and the first followers stood there looking up. They looked up because He was gone, but also for another reason – most of the time Heaven is easier to look at than earth. The angel made it clear – Jesus had been taken to Heaven, and from Heaven Jesus would one day return. Why stand looking at the sky, then? Because, frankly, the earth can look like an awful mess. Working with people can be very hard, in part because people are unpredictable on a sin-ravaged planet.

There has always been a temptation for churches to block a view of the mission field with a lovely picture of the “church world” – the place where our values are already appreciated and our Savior is already loved. There has always been a temptation to stay in the warmth of worship and not “break the huddle” to face the world. The earliest believers looked UP. They looked at the comforting views of Heaven and not the uncomfortable reality of reaching out to the mess that was the Roman world. We can understand what they were doing, because there are many times we would like to do the same thing.

Stop for a second and remember what Jesus was doing. He got them together, because they needed to be a team before they could be God’s team. Then He redirected their attention from understanding the plan to following a Person – Him. He left, and an angel got them focused on what they were told to do – get prepared for the ministry as the Spirit was about to come and empower them to accomplish the work Jesus had just outlined.

Right People: Wrong Number

Next, Luke made clear how the disciples addressed the final preparation for the coming of the Spirit – they “refilled” the vacant leadership position of the late Judas Iscariot. He wrote:

Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered [the city], they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas [the] [son] of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with [the] women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. 15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 “For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO ONE DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.’ 21 “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us– one of these [must] become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Before the empowering of the Spirit, there was the final organization of the leadership to prepare. We have seen it over and over – everything rises or falls on leadership. Poorly organized and poorly prepared leaders normaly mean poorly executed plans.

• Sometimes the issue of preparation is ethical. When morally bankrupt leaders feed their own popularity by endorsing whatever base instinct and perversion men are currently fixated on, they fail to challenge people with true moral courage – the kind that forces men to think of their actions in terms of consequences to succeeding generations.

• Sometimes the issue of preparation is tactical. When leaders don’t understand their role on the team, or don’t know how to effectively operate in their position – the work will falter in spite of their best intentions.

What is essential is this: the right men and women must be placed in the right positions with the right understanding of their role. How did the earliest followers accomplish this task?

The Scriptures offer key tests we must pose as we look for leaders who are truly following God and can lead us in that pursuit.

First, they chose team players. Look closely at the text:

Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem …. 13 … they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas [the] [son] of James.

The description is of those who were comfortable with those who were currently in leadership of the movement. The disciples were named to make it crystal clear the new leader understood he was joining the already established group. Adding leaders with differing approaches to some of the problems can be a strength – but there is a caution here. Never add someone who displays contempt for those who hold the position today. David wasn’t ready to be made KING of his people until he displayed supreme respect for the office while Saul held it. Contempt before placement in leadership is a portent of trouble when the leader gains the office.

Second, they sought someone who had the goal of continued unity:

Acts 1:14 These all with one mind…

Stop reading mid-sentence…note the attitude of the leaders in the room. They were TOGETHER in the way they thought. They were UNITED. Unity is not uniformity. We don’t all have to like the same flavors, prefer the same music and wear the same uniforms. We can express much individuality without undermining unity. The idea of unity is rooted in the ability to see beyond your preferences and care about how the others in the room feel. It is about appreciation for another’s perspective, and care for another’s emotional well-being. Selfish people aren’t unifiers. Perhaps the secret to their unity can be found as we keep reading…

Third, they were openly dependent on God for their next move:

Acts 1:14b: “…were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with [the] women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”

Even with the most qualified group possible, they didn’t make the next move as a committee. They were a team. Committees talk about things. Teams are committed to carrying out the work. They geared up to do what was next, not by passive waiting, but by active seeking of God’s direction. They didn’t PRAY, they DEVOTED THEMSELVES to seeking God’s face, listening for God’s voice. They knew they didn’t know what to do – and they placed total confidence in the Lord’s directions. They didn’t pray to bring God the news, but to wrap themselves in Him. He already knew where He wanted things to go.

Max Lucado told of a church in Scotland back in the 1940s that was struggling to keep the doors open. A couple of its members were two older ladies who were invalids and couldn’t get out for worship any longer. But these ladies refused to allow their infirmities to get in the way of serving their God. They became convinced that their community needed Jesus desperately and they were going to do something about it. They were going to pray. They determined to make their house a house of prayer. Around the clock they prayed for God do something powerful. Then one day, one of the ladies became convinced that God wanted a revivalist by the name of Campbell to come and hold meetings at their church. They talked to their preacher and he contacted Campbell…but Campbell was unavailable. He was booked up. The women refused to give up in their prayers however…and it wasn’t long before–oddly enough–some of Campbell’s other revivals became cancelled and he decided to accept the invitation of that small church. He arrived and held 5 weeks of meetings. The Revival was so well received that hundreds showed up each night. And lives were so changed that many of the local taverns had to close up because they lacked patrons. One might think it was because of the powerful preaching of a renowned revivalist. But in reality it was because of the faithfulness of two invalid older ladies who dedicated themselves to prayer. (From Sermon Central message by Jeff Strite, “God’s Idea of Church”, 5/2/2011).

Fourth, they took their cues from the Word of God:

Acts 1:15 … Peter stood up in the … gathering … and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

Peter reasoned from the Scripture that the betrayal of Jesus was not a blind spot in the text – but a foretold reality. He related what happened from the Word of God, and showed a confidence in that Word. As the church struggles to move forward in our day, it is most often mired by those who both claim the heritage of the faith and yet have moved from the founding text of the faith. Our faith is in a Person, but the knowledge of that faith is found firmly expressed in His unchanging Word. Peter knew the early struggles of the body needed to find their solutions in the Word – just as we know our generation of believers will find their solutions in the same place.

Fifth, they chose one from among those who had already been thoroughly versed in the work of Jesus Christ:

Acts 1:21 “…Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us– one of these [must] become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

Paul later warned Timothy not to appoint someone to leadership in the zeal of their newness to the work – but to allow them to season and grow. A novice in Jesus is like a novice swordsman. They are often energetic, but just as often dangerous.

Finally, they recognized they didn’t know the most critical thing about their choice – the heart of men:

Acts 1:23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen … 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

It seems silly to end the story with something they felt weak about – their inability to read what was inside a man. At the same time, that may be the perfect place to set up the empowering passage that directly follows the opening chapter of the Book of Acts. It reminds us that we don’t have what it takes on our own.

We DO know that it is easy for us to be on the wrong page – thinking we need to understand God’s plan for our life and ministry rather than clinging to His hand and walking daily under His direction.

We DO know it is easy for us to be Heaven-ward in our gaze and miss the lost and hurting world around us. We can be caught up in a vision of worship at the expense of a call to walk, work and witness.

We DO know that we can be easily tempted to place people in leadership based on their abilities, not on their intimacy with Jesus and their firm track record of commitment to Him.

We DO know that we can try to committee our way to the future and think we know what we do not know – but that is not how the story of the early work was told. It was explained in a careful way…

God empowered regular, broken, fallible people to reach their generation, piercing the darkness with the light of the truth from the Creator.

It probably won’t look dramatic – it will look like a quiet revolution of love:

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, no person in all of East Germany was more despised than the former Communist dictator Erich Honecher. He had been stripped of all his offices. Even the Communist Party rejected him. Kicked out of his villa, the new government refused him and his wife new housing. The Honechers were homeless and destitute. Enter pastor Uwe Holmer, director of a Christian help center north of Berlin. Made aware of the Honechers’ straits, Pastor Holmer felt it would be wrong to give them a room meant for even needier people. So the pastor and his family decided to take the former dictator into their own home! Erich Honecher’s wife, Margot, had ruled the East German educational system for twenty-six years. Eight of Pastor Holmer’s ten children had been turned down for higher education due to Mrs. Honecher’s policies, which discriminated against Christians. Now the Holmers were caring for their personal enemy—the most hated man in Germany. This was so unnatural, so unconventional, so Christlike. By the grace of God, the Holmers loved their enemies, did them good, blessed them, and prayed for them. They turned the other cheek. They gave their enemies their coat (their own home). They did to the Honechers what they would have wished the Honechers would do to them. (Reported by George Cowan to Campus Crusade at the U.S. Division Meeting Devotions, Thursday, March 22, 1990.)

In the next lesson, we will see God take all the parts of the work that were carefully assembled and ready – and plug them into the power source of the in-dwelling Spirit of God!

God on the Move: “God’s Recovery Room” – Acts 28

surgeryIt has been my experience that surgery, though usually absolutely necessary, is painful. Even though it will hurt, we will do it if we need it – even if we don’t understand exactly why we need it. We will trust a little gray-scale piece of film and a doctor who explains the incomprehensible problem. We take it at face value that we must attend to our troubles – regardless of the pain that surgical attention will cause. In our lives, surgery is just one kind of storm that can unexpectedly blow in and take, for a time, our sunshine away. The difference is that in most cases it is a scheduled storm.

The truth is that most of us don’t want storms when they come into our lives – but as we have grown in our trust of God, we have come to recognize that our Father may have planned a storm to intersect our path. While we may easily nod our heads and affirm while sitting in the peace of our church pew that God is allowed to touch our lives with storms – it doesn’t mean the storm’s approach doesn’t still bring dread. Only sadists love pain. In fact, as storms assail us, we can even search for a silver lining, but the simple fact is that storms often bring pain and loss. Our experience warns that the coming squall may be both difficult and costly. We have learned the hard way that life storms usually leave us wounded for a time – and some change us for the rest of our lives. They become like that broken leg that never completely knits back together. Long after, it throbs on damp days and night. Even though we will eventually learn to walk—and even to dance again, it will always be with a limp that doesn’t allow us to erase our memory of that storm.

Sometimes storms teach us deeper truths. Usually they change us. In the best of circumstances, they leave us kinder people – more sensitive to fellow victims of other life storms. They may make us more aware of the need for our Father’s mercy and grace – a truth that can fleet away when our busy lives leave us believing in the myth of our own competence. They can help us see scars on ourselves and others, not as marks of damage, but as signs of experience. Our scars become less ugly when we recognize them as signs the storm has now passed by and our healing has – at least to some extent – begun to take place.

In the last lesson follow the Apostle Paul’s life, we watched a powerful storm overtake him and his companions and crush the ship beneath their feet. They weren’t running from God like Jonah; they were following God in obedience. Yet, the truth is, following God isn’t a guarantee of temporal safety – it is a guarantee of eternal reward. God will remember our storm. He will see the hard things we pass through during our obedience. In the lesson on storms we learned:

• God directs our lives by having a plan long before we know what it will be.
• God directs our lives by putting the right people at the right time into our story.
• God directs our lives and He has the “detours” worked out – but they are actually the plan.
• God directs our lives even when people don’t take us seriously.
• God directs our lives even when we are outvoted in the board room.
• God directs our lives even when we have to rid ourselves of things we thought were precious.
• God directs our lives even when our resources are gone and our strength is fading!
• God directs our lives even when they seem long, hard and drawn out – while He proves that He keeps His Word!

I remind you of that list, because it is very much attached to the truth for this lesson…

Key Principle: Just as God guides through the storm, so He plans for your recovery after the storm has passed.

I would like to share with you from the next portion of Scripture that recorded the day after the storm seven truths about the recovery room of God. Remember this if you are passing through it right now… the storm DOES end. If you pick up the Bible and read the first page, then flip to the last page and read it – you will see something remarkable: the universe that began in darkness is slated to end in a light that emanates from the person of the Savior Himself. Let me share with you from God’s Word about the recovery room that follows the storm…

The recovery room begins at the safe passage through the storm.

In the case of Paul, the life storm was a bonafide cold north wind that smashed his ship. It wasn’t a metaphor – it was a painful experience. The next day, it was over. Luke recalls the end of the drama…

Acts 28:1 When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.

Luke recalled all the men were recovered as some swam to the beach, and others floated on debris. The men were glazed, tired, hungry and wet – but thankful to see another day. In fact, Paul’s Malta experience began without the ship, without their belongings, without the pounds shed from lack of food – there was much to lament, but that isn’t what people do when they make to it land. They were relieved to have survived. The shivers and wet clothing were reminders that life was still theirs.

Here is the point: The entrance into the recovery room comes with real losses, some very hard memories and maybe fewer things in your possession than you had when you entered the storm. Here is the trick… look at the words “brought safely through” and rejoice. The recovery room fills you with an “Ahhhh!” followed by a little rest.

Storms don’t only TAKE from us, they also GROW us. Passing through storms can help us taste the sweetness of another new day with more passion and appreciation. Powerful gales can, and should, help produce in us endurance – that bittersweet quality that can only be gained by passing through the uncertainty of a tempest beyond our control. During the peril, endurance is the quality that emerges as moment by moment we believe we cannot make it for yet another, but we continue to stand up. When the storm has passed, we are stunned by the grace that has been granted to stiffen our weak frame.

At the same time, we emerge from the storms and enter the recovery with full knowledge that we are a work in progress. We begin to learn to pick up the pieces, and recognize that there is neither magic nor instant cure for the damage we have suffered. There are only momentary steps of progress. We learn that our “new normal” may be very different – but slowly the pain of the storm recedes and we begin to thaw back into something that is pliable. In time we laugh again – not out of nervous shock – but out of true delight. In time, we will again be able to make faces at the passing baby in the shopping cart – and catch ourselves ebbing anew toward wonder. Deep inside, even our storm weary frame wants to believe in a new morning that will bring a new sunrise, and a new day that will offer warmth of the sun to heal our inner stiffness.

Recovery doesn’t begin until the storm has passed, but it does come. We have to learn to wait for it, learn from it, and see it as another part of God’s grace.

The recovery room includes God-provided helpers.

Maybe you aren’t sure what the recovery looks like. The experience of Paul began with people provided by God to lift the men from the beach and bring them to a warm fire…

Acts 28:2 The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.

Living for more than fifty years on this planet has taught me a lesson: People in the cold world don’t have to be nice. They don’t owe us anything, and many of them act like they know that. Yet, strangely, when people pass through life storms they often report that a strange kindness falls on the people around them. People see their pain, and recognize the scars. After a hurricane, people from unaffected areas come to offer relief and assistance. It is one of the mysteries of life – when we hurt, there are people who wouldn’t normally offer help that just feel compelled inside to do something. We all recognize that we are like that home battered by the storm. The moment we are twisted by the violent winds, our value seems to fall away. Yet, in the hands of a skilled craftsman, the broken pieces can be removed and renewed. We must remember that when kind people are placed in our path after the painful storm, it is wonderful move of God to give us some relief.

Paul and the men came upon the beach soaked from the shipwreck and the storm. Take a moment and note in the verse that relief was offered to Paul and his fellows first in the form of emotional kindness, then in practical warmth and finally in inviting hospitality. Consider this when you have passed through the storm: It is easy not to notice the people that God gives us to begin your healing – especially while we are still trying to move in the strangeness of new pain. Let me ask you to do something…Look for those who offer a warm hug – mark down their names. Notice those who offer the practical warmth and assistance that will allow you to focus on healing – remember their faces. Embrace those who offer invitation into their homes and lives. You are looking at the faces of storm survivors. They came because they know something you do not. They know the night will end and a friend can make the transition much easier.

The recovery room includes moments of God-ordained testimony.

On the first reading of the next few verses it may look like Paul’s recovery is slipping back into troubled times – a new storm may seem to be brewing. That isn’t true. Paul isn’t worried. That isn’t the point. Luke recorded the story this way…

Acts 28:3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they [began] saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and [began] to say that he was a god.

The story wasn’t about trouble for Paul – he barely seemed to notice the viper stuck to his hand. Wet to his aching bones, exhausted from the ordeal and hungry beyond belief he simply pulled the venomous snake off his hand and tossed it into the fire. It was more an aggravation than anything else. If God preserved him from the storm and told him he was heading for Rome, no snake was going to stop the plan. Paul wasted no time complaining about the snake, because he wasn’t worried about death – God told him where he was going. Besides that, a quick snake bite death was probably going to be much less painful than what WAS actually ahead for Paul! The fact is the account wasn’t primarily about Paul – but rather about those who were watching him.

You cannot help but think the villagers were a fickle lot that really went through quite an unusual turnabout! One minute they were mentally digging Paul’s grave and thinking him a wretch – the next they were dropping to their knees to pay him tribute as a god. They observed the ongoing misfortune of a storm and a viper – but they got a lesson in God’s power and knew that something beyond the normal was going on with this man. Paul’s next invitation no doubt got people out of their seats and down the aisle. This guy mustn’t be taken lightly.

Do you wonder why didn’t God block the snake from snagging Paul’s hand? It is clear from the text that God intended Paul to be a testimony, and the snake bite gave him a platform to share the Gospel. We need to remember that lesson when we feel like recovery has begun and something happens that appears to be a step backwards. Even in the recovery room we must not forget why were created – to serve the Master’s purpose. Our lives are not primarily FOR us – but for His good pleasure and usefulness. When God offered a place for the recovery to show God’s power, the testimony of the Master’s goodness flowed from the recovering man.

The recovery room often includes moments of intimate, new friendships.

During the storm, you are just trying to hang on. In the recovery room, there is an opportunity to embrace new people – some who would never have come across your path in any other way. Look at the days of recovery as explained by Luke…

Acts 28:7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days. 8 And it happened that the father of Publius was lying [in bed] afflicted with [recurrent] fever and dysentery; and Paul went in [to see] him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. 9 After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured. 10 They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied [us] with all we needed.

It is obvious that Paul and his men would never have met Publius had the shipwreck not occurred. This was far off course of their destination – but the detour was planned by God along with the rest of the journey.

Recently I spoke to the wife of a longtime friend – just after she passed through another round of cancer surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. She told me about the people she met at the cancer center and showed me pictures of what amounted to a room full of new people she calls “dear friends”. She told me that although she loved her church very much, she found a new church in a cancer ward. These were people tossed from their lives into a treatment center – and each struggling with their own pain, perpetual vomiting and hair loss. Here is what impressed me about the pictures – everyone was smiling. The people weren’t somber – they were nothing short of “goofy”. I saw strange clothing, party hats and many bald heads with faces painted on top of them. “What is wrong with these people!” I thought. Then I listened. These were the league of the hurting. The myth of safety that covers us like a veneer had been stripped from their lives. They didn’t want to wait to live. They wanted to love, laugh and feel connected – even if they had to look silly to do it. They didn’t care. She said, “You know, when you pause a conversation to vomit in a bucket, and then continue, you have already been seen at your worst. What’s worse than that?” She paused and said, “They don’t care. They have their own bucket, and they know what the feeling is. At least we can share the moments in between.”

I don’t think like that. I hide my bucket and want to keep my hair – at least for now. I wonder how much I hide behind, and how my life would be more authentic if I really didn’t care if I looked silly in my relationships, my laughter and my loving. I am not sure, but I want us to focus on the words we read again…

Paul healed Publius’ dad, and then Paul healed many from the town. The snake was God’s gift that gave him a public platform to witness, while the healing power from God gave him an opportunity to touch people personally and up close. Paul used the time well, and helped people see Jesus through his life. He may have been marching to his death, for all he knew, but he might just as well do it with his combat boots on.

In addition to the touch of Paul and the positive testimony that grew from his healing hands, the Lord used that empowering to endear Paul to the people’s hearts. They were only too willing to supply for Paul, Luke and Aristarchus. They arrived on the shore as strangers; they left the dock as dear friends of so many people. In just a few months, the vulnerability of the recovery process allowed God to introduce new and deep friends that touched parts of us we didn’t know existed. I want to encourage you to refuse to overlook the work that God may do through you while you are in recovery to touch the lives of other people deeply. People need to see you as real, accessible and willing to touch them. You may be surprised at how deeply they touch you in return.

The recovery room includes the special strengthening by Godly people.

God wasn’t done rebuilding Paul and his friends after the storm. They got on yet another ship a few months later, but they were not yet ready for the years of waiting in Rome and the discomforts, and needed still more recovery. Luke shared how God brought that about…

Acts 28:11 At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead. 12 After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found [some] brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. 15 And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

Parting from the new friends at Malta, Paul had to face the days ahead and get the courage to stand in Rome without flinching. After another five days of uncertain travel, they entered the Bay of Naples. The spring season made the travel possible, and the broken nature of the travel made the centurion even more flexible than normal, which gave Paul an extra week at Puteoli. Seven days to share with open-hearted believers that excitedly invited others to join them (2.5 hours drive) made for a refreshing time for the men. How Paul needed that! Most were probably new faces to the Apostle – people reached by others and fellowships that sprung up in places Paul had never been. For a man who spent a third of his life building churches this was deeply encouraging.

Paul met with them, but I was particularly moved with how he thanked God for the way they helped build up his courage. He wasn’t made of stone, and he the scars of a fresh storm from which he was still recovering. These were people who were excited about Jesus, and added encouragement to Paul’s life. Don’t forget to look for the encouragers that God will send your way. The encounters may be brief and the experience not nearly so deep as those in Malta – but breathe in their encouragement – you will need it as you complete your recovery. While you do that, let me remind you of another important thing…

The recovery room strengthens us to continue to share Christ – even if conflict results.

Acts 28:16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. 17 After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews…

The remaining part of verse seventeen to verse twenty records part of the conversation between Paul and the Jewish leaders. Paul explained his arrest, and the Jewish leaders admitted they knew nothing of his coming. Luke explained…

Acts 28:21 They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 “But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” 23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. 25 And when they did not agree with one another, they [began] leaving after Paul had spoken one [parting] word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying, GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, “YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 27 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.”‘ 28 “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” 29 [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves].

Here’s the truth: In pain, we can pull back from sharing our faith – because we don’t feel whole. More than that, in recovery, we can instinctively flee pain and may be sorely tempted to compromise our walk while focusing on restoring our comforts. We forget that the whole point of God taking you through recovery was to be again useful to His purposes – we must not forget that! Conflict may come, but recovery will help you become strong again – and you won’t lilt if you pay attention to the Master’s openings to be used.

The final thought on recovery comes at the end of the Book of Acts…

The recovery room can be an extended period, but it often leads to a time of unparalleled productivity and joyful fruit!

Paul was about to again be set aside from travels. His cruise membership was probably already terminated, but he was going to be very limited in travel options. He was under a “light chain” – a form of pre-trial supervision that was costly and inconvenient. Imagine someone watching you at every moment of the day and night. Luke said it this way:

Acts 28:30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

That doesn’t sound so bad… not compared to a shipwreck! At the same time, from this “light chain” experience in Rome, Paul received people and letters from the young churches, and wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon – a clear sign that God used this time in Paul’s life to influence and lead many while he was in bonds. He wasn’t STOPPED from productivity, but accomplishments were more difficult because of the special conditions. Maybe your storm left you with a continued chain that is keeping you tied down. It could be a six month check-up that you dread two times a year – because you don’t know what news will come from it. Maybe your storm took from you someone precious – and you aren’t sure how to move forward. What you can do, what you MUST do, is to learn to savor life under your chain. It may not be the same, but it can be fruitful for God’s kingdom.

Pastor Ken Pell shared a story of one who passed through an early storm but made it through to fruitfulness. It is worth recalling. His extraordinary talent may be what the world will remember of him. As for me, I will remember his storm and his committed recovery…

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born into the musical family of Bachs in 1685. By the age of ten, both of his parents were dead. Early in his friction-filled life, young Johann determined he would write music … music for the glory of God … and this he did. Most of Bach’s works are explicitly Biblical. Albert Schweitzer referred to him as The fifth evangelist, thus comparing him to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. At age 17 Bach became the organist at the church; soon thereafter he was given charge of the entire music ministry. During his ministry in Weimar, Germany he wrote a new cantata every month … EVERY MONTH! And during one three-year period he wrote, conducted, orchestrated, and performed (with his choir and orchestra) a new cantata every week! No one had any idea what a mark Bach would leave. His legacy lives on some 300 years later. You can hear his music at will. At the beginning of every authentic manuscript one will find the letters “J.J.” This stands for Jesu Java (Jesus help me). At the end of each original manuscript you will find the letters “S.D.G.” This stands for Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God). From sermon central illustrations.

I’ll bet if you think of signing the work of your hands to the glory of God- it will be partly because you have always felt you needed to have Jesus help you. You see recovering people don’t feel whole – they feel repaired by God’s grace and in need of God’s constant love. Fortunately, we know that just as God guides through the storm, so He plans for your recovery after the storm has passed!

God on the Move: “Journey to the Center of the Earth” – Acts 27

Journey to centerThe nineteenth century novel (published in 1864) by Jules Verne called in English “Journey to the Center of the Earth” has become one of the literary classics of the science fiction genre. Verne offered readers a tale about a German professor Otto Lidenbrock who insisted on testing his belief that there were volcanic tubes that led from the surface of the earth all the way to the core of the planet. To prove his theory, he led an expedition with his nephew Axel, and their guide (Hans) into the earth beginning at an Icelandic volcano. The fantastic journey included adventures such as engaging prehistoric animals and traversing perilous hazards of untamed nature. In the end, they emerged at the Stromboli volcano on the tiny Stromboli Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea west of southern Italy, and north of the large island of Sicily. The science in Verne’s book is quite crude by modern standards, but the story line is both engaging and captivating. In my view, few have mastered tactile description better than the classical writers of that period, and Verne is an exceptional example of his time. If you haven’t read the book, take the time… it is a wonderful experience.

Admittedly, I didn’t title this lesson “Journey to the Center of the Earth” as an homage to Jules Verne and his writing. I have in mind a different journey – this one of a first century Roman citizen making his way to Rome – the place at the center of his political world. If you have been following the story of his life and ministry, you will recognize that I am referring to the Apostle Paul and his traveling companions. If you have read the dramatic narrative of Dr. Luke’s record in the Book of Acts in the past, you know this journey seemed nearly as perilous and just as engaging as Verne’s writing of fictional travel – but this journey was very real, indeed.

Come back on the journey with me again for a few moments…By now in the time line of our studies we have finished with Paul’s mission travels. We observed as Paul defended his faith in front of a mob, then a college of Jewish leaders, followed by two provincial governors and a finally a Jewish king and queen. In this lesson we trace his journey to face the Roman Emperor, in spite of the fact that the recent news Paul could hear from Rome was deeply and increasingly unsettling. The record of the physical journey also unfolds – but the record holds a secret. Paul wasn’t just traveling – he was being led by God to do the Master’s bidding. He wasn’t just “passing through” the circumstances; he was experiencing God’s superintending of them. Here is the truth that Luke recorded in a dramatic tale…

Key Principle: God provides practical help to guide us through the storms of life.

It comes as a surprise to virtually NO ONE that our life has storms. These are the unforeseen events that collide with us – in spite of our careful preparation in so many areas. Yet, just as it is true that trouble will come in our lives – so it is true that God will guide us through troubles into His arms. This story offers us a series of brief reminders about how God directs our lives to get us to where He wants us. I think each of them “pop out” of the story as you follow it in Acts 27 and into 28. First, note that…

God directs our lives by having a plan long before we know what it will be.

Acts 27:1 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy…

This doesn’t sound very profound, but it is actually an incredible encouragement when a storm hits us and “blind sides” our world. Look at the words that open the account – a decision was made. Paul wasn’t in charge of the decisions – but even if he had been – it would have made little difference. The fact is that we can plan and plan and plan – but if a storm hits us, it will likely be at a time we didn’t expect and in an area for which we didn’t prepare. Isn’t it comforting, even a little bit, to know in times like that the truth that God is still at work. Circumstances don’t happen to us – God works a plan and signs off on the things that hit my life. We could look in the book of Job for help on this, but that would sound far too negative, and you are doing that badly… so let’s look at other truths about God’s direction…

God directs our lives by putting the right people at the right time into our story.

I love that my life is being staged by God, and that He provides people to take the journey along with me. Look at Luke’s record of the people accompanying Paul…

Acts 27:1b”… they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.

When you read the passage carefully, you see the following people are mentioned as part of the journey with Paul.

Other prisoners: Paul wasn’t being transported alone; there were others who were destined to face a Roman tribunal. You could look at that with a negative eye, like “I am on a ship of thieves and cutthroats.” At the same time, there is an obvious positive to the company… The events on the trip could serve as a backdrop to a larger testimony that could spread to new places in the mouths of these men. They may not have been our chosen audience – but they were the ones selected by God to be on the vessel.

A spiritually lost but temporally powerful man: Paul’s guard was of high rank; a centurion of the Imperial guard named Julius. We know little of his personal resume, but we know something of his accomplishments and character that would have been essential to reaching such a station. We also know something even more important…we know who put him in that place.

Companions in ministry: The text offers a little note of two other men who were standing by Paul during this journey. The first was found in the simple word “we”, which of course refers to Luke. Another man is named – a man God inserted into Paul’s life, at least for the time being; a man called Aristarchus. Luke was likely listed on the ship’s log as Paul’s personal physician (something the wealthy and sickly could afford to do), but that doesn’t help us understand how Aristarchus traveled with them. A number of scholars have posited that Aristarchus listed himself as Paul’s personal slave in order to help on the journey! This idea was used by believers later…

As a young person, I had been told of the story of the two Moravian missionaries to St. Thomas and St. Croix who were willing to be made into slaves if it was the only way to reach the slaves. In Copenhagen they made the offer, but an official told them, “that is impossible. It will not be allowed. No white man ever works as a slave.” One offered his carpentry in trade instead. They sailed on Oct 8, 1732, and arrived in St. Thomas two months later on December 13. While living on the islands and preaching to the slaves, they began a ministry that transformed lives for fifty years. Moravian missionaries baptized 13,000 converts before any other missionaries ever arrived on the scene.

Why is the record of Aristarchus and Luke so important? The reason is simple: the storms of life and troubles of the journey weren’t meant to be weathered alone. God didn’t just provide a ship, he provided friends to make the rough trip beside. As the old saying goes: “a shared joy is double joy and a shared sorrow is half a sorrow”.

Christian friends and prayer partners: One day into the journey the vessel stopped off at Sidon and Paul just happened to have Christian friends there…another gift from God to help secure him along the way.

Never underestimate the encouragement you offer someone by being a friend who showed up while everyone else just thought about showing up. Make the call. Do the visit. You will find that many people are facing storms and the waves look even more treacherous than they are, because they feel they are facing the storms alone. Don’t let them!

We aren’t near done our story, we have just begun. It is important that we recognize how much God does behind the scenes in our lives…

God directs our lives and has the “detours” worked out – but they are actually the plan.

Sometimes the detours appear as “alternative directions” – and God doesn’t seem to be cooperating in the natural world. Luke told the story this way:

Acts 27:4 From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. 5 When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it.

Since weather has always been in the hands of God, we can surmise that God was watching as the men sailed into the contrary winds, and that slowed the journey down dramatically. Have you ever been in a hurry and found yourself stuck in a long line of traffic? If you have, you know what travel on a ship that is facing the wind and being slowed to a crawl feels like. Well behind schedule, the Centurion landed in Asia Minor looking for a larger vessel bound for the Bay of Naples, and found one.

Was God keeping Paul from making a particular appointment? We don’t know. Remember, we have already noted in a previous study that God’s will for us may not be about us. It is very possible that God was doing something completely different than we would surmise based on the record. We humbly admit this, however. God is in charge of the plan. If we are “detoured to another destination” or “delayed by the unforeseen” and things “out of our control”, we must learn to rest in God’s superintending.

Usually the detours look like they are wasting precious time – but I have noticed that often God doesn’t seem to be in the hurry that I am. I guess being eternal and timeless changes His perspective from being on a 100 year body lease. Luke wrote:

Acts 27:7 When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us [to go] farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; 8 and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

I want you to notice the way Luke told us the detail here. He said: “we sailed s-l-o-w-l-y for a good many days”. Can you hear the boredom in his voice? He noted “the wind wouldn’t let us go.” Wait? Don’t you serve God? Doesn’t He control the wind? Here is the point: When God is superintending the journey and you don’t know what He is doing, don’t assume He has forgotten you. Every difficulty was perceived by the men as part of God’s plan for them. That didn’t make seasickness any easier, and it didn’t guarantee them they would live through the experience – but it did mean things didn’t ‘just happen’ to them – their steps were ordered by the Lord (or should I say their swells and waves were ordered…).

If you aren’t frustrated with the truths in this passage yet, the next one is for YOU…

God directs our lives when people don’t take us seriously.

Many of us have reconciled God’s control of the weather. Some of us have even reconciled God’s control of our traffic jam – but the idea that God is behind any part of simply writing off what we have to say is really tough! Luke recorded:

Acts 27:9 When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul [began] to admonish them, 10 and said to them, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul.

God gave the men a perfectly reasonable warning in the words of Paul He simply told them “Don’t go if you don’t want to lost at least the ship and possible all our lives!” The warning was unheeded because the pilot and captain pressed the Centurion with the view they could make it without trouble. Why they believed this so late in the year isn’t known – but their voice was heard and Paul’s was dismissed. I would like to say this was a unique circumstance, but I cannot. I have been in the position many times of watching people ignore warnings given by a believer, and instead follow people who appear confident – but cannot offer reasonable assurance on their position. Doesn’t that frustrate you? Since as a believer, I need to be kind, I don’t even get the opportunity for the big “I told you so!” when the problem blows up!

Here is the point: God is at work even when people reject your words. Don’t think that God cannot use their rejection. In the case of the Gospel, you may be there so that they can reject, and later on God will bring that rejection to their attention. The same fragrance of Jesus that is life to the saved in 2 Corinthians is the stench of death to the lost.

Here is another hard one…

God directs our lives when we are outvoted in the board room.

Look at how the men gathered to decide what to do next in Acts 27:12…

Acts 27:12 Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter [there].

Did you see the words “the majority reached a decision”? Paul’s warning was very clear, yet they took a vote on the next phase. Let me say this to anyone who is struggling because your faith is calling you to stand out – and you wonder if there is something wrong with you… In the history of mankind, the majority was seldom on the side of God, and seldom on the side of right. Most people get life wrong – so don’t be bothered by a call to distinct living for God.

It may really frustrate you to have your voice discounted in the public square – but that isn’t the most important thing. There are people in your life that WILL listen, and you can have an influence on others if you will faithfully follow God. Don’t worry if SOME don’t listen – do your part where God places you!

For economy, let me suggest that a careful reading of the journey can be found in verses thirteen to seventeen. In that portion you can see how the journey became perilous for the group as they moved along the shoreline of Crete and got pounded and driven by a northern wind that drove them out to sea.

Acts 27:13 When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and [began] sailing along Crete, close [inshore]. 14 But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15 and when the ship was caught [in it] and could not face the wind, we gave way [to it] and let ourselves be driven along. 16 Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the [ship’s] boat under control. 17 After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on [the shallows] of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.

Nothing will get under your skin more than watching people go through trouble when you gave them a full and complete warning about the moves they were making before they did – especially when their choice imperils you and your family. This is one of the reasons many believers are so frustrated with the social experimentation of our age with things like “no fault divorce”, “naturalist education” and “a new marriage definition”. In each case, believers warn carefully of coming troubles, get ignored, and then have to watch patiently as the things they warned about come to pass. Do not fear: God has not abandoned us. He is still directing even when people aren’t listening! We don’t really know His plan for our future, except that it ends in our death or His return –everything else is speculation! We must keep pressing on for a complete picture…

God directs our lives when we have to rid ourselves of things we thought were precious.

There are, no doubt, some things you think you simply “cannot do without”. That is only true until you don’t have them – and then you “make due” and find another way to keep going. Keep reading…

Acts 27:18 The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19 and on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing [us], from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.

First they lost the cargo, then the ship’s tackle, and eventually their hope got tossed into the sea as well. Rescue seemed further and further away. Optimism gave way to the toss of the waves. Do you know the feeling?

Some of the people I know have lost homes due to turmoil and unrest in their home villages. Others have lost cars, burned by bandits and looters in the midst of chaos. Some have lost their most precious possessions in tornadoes or vicious storms. Here is what I know: Loss is hard, but often we aren’t very good judges at the line between “need” and “want” in our lives.

I enjoy reading about “tiny houses”. Recently I found that they have a television show on a cable channel and I could get access to some of the episodes on the internet. A tiny house, for the uninitiated, is a home that is usually smaller than five hundred square feet. The average American home is more than four times that size. One of the hardest parts of moving into a “tiny home” is learning to rid ourselves of the many things we have accumulated over the years that we have come to believe are absolute necessities.

Did you ever move your home after living in it for a long time, only to discover you own a great deal more than you thought you did? Down-sizing can be hard in life. Some have sold off much of what you bought in your lifetime. Others have even gotten to the place where they have turned in their driver’s license. Losing precious things can be very hard – but God is still directing your life and with you as you sit in the smaller pile of what is left. Remember: You brought nothing into this world, and you will take nothing out. All of your stuff will be disposed of at some point. It is only stuff. Take care of it. Steward it well… but don’t put too much of your emotional energy into it. Life here is temporary.

We saw the men losing hope, but keep reading, because there is yet more to learn…

God directs our lives when our resources are gone and our strength is fading!

Look at what happened in the midst of the failing men…

Acts 27:21 When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 22 “[Yet] now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but [only] of the ship. 23 “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26 “But we must run aground on a certain island.”

Did you see what happened? God sent an angel to them! He could have sent the angel a week before and they would have avoided this mess – but NO!. He could have revealed the storm to Paul before he ever stepped on the ship – but NO! He didn’t send word in the beginning of the peril – he said nothing while the food was dwindling and the ship was breaking. God literally waited until they practically gave up every hope of making it through with their ship. In other words, God let them exhaust themselves before He made His presence overtly known – and then it was up to Paul to assure the men onboard. The point was that they had done all they could, and God was about to do a work to raise up His man on board. God is still at work when you have almost nothing left to give. He is directing your path…

God directs our lives when they seem long, hard and drawn out – while He proves that He keeps His Word!

Acts 27:27 mentioned a fourteenth night when they began sounding depths. Verse 33 made clear that they needed to be encouraged to, at long last, take some food. Verse 37 marked out the fact that there were two hundred seventy-six people on board the vessel. Verse 38 made clear they ate and then tossed the rest of the grain overboard, committing them to finding shore soon, or forcing them to starve in its search! Verse 40 ends with the perilous words that remind us after they had done all they knew how to do, they were heading for a rough grounding.

Pick up your reading in 27:41. Luke recorded:

Acts 27:41 But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern [began] to be broken up by the force [of the waves]. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none [of them] would swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, 44 and the rest [should follow], some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.

God told Paul they would all live, and he told the men they would live. God then disassembled the ship – and they graphically saw God do exactly what He promised. By the end – everyone knew that God knew, and more than that, they knew that Paul knew – because he knew God! The testimony was the point of the drama!

Recently, I heard a Pastor share a story about a woman who was a part of the church where he serves. She was passing through a storm of cancer when she dropped by to see him. When she told him about her fight, she said: “I believe I am ready for whatever happens.” She stopped and looked down. She said, “You know, I guess it is time for me to start really practicing that faith I have been talking about for all these years. The Pastor said to her, “I disagree!” She was surprised. He said: “Carol, I think you are ready because you HAVE BEEN practicing your faith all along!”

We will all pass through storms. They may have different sized waves, and they may have different ways of knocking us off balance… but we will face storms. Thankfully, this passage reminds us that God provides practical help to guide us through the storms of life.

Chuck Swindoll introduced this story years ago, but it is perfect to illustrate what we have been studying and it makes me smile every time I recall it. It was a true story…

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” Chippie got sucked in. The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie — still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him. A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore — he just sits and stares.

Have you ever felt that way? I’ll bet if you did, you know what a storm feels like!

God on the Move: “Appeasement is a Failed Strategy” (Part Two, Acts 25-26)

PrintUnless you have recently immigrated to our country, you are aware that for the last five years parts of our government have become fixated on the term “bullying”. The term has been defined in the newly organized “stopbullying.gov” website, which states:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance…In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include: an “Imbalance of Power” (Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others) [as well as]…”Repetition” (Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once). Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

I cannot be the only American that wondered how the government got involved in the antics of school yard children, but – like it or not – the fact is that they have decided to make this a part of their governmental oversight. I also cannot actually grasp how they will monitor the child who feels excluded on purpose. I think I was that guy a few times – the last picked for the team – and then only because a teacher MADE them choose EVERYONE to play. I do recognize there are extreme examples, but I remember a number of bloody noses as a child fighting on the playground and I don’t recall any federal charges, but my memory isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps I am being too insensitive; I don’t mean to offend someone who has been through a difficult experience with your own child. Most of us recall some cruelty by others as we grew up – it seems a part of the condition of living with a fallen humanity.

My focus on bullying in this lesson is on an ancient case…As we follow the life of the Apostle Paul. We have observed some true bullying in recent lessons, though none in a school yard. Paul was beaten by a mob, swept away into a barracks and offered some chances to defend himself. We are following those defenses found in the first century record of the Book of Acts that detailed each defense he gave before a variety of proceedings. Most recently we have examined the first of three “Roman Provincial Defenses” recorded by Dr. Luke on Paul’s behalf. They are part of a string of seven defenses in which we learn an important truth, perfect for this generation of believers. The truth is…

Key Principle: God modeled the defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message we were given by the Lord.

The three defenses we already noted in our study were:

• The first defense of Paul was before the Jewish crowd in the Temple, given in Hebrew, from the stairs of the Antonia Fortress (Acts 22).

• The second defense was before the Sanhedrin, under the guard of the Chiliarch (commander) in Jerusalem (Acts 23).

• The third defense was before Antonius Felix, the Roman Procurator (Governor) of the Province of Judea.

As we looked closely, we began with a focus on three elements of each recorded defense which were:

• First, the players – it is essential that we clarify the picture of the setting by sharpening our focus on Paul’s audience.

• Second, the content – we want to look closely at HOW Paul defended the faith, and what elements of the story he highlighted according to Luke’s brief overview.

• Third, the results – sometimes it is encouraging to see the responses to those who went before us so that we have some idea what to expect.

As with the defense before Felix, will use these three as our rough “outline” of each defense, and then take the time to apply the lessons we find in the record. Think back for a moment to our last lesson… We observed several important principles of defending our faith taking Paul’s circumstance as a model for the days ahead. We noted that:

• Paul didn’t need to be rude, presumptive or defensive in spirit to stand for Jesus –and we don’t either.

• Paul didn’t assume that his audience understood his faith (he didn’t “Christian-eaze” his way through his defense), nor did he attack his opponents to get his point across – and we don’t need to either.

• Paul didn’t wander between issues, but stayed focused on the essential point of making the heart of his faith clear to the hearer – and we must do so as well.

• Paul didn’t like disagreement, and didn’t want it in his life – but that didn’t make him so soft that he refused to stand his ground – and we cannot either. This is a time for believers to make it clear that the message of the Bible is non-negotiable. What the Bible calls on us to do, is what God expects us to do – and we intend to do it.

These are good principles, but the record is not complete – we have more in front of us. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at two more defenses, as Luke recorded them in Acts 25 and the beginning of Acts 26.

Paul’s Defense before Procurator Porcius Festus (Acts 25):

The Player: Porcius Festus

Porcius Festus took the post of Procurator of Judea after Antoninus Felix vacated it and likely held the office between the years 59-62 CE, though these dates are still disputed. The change in the provincial coinage evidences Nero’s fifth year points to A.D. 59. As inheritor of the raft of problems in part caused by his predecessor Felix, Festus faced a growing controversy between Agrippa II and the Jerusalem priests regarding a wall erected at the Temple to break the view of the new wing of Agrippa’s palace. Jewish hostilities grew and played an important part in the coming Jewish War of 66 CE.

Here is how the text of the Book of Acts introduced him:

Acts 25:1 Festus then, having arrived in the province, three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. 2 And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, 3 requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem ([at the same time], setting an ambush to kill him on the way). 4 Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.” 6 After he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought.

Festus looks in the passage to be a “means business” straight-shooter. He arrived by sea, and spent only three days before he went to Jerusalem to collect the list of troubles that would need to be faced. When the priests made Paul a big deal, he came back to Caesarea, took up his tribunal seat and got down to business. Luke recalled the man as being on the job and serious – just what seemed needed in Judea.

The Defense: Clear presentation of the issues.

Paul’s appearance is carefully presented by Luke, as a radio announcer in a ball park. He gives us the “blow by blow” description of the interaction. Luke wasn’t just reporting the scene – he was offering a pattern for us under the controlling breath of the Spirit of God. Look at how Paul handled the defense of his faith..

Once again, Paul got right to the heart of the accusation – he was DIRECT.

Acts 25:7 After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove, 8 while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”

In many cases in modern life, the audience rewards brevity. They need enough to understand, but in this world full of information overload – stick to the facts. When I deal with a naturalist, I simply posit that there are powerful, precise and unvaried formulas at work in operating the delicate balance of forces that make life in this universe possible. Since that is a fact that all can grasp, the question of how these forces came to be and how they continue to operate is a philosophical one – not a scientific one. Once the veneer of science is stripped away, it is possible to address presupposition and belief – and no system has more in its favor than the simplicity of an intelligent Designer. Driving the discussion to its clearest components will strip all the frills and distractions.

In Paul’s case, he lunged into the heart of the matter and simply said: “I have committed no offense worthy of my detention, period.” That about says it. Paul insisted they PROVE HIM GUILTY, not simply yell about how they felt.

Paul wouldn’t let someone move the proceedings in an inappropriate venue for trickery sake – he was INFORMED about his legal defense.

Acts 25:9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these [charges]?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried.

Paul knew the possibility of a plot was great, and the embarrassment of the many who had taken a vow and then failed earlier. He wasn’t going to Jerusalem, because he could be sure he would not make it alive. He knew he could get a fairer chance at a hearing right where he was – and that was the appropriate venue.

Here is the point: The believer can and should be aware of legal maneuvers that will be used against him. I believe in law enforcement, and I support their attempts to do a difficult job, but I also am not unaware that many who work in that field are jaded, and their work is to catch people who are hiding the wrong doing in which they are involved. As a result, my interactions with law enforcement are carefully worded. Let me explain: If you walk into an interview with the police and anticipate they will understand your humor and innocent personality, you will almost certainly be spending some time in their guest facilities. I answer directly and respectfully, but I don’t look at them as friends, and I don’t answer them casually. I recognize the need to be careful about what I say and how I say it. The same thought process is what I use speaking to reporters today.

Paul was aware of the backroom dealing, and he made sure the authorities knew that he knew the proper venue for dispute. His example reminds us that believers who face the system ignorant of it will face heartbreak if they don’t learn quickly how things work. If persecution comes to our country in a real way – we will need to understand legal precedent for our positions and try to defend ourselves within those – and Paul’s template will be useful! Look at how he faced the charges as you continue reading in Acts 25:10…

Paul made clear that his hearer knew the truth about the charges, and put that on the record – he wasn’t SHEEPISH.

Acts 25:10b “…I have done no wrong to [the] Jews, as you also very well know.

Paul wanted it to be a matter of record that he was being set up by the offer of a change of venue for his hearing. He left a clear pattern – being polite doesn’t mean being a patsy. We can know our legal rights and we can press the point that wrong is wrong when it is obvious. Recently a public school system required middle school students to memorize portions from the Qur’an to help the student understand what it termed “the beauty of the faith of Islam”. A parent filed suit and made clear on the evening news that if the plain reading of John 3:16 couldn’t be recited in a classroom because of separation of church and state, “mosque and state” needed to be kept equally apart. The school board was flooded with phone calls and responses by people who did not share the faith of the parent –but they made their point. Because the believer used a point of law that the society could otherwise rally around – the believer affected change. Paul continued…

When he recognized there was no other choice, he made a direct appeal to head to Rome – he was CONFIDENT of God’s leading.

Acts 25:11 “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is [true] of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Look at the courageous way Paul phrased his commitment. He told Festus that he wasn’t unwilling to die – but that he knew he wouldn’t get a fair trial if he was going to be forced to go to Jerusalem – and that is what it looked like would happen. Romans loved “wirtus” (a word that meant more “manliness”) and they routinely abhorred cowards. Paul was a Roman, and he wanted Festus to know that he shared the values of a Roman.

When modern believers defend our faith, it is not wrong to show that we value our country and what it has been. It is not wrong to express trust in her courts and systems – but we cannot be uninformed of which appeals can and must be made when things are not going well. Remember in his case, Paul’s confidence was in God’s revelation that he was Rome-ward bound – so Paul exercised the only option he could see that would get him that result. The alternative was to be ambushed on the road to Jerusalem or miraculously protected by God.

The Results: Held for structuring of case and subsequent transport to Caesar.

The end of the account in Acts 25:12 made clear that Festus couldn’t grease the wheels with the priests, so he was going to ship the problem to Nero. Luke recorded:

Acts 25:12 Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.”

Paul’s Defense before Herod Agrippa II and Berenice (Acts 25:13-26:32):

The Players: Herod Agrippa II and Queen Berenice

Before Paul could be sent to Rome, Festus needed to structure the charges and have a document accompany Paul – but that wasn’t easy. He hadn’t broken any laws! For help, Festus called on the King of the Jews – Herod Agrippa II as recorded in Acts 25:13-14.

Herod Agrippa II was born during the ministry of Jesus before the Cross (27-29 CE) the final king from the Herodian dynasty. His father was Herod Agrippa I who died “smitten of worms” in Acts 12, his aunt was Drusilla (second wife of the former Roman procurator Antonius Felix) and his sister and consort was Bernice (who is in the story of Paul’s defense with her brother). Agrippa was educated in the court of the Emperor Claudius, until his father’s untimely death (when Agrippa II was only seventeen years old). Claudius held the youth in Rome and sent a Procurator to Judaea, while Agrippa supported Jews at every opportunity before the Emperor. Eventually he was granted the Syrian territory of Chalcis (after the death of Herod of Chalcis in 48 CE) as well as the right of superintending the Temple in Jerusalem and appointing its high priest. Late in Claudius’ reign (53 CE), he was made ruler over the territories of Herod Philip. Josephus, the Jewish historian, repeats the gossip that Agrippa II lived in an incestuous relationship with his sister, Berenice. She acted as a “client queen”, and the relationship may have been as suspected. In 55 CE, Nero gave him administration of Tiberias and Taricheae in Galilee, Iulias and all of Peraea. Agrippa dramatically beautified Jerusalem but routinely appointed and deposed high priests – making him increasingly unpopular. Agrippa failed to stem off the Jewish rebellion in 66 CE against the Roman procurator Gessius Florus, and found himself expelled along with Berenice as the reviolt against Rome grew. He supported both Vespasian, and Titus – accompanying the latter on some campaigns, and was even wounded at the siege of Gamla. After the capture of Jerusalem, he went with his sister Berenice to Rome, where he was invested with the dignity of praetor and rewarded with additional territory. He died, childless, sometime late in the first century.

The Defense: Clear presentation of the issues.

It was customary for Roman officials to ask local monarchs for help in local adjudication matters – and this one was particularly difficult for Festus. He stood to lose favor of Jerusalem’s key players for not handing Paul over to a plot, but that would have put him in violation of Roman protection laws. He called in help…

Acts 25:13 Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. 14 While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king…”

Festus explained to Agrippa and Berenice how Felix stuck him with the problem of Paul in 25:14b-19. He made clear that he saw it as a debate about Jesus and resurrection – an internal theological debate of Jews. He admitted it was not in his purview and said:

Acts 25:20 “Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. 21 “But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I send him to Caesar.”

Agrippa was intrigued and asked to have an opportunity to examine him. An elaborate stage was set, and Dr. Luke says they wasted little time:

Acts 25: 23 So, on the next day when Agrippa came together with Bernice amid great pomp, and entered the auditorium accompanied by the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

Procurator Festus made a speech at the beginning of the proceeding, and offered some thoughts:

1. Jews appealed to me and pressed their case loudly to execute this man (25:24).

2. I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death (24:25).

3. He appealed to the Emperor, and I agreed to send him. but I have nothing to write to the Emperor concerning charges.

Agrippa began to address Paul in Acts 26:1 Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and [proceeded] to make his defense:

For the sake of time in our lesson, I want to focus on the meat of what Paul said – because it is powerful. He opened thanking Agrippa II for hearing the case and being a studious Jew (26:2-3). He made clear that his testimony is well known and easy to verify – a life as a Pharisee until he met Jesus while persecuting Christians at the behest of Temple authorities. He “dove in” to his testimony:

First, Jesus found me when I wasn’t looking for Him (26:12-15). Jesus interrupted my life and made clear I was heading the wrong way. He struck me down and spoke…

Acts 26:14 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

He made clear that Jesus was powerful, alive and acting on his life when Paul had no intention of believing, following or serving Jesus. The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus is not dead – He is alive, engaged and moving. Heaven is not far from us – for our Savior is near. He walks beside us each day. He hears what we hear. He sees what we see – but then so much more. A true gospel presentation MUST center on the living Christ. He is not an influence. He is not an inspiring leader Who lived and died long ago. He is a Living Savior – able to reach into lives and transform them today!

Second, Jesus took control of my life, my directions and my goals. I chose to follow His lead, and that is what I am doing!

Acts 26:16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the [Jewish] people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you…

Third, Jesus’ promise is to pull people out of the darkness of Satan’s realm and give them both forgiveness of sin and a new family – a new inheritance.

Acts 26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’

Fourth, Jesus’ message includes proclamation (we are called to preach the Gospel) and repentance (we are called to live distinctly).

Acts 26:19 “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but [kept] declaring both to those of Damascus first, and [also] at Jerusalem and [then] throughout all the region of Judea, and [even] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. 21 “For this reason [some] Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.

Fifth, Jesus did what the Prophets foretold – suffered, died and rose again! He called me to preach to everyone I can that He is alive!

Acts 26:22 “So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, [and] that by reason of [His] resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the [Jewish] people and to the Gentiles.”

The Results: A near response, a clearing of charges, a trip to Rome.

• Festus told Paul he was a nutcase (26:24) – but Paul was confident in asserting that he spoke the honest truth (26:25).

• Agrippa II was pressed in his heart, and conviction began – but he quickly dismissed it (26:26-28).

• All three rulers recognized secretly that Paul was innocent – even though they wouldn’t say it to the crowd (Acts 16:19-32).

Paul didn’t lose if he faithfully fulfilled the role God commanded Him to play. Three powerful ruler left the room curious, empty of God and filled with turmoil. One man was being sent in a chain but he was free inside and full of peace.

I want you to stop now, as I close this lesson and think about something. If this life is all you have, then time is slowly chewing up your life. At the end, you will have nothing.. a hole…to dust you will return. Your friends will cry. Your family will miss you. In a few years they will laugh at the funny family stories and cherish your memory. Yet, time is chewing on them as well. As the years pass by, your grave stone will be left unread. Your memory will fade. Your great-grandchildren may not know your name, and they certainly will feel nothing staring at a stone with your name on it. If this is all you have – time wins and you lose. It is pointless to try to get more things – you are only increasing the estate sale. It is pointless to keep pictures of a thousand events – soon no one will know where you were or who you were with anyway. You are a speck of dust drifting through the solar system for a moment in time. What meaning can there be to your little insignificant existence?

Now stop. What if God DOES know you? What if He DID create with an intention as the Bible says? What if YOUR NAME is known in Heaven, and your life is part of God’s wondrous movie to show the cosmos Himself? What if your life matters to the Creator? What if the places you went, the scrapes and bruises you got there – all of it – is destined to become part of Heaven’s story in the ages after the ages, in time after time? The Bible says you CAN know God – because He made a way for you to have a relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus. He is waiting for you to come to Him, believe what He said, and trust that He can begin a work in you that won’t end until you are home with Him… and then the celebration begins!

Think about the pattern of Paul’s witness and the truths you need to embrace:

Jesus wants to meet you, even if you weren’t scheduling a meeting with Him. He wants you to surrender control of your life to Him, and He wants to transform you to something very different than you are. He wants your life in darkness to end – and your allegiance to the rebel enemy to be put aside. He wants to create in your life new fruit that shows He is at work in you. He died for you, and now He lives with outstretched arms, waiting to draw you in to your new life! These are the truths Paul preached – because that is what God made clear to Him…

God modeled the defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message we were given by the Lord.

God on the Move: “Appeasement is a Failed Strategy” (Part One) – Acts 24

appease 1Before WWII, the world was able to see the political strength of Adolph Hitler growing – it was not a secret rise to power. He was not particularly clandestine about his extreme beliefs, and he was not known for being silent about his thoughts. Yet, many in the west appeared to favor the strategy of “appeasement”. Clearly, the government of Neville Chamberlain in London settled on that approach.

The Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI maintained a separation of Austria and Germany, but in 1938 the Austrian-born Hitler instructed pro-German Austrians to create disturbances and then he sent troops in to “restore order”. Though France and England complained about the breach, the policy of appeasement prevented war by a series of negotiations. After that, Hitler threatened war if the territory inhabited by three million German speakers living in Czechoslovakia were not allowed to be annexed to Germany – and the appeasing forces went to Munich and agreed to let him have the territory in exchange for a promise he wouldn’t illegally take any others. Six months later, all those governments realized they were duped, and appeasement was nothing more than a delay tactic while Germany armed and trained soldiers.

Though true statesmanship is often about nuanced compromise; appeasement in the face of evil doesn’t work – history is clear. Telling people what they want to hear is only helpful if what you are telling them is the truth. If not, what starts off sounding like a reasonable argument, ends up surrendering valuable territory, costing lives, and allowing an enemy to entrench himself and fortify his position while good sits by idly and blissfully ignorant of the direction events are headed in.

We may be living in a time when world powers are posturing again (can you spell “Ukraine”?) but that isn’t my focus today. The simple fact is that we are living in a generation that has swallowed a moral relativism that hungers to appease evil and easily ignores truth. The strange symptom that indicates such a climate of moral relativism is that any verbal form of judgment of wrongdoing becomes the biggest sin of all. It isn’t wrong actions that bother people in such a climate – it is calling wrong by its name that angers them. Many people honestly feel that no one has the right to judge their actions – even when those actions change the society for everyone and pose a real cost to the rest of the community. It is a surreal disconnection of cause and effect caused, in part, by appeasement and a general lack of vigilance concerning truth.

Raise a generation of believers in the soup of moral relativism and you will eventually hear open arguments for appeasement growing inside the walls of the church. “Love” will be cited. “Tolerance” will be noted; but often truth seems to get lost in the mix. Those who stand with the Bible will slowly, but very deliberately, be framed as the intolerant ones “out of step with outreach” and “insensitive to the needs of others”. The Biblical record in such arguments becomes increasingly ignored or discounted as “irrelevant to modern sensitivities”– as if this is the first generation with sinful desires that pushed to get a new definition of morality. This is an old ploy, but it appears more dangerous this time – because this generation doesn’t appear to possess the inoculation of Biblical knowledge to slow the spread of the appeasement disease. As we draw late in the calendar of mankind, as the Bible reminds that we truly are, this certainly seems like no time for the message of Jesus to get fuzzy inside the church. In fact, now more than ever, we need a clear understanding of what we are saying to the lost world, and a concise but thorough presentation of it.

Fortunately, we have the record of those who went before us in the church’s beginnings to keep us moored to the past – and more importantly connected to God’s heart as expressed in His Holy Word. As we continue to follow the path of the Apostle Paul, we have a record of exactly how he defended the faith in the face of powerful pagans of his time – and that is at the heart of today’s lesson. These defenses are such a treasure; they occupy chapters of Dr. Luke’s writing in the Book of Acts. Here is the truth…

Key Principle: God modeled the defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message we were given by the Lord.

I love that Paul was clear and Luke was concise. Sometimes I feel we live in a world befuddled by theological complexity. Some of the problem is that some believers major on minors and don’t recognize what the core message is, as opposed to other important but non-essential teachings. Some of the problem is as simple as the fact that some people don’t think clearly and cannot communicate clearly whether they know Jesus or not. Thankfully, we have a pattern to follow – a repeated model left behind by the first generation of church planters and Gospel defenders.

Follow the text in the Book of Acts to three Roman Provincial Defenses of the Apostle Paul. They are part of a string of seven defenses that Luke took the time to record for Theophilus, who may have been hired as Paul’s advocate before Nero to plead his case in Rome. We have identified two defenses already in our study:

• The first defense of Paul was before the Jewish crowd in the Temple, given in Hebrew, from the stairs of the Antonia Fortress (Acts 22).

• The second defense was before the Sanhedrin, under the guard of the Chiliarch (commander) in Jerusalem (Acts 23).

The next three defenses were at the highest level available in the Province of Judea where Paul was arrested – and we want to look more closely at these three stories. As we examine these three accounts, we want to focus on three important parts to each recorded defense and draw some important conclusions about how to defend our faith when necessary. The three foci are:

• First, the players – it is essential that we clarify the picture of the setting by sharpening our focus on Paul’s audience.

• Second, the content – we want to look closely at HOW Paul defended the faith, and what elements of the story he highlighted according to Luke’s brief overview.

• Third, the results – sometimes it is encouraging to see the responses to those who went before us so that we have some idea what to expect.

We will use these three as our “outline” of each defense, and then take the time to apply the lessons we find in the record.

Paul’s Defense before Procurator Felix (Acts 24):

Let’s start with Acts 24, where Paul has been taken to Caesarea and placed in the judgment hall of the Procurator named Felix – the favored name for slaves that meant “happy”.

The Players: Antoninus Felix and Drusilla

Here is how Luke recorded the scene:

Acts 24:1 After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney [named] Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul. 2 After [Paul] had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying [to the governor], “Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, 3 we acknowledge [this] in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 “But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. 5 “For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 “And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. 7 “But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, 8 ordering his accusers to come before you]. By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.

Since we know about Paul and his background as well as something of the people attacking him already, let’s see what history has kept alive concerning the Procurator before whom Paul stood.

Marcus Antonius Felix was born about the same time as the Apostle Paul (circa 5 CE) and held the post of Roman procurator of the Province of Judea between 52-58 CE. He rose to power in a unique way. Though probably born a slave, his family may have actually descended from the Greek kingly line of Arcadia, in southern Greece. He probably gained status because of the service of his younger brother, the freedman Marcus Antonius Pallas, who became the secretary of the treasury during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. The historian Josephus called Marcus by the name “Claudius Felix” signaling the possibility that he was “adopted into the gens (clan) of the Claudii”. By petition of Pallas, Felix’ seemed to have gained his title. His wealth building strategy apparently included taking bribes (Acts 24:26); but that led to cynicism about Roman justice and an increase of crime in Judaea. His rule was stained by a series of bitter disturbances followed by his often too severe responses. On returning to Rome, Felix was accused of participation in a dispute between two parties in Caesarea with a plan to divest some of the inhabitants and get some of the money. His brother Pallas came to his aid before Emperor Nero, and Felix avoided punishment. History reminds us that Felix married three times. Felix’ second wife was Drusilla of Judea, daughter of Herod Agrippa I & Cypros (who also divorced a king to marry him). Of possible interest to those who visit Pompeii in Italy, Felix and the Judean Drusilla, had a son, Marcus Antonius Agrippa, who died along with his mother Drusilla and many of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 CE. After the loss of his family in that tragedy, Felix married for a third time, but little is known about his third wife – or anything else that happened to him.

The Defense: Clear presentation of the issues.

More important for our lesson than the identity of the players is the specific record of the defense. The text offers six clues as to how Paul kept his defense clear, concise and focused. Consider these traits as modeled for us – because God kept them in the record for us to read about as we face days we will need to defend our faith before authorities.

Note that as Paul defended the faith, he waited for his opportunity to speak – he wasn’t RUDE.

Acts 24:10 When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded:

There may have been a time when it wasn’t necessary to add this point, but that time has passed. Christians need to remember to be polite when they stand before the world. This is one of the very impressive parts of Ravi Zacharias – his vast intellect and clear-thinking pattern of speaking is enhanced by his careful gentleness and polite manner.

If you keep reading, you will note that Paul acknowledged the authority of others – he wasn’t PRESUMPTIVE.

Acts 24:10b “…Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation…”

Some may consider this part of being polite, but I think it is deeper – I think he respected authority. Respect wins listeners, while denigrating another’s position – even if you think they aren’t acting uprightly – only leads to discounting our collective testimony. At the same time, we must recognize that position and accomplishment don’t mean you can assume character. Many people were hired for their skills – not for their emotional maturity or social adeptness. If the famous men and women from the world of competitive sports have taught us anything, it is this: outstanding ability is not necessarily sterling character; outstanding accomplishment is not synonymous with inner maturity. In short, skill is not maturity.

Verse ten continues, and in it we see he offered his defense with a smile – he wasn’t DEFENSIVE in spirit.

Acts 14:10b “…I cheerfully make my defense…”

I LOVE that line. Paul was illegally arrested and brutally handled – but cheerful in his defense. This reminded me of the time at Philippi he and Silas held a “hymn sing” from a jail cell. The man knew how to keep his spirit “up” and ready! Defensive presentation shows a lack of confidence in our position. If we know and trust the power of God, we can sing from the jail cell – because God hasn’t forgotten us during the time of our testing. It is easy to say from my life of comfort – I can only hope to grasp the instruction should the days ahead necessitate.

Luke continued with a simple assessment: Paul gave the facts – he didn’t ASSUME knowledge.

Acts 24:11 “…since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.”

Paul didn’t make the Procurator guess about the circumstances – he shared the straight facts with no frilly details.

Though he openly challenged the opponent to show solid evidence – he didn’t needlessly ATTACK them.

This is important! Paul said:

Acts 24:12 “Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city [itself] did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. 13 “Nor can they prove to you [the charges] of which they now accuse me.

In essence, Paul said, “They don’t have any evidence to present, and they won’t be offering any! They are going to TELL you I did things, but they cannot OFFER VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE of any of it.

Finally, Paul made clear the true issues involved – he didn’t WANDER into side areas of conflict.

Paul knew what he intended to bring forward. He said:

Acts 24:14 “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience [both] before God and before men. 17 “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; 18 in which they found me [occupied] in the temple, having been purified, without [any] crowd or uproar. But [there were] some Jews from Asia—19 who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. 20 “Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, 21 other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, ‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'”

As you examine the defense in detail, did you notice in the details of Paul’s statement of defense? First, he said that he was a leader of the “people of the Way” – and in that he was prepared to be accused and suffer penalty if he was guilty of a real crime. He didn’t deny he belonged to Jesus and was a part of the church. We need to be careful not to cover over this point. Denying of Jesus and our relationship to Him cannot and must not be part of the strategy of defense of the Gospel. Jesus was clear that He would deny before the Father those who denied Him before men.

Second, Paul made clear that he saw himself as a Jew, obedient to the Scriptures and seeing no conflict in them with following the Risen One. He did not concede that he was a renegade outsider. In fact, he made clear that he was accused of being outside the Jewish mainstream when he truly was not. This is a detail that offers warning – don’t feel the need to admit to things that aren’t true because you are trying to find “middle ground” with those who are attacking the Gospel.

Third, Paul made clear that he stood before the authorities with a clear conscience, and that his faith did not consist of trickery of those in authority. In a time when many would bribe and play political games – Paul made clear he was a “what you see if what you get” kind of man. This is helpful to remind us not to get involved in back room deals to keep out of trouble. We must be honest, above board and straightforward – with a clear heart.

Fourth, Paul pointed out that his opponents lacked witnesses that could offer any direct testimony of wrongdoing on his part, and didn’t provide them to the Sanhedrin when he was questioned at the time. It is important that false charges be called exactly what they are – deceptions. Believers don’t have to let people lie and falsely charge them and sit quietly. When the time is right, make clear that lies are being told!

Fifth, Paul summarized the whole issue as a singular one – the fact that he believed with his whole heart that Jesus was raised – and that was the heart of the Sanhedrin’s issue with him. The resurrection is not an incidental part of the Christian message, but at the heart of it. The center of our faith is rooted in the idea that there is a SPIRITUAL WORLD, and the short stint of physical life is not all of life for people. The fact that we maintain that afterlife is real and life now has an effect on life then will be offensive to many – but it is the truth.

Sixth, a bit later in a later defense before Felix (this time with his wife in attendance), Paul spoke of something that cause Felix to back away from his message – righteousness, discipline and future judgment.

Acts 24:22 But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and [yet] have [some] freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him. 24 But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him [speak] about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

We must remember that our message is not just one of salvation and heaven, but of submission and judgment. Many believers find it difficult to embrace the idea that the Gospel includes the depravity of man and impending judgment – but Paul did not find that to be something he wanted to hide. People need to recognize that a Christ-less eternity is no joke!

Seventh, it is worth noting that a bribe was anticipated, and that Luke knew that was the case. Paul surely understood that as well.

Acts 24:26 At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.

Paul wouldn’t offer a bribe to get a release, because he trusted that God had him where he was. He was less intent on getting free than he was on being used of God.

We are almost finished observing Paul’s defense of the faith before a governor of the Roman Empire and his wife. Step back for a moment and look at what we learned about defending our faith.

• Paul didn’t need to be rude, presumptive or defensive in spirit to stand for Jesus –and we don’t either.

• Paul didn’t assume that his audience understood his faith (he didn’t “Christian-eze” his way through his defense), nor did he attack his opponents to get his point across – and we don’t need to either.

• Paul didn’t wander between issues, but stayed focused on the essential point of making the heart of his faith clear to the hearer – and we must do so as well.

• Paul didn’t like disagreement, and didn’t want it in his life – but that didn’t make him so soft that he refused to stand his ground – and we cannot either. This is a time for believers to make it clear that the message of the Bible is non-negotiable. What the Bible calls on us to do, is what God expects us to do – and we intend to do it.

The testimony before the world may get much tougher in the coming days. As naturalism nails down every board in the floor of our school systems over the next generation, and as skepticism and agnosticism become the hallmark of the learned, we may find a cold wind blowing in our face. We will have a month of witches at Halloween but never a single mention of Jesus at Christmastime – and this generation will accept that as normal. A single comment like: “A child needs a mother and a father” will be reason enough to be pilloried in public as a cruel and unthinking person. Suggesting that people have “no legal right to expect to live their lives without ever feeling offended” will get you a world of trouble – unless the offense is because of anything that has to do with the church, a Bible of Jesus. You will be able to quote the Qur’an in class, but never a Bible verse – for that will surely bring an end to the republic. You will feel it – fairness and justice is listing to one side.

As that happens, don’t lose your cool and don’t lose heart. We have a pattern to follow.

The Result: Continued imprisonment.

Acts 24:27 But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

It is easy to view the defense as a failure – because Paul was still under arrest. That would be true, but that wasn’t the goal. God wanted Paul to head to Rome, and that is still where he was going. God knows His timing, and Paul needed to learn to be content with his place while God moved in other areas and with other people.

The most important ingredient has been staring us in the face for the whole of the study – but I never mentioned it. Paul WANTED to be used of God to bring the message of Jesus to people. He was willing to sit in jail at the instruction of Jesus and wait his turn to head to Rome – because he knew that is where he belonged. He did it because he loved Jesus. He did it because he was burdened by the lost. He did it because he LOVED PEOPLE.

In his book The Gospel According to Jesus, Chris Seay mentioned a profound lesson he gained from his father about how to love people. He wrote: “Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so we used to get outfield deck seats (aka ‘the cheap seats’) to see the baseball games at the [Houston] Astrodome. Most of the people buying the cheap seats did so to save more money for beer. After the first few innings, they were drunk, and by the time the seventh-inning stretch rolled around, there would be beer mixed with peanut shells on the floor, spilled beer down your back, and a brawl two rows over and back to the left. It was ugly out there. As a kid, I learned from a lot people that we were sitting with the ‘bad people.’ There was one consistent drunk fan named Batty Bob. He was a self-proclaimed Houston Astros mascot. He’d come to all the games wearing a rainbow wig, and he’d lead slurred cheers in the stands. I remember one time my dad went out to sit and talk with Batty Bob. He spent the whole game with Bob, then walked him out to the parking lot to bring him home with us. I was more than confused, because this guy was one of the ‘bad people.’ When we got home, my dad came to me and explained how God loved Batty Bob. I remember thinking, Really? Batty Bob? And he stayed with us for a few days to get back on his feet. This is when I started to realize that God did not despise these people; he dearly loved them.”

We must remember that the church was designed to be a place, not simply where people would be “saved” – but where their broken lives would be transformed. The slavery to sin has been bested by our loving Creator – and the message of freedom awaits those who will hear our voices. The church is where God’s Spirit is working to change people once enslaved to their appetites to be like our Savior in character, and where we – in love with Jesus and people – will work together to show the power of the Savior graphically to the world. God modeled defense of the Gospel so that believers will know how to be clear, confident and concise about the message.

God on the Move: “The Long and Winding Road” – Acts 23

the-beatlesbNot to upset anyone, but I am not particularly a Beatle’s fan, and I never was. The emotional and spiritual journey of the “fab four” never really appealed to me – though I cannot deny they were talented young men a generation ago, and they cut new ground in their lyrics and musical scores. I was interested to learn, however, that the last song the four recorded together was a song that captured the tumultuous stages of their break-up as a band, and highlighted something we will see in our text for this lesson. Let me explain:

The song called “The Long and Winding Road” was primarily written by Paul McCartney as the tenth track on the Beatles’ album “Let It Be”. It became their last “chart topping” song in the US for the group back in 1970, and was the last single released by the quartet while all four were still alive. McCartney recalled later that the song was composed at his farm in Scotland, and it reflected the growing tension in the group as it was coming apart. The original recording was a piano piece, but it became heavily mixed in the studio using 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitars, and a choir of 14 women – none of which was approved by McCartney before the album release. In fact, it was in direct contrast to the Beatles’ stated intentions for a “real” recording. When McCartney first heard the mixed version, he blew up and about a week later announced the Beatles’ breakup.

“The Long and Winding Road” lyrics leave you feeling like a man knows where he will end up, but nevertheless feels like he is floundering on the journey…The song says:

The long and winding road that leads to your door – Will never disappear. I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here – Leads me to your door. The wild and windy night that the rain washed away – Has left a pool of tears crying for the day. Why leave me standing here? Let me know the way! Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried. Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried. And still they lead me back to the long and winding road.

It doesn’t take psychoanalysis to recognize that McCartney was hurting by the pending breakup, but still somewhat hopeful that things would somehow lead the men back together – as though it was their collective destiny. He knew they should be together, but he didn’t see how the path was going to lead them back to that place.

In some ways, that is exactly the sense the Apostle Paul must have felt as he sat in one imprisonment after another – not sure how he was going to get to Rome – where Jesus told him he was going. In a strange way, God was teaching Paul through a series of experiences a truth that He decided to explain to us in the record of His Word…

Key Principle: God’s will for us is not only about us – it also fits into His larger plan.

Christians need humility when looking at the experiences of their life. We often don’t know where things are going, even though we know where all things will end. The Bible offers us the ultimate destination to world history, and to our own final state – but the path to get there is not always clear. We need to be careful not to oversell our understanding of events as they come across our path. Before I get into the text for the lesson, let me offer an example that I believe will help to set the stage. The story came from a missions conference I attended many years ago…

Back in the 1970’s a young, unmarried woman went to Bible school because she believed God called her to a life in foreign missions. By all accounts, she did well in school, and she prepared very carefully for the field, reading everything possible on the African people group to whom she was assigned by her mission board. She traveled from church to church on deputation, raising the funds to go to the field. That process took almost two year, but she was nearing the end of it when she received life-changing, tragic news. Her younger sister and her husband had dropped off their three children at a baby sitter’s house, and journeyed off on a “date night” together in Texas, when a drunk driver plowed through a red light and crushed their car. Both were pronounced dead on the scene. Our young mission bound woman lost her only sibling, and she was the only family left, as they had lost their parents a few years before. Without any other family, the three children were heading for emergency foster care. The young missionary cancelled her plans to go to the field, and on the advice of the mission board, she stayed in Texas and raised her sister’s three wonderful children. Her heart was broken. Her family was gone. Her dreams and plans were crushed. Yet, right in front of her was a new family – three little children that needed love to get through the blow of losing both parents and having their whole lives changed. She poured herself into loving and raising the three – and each ended up as missionaries on an international field. She never went to foreign soil – but her legacy was multiplied by pouring vision and love into the field God gave her. God’s will was evident, and He used her training, passion and preparation in a way very different than she had planned for Him to use it all. She knew that was God’s right.

While that story sinks in, let’s drop our eyes into the scene found in the Book of Acts, when the Apostle Paul faced a mob but was assured by Jesus that he was Rome bound. The encounter with Jesus, like the one long before at Corinth that kept him ministering during the second mission journey settled Paul – he would not die at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His time was not near; some of his work for the Kingdom was still incomplete. At the same time, the path Jesus took him on was neither straight nor easy. Why not? The answer lies in the truth that God was doing other things – He was also providing solutions to other problems and addressing other needs while dealing with Paul in his series of personal defenses of his faith, imprisonments and delays to be heard.

In Acts 23, Paul stood to defend himself before what had to be considered, from the Jewish perspective, the premiere educational and religious institution of his day. These were ostensibly the leaders of God’s people, yet nothing was as it seemed that day – and it often isn’t in our journey, either. God was at work staging the events – and Paul had to learn to lean on God’s provision – no matter how “long and winding” the road.

Look at how things were so different than they appeared to be…

What looked like a setback in Paul’s arrest was actually God providing a paid bodyguard service for him to deliver a message to the Jewish leadership (Acts 23:1-10).

At this stage in the story, Paul had been “rescued” by Roman guards out of a mob scene at the Temple, taken to the garrison building, and held overnight as much for his own protection as to stop any rioting in the city. In the morning, the Apostle was walked under guard to the Sanhedrin chamber – likely beneath the southern porch of the Temple in the chamber between the two “Hulda Gates”, still visible (though closed) on the south retaining wall. We “enter the scene” with Paul on a witness dais, while the assembly of leaders was gathering in a less formal array – for not everyone had their full regalia on, signifying their various positions.

Acts 23:1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” 4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!” 5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Paul had been away from Jerusalem for a long time, and he wasn’t keeping up with the changes on the roster of Temple leadership. Add to that the fact that the High Priest was apparently not dressed for the occasion, so it seems Paul simply “goofed” and called the High Priest a name – a definite “faux pas” for such an occasion. Thankfully, Luke included the incident (no doubt shared in detail by Paul in embarrassment shortly later), so that Paul could reflect a simple truth: Even when God was using him, Paul still needed to be humble and guarded about the way he shared his message.

I love that the Bible doesn’t hide his mistake, and since Luke was not there – it was Paul’s choice not to do so. Paul reacted to a face slap, apparently thinking that the one who ordered it was violating the rules of the debate chamber – not recognizing he was the High Priest, who could make such an order and must never be addressed in a harsh tone. When the men scolded Paul, the Apostle apologized and admitted his error – he simply didn’t know that Ananias was High Priest at that time, or he had never seen the man in person. He went even further and showed that he understood the Law concerning his wrong behavior –verbally admitting that was an outrageous thing to do. That settled the room, as they saw he was not trying to be boisterous and rebellious.

There are two important thoughts I want to highlight about this brief exchange. First, we must be careful to be humble even when what we are saying is right, and what they are saying is wrong. Many believers spend time learning an apologetic of the faith, and become emboldened to speak truth in difficult circumstances – that is a good thing. At the same time, we who spend so much time around other believers need to be very careful about how we sound, and how we react in particular, to the world. The best evidences are lost in discourteous behavior.

I mentioned in the last lesson the idea that we should not enter a public discussion, such as that on social media sites, and simply “bomb them” with what is obvious to us – “But God’s Word says it, so that settles it” – kind of language. We need to take the time to carefully show why the instruction of the Word has proven itself reliable and worthy of heeding in the past. Truth has a track record of helpfulness. That record helps people connect to the idea, even if they aren’t believers – and that bridge may lead them to connect to the Biblical idea’s author – God Himself. Even more, let me raise a specific caution flag about how you and I answer when being “struck in the face”. The unanticipated response, and especially the cruel one can drive us to over-react, and we must understand that is ever a temptation. If we do step out of line, we should be humble and accept correction. Meekness is “power under control” – and Jesus said the meek are blessed. In fact, in all of the Gospel accounts, the only self-description of His character Jesus offered was that word…”I am ‘meek’ and lowly of heart.”

A second truth can be gleaned from the short exchange. We need to learn that God isn’t always doing what we think He is! Think of it! There is certainly irony in the “Apostle to the Gentiles” getting a Roman escort to the Sanhedrin that was currently accusing him of taking a Gentile into the holy precinct of the Temple. This account drips with irony! They had Gentiles in their chambers, but Paul never did. Yet they accused him!

Acts 23:6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) 9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

God sent Paul with a specific message to give to the Sanhedrin leadership – and it was successfully delivered. The message was that Jesus’ resurrection was their key offense, but not all Jews disagreed with it. That belief didn’t put Paul and other Messianic believers “outside” of Judaism – so they needed to be careful about tossing them all away as though they were not faithful Jews. Some who were not believers began to defend Paul, and the meeting escalated. The Roman commander stepped in and “pulled the plug” on the meeting.

Yet that is not the only thing that was not as it appeared…Paul was whisked away to a quiet place, his heart pumping fast from the whole highly-charged incident. Eventually, he settled down and the day passed by.

What looked like an arrest was actually a guarded and secure meeting space to meet with God (Acts 23:11).

Follow Paul down the hall to a place to rest, and Luke recorded what happened next…

Acts 23:11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The Roman tax sesterces provided a bed in seclusion for Paul to have a meeting with Jesus. That simple verse reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got a private meeting hall provided by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. Now it’s true, the meeting hall looked like a fiery furnace – but nevertheless God provided a place at government expense to meet the Savior and have a chat. Here God did it again!

What looked like a discouraging abandonment by friends and family was actually the stage for an encouraging opportunity to show hidden support (Acts 23:12-15).

Acts 23:12 The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” 16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.

We know much about Paul and his companions, but little about his extended family. Interestingly enough, in this one instance we see one of his nephews saving Paul. The plot had to bother him a bit, but after all – this wasn’t exactly new to him. He had been dodging men who wanted his head for years! The encouragement was that God used his family – however distant to him in belief at the time – to send a message of rescue. Yet, there is more…

What looked like a threat to his life was actually a select invitation to an otherwise “closed” palace (Acts 23:17-24).

Acts 23:17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” 19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?” 20 He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.” 22 The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

Paul eventually had to stand before Roman authorities – so this back story bode well for Paul. It was clear, at least in the report of the commander, that Paul was being “set up” and the Roman guards were preventing an injustice. Seeing this, the commander responded…

Acts 23:23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

Paul is staying in style and traveling in the most secure fashion he has ever traveled – and all this was provided by God! It is true that he was not free to leave yet, but it was clear in the narrative that the commander helped Paul escape alive, and his continued intervention kept Paul well.

We have to remember that God doesn’t always provide the way we think He is going to – because there are issues beyond the scope of our own understanding that He is also carefully monitoring and caring for.

By all accounts, eagles are very responsive to their eaglets. The “mother eagle” dotes over the eggs, then over the hatchlings. That same “mother” knows that to help them, she must force them into discomfort to get them flying. She does so by taking them as high as possible and then drops them. They have never flown before, so they plummet downward. As they gain their senses, the ground is approaching quickly, so she swoops to save them and takes them high in the air again. After several drops, they begin to use their wings to fly. She is providing a way for them to live as they grow. She is giving them experience while keeping them from the ground.

Consider this: Sometimes God places us in situations that are terribly uncomfortable, so that we can learn, step by step, how to follow Him better for the next encounter. Paul was receiving help and assistance from the Romans to reach Rome with the Gospel – and we must remember that the Gospel DID reach and transform Rome – all in God’s time. God kept “giving” Paul help that didn’t look helpful, but it was…

What looked like an arrest warrant was actually a letter of introduction (Acts 23:25-35).

Paul was escorted to the palace at Caesarea with a safe escort, and a letter accompanied the entrance…

Acts 23:25 He wrote a letter as follows: 26 Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him. 31 So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32 The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33 When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

I am certain that Paul did not want to be kept under guard, but it was better than being dead on the road somewhere, which is what would have happened had God not stepped in to rescue him from his countrymen. God works, very often, in mysterious ways… but we need to be aware that it is STILL GOD at work. Let me illustrate…

A cheerful but elderly, Christian widow was financially struggling. Her house was in desperate need of repair, yet she praised the Lord continually for His provision for her. There was an old man who lived next door who had no time for God, and he kept deriding her in conversation, saying there was no God – and she was wasting her life in belief of a fantasy. One day, the old man happened by her window moving his hose around his yard and overheard the old woman in prayer. She called on the Lord and asked for provision, for her cupboards were bare, and no additional money was expected until the following week. She simply prayed: “Lord, somehow, if You would, can You send some groceries.” Her neighbor crept away and thought to himself: “That is perfect! Now I can show her there is no God, and she is wasting her time!” He went to the nearby grocery and bought milk, bread, and some other food essentials, and placed them at her door. He rang the doorbell, and hid from view. As she opened the door and observed the provisions, she cried: “Oh, thank you God! You have done it again!” Just then, the old man came around the corner and said to the woman: “You see! I heard your prayer. I bought these things! God has nothing to do with it!” He sneered at her, but she smiled back and said: “Oh my, how exciting!” The old woman stopped and looked at the frumpy old man. “Jesus not only got me these groceries, but he got an unbeliever to pay for them! Isn’t He grand!”

You can’t go by what things look like – God may be doing many other things at the same time! God’s will for us is not only about us – it also fits into His larger plan.

Let me close this lesson by urging all of us to make the effort to seeing things differently. That’s hard to do – but it the best way for us to begin to humbly admit that most of our complaints about how things are happening are unjustly blaming God when He is busy doing what is best. Let me explain:

When a young woman seeks God for a husband and cannot find one, or a young man seeks a relationship with a young woman and she isn’t interested – all they can see on the surface is the pain of unhappiness. Yet, there could be literally a thousand things God is doing in each case to bring about His plan. Maybe she wants a husband who is being prepared in another place – and they haven’t met. Maybe he is resisting God and the Lord wants him to work out his walk before they meet. Maybe the young man wants a woman who appears to have her walk with God worked out, but secret sin exists in her life and God is sparing the young man from the pain of that situation. We know what we want – and we know if God isn’t giving it to us despite our energies chasing it. What we don’t know is WHY He is doing what He is doing. Discouragement is allowed to grow when our patience and trust in His goodness wanes.

Maybe you did all you could to raise your children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and they aren’t walking with God now. You are heart-broken, and God hasn’t changed them. You are asking, and He doesn’t seem like He is listening. In your church family, you will hear the stories of the many “heartbreak kids” that eventually became blessings – but that guarantees nothing – and nothing short of a guarantee will make you feel better. Let me give you one: God will not leave you nor forsake you. He will tell His story. When you see Him in Heaven, you will know that He knew best and did best. That is your guarantee. Heaven has no complaint department, because it doesn’t need one. The wisdom of God is unsearchable and beyond measure.

For the one who is hurting, you are getting impatient with God’s slow response time to your prayer for healing. For the one who is working with all your strength at a job that appears to be fading – you may think God isn’t keeping track of your real needs – but He is. He is doing more than counting hairs on heads and falling sparrows today – He sees and He knows. The problem is we see only what we see – and do not understand how what we purchased today kept afloat the company of a believer half a world away. God has all of it to keep working – not just my problem. A bit of patience, mixed with a sincere dose of humility, topped by a pouring of honest trust in the character of God expressed in His Word is exactly what we need. Listen to the testimony of one woman, who was grasping for hope:

I sat in the bathroom. It was the middle of the night. No people, no “miracle” medicine, no strength left. I was too tired to fight. I sat there — four walls surrounding me. And a bleak, monotonous “bleep” from my battery-operated IV filled the silence. I couldn’t stop the sound of that miserable machine, anymore than I could control my own miserable life. So I sat there — dull, miserable, in pain, with no hope. [Then I heard] something else. I didn’t hear it with my ears — but I did in my spirit. I heard someone crying. And I immediately knew that it was Jesus crying for me. I was shocked — totally surprised. I didn’t think he would do that for me. This experience did not leave me emotionally elated. Nor did I feel a physical touch. Life was the same, except I now knew I really was not in this battle alone. Jesus cared in a way my wildest imagination would never have hoped for or expected. Slowly I got up and shuffled back to bed, my IV still “bleeping” in my ears. Life was the same but different entirely… When there was absolutely no one else that would help me, he cried for me. (From “Where the Battle Is Fought” by Lee Eclov).

The long and winding road of that woman wasn’t ended in that bathroom – it was somehow lightened when she realized she didn’t need to walk it alone. If pain continued, it was happening because it needed to happen to fulfill a purpose she could not see yet – and she needed to trust Jesus Who hurt with her.

God on the Move: “Playing Defense” – Acts 22

goalieI don’t play soccer or ice hockey. I don’t think I have the tenacity to keep moving at the rate of speed and intensity necessary to pull off either. Yet, I can watch, and as a fan, I have determined that if there is one position I KNOW I would not want to play in either sport, it is GOALIE. I don’t want to be a target, and that is what these positions make you. Everyone on the playing surface is aimed at getting something past YOU. If they have to hurt you to do it, all the better. I don’t like the sound of that…but it may increasingly become our life as we follow Jesus bravely into the post Christian west.

If you feel the way I do – a discomfort about the rising need to defend our faith in the public square – you should know that the Apostle Paul was in that position before any of us. There was a time in his life when everyone around him saw nothing but promise in that young man. He learned the Law and lived according to the rules of the culture around him. In a sentence: “He fit in.” It wasn’t until God met Him on the road to Damascus that his life was changed forever. Like anyone who has ever cruised through life, making the best of it, and had their life startlingly interrupted by God – Paul was changed by the experience in a way that made him unpalatable to his old professors and seminary companions. He went from being a rising star to a “flame out” in their eyes… and that was as painful for him as it would be for any of us.

None of us wants to get drawn into a fight to defend our faith – but sometimes it becomes unavoidable. Christian teaching isn’t pro-revenge, nor does it look with favor on sarcasm and witty retort – these things are not the stuff of the early Christian record concerning our faith’s defense. Yet, the early believers DID defend their newfound faith and hunger to follow God.

Here is a question worth pursuing: “Does the Scripture offer any example or counsel on how to defend our faith before a crowd?”

In fact, the record shows that it does. Paul began his defense of Christianity to Jews in the Temple from the steps that led to the Antonia Fortress during a riot – but thos was only one of seven different recorded defenses before different audiences. Since Luke (the author of the Book of Acts) seven defenses – but this was a PUBLIC defense offered in the form of Paul’s personal testimony.

Key Principle: Testifying of the work of Jesus in our lives is a necessary skill that every believer must learn.

In the beginning of your walk with God, it is enough just to know Him, delight in Him and follow Him. As time passes in your growth – more will be necessary. People will confront you and many times they do it with sour hearts or angry voices – so you and I need to know how to follow the example of the Scriptures in that defense without becoming defensive in spirit, and angry in heart.

Let’s go back in time, to the first century. We are zooming in to a man who has been beaten and is bleeding from his nose and mouth, but who has been “rescued” by the Roman authorities and whisked up the stairs on the north west side of the ancient Temple mount. Paul has secured from the centurion in charge the right to address the crowd – and he turned and began an address in the language of their Fathers – the ancient Hebrew tongue. His ability to do so got their attention, at least for a few moments…Here is Dr. Luke’s remembrance of the events: It began with Paul asking the crowd to hear him, and identifying with them in language.

Acts 22:1 “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now [offer] to you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said…’

We stopped short of reading WHAT Paul told them, because there is an important lesson to be grasped when we read these opening words in HOW he made his defense. Paul asked permission to speak, and he spoke in a language they recognized and understood. That sounds obvious, but as I watch believers, I am increasingly convinced that it is NOT OBVIOUS to many.

To defend our faith, we must speak in a way that people follow what we are truly saying.

Christians, like all subcultures have developed our own language. We will call it: “Christian speak” – a language laced with Scripture and hymnology, platitudes and proverbs. The language works well when we are gathered together, and it may communicate to others of like precious faith on our t-shirts, but it does little to reach the lost world. A fish on your bumper with Greek letters isn’t the most effective way to witness, unless you plan on being followed by Greek truck drivers along the road. We must be careful not to be “cryptic” in our words, and not be partisan in our sharing.

One of the first things the enemy does to blunt our witness is to use against us the constant bickering that can go on between believers as we go out into the world. When we share about Jesus, we need to share about Him – and not about why our church is right on other doctrinal issues and other churches are wrong. The: “Let me share with you Jesus and explain why the other political party yesterday was really wrong” method will only get others in the circle on the defense, and cause even other believers to end up bickering over the finer points of their belief system while the lost wander off and see our whole discussion as annoying and pretty much irrelevant. The best defense of the faith is one in which the hearer gets a clear presentation of Jesus – not our politics or our church’s particular bend on some “issue du jour”.

Paul asked them to take a moment and listen, since they needed to catch their breath after pounding him for a bit. It wasn’t the request that got their attention – the text is clear – it was his language. He spoke to them in a way that proved he was learned in the area they were debating. That is important. If we are going to address science, we might want to learn a bit about it before we start dropping verses in the middle of the discussion. The hours Paul learned the language paid off in the minutes he had to present Jesus to his foes that day.

To defend our faith, we need to be real about our credentials.

Paul went on to speak:

Acts 22:3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers…”

Before people “buy” the message, they want to know what the “angle” is from the messenger. Paul understood the people he wanted to present the Gospel to on that afternoon, and he knew what parts of his resume they would want to know. In essence, he said: “You hear my Hebrew. Let me tell you about my education so you can recognize where I am coming from.”

He didn’t claim to be a member of the Sanhedrin, or a professional athlete – he just shared his actual pedigree and background. Here Paul modeled an important truth: “Don’t oversell yourself in the presentation of the faith.” If you have background in a specific area, you may find it useful to mention it as you help people to “place” you in their thinking. You may find it helpful to share something like: “I am not here to sell you something, and my thoughts on life are just my own – but I am passionate about what I have found in my discoveries of life’s important questions.” Personalizing your responses takes you from the court of Heaven and plants your feet on the earth. There is nothing wrong with just being a human being. We don’t save people, we reflect Jesus and present His message. Pumping up our “expertise” will generally backfire in witness. Humility and grace attract people, arrogance repels them.

By the same token, if you have expertise in some area, it is not wrong to say that. Paul didn’t pull some: “Aw shuks, guys, I am just another everyday guy.” Paul told them what expertise he had, and where he got it. The Pharisaic party present would have been significantly impacted by his mention of Gamaliel, while some Sadducees would have been quick to find fault on that basis alone. That’s fine, because Paul knew they would at least see him as educated in the field about which he spoke from the stairway.

I sometimes get concerned about the way my brothers and sisters express their faith and defend it, when they engage in a level they have no background in. The fact that we believe the Bible is literally true does not therefore make us experts in the finding of Noah’s ark in eastern Armenia, nor does it help us know “the very place” Jesus performed a specific miracle. Our faith informs us that Jesus is the Eternal Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the full payment for justification. Knowing all that doesn’t tell me where the actual “Last Supper” room was. We need to humble ourselves and not oversell who we are and what we truly have expertise in. Being “sure” of where the Ark of the Covenant may be located is not a requirement for you to be an obedient believer and an effective witness. Don’t mix issues and oversell – or your witness will be blunted in the process.

To defend our faith, we can still acknowledge the passion of others.

As Paul continued, he told the crowd of his own background, and then added this important phrase:

Acts 22:3b “…being zealous for God just as you all are today.”

Paul made clear that he accepted the premise that the men who just beat him were attempting to be zealous for God. The fact is the way they were acting reflected little or nothing of God’s way of doing things. He could have begun by telling them they had “bad attitudes” and needed to get their lives right with the true God of the Bible. That isn’t what he did – and with good reason – it doesn’t work and is wholly ungracious in presentation.

Not long ago I was in Rome near St. John in Lateran Cathedral. Across the street are the “Scala Sancta” – the “holy stairs” where some believe the steps of the Antonia Fortress were taken from Jerusalem. In their understanding, Jesus was led up the stairs to see Pontius Pilate, and the steps mark the walk of the Savior heading for the lashing and eventual sacrifice at Calvary. They believe these steps were taken from Jerusalem, and have some certain “sanctity” because Jesus tread on them and bled on them. Some believers travel up those steps on their knees. Some even slap their own backs as they knee their way up, step by step.

Standing outside the open doors with an American Pastor I had recently met, I was a bit shocked when he snickered at the pilgrims and remarked: “What a bunch of nonsense! These people don’t know anything about Jesus!” The third person in our little group was a searching friend from a Catholic background who had strayed from any faith and was incredibly offended at the caustic words. I had been sharing with that friend about a personal commitment to Jesus, and this buddy of mine just blew days of witness in his little unkind remark. Go back to Paul…

Couldn’t Paul tell these guys were “way off the mark” when it came to their zeal? I suspect he saw, and felt blow by blow their misplaced zeal. Yet, he acknowledged their yearning to know God, their desire to zealously follow God. If my friend had taken his cues from Paul, he could have remarked at the “Scala Sancta” something like: “Wow, that’s a tough thing to do. I wonder if the people going up the steps know how much Jesus loves them, even without whips and personal punishment? I wonder if they know the Scriptures say that He was willingly bruised so they didn’t have to be? Don’t you think my friend who was struggling with their faith would have had more to think about than just hearing a rebuke of people who were “doing it wrong”? We do the Gospel no favor by offering scathing judgment of people who are seeking God but looking in the wrong direction. Criticism and sarcasm are lousy evangelism methods. They may build up other believers and graduate them from timidity, but they do little to bring people from darkness to light.

To defend our faith, need to start on common ground.

Paul kept speaking and told the crowd:

Acts 22:4 “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.

The Apostle started his witness where he started his life – opposed to the faith of Jesus. None of us were born Christian – it was a choice we made at some point in our life. When Paul presented Christ, he made the point that he was a persecutor – and understood why they felt believers were a “threat” to the order and theology of the Temple. He reminded them that he zealously sought to shut down that threat, because he held the same high regard for the Temple and the authorities of that Holy Place that the crowd did. He reminded them of the letters he took to go to Damascus and round up people of the “Way” and bring them back to Jerusalem to face their punishment.

Think of it this way: we all made a choice to follow Christ at some point in our life – and part of our witness may be to explain why we made that choice. As a believer of many years, I find it hard to recall all the ways I thought before I knew Christ as Savior – but I do know how Jesus met me on the journey, and why I was open to hear the Gospel. Sharing that humanizes our testimony. Jesus doesn’t just win our minds – He confronts our heart – our longings, our emptiness, our hunger for something more than 100 years on a plot of ground before we get tossed into a hole with a stone on top. I wanted more, and Jesus met that hunger and filled it with Himself. We need to start with where people are – and not simply where we want them to be. In Paul’s case, it was reminding them that he understood why they felt threatened by Christianity and its startlingly different teachings. He started on common ground, addressing what they were concerned about.

To defend our faith, we must make clear the actual choice to follow Jesus.

Our faith isn’t just about an ethic – it is about meeting a Person. Paul shared:

Acts 22:6 “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 “And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 10 “And I said, What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ 11 “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.

The apostle took them back to the grit of the Roman Road that passed northeast toward Damascus. He told them it was about high noon, and he made clear the flash from Heaven was unmistakable. Tossed to the ground, Saul of Tarsus was confronted with a Person. He didn’t come to a theology, nor did he join a church – he fell before a Person who confronted him and brought Paul up short. The voice from Heaven wasn’t muffled – it was a clear challenge: “Why are you persecuting Me?” No one in the audience that day would have been wondering who the messenger was for that particular demand. Paul explained that Jesus clearly showed Himself to be the One in Heaven Who struck him down and showed him the error of his ways. Jesus told him to get up and go to Damascus, but left him blinded and unable to do so without an attendant – showing the whole party with him that the event was a “God thing”.

Often in presenting the Gospel, we forget what the heart of the message truly is. The message of the Gospel is not that I was a sinner bound for Hell and now I am a saint bound for glory. The message of the Gospel is that God loved the world enough to send us One who could bear our sin and take the place of our penalty that was demanded by our rebellion against the Holy One. The center of the message is this: I need to confront God and have my sin resolved by the substitute – Jesus Himself. If Jesus is not the center of the defense of our faith – we are not defending the faith at all. We may be defending some important ethical stance that is derived from our faith – but that isn’t the same thing. Paul presented to the crowd that he MET JESUS – because that is the heart of the salvation experience. Note also that Paul made clear that Jesus told Paul he was dead wrong about what he was doing. Jesus didn’t just say, “I love you – come to me!” He said: “Stop what you are doing and follow Me!” There is a difference.

To defend our faith, we may need to validate our testimony with other credible sources.

Paul didn’t stop at the point that he met Jesus – he continued the story…

Acts 22:12 “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, [and] well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. 14 “And he said, The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

The message of the Gospel is about more than a meeting – it is about the surrender that happened during the meeting and about the change that happened because of the meeting. Notice what Paul told them:

I followed the instructions to go to Ananias, and you may know him to be a reliable person of balance and standing in the community there. He called out to me, and I received my sight back! He gave me a message that he said came from God – the message to speak what I have seen (a stunning light from Heaven and heard (Jesus speaking from Heaven). He told me that I needed to get up, get into the mikveh (the ritual bath) and symbolize that sin was washed from me in the name of the One who struck me down!

Paul didn’t simply explain that he met Jesus – but rather he explained that his life path changed – and he began to FOLLOW Jesus. Where Jesus told him to go – he went. He checked in with a well-known and credible man as instructed – and he got his marching orders to relate the message. When the confirmation was matched with the power to open his eyes, he knew that God had spoken and he wasn’t delusional. His new sight brought profound understanding into his life. He was ready to stand up as one cleaned inside!

We must, in the process of defending our faith, make plain that we are not Christians because we are good people – but because we recognized that we are NOT good people – but broken, rebellious, stubborn and self-reliant people that have faced the truth – we cannot earn righteousness. We need a Savior. Not only that, we need that Savior to be a Transformer and change our stubbornness into servanthood. We don’t need to become servants for Him to save us, we need to be servants because He already did save us. We don’t need to earn His love, we need to walk in it so that we can show the world we truly know Him.

Religion is heavy, and starts with external behavior adjustment in hopes of changing the broken heart. Relationship with Jesus is light, because it started with Jesus doing the work necessary to save me, and allows me the joy of showing Him how thankful I am that He did that! While religion seeks to earn the right to be heard of God, relationship celebrates the fact that God has already shared how much He loves listening to my voice! In the process of defending our faith, we must make clear the difference between the duties of religion and the joys of walking with Jesus.

To defend our faith, we may need to explain the path that led to the offensive sound of our message clearly.

Paul had only a few more sentences before the crowd cut him off…

Acts 22:17 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ 21 “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” 22 They listened to him up to this statement, and [then] they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”

People don’t agree with our message – but that doesn’t make the message wrong. We need to understand where they are coming from to be able to help them hear us without becoming the offense that keeps them from listening to the Savior. In Paul’s case, the whole issue stemmed from “why a good Jewish boy was spending all his time with pig-eating pagans these days.” It was an understandable concern for his former friends and family.

Paul explained that his change didn’t start out in the world, but right inside the Temple itself. God spoke to him and told him that people in Jerusalem would not be willing to hear about Jesus yet, and that his life would be in danger. Standing on the stairs that day, dripping blood from his nose, that observation seemed all too obvious. At the same time, Paul reflected that he resisted God’s call to leave the Jewish people and go off into the Aegean sunset. He loved the people and the Law. He stood shoulder to shoulder with them when the deacon Stephen was being pummeled by rocks because he wouldn’t shut up about a stone worker from Nazareth that had come back to life and was now on the throne beside the Holy One of Heaven. Paul understood why they were offended, but he couldn’t deny what he knew was true. He had a real encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, and he was bound to follow what the Master told him to do – even if that meant taking a message to the streets of Gentile cities, after being openly tossed from one synagogue after another.

The people cut him off right there. If this guy was told to go be with Gentiles, he had no business speaking the Hebrew tongue and lecturing the people of God in the Holy Temple! They needed to toss him out now! They shut down the dialogue and made clear that his point of view was worthy of death.

Did Paul do a poor job of defending his faith? After all, the people didn’t listen did they? How can we evaluate this as anything other than a failure?

The truth is, God was working other plans. Paul gave the message until he couldn’t. He represented Jesus with poise in the toughest of places under terrible circumstances. Yet, the measure of the witness was not whether the crowd came to Jesus that day – this was a work in progress. Look at the last part of the chapter, and see if you can pick out what God was beginning to do in the story…

Paul was about to take the message into a strategic place – the Roman barracks of Jerusalem – and make plain what the whole problem was all about. Later in his arrest, Paul will note that many who heard the Gospel in such circumstances were deeply attracted to Jesus, and the testimony was effective. That wasn’t THIS TIME, but this was part of his “learning curve”.

Acts 22:23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks…”

Paul was about to exercise lessons in defense learned back in the second mission journey at Philippi (Acts 16) and stop the legal establishment from abusing him in an unlawful way. He had learned what to say and when to say it, and that would serve him well in the days ahead. Because he knew Jesus, didn’t mean he couldn’t use every temporal right he had to defend himself – and Christians are learning that lesson in the west again, even as we are studying this passage.

Acts 22:24b “…stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way. 25 But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard [this], he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born [a citizen].” 29 Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.

Paul was about to get an ordered hearing before important men that was supervised, rather than a “free-for-all” that would have certainly ended badly had the Roman authorities not been involved. God knows how to open doors, but believers have to follow His lead and obey His commands. Paul had to bleed to get the right to be heard by the Sanhedrin in a supervised and peaceful assembly.

Acts 22:30 But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

Patrick lived in the fifth century, a time of rapid change and transition as the Roman Empire was beginning to lose its grip on outlying areas, and Europe was one the doorstep of what later historians would call “the Dark Ages”. Rome’s slow downward spiral led to successful barbarian invaders sacking the city in 410. Shortly after, Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain and the once ordered life found under Roman domination became chaotic and uncertain. “St. Patrick” ministered in the world of that tumultuous time.

Though much about his life is uncertain, some biographical facts are well-established. Patrick was born Patricius somewhere in Roman Britain to a relatively wealthy family. He was not religious as a youth and, in fact, claims to have practically renounced the faith of his family. While in his teens, Patrick was kidnapped in a raid and transported to Ireland, where he was enslaved to a local warlord and worked as a shepherd until he escaped six years later. He returned home and eventually undertook studies for the priesthood with the intention of returning to Ireland as a missionary to his former captors. It is not clear when he actually made it back to Ireland, or for how long he ministered there, but it was definitely for a number of years. By the time he wrote the Confession and the “Letter to Coroticus,” Patrick was recognized by both Irish natives and the Church hierarchy as the bishop of Ireland. By this time, also, he had clearly made a permanent commitment to Ireland and intended to die there. Scholars have no reason to doubt that he did. He died on March 17 the day we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. (Original source unknown).

I mention his story to make a point. The day he was captured he had no idea that God wanted to use him to reach the people who hurt him and changed his life so badly – but that is exactly what happened. Listen to the compendium of the words of this man as they were handed down to us:

“I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many…If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me…Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that lies in deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of the wall…That which I have set out in Latin is not my words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken…Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” Could this man defend his faith. Yes, I know you can see that he could. Now the question is: “Can we?” Testifying of the work of Jesus in our lives is a necessary skill that every believer must learn.

God on the Move: “Heed the Call” – Acts 21

bobdylan1I doubt if anyone was thinking that a movement was going to be fostered by the ballad songs of a baby boy born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota – but that is what would happen some eighteen years later… as Robert Allen Zimmerman entered the stage as Bob Dylan. One of the popular lyric writers of the 1960’s he penned these words:

“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.”

A platform favorite of demonstrators was the plea to “heed the call” of the masses. In Christian circles, we used the terms “heed the call” to refer not to political movements – but the movement within the follower of Jesus by God’s Spirit to the place of ministry. Believers are called by God and placed in service by that call.

As we continue walking the Roman roads with the Apostle Paul through the Christian Scriptures, (New Testament) we have come to see Paul as a seasoned shepherd of the early church, a well-recognized author of Holy Scripture, and a bold and zealous witness for Jesus across his known western world. Looking up close, no one who examines the record of accomplishments of the Apostle Paul’s life would doubt that he was a man who was “called” by God to accomplish great things. Few Christians would argue that as believers we don’t follow a call of God to be saved, and even to serve God. Yet, we don’t spend much time describing what the call of God DOES to daily decision making…a “how it works in practical life” view, if you will.

We do repeat some truths about the call of God to believers often enough that they are well known, partly because they are easy to establish from the Word. For instance, God called you to Himself for the purpose of life-changing transformation. The people that are “the called according to God’s purpose” of Romans 8 were the same believers that were “made alive by God” in Ephesians 2, “brought out of death into life”. God’s call was evident, and God bought you to place you on a mission. That call refers to God’s choice of you – to bring you to Himself. It is not the only way we use the term, however.

A second use of “call” is related to your service for the Lord as a believer – as in: “What ministry were you CALLED to do in the body?” In that case, we often note that a believer’s call is usually indicated by the spiritual gifts God bestowed on your life at the time of your salvation. Your “call” often follows your expressed passion and normally works within your personality – as Moses who early in his life burned with a sense of injustice was called to set the Hebrews free later in his life. In addition to these ideas, every believer who has observed Scripture carefully can tell you that a believer’s call must lead them only to works that are in harmony with the values of God’s Word.

The call for service is real, and important. Yet we don’t often point out how it works its way out in daily life. In this lesson we want to look past the simple truths of the call, and peer into the functioning or the call to serve while we see how it worked in Paul’s life – on the way to instructing our own walk. Watch Paul, and you will observe some valuable traits that are the outgrowth of following the call of God – perhaps even some that are less known and harder to grasp – especially as a young believer. It all begins with the singular observation…

Key Principle: God’s call in my life should show in the choices of my life.

Let’s look through the story of Acts 21, the rough and tumble of the Prophetic warnings of incarceration to Paul into the actual arrest of Paul, where we will see “seven truths about God’s call” that may not be clear to growing believers – but are essential lessons.

Because I have God’s call – I must weigh all of the other directions that come my way (Acts 21:1-4).

When God calls a man or woman from service, it doesn’t mean there won’t be other voices calling them to do something else…

Acts 21:1 When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; 2 and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

You are led by the Spirit, and you will grow to know God’s call for you – but not every believer will understand what He is telling you to do – even some who are following God wholly and love Him deeply. When God is at work in you, every spiritual “word” or “piece of advice” given to you must be measured through His call. Others may mean well and be thoroughly convinced of “God’s will for your life”, but they only know the part that God impressed upon them about their call – not your whole plan. We must learn to follow God’s direction, and cannot be so easily dissuaded by those who love God, but may not see all He told us about the situation.

I have seen this often, but it requires some explanation.

Years ago I worked in Elkhart, Indiana for a time, building robots on a shop floor in a manufacturing unit. During that time, the company I worked for was led by a nominal Christian man, who had a son in Seminary at a good school. The company owner knew I was a believer, and pulled me aside one day to lament that his son was making the decision to take his new bride and move overseas to Africa on a mission endeavor. He complained, “Don’t you people know how many people live in the US that needed God? Why in the world do you insist on traveling far from home in places like this to preach, when we have churches to preach from right here?” I tried to explain that his son wasn’t choosing where to go – only WHO to follow. If God told him to go – obedience was demanded.

It wasn’t hard to see that my boss was lamenting “losing” time with his son and future grandchildren. I understand that pain – but he didn’t understand the choice – because he didn’t grasp how a call to service works. God called the play – his son was just being obedient. His son knew what Jesus wanted.

Not to be overly personal, but this has happened many times in ministry through my life. When I came to Sebring, Florida, I got the amazing opportunity to serve in the church beside some fabulous men and women. Several of them are with Jesus now. One in particular stayed with our ministry and NEVER shared his thoughts about my teaching and preaching (out of loyalty) with anyone else but me. Would it surprise you to learn that not all the senior men who stood by my side truly agreed I was handling the pulpit properly? I am not saying that they thought I wasn’t preaching the Word. I am saying they weren’t happy with the diet as I planned it from the Word. One in particular believed that I wasn’t open to topical preaching, and he made it clear on a dozen occasions that his ministry was built on holiday preaching and hot topics. He told me many times I was “off the mark” preaching through books. I loved him, and still do –but I knew what God wanted me to do – and that was cover as many chapters as I could in the year. I began a second service and didn’t do what anyone else did – and heard repeatedly how I should repeat messages.

Stop for a second and hear what I am saying. I am not hurt, and those memories are not painful at all. I am not bringing this up to put down someone or elevate me – I am making a point. I knew God’s call for me. Others weighed in, and had I not been certain of God’s direction, I would have changed what I was doing – as I have countless times after consulting with our leaders on issues in which God hadn’t given me a specific direction. The point is this: even good people led by God will weigh in on some things that you must stick to because of what God told you to do. Paul understood that. They told him –nudged by the Spirit of God – that Jerusalem was a costly choice– and he booked a boat anyway.

Because I have God’s call – I cannot allow emotional attachments to stop me from following a walk of obedience (Acts 21:5-14).

Related to the first truth, but a bit different is the recognition that emotions cannot drive decision making when it comes to God’s will. Take a look at the following verses…

Acts 21:5 When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until [we were] out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6 Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. 7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8 On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents [began] begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

Other prophetic words were handed down by God’s people, and they all sounded like: “Danger ahead!” Agabus dropped by to offer a graphic picture of Paul’s coming days… and it was not going to be any picnic! I am not making light of the issue. It was clear that it broke Paul’s heart to think that he would be taken from the other believers, and not see their faces again. Paul knew the stakes; but Paul knew God’s leading. If arrival in Jerusalem was the instruction from God for Paul, failure to arrive was disobedience. He couldn’t shirk his responsibilities for the sake of more time with loved ones. What foreign called missionary couldn’t say they understand Paul’s feelings and his tears?

The call of God to accomplish an area of ministry doesn’t mean you DON’T feel what anyone else feels – it means you trust God to care for your needs, and you know what He told you to do. The choice comes down to following Him or not – and you care more about His will than your feelings. As our culture continues to exalt one’s personal feelings above all else – this is fast becoming a foreign concept to people – to deny ourselves and follow God. The words of Jesus must still ring true in His people:

Mark 8:34: “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Notice how Paul responded when people pressed him about the future in verses thirteen and fourteen. First, he instructed the people that he felt as they did. Second, he made the point that he was following a path and was ready to do so. It appears to me from the narrative that did NOT stop the people from pressing him – but he would not be persuaded. Even in the first century believers were unsure about how the call of God worked in overruling the emotions – but Paul knew what he needed to do.

Because I have God’s call – I cannot allow rumor and misinformation to drive my path unless it will confuse the Gospel (Acts 21:15-25).

Finally arriving in Jerusalem, Paul was not finished demonstrating how God’s call worked in his life. Luke recorded:

Acts 21:15 After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 [Some] of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. 17 After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he had greeted them, he [began] to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they [began] glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 “What, then, is [to be done]? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Paul eased into the Jerusalem scene along with some friends and travel companions. He was “gladly received”, so we should picture some hugging, sharing and maybe even a few tears as God’s people joined together. He sat for a time with Jerusalem’s Pastor (James) and some of the other elders of the church and reported to them all that God was doing in and through him, and something remarkable happened in the room… An entire group of kosher believers began to praise God and celebrate the work of God among the Gentiles! They may not have had great experiences with these God was transforming, but they were excited that God was at work calling people to Himself!

After a time of praise, the leaders presented to Paul a local issue that needed to be dealt with – that of his reputation among Jewish believers. The words of Paul were, in some cases, misunderstood. The letter to the Galatian believers still is largely misunderstood by many as an antinomian rant – when it is nothing of the sort. Add to the uncertainty from Paul’s friends the blatant lies and deliberate rumors of his foes to Jerusalem’s leadership in the Temple – and it was no wonder that Paul was maligned in Jerusalem. The elders were excited that so many Jews knew Jesus and also kept the laws that God told them never to set aside. Jesus didn’t cancel the command for Jews to keep Sabbath – it was a forever command. Jesus didn’t cancel circumcision for Jewish infant boys – it was a forever symbol of the covenant God had with Abraham. Jews didn’t cancel the food laws given to Jews in Leviticus 11 – for they were restrictions God placed specifically on the children of Israel for signs of a special covenant relationship. The symbols didn’t justify them – that came from the payment of Messiah on Calvary. At the same time, Messiah didn’t cancel them or the men would have been embarrassed admitting these men were both believers in Jesus and active in keeping the Law.

Don’t forget that Paul didn’t CORRECT them for having Jews that followed the Law –he went out of his way to make sure those very believers DIDN’T believe that he was saying that at all. Bible teachers that make this seem like “he was just being a Jew to Jews, but didn’t think Jews needed to keep the Law given them” make Paul into the worst kind of pandering politician in my view. The record seems clear. The elders were thankful the Jewish believers kept the Law, and Paul didn’t want them to believe he wasn’t one of them. Either that was genuine, or it was pandering to the polls.

Note the assurance of the record: “…all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you.” It seems clear enough from the Scriptures that integrity of the leaders would demand they not be putting a false front on Paul’s beliefs – they didn’t think he was teaching Jews to stop keeping the Law – and they reiterated the fact that although there was but ONE WAY to be declared righteous by God (the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary), there were two distinct paths of sanctification – the walk of obedience of one who knows and follows God. Verse twenty-five reiterated the four standards for Gentiles passed by the Jerusalem Council years before – i.e. “meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” – as a clearly different occurrence than what was happening in Jerusalem among Jewish believers.

Paul wanted to clear the air, not to protect himself, but because what was being said was confusing to the Gospel. God didn’t tell Jews to accept Jesus and stop being distinctly Jewish in lifestyle. God didn’t “kosher” the hams. At the same time, God wasn’t interested in Gentiles trying to replace the Jewish people by acting like them. God created one new man – Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female. All entered justification the same way. Each had a separate path for sanctification – because God wanted to do different things by different people. Paul wanted that message clear. He wasn’t doing things to defend his reputation – but for the clarity of the Gospel.

People don’t have to like us as God’s servants, but we have a sacred responsibility to make sure the message we were given is communicated lovingly, but carefully. We must not adjust the message, nor hinder people by giving it in a way that is distracting from the message.

Because I have God’s call – I must expect the opposition of the Deceiver and his planted forces (Acts 21:26-28).

The clarity of the message wasn’t Paul’s only problem. He also had a problem that was caused directly by the interruption of the father of lies and those who promoted darkness. Luke told the story…

Acts 21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them. 27 When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, [began] to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

He went to take a vow, though he knew he had a score of enemies in that place. Men openly lied about the things that happened and acted as if they were defending the purity of God’s holy place. They were doing nothing of the kind. Paul knew their type. He spent many years surrounded by arrogant men who pretended to have more concern about God’s reputation than was real.

Paul lived day to day following God guiding hand. He never expected that to mean that things would “always go well” for him. In 2 Cor. 11:24-25, Paul told the church that:

• Five times he was beaten with 39 stripes of Jews (Dt. 25:1-3 says 40 stripes, one less was offered so the punishment was not overdone).
• Three times he was beaten with rods (at least one was recorded in Philippi in Acts 16:22).
• He was once stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:19)
• He had three times been shipwrecked (with one day and one night in “the deep”).

We can now add to that list a number of things that happened after 2 Corinthians was written:

• Paul escaped a plot against him in Corinth (Acts. 20:3).
• This scene of his arrest in Jerusalem was anything but “just” (Acts 21:32).
• Another (fourth) shipwreck in Acts 27 was in his future here.
• A lengthy imprisonment in Caesarea and later Rome awaited him (28:30).
• After a second arrest, and eventual execution brought his service to an end.

All of that, and he served with a “thorn in the flesh” of some kind, which was apparently an eye problem. (2 Corinthians 12:5-10; Gal. 4:12-15). What is the point? Paul FOLLOWED God and SERVED God – and that kept him in trouble – not in constant peaceful circumstances. He learned contentment amid trouble, not blessing amid ease.

Because I have God’s call – I should anticipate hatred and unfair treatment that is not rational (Acts 21:29-31).

On the contrary to learning in ease, Paul anticipated unfair treatment, and recognized that was part of following Christ. Listen to what Luke recorded during the scene of his tumultuous arrest…

Acts 21:29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31 While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the [Roman] cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion.

They dragged him. They wanted him dead. A lynch mob didn’t seek proof he did anything wrong – after all, in the keeping of the purity of God, too bad if he wasn’t actually, you know… guilty. They wanted to keep God’s reputation, so they skipped past all the parts of the Law that cautioned against injustice to get to the parts where they could just kill the one the mob said was guilty!

If you have ever been ganged up on in a class because you had the audacity to stand up and say you believed that God actually created the world, or that God had standards for things like human sexuality – you know what I mean by the fear and adrenaline push that can easily take over under attack. People in packs are incredibly brave. Without their buddies, they would whimper if they were attacked – but together they are strong and have no problem attacking you. Anyone who believes that followers of Jesus aren’t actually HATED today, hasn’t been in a chat room or on a thread in social media. Our Savior is STILL hated. Our message is STILL despised. We should not be surprised. Following God doesn’t exempt us from feeling the hatred of God’s enemy and his followers. They did not spare our Savior – and they will do all they can to eliminate us. Maybe it won’t be killing, but it will be marginalizing and muscling us to the corner of the society. We should expect it, and we should challenge it while we can – but that won’t go on forever.

Because I have God’s call – I should anticipate even physical opposition and pain (Acts 21:32).

Luke included the note that:

Acts 21:32 At once he took along [some] soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

The people were beating Paul. He wasn’t tried by a court, he was beaten by a mob. They didn’t SEE him do something wrong, they HEARD that he might have committed a crime. He was guilty because he associated with Gentiles, and that was enough for people to lash out. Here is a special word for our time…

Be especially careful about “piling on” on the web. When someone makes a “report” about something, check sources carefully. Believers are being duped into passing false reports on many things, and it is bringing the cause of Christ into derision. What is more, some believers will argue and fight on the web with the worst of tempers – sounding like those in the world. Remember this: you can say the right thing the wrong way – and it is worse than if you never said anything. Don’t feel pressure to defend God’s reputation and pile on unless the nudge is from God – and not your ego or angry streak. In the end, I am certain some well-meaning people were throwing punches at Paul because they thought he did something, but they weren’t sure of the fact. Don’t join into the chorus of protest unless you are sure of the facts and the sources of those facts.

Because I have God’s call – I should look for any opportunity to share Jesus with people (Acts 21:33-40).

The remarkable this about Paul was that in the tumult, he had the presence of mind to try to move the scene to a presentation of Jesus. The text recorded:

Acts 21:33 Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he [began] asking who he was and what he had done. 34 But among the crowd some were shouting one thing [and] some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, “Away with him!” 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40 When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying..”

Where many would see only a need to defend and struggle, Paul was looking carefully for an opportunity to share the truth of Christ. Where many would focus on pressing for their rights, Paul felt his responsibility to the Gospel. I love that level of composure! Remaining composed in the face of trouble likely occurred because Paul knew his call to ministry…

I don’t know if you know the preacher from Texas named Tony Evans. If you do, the story is only better… Tony hates elevators, and is always afraid they will break while he is inside them. A few years ago, the elevator of a high rise met his expectations and stopped half way up to its destination, many floors above the lobby of a large building. Tony tells the story well, and I won’t do it justice – but he talked about how some people began screaming, hoping loud noise would be noticed. Others pounded on the doors and walls, hoping that would get the attention of the world outside. Tony looked in dismay as the small gathering unraveled, but as he scanned the area next to the door, he saw a little door with the symbol of a phone on it. He moved across the elevator, and picked up the small handset, and called the front desk of the building – the phone got an immediate response. All the shouting and pounding looked more effective, but a quiet phone call got them help… because a man had composure in a tight place.

Composure helps us serve with a view toward our real goal – to honor the Lord in each circumstance. That is just another way that God’s call in my life should show in the choices of my life. God will lodge in your heart a burden – perhaps not unique to others, but deeply resonant within you. It is your opportunity to serve Him!

Your call from God is not a PROJECT; it is the means through which God will show you the PRIZE of your life!

There is an old story about a large boulder that blocked the normal passageway of the roadway along a pass outside of a village, half way to the neighboring township. Traveler after traveler used the road, and found it difficult to pass the boulder, because it forced them to stop and carefully move their carts around to the edges of the road, veering off the main ruts to get around this inconvenient obstruction. People passed, day after day muttering, “Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way. What an inconvenience!” One day a man came by and saw the blocking boulder, took a branch from a tree and used a small rock as a fulcrum, dislodging the boulder and pushing it from the roadway – clearing the path. Directly beneath the rock, he noticed a small bag and a handwritten note. Curious, the man snatched the note and read it. Scribbled on it were these words: “Thank you for being a true servant of our kingdom. You did more than recognize the work that needed to be done; you took the time to actually do it. Many have complained; you have acted on the problem. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler passed by simply because they didn’t act to serve everyone else.”

God on the Move: “Setting the Record Straight” – Acts 20

crist scott debateNow is apparently NOT the time to desire to run our beloved Sunshine State. The current Governor’s race has been typically framed as one of the nastiest in the country, as an incumbent Governor and a former Governor try to woo voters by casting a shadow on their opponent. The current issue of “The Economist” took the time to weigh in without offering any endorsement to either man, as they shed light on the appalling lack of civility in the race.

“…Yet both campaigns talk more about the other guy’s flaws than their own policies. Mr. Crist, voters hear, stands for nothing. Mr. Scott, they are told, stands for Big Oil and billionaires. Personality seems to matter a lot, and Mr. Crist has more of it. At a debate on October 21st in Jacksonville, the former governor delivered perfect sound bites, looking with puppy-dog eyes straight at the camera as he explained that “I’m running to give you a chance.” Mr. Scott grimaced weirdly and dodged questions less skillfully. A previous debate was even worse for Mr. Scott: he failed to appear on stage for several minutes, on live television, after a squabble over whether Mr. Crist could have a fan under his lectern. Comedians and Democrats rejoiced. Mr. Scott’s hope will be that attack ads can overcome the charm deficit. He has plenty of money, including his own fortune, to spend denting Mr. Crist’s brand. But while this strategy has cut Mr. Crist’s lead, it has not erased it. And Mr. Crist now has lots of financial backing too, not least from Tom Steyer, a Californian billionaire who is spending vast sums to defeat candidates who don’t take global warming seriously…”

I mention the race with no particular selection advice to the voters, but one specific insight: It is more important that we know what a candidate truly believes and plans for his administration, than how adept he is at muddying his opponent. We need “proper exposure” to the man’s beliefs and values – or we don’t know what kind of LEADER the man will be. Without a clear picture of both values and how they will apply to the legislative issues of our time, we might as well hold a beauty pageant to get our leaders.

Fortunately for us, when it comes to leadership in the church of Jesus Christ, we have some insightful moments of exposure that help us understand the men God used in the early days of the church to share Jesus with the world. These moments of exposure offer us both MODELS for leaders today and ASSURANCE of the kind of men God used to get the work started in the first century. The men weren’t perfect, and they weren’t always right in how they handled things – but the exposure allows us to see God using “broken pots” to do extraordinary things! This lesson is an “up close” exposure of Paul’s values concerning ministry, taken from a speech he made to close friends during an emotional parting.

Key Principle: God mightily uses men and women who reflect His values and His message without wavering.

Luke took his time getting to the address of Paul to the elders of Miletos with three short stories (recorded in Acts 20:1-17) that set up the unique exposure of Paul’s heart in his message at the end of the chapter. Though they aren’t our focus, we won’t rush through them, because they offer valuable information on what Paul had been through in the previous few months before his tearful exchange with some much loved elders of the city where he spent more time than any other on his journeys, Ephesus.

Before that address, the first story recalled by Luke was about Paul’s travels and companions in a very short summary form in Acts 20:1-6:

Acts 20:1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

Paul left the city of Ephesus after the place settled down from the riot in Acts 19. He met with the men on the team he had been teaching, and commended the work to them while he went “back on the road” to continue his mission work. These were some of the men he will address at the end of the chapter, but that was several months later. He traveled (apparently via ship) bypassing the great cities of Smyrna, Pergamum and Troas, and made his way to Macedonia- then on to Greece. Near the end of his three months of travel, seven men assembled back in Troas (in Asia Minor) and waited for Luke and Paul to arrive. The two men delayed departure until after Paul’s celebrations of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but eventually found their way down to Neapolis (the port of Philippi) and crossed by sea over to Troas. The winds were running contrary, so the sailing took a few extra days. On arrival in Troas, the nine men met together for a full week as the countdown toward Pentecost was underway for the Jews among them.

Take a breath. This was a short clip of a journey of three months that included visits to some tough places. Paul was being dogged by men who plotted against him, and it seems he was feeling the pressure. The end of that journey was a wonderful time to retreat into the circle of some brothers who helped Paul get ready for the uncertainty ahead. What a blessing that God provided – not just the Spirit for daily comfort – but brothers in the Lord for comradery and support! Paul needed this break, for the days were drawing ever nearer to his arrest and lengthy incarceration.

The second story recalled a long sermon, a sleepy listener and a miracle:

20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

I am deeply encouraged by this story. First, it reminds me that I am not the only preacher who loses people who need a nap. Second, I am not the only long-winded teacher of the Bible – but I am in good company. Though there are a variety of ways to translate the opening words of this passage, I don’t believe the passage reflects a Sunday worship service at all, and I certainly would NOT use the passage as a defense for a Sunday meeting, though some commentators insist that is the better reading. The Greek reads this way: “en de mia ton Sabbaton”, which can be “on the first of the week” or “on the first of the Sabbaths”, which would normally be an unusual reading. Yet, I think that is EXACTLY what Luke intended. The passage is clearly set AFTER the Passover, and the rush to get to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) is obvious in Acts 20:16. Jews counted the seven Sabbaths as a “season” leading to the celebration of the “Giving of the Law” (see Exodus 19 and the “fifty days” journey completion). The meeting doesn’t appear to have been a Sunday night service, but more likely a Saturday night “Havdalah” service for the completion of the Sabbath that brought the people together.

Because Paul was going to leave them, he extended the service late into the evening, and eventually into the wee hours of Sunday morning. I love the details of Luke’s account:

• Paul went on until midnight (7).
• Lamps were warming up the room (8).
• In spite of the lightness of the room, Eutychus was dozing, heading for deep sleep (9).
• Here is my favorite part: “Paul talked ON and ON…” You have to smile at this… He was caught up in his subject and didn’t notice the hour, I suppose.

Out the window Eutychus tumbled, and he hit the pavement below hard. The people were visibly shaken as they lifted him and declared him “dead”. Paul went down to his body and raised him up with God’s power. After this, Paul went back to teaching – sharing a meal and continuing his teaching until daylight.

I am going to resist the temptation to make the application that those who sleep in church die a nasty death – though some Bible teachers would, no doubt, yield to that lure. Rather, it seems more worthwhile to note that the healing was not Paul’s main concern – but the instructions seemed to dominate his mind. Paul knew the man was FINE now, and would become a distraction if he didn’t press through to the lesson he was giving them. He wasn’t more ecstatic about a healing than he was about God’s healing of hearts through his Word when it was vibrantly taught.

The third story set the immediate scene for Paul’s emotional message to the Elders of Ephesus, and explained why he didn’t give it in Ephesus:

20:13 We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. 15 The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. 16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. 17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them…”

Stop your reading right there! Paul was “island hopping” in the Aegean, but this was no tourist or shopping spree. He was a “man on a mission” to get to Jerusalem by Shavuot (Pentecost, or the “Feast of Weeks”). He was active, tired and eluding a group that was clearly after him whenever he settled down. His seven teachings to the elders reflect his heart, but also his “state of mind”.

The “Final” Address

Let’s take the balance of this lesson to focus on what Paul told the men that gathered to hear what most believed would be his “final address” to them.

Paul expected hardship:

The first thing Paul told them was to recall his testimony – because that was the practical basis of his instruction. He said:

“You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.”

Paul lived out his faith in the choices of daily life – and that practice and consistency is what opened the door to people listening to what he said. Any believer would love to be able to say the same about themselves. If we truly want people to hear the message of Jesus from us, we must live the message of Jesus through our lives. When our choices betray our message, people notice. I had to smile at this little story that illustrates this:

A forest ranger is making rounds in a remote part of the wooded reserve when he comes across an unkempt man, sitting at a make-shift campfire, and, to the ranger’s astonishment, eating a fish and a bald eagle. The man is consequently put in jail for the crime. He was soon brought to trial for his crime. The Judge asked the man, “Do you know that eating a bald eagle is a federal offense?” “Yes, I do, Judge,” replied the man, “but if you will let me argue my case, I’ll explain what happened.” “You may proceed.” “I got lost in the woods and hadn’t had anything real to eat for two weeks,” the man explained. “I was so hungry, I was eating plants to stay alive. Next thing I see is a Bald Eagle swooping down at the lake grabbing a fish. I thought ‘If I startled the eagle, I could maybe steal the fish.’ Low and behold, the eagle lighted upon a nearby tree stump to eat the fish. I threw a stone toward the eagle hoping he would drop the fish and fly away. Unfortunately, in my weakened condition, my aim was off, and the rock hit the eagle squarely on his poor little head, and it killed him. I thought long and hard about what had happened, but figured that since I had killed it, I might as well eat it, since it would be more disgraceful to let it rot on the ground.” The Judge says he would take a recess to analyze the defendant’s testimony. Fifteen minutes goes by, and the Judge returns. “Due to the extreme circumstances you were under and because you didn’t intend to kill the eagle, the court will dismiss the charges.” The Judge then leans over the bench and whispers: “If you don’t mind my asking, what does a bald eagle taste like?” “Well, Your Honor, it is hard to explain. I guess the best comparison I can make is, it’s a bit more tender than a California Condor, but lacks the tang of a Spotted Owl.” (From a sermon by J.D. Tutell, He Prepares a Table, 2/3/2011, Sermon Central.com)

Obviously, the man’s choices made clear his value system – and that is true of all of us!

Read the opening words of Paul again, and you will not hear bitterness – just the fact of hardship in his life. He admitted to tears and weakness – you he continued to live without the expectation of peace and harmony while serving God fully. I think this is something believers in our day are just beginning to realize. The words of Jesus run against the grain of our modern culture – and the times ahead bear choppy waves for the one who will walk with God into the storm of culture. These are days for brave men and women – courageous followers of Jesus who will not “get in the face” of people, but will not flee the public square, either. Paul never seemed to expect “if God is in it, things will go smoothly.” I find his expectation instructive in my life.

Paul’s message was specific:

As you continue to read his words, look at verse twenty:

Acts 20:20 “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”

The Apostle reminded the men that his message was one of PERSUASION. He used the word “preach” (kerudzon – to persuade). We must remember that the idea of using God’s Word to persuade men and women is not intolerant, nor pushy. Those words describe HOW one can be guilty of using tactics in persuasion that are wrong. The idea that we are deliberately trying to convince people to walk with God and obey His Word is not cause for embarrassment – it is our core purpose. We are a persuasion and information agency empowered by God and sent to do a job in a dark world that has left God and is plummeting downward toward Hell. Paul’s ministry included persuading people of every background – Jews and Greeks – concerning Christ. His ministry included relentlessly offering a path to God both in private and public settings. He didn’t speak in a home differently than in a hall – it was one message.

Now look at the words he used to describe the message he gave. It was always two-fold: repentance in life and faith in Jesus. Paul didn’t preach a theoretical theology of justification by grace through faith that did not include life surrender. From one end of the Bible to the other, there is no such thing – no matter how often that gets framed as a “salvation by works” by those who want to have Heaven and freedom to choose to live this side of Heaven any way they want.

Paul’s choices were directed:

Paul continued his message and made clear that he went where he was commanded by God, not simply where he desired to go:

Acts 20:22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

The Apostle learned over the course of his walk with God that he needed to constantly follow the Spirit’s leading in spite of the fact that he wasn’t sure of the path ahead. His focused goal was “finishing well the task of spreading the Gospel” as he built the churches without a need to understand where his own trail led. The truth is that is both difficult and unwanted by any of us. We want to prepare for retirement, and then we want to live the dream. We want to save for the things we long to have, and then we want to buy them. We want the path ahead to look brighter, or we are frustrated. We want to live in peace, so we rush through the work day and press to get a “good vacation” periodically. We all do it, and we forget that following God’s path isn’t supposed to be a ramrod experience of heavy lifting. Jesus said His yoke is easy and burden light.

Some of you may recall an old black and white “Andy Griffith” episode on TV about two hundred years ago or so… it was about a business man from Charlotte, NC who had a car break down on the highway some distance outside of the town of Mayberry. The man walked into town on a Sunday afternoon as people were leaving church and was frustrated that no one would fix his car of a Sunday – even for money. He was invited to Sherriff Taylor’s home for dinner, and exploded at the Sheriff and Deputy Barney Fife at “how these people were living in a different time” than the rest of the people in the world. As a hard-driving businessman, he was frustrated at the way the people lived out simplicity and values. By the end of the episode he learned much about his own hard-driving lifestyle, and appreciated the way the simple folks in Mayberry lived. Life in modernity wasn’t half of what it is today, and yet the man was able to glimpse into a less stressed world and learn a few lessons…

Jesus said His “yoke is easy and burden light”. It is worth remembering the yoke is only easy when the yoked one surrenders the direction of the furrows to the one who planned the path. Struggling against the yoke is HARD, and the reason for much Christian exhaustion. Paul learned to follow – and that is what made him an effective leader and spokesman for God.

Paul’s method had purpose:

The Apostle shared with the elders they would likely not see him again, but his conscience was clear because he did the work he was given…

Acts 20:25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

The peace in his heart allowed him to rest in the memories of what he had done among them. He recognized that teaching them all of God’s Word allowed him to place the responsibility for their spiritual walk solely on their shoulders. When people are denied the information – leaders are culpable. When they are carefully instructed in the Word and the application is made clear – followers are responsible to follow God’s will. The tragedy of our times is not primarily found in the resistance of modern disciples to follow the Word of God, but much more in the reticence of preachers to make the Word plain and applicable.

Paul’s expectation was for trouble:

Because Paul didn’t expect God to make life easy, he learned to watch for the work of his enemy while he walked with God. He told the elders to do the same:

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard!” Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Leaders know their work is both to follow God, and to shepherd others as they learn to follow Him – but that isn’t all of it. The leadership God provides a congregation are called to defend them against those who would come to harm them and steal some of them away into the bondage of sinful choices and the darkness of deception. It was not a work for those who only knew peace – but a work of guardianship that required acuity in God’s Word and strength of spirit. Paul knew the people didn’t belong to him or the elders – they were God’s people. Yet, he honestly felt the weight of their lives for the time they were entrusted to his care, knowing in the end that they were in the hands of God and His Word. That is how it should be. Bad choices of disciples grieve the hearts of their leaders. What is more, they grieve the Holy Spirit within the heart of the believer who is making the bad choices.

I am amazed that some believers will choose to do something that God’s Word clearly speaks against and justify it with the argument that “they didn’t want to offend anyone” by making a different choice. Perhaps they have forgotten the offense against the Spirit of God? Consider these words from a preacher of yesteryear:

Spell this out in capital letters: THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON. He is not enthusiasm. He is not courage. He is not energy. He is not the personification of all good qualities, like Jack Frost is the personification of cold weather. Actually, the Holy Spirit is not the personification of anything…… He has individuality. He is one being and not another. He has will and intelligence. He has hearing. He has knowledge and sympathy and ability to love and see and think. He can hear, speak, desire, grieve and rejoice. He is a Person.” (The Counselor, by A.W. Tozer).

Paul recognized his life was scrutinized:

The Apostle that initiated mission points across Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and into Illyricum anticipated that his life was on display, not just his words. People weigh in on more than what a teacher says. Paul reminded:

Acts 20:33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Paul’s quote of Jesus isn’t from the Gospels, but rather something Jesus taught him in the desert seminary class. He learned from Jesus not to hunger for the things of this world, but to use them to share Jesus with others. F.B. Meyer in Our Daily Walk made an important point regarding such a daily testimony:

The supreme test of goodness is not in the greater but in the smaller incidents of our character and practice; not what we are when standing in the searchlight of public scrutiny, but when we reach the firelight flicker of our homes; not what we are when some clarion-call rings through the air, summoning us to fight for life and liberty, but our attitude when we are called to sentry-duty in the grey morning, when the watch-fire is burning low. It is impossible to be our best at the supreme moment if character is corroded and eaten into by daily inconsistency, unfaithfulness, and besetting sin.

If Paul wasn’t helpful, he would have been useless to God in building the Kingdom. If Paul was insensitive to needs, his message would have fallen flat in each place he shared of Jesus. If Paul wasn’t hard-working, he would have been constantly in need of help from others to do his own work – making them doubt his veracity. Daily, consistent, caring and compassion matched with hard work will build the respect of others for your life message.

Paul didn’t let the emotional attachments drive him:

Paul loved these guys, but that wasn’t the most important love of his life – and his feelings didn’t drive his choices. Luke recorded of the scene:

Acts 20:36 When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. 21:1 After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos.

I love that Luke noted that “we tore ourselves away from them”. That kind of relationship is the kind that has passed through the fire of the foundry together. These men loved the Lord and each other – and the thought they would not be together again this side of glory was heart-breaking. Yet, God had a path for Paul, and another for these men. Neither knew where the path would lead – but they learned to trust God for the future…

A few years ago, a Pastor named Jason Jones shared this story:

In 1949, my father had just returned from the war. On every highway you could see soldiers in uniform hitchhiking home to their families. The thrill of the reunion with his family was soon overshadowed by my grandmother’s illness. There was a problem with her kidneys. The doctors told my father that she needed a blood transfusion immediately or she would not live through the night. Grandmother’s blood type was AB negative, a very rare type. In those days there were no blood banks like there are today. No one in the family had that type blood, and the hospital had not been able to find anyone with that rare type. The doctor gave our family little hope. My Dad decided to head home for a little while to change clothes and then return for the inevitable good-byes. As my father was driving home, he passed a soldier in uniform hitchhiking. Deep in grief, my father was not going to stop. But something compelled him to pull over. The soldier climbed in, but my father never spoke. He just continued driving down the road toward home. The soldier could tell my father was upset as a tear ran down his cheek. The soldier asked about the tear. My father began telling the stranger that his mother was going to die because the hospital couldn’t find anyone who could donate AB negative blood. My father explained that he was just heading home to change clothes. That is when he noticed the soldier’s open hand holding dog tags that read AB negative. The soldier told my father to turn the car around and head back to the hospital. My grandmother lived until 1996, 47 more years. (Source: From a sermon by Jason Jones, “The Lord’s Supper” 7/17/08, sermon central illustrations).

Consider how Paul left their company, tear-stained cheeks all around. God wasn’t finished with Paul – nor with the churches of Asia Minor. The record was left of this simple sermon to remind us…God mightily uses men and women who reflect His values and His message without wavering.

God on the Move: “Fight the Good Fight” -Acts 19

Chuck-HagelRecently, many American Christians I have spoken to became deeply concerned with the lack of a coherent strategy to face the growing global threat of ISIS. The mission community is watching this crisis, especially those of us who work in the Middle East region. Watching with horror as journalists were brutalized, many around the world reacted in fear, and wanted the comfort of our governmental leaders – and some are noticeably bitter about not getting what they wanted in assurances from Washington. Others are more concerned with the startling outbreak of the Ebola virus, and the seeming lack of a cohesive plan to combat the illness’ steady sweep through parts of the African continent. In all of this time of crisis, something has become very clear to me, and I believe today’s lesson will bear it out. Many dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, seem are far less concerned about the lack of a coherent strategy by the church of our generation to “fight the good fight of faith”, as Paul implored Timothy to do. Let me explain…

We live in times of an assault on our faith in the west. We are fighting against pervasive and deadly spiritual enemies that espouse militant naturalism, moral pluralism and ethical relativism. They are taking the halls of our schools, shining into our living rooms night after night on our television sets and blaring through all the speakers of our culture. While ISIS has been around for a short time, the moral slide toward relativism has been occurring in a steady march since I was a child right in my own schoolyard. We wanted the Pentagon and President to articulate a strategy – but I wonder if we have grasped that we as believers have largely failed to project a strategy on our own battle lines. We are in a pitched battle within our own country, and rather than it being symbolized by the lopping off of heads, it is symbolized by the removal of the moral conscience. Yet the Bible offers answers. We don’t have to sit back and be victims.

In fact, I would argue that it is a time for positive heroes to emerge and defend our faith. The victories of the past are swiftly gathering dust, but these are days for God’s people to grab the Biblical strategies of men and women of yesteryear who marched into the pagan world as far back as the first century and turned the place upside down with the message of Jesus. Paul faced a battle doing just that, but he did it with confidence, generosity of spirit, and a positive approach. It is time to revive the old strategy and articulate it all over again!

Key Principle: We must anticipate the battle, and we must use the model to effectively combat the enemies of the Gospel – but God gave us a manual to accomplish the task.

The text for this lesson offers us a series of challenges Paul faced as he moved the Gospel forward, as well how he responded to each of them. They offer more than a history – they offer a pattern…

First, there was the challenge of UNTRAINED FOLLOWERS – people who are open to following God but don’t really know what God said (19:1-7).

Acts 19:1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.

Look more closely at the procedure Dr. Luke recorded when Paul met the men who were insufficiently trained in the faith:

• Paul found them in the course of his travels (19:1).
• He recognized them as “disciples” (19:1b).
• He examined their beliefs, and determined they were open-hearted, but lacking knowledge of some key parts of what God was doing (19:2).
• He pursued specifics of their background to determine where the breakdown occurred in their spiritual formation (19:3).
• Paul instructed them in specific Scriptures concerning the truths they were missing, and set them in context (19:4).
• The disciples accepted the teaching, and publicly displayed obedience (19:5).
• God empowered the people and led them to the next step of their journey (19:6-7).

I am thankful the story begins with the most enjoyable challenge of ministry – the open but untrained believer. There is no greater joy than working with this kind of follower. My teaching affords me the opportunity to work with disciples that have chosen to take a year of their young lives and learn the Bible. I wish I could explain how it feels to watch them embrace the Word of God!

I am blessed by these few verses, because they remind us of some important truths. First, as we are journeying through life, we will happen upon some who have been led to Jesus, but have not been properly instructed in the Word of God in a way that they can really follow the Lord obediently. They (in the best circumstances) will demonstrate willingness to learn (“teachability”), but they may be using the Bible’s sharp edges in a way that is liable to cut them and others around them. We must consider how careful Paul was to see them as disciples in 19:1, and offer respect and brotherly kindness, in spite of the fact that they may be very poorly taught. Respect is the first key.

A second key drawn from this short account is the inspection Paul made of what they were following. He questioned them as loving brothers, embracing them as colleagues, not chastising them for their lack. It seems clear enough to me that Paul based his treatment of them on their open heart, rather than their developed theology. That should be the signal for us. If someone knows the Lord, and they have the fruit of the Spirit – patience and an honest teachability – we should ask question, listen carefully, and show love. People don’t care what we know until they know that we care about them. If we share truth, it must be in the context of love, and to the point of weakness of their lives. We have limited time together, so we need to address the most important things with the time we have.

The third essential key to dealing with untrained followers beyond respect and inspection is instruction. Note that Paul guided them from the part of the Bible story they knew into the part they did not. They got John’s baptism – they accepted and understood its meaning. They knew repentance. What they didn’t know is that the Lamb John announced did His work, and there was something more they needed to accept. Here is where the fourth key is introduced – challenge. The growing disciples needed to be challenged to step forward and publicly embrace the truth God was making known to them.

Think about what we just saw in the Word. An untrained believer needs to be entreated to grow while being treated with respect. Training them requires that we really listen to them, and inspect what they are saying for Biblical adherence and truth. Where truth is lacking, there needs to be deliberate and careful instruction that is applied to the needy one. Finally, they need to be challenged to live the truth unapologetically. That was the method left to the church by our early church fathers, and recorded by the Spirit’s oversight.

Second, there are DELIBERATE REJECTORS – people who heard the message but were hardened against it (19:8-10).

Acts 19:8 And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Stop for moment and consider how Paul handled those who rejected the message of Jesus:

• Paul made sure there was sufficient time for explanation (three months of Sabbaths – 19:8).
• He made every effort to answer their honest questions, and deliberately tried to persuade them of the truth (19:8b).
• When it became clear that they were not truly interested and were bad-mouthing God’s work in their midst– he withdrew (19:9).
• Paul pulled out those who wanted to follow Jesus and who would have been harmed by remaining in the synagogue after his departure (19:9b).
• Paul carefully trained the followers over an extended period – focusing significant energy on building them up before he left them (19:9-10).

Perhaps much harder to face are those who grew up in Christian homes and walked away from the faith, or those who have been misled within our churches, schools and seminaries. One of the most heartbreaking situations to experience as a parent is to raise your child as best you can in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and then watch them rebel against God – sometimes in overt agnosticism or even irate atheism. We have our war stories at the church where I serve – every church does. The problem is that we may spend too much time trying to figure out “where we went wrong” and forget that though we should be on the lookout for how to do things better, it might not be our fault they walked away, and they may not stay that way if we keep on loving them. Instead of focusing on failure, we should look to the model in the text before us.

First, Paul made sure they ACTUALLY HEARD the truth. Just because your child was in a Bible class does not mean the Bible was being carefully explained. The world is only too ready to gang up against any detail of the Word of God – are you sure they have been exposed to a real and systematic teaching of the truth? In Acts 19:8, Paul stood in the teacher’s place for three months before he judged some simply unwilling to hear the truth – but he gave them three months first. We are too quick sometimes, I believe, to write off rebels. They may have honest questions – and they may come right back into the fold if we both love them and offer honest answers to their queries. I am concerned because I run into so many young people that were given a “flannel graph” view of the Bible stories, and never shown how they answer the deepest struggles of the human experience.

• Who can explain pain and set it in context better than God in Job?
• Who can reason why God rooted sexual attraction deeply within man better than Solomon in his Song of songs?
• Who can explain what happened to humanity, why relationships fall apart and genetics are breaking down better than Moses?
• Who can make clear man’s need of a new life better than Jesus did to Nicodemus?

The problem is that many young people (and many older as well) aren’t really confronted with the true problem. Like the Pharisees of old, the “faith” they learned was about cleaning up their act and washing their hands and dishes according to the rules. The fluffy teaching didn’t explain the deep brokenness inside of the depraved human heart, and the solution for its killing effect.

After Paul was sure they were EXPOSED to the truth sufficiently, he made a very hard call. He didn’t keep battling forever to get the rejecter to listen. How many a parent keeps the conversation going LONG AFTER the young person has stopped listening? Paul cut off the discussion, period. He moved the class away from those who didn’t want to hear it. He WITHDREW with those he could continue to teach. I have several friends who represent the truth in tough places (some of them on Facebook where neither truth nor grammar are treasured). Some of them get regularly beat up, and don’t know when to politely withdraw and let people believe what they want to believe.

Christians don’t change hearts. In the mystery of God’s work within, the Spirit presses and the person responds – and much of that process is not really fully explained in the Word. What is clear is the fact that people are often not rejecting US, but rejecting the God we represent.

Not long ago a friend of mine was dealing with a teen who was a mess. He kept disrupting the youth group in the church, but he kept coming. My friend is a godly man, and he and his wife couldn’t figure out how to work with this young person. Gathered in a small circle of trusted friends, he expressed that he was almost at the point of giving up and walking away, dismissing this young fellow and telling him not to return. Don’t judge him harshly – the young person had twice been caught with drugs on the church campus, and had attempted to draw several other young people into sexual situations – and parents demanded a response. I admit that I was on the page of protecting the other children, when a large African American man sitting with us spoke up. He said: “Can you introduce me to that young man?” The youth leader agreed. Awhile later I asked the man, “What are you going to do?” He smiled and said, “When I was thirteen I was molested by an uncle who was a deacon in my church and a Sunday School teacher. I know this kind of pain, and I want this young person to at least have one solid opportunity to feel loved, trusted and then have an occasion where they can open up about why they are acting out.” This wasn’t long ago, but I am glad that man is taking on the challenge instead of writing off a young man. We’ll see where it goes as time passes. My point is that there comes a time when we cannot chase down those who choose to reject, but we need to be careful to really get the message through to their broken heart first, or we are robbing them of a response, and ourselves of watching God heal.

Third, there were FALSE FOLLOWERS – those who were not walking with God, but using His name (19:21-22).those who imitated God’s work (19:11-20).

Acts 19:11 God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. 13 But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. 18 Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

In addition to some who were ignorant of the truth but open to God, and those who were informed but openly resisted the message of Jesus, Paul also had to deal with people who claimed to be a part of the move of God, but who were not:

• Paul was being used by God in powerful ways that were clearly God at work (19:11-12).
• Imitators thought they could “co-opt” the work of God and began to try to imitate what the Apostle was doing (19:13).
• Messing with the spiritual world, the men said the right things, but didn’t have the relationship with God to deal effectively with the spiritual world (19:14-16).
• The enemy’s attack was used by God to spread the Gospel, and remind people that the evil one was real and at work (19:17).
• Paul confronted the spiritual darkness, and as people continued to be a part of the work, they surrendered their dark practices (19:18).
• God convicted people, and they destroyed their attachment to the old life in front of all (19:19).
• While magic books were being destroyed, the Word of God was growing and spreading (19:20).

Fake followers have always been around. Some of them lead large congregations and have TV shows, but their lifestyle, if examined, shows an incredible financial attachment to the Gospel. Others join what they view as a spiritual circus, because they think they can be performers.

Yesterday a friend of mine urged me to watch a YouTube of “American Idol” singers coming together to sing “Shout to the Lord!” He was excited. I wasn’t. I am glad there is a public place for truth, and I celebrate that. At the same time, my Lord didn’t come to make hits or draw TV audiences – He came requiring repentance and offering salvation. I personally would struggle watching a stage filled with people who have no real relationship with God, based on their open lifestyle choices, singing praise to a God they don’t serve. That may sound quite “judgy” but I think there is a point at which we need to expect some people to use our faith for popularizing their agenda, not for promoting God’s Word.

I will not thank the world for throwing scraps from my faith in order to keep Christians watching their show, or offer an occasional “hat tip” to Jesus. I lived through both the Jim and Tammy Faye and the Oprah periods, and I have seen the damage of mixing statements of worship with lifestyles that do not match the Bible. More people are turned to darkness when people who don’t know God masquerade as people who do. I don’t’ want to campaign to stop it, but I won’t support it either.

Look at what God did for Paul. The apostle focused on moving the ministry forward, and God stepped in to unmask the fakes. We cannot ignore the charlatans, but we don’t need to spend vital energy focusing on them. I have no problem with Al Mohler making clear that Joel and Victoria Osteen don’t speak the truth and don’t seem to know the Bible. At the same time, that is about all the energy I am going to give to that subject – because we have disciples to make and a Bible to teach…and frankly that is all I have the energy for these days! The charlatans and their ilk lead us to their offspring… the fourth challenge to Paul…

Fourth, there were ERRING BELIEVERS – people who began in a walk with God, but were drawn into sin and error that required correction (19:21-22).

Acts 19:21 Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

In Acts 19, this group is hard to pick out if you don’t know the chronology of the life of the Apostle Paul – and that chronological approach is what we are following in this series of lessons. There is some background that will help explain this fourth challenge. Corinth, though a group among whom Paul spent significant time (a year and a half) during the second journey, erupted into division and disobedience. Meanwhile in Rome young believers seemed to be facing a need for a careful explanation of justification. At the very same time, across Galatia Gentile followers of Jesus were under attack by traveling Jewish teachers that were causing significant defections from the church. The church was getting pounded from all sides. How did Paul respond in these months to this “defecting challenge” by erring and attacked believers?

• He sent some men to carry a message to the people from God – offering them clear direction (cp. 1 Corinthians; Acts 19:21).
• He made plans to visit the center of the problem when God enabled him (19:21b).
• Many scholars believe he remained because he was dealing with other groups who were defecting from the faith because of pressure (cp. Romans and Galatians; 19:21b, in the upcoming studies we will examine these problems and Paul’s responses by letter).
• He remained in Ephesus, worked on instruction by letter to Galatia and again to Corinth. In each case he carefully listened to reports and responded with prayer and very pointed teaching directed to them about their situation (19:22).

The pattern God left us through Paul’s work and Luke’s record of it was this: when correction was needed, care had to be taken to settle down and systematically answer the attacks. Hours, weeks and months of Paul’s life were taken up behind closed doors in prayer and the construction of carefully worded letters to answer each defection situation. The work of correction is a major part of the work of pastoral leadership, and Paul was a Pastor’s pastor. It is a sacred duty, but it is also very much a privilege. In recent years I have begun more and more writing, because I believe that a legacy needs to intentional.

Now before we get any further, I don’t think I am a Paul, and I don’t think what I write will have all that much enduring quality. What I am saying is this…time matters. People matter. Discipleship matters. We have only so many years on the planet, most of us, to accomplish the calling God places on our lives. I feel called to do certain things, and that isn’t a statement of my goodness as much as it is a dramatic statement of God’s patience.

Paul took the time to write several letters during the period of time he lodged in Ephesus. Unlike his feelings during the second journey, when Paul was alone and pining for his team – this time he sent them away on important missions, and worked to build new teams. He wrote and wrote to explain the great doctrines of the faith, as well as to combat the error that was chewing up the hearts of younger believers. He taught, preached, wrote and prayed. He traveled and encouraged. He followed God’s lead and honored God’s Word. A man called of God could wish for little more.

There is a great error in taking one’s self too seriously. Yet, I have to admit, that a great number of friends I know have made a greater error not taking God’s call seriously enough. They have judged the call too big and themselves too small – and that helps them excuse shrinking back from the larger tasks. As we develop discipleship, grow Christian followers and even work to build called leaders for the coming generation, I don’t want to hear from our team about how much it costs – it is our privilege to serve God for the few years we have… and time matters. It matters not only in evangelism for the lost, it matters in growth of the saved. If we reach young people, but do not equip them for the storm that is coming in their university to tear their faith away, we will have done little to further the cause of Christ. We will leave them as sheep among wolves – undefended and easily wounded. Erring believers are a pain sometimes, but they are a privilege always.

Fifth, there was THE LOST WORLD – the confrontation with pagan religious systems that dominated his world (19:23-41).

Acts 19:23 About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; 25 these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 26 “You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 27 “Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” 28 When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. 30 And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. 32 So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly.34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35 After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? 36 “So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. 37 “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 “So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. 39 “But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. 40 “For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this he dismissed the assembly.

The final group that challenged the early believers in this text were found on the cobbled street lined with vendor’s shops and trinket salesman. Paul felt the heat of the battle with the enemy in a number of ways revealed previously in Acts 19, but among these shopkeepers Paul grappled with open conflict against an ingrained paganism backed by self-interested financiers.

• Note that in the midst of a two front battle between Galatia to the east and Corinth to the west, the enemy took that moment to spring into local disturbance (19:23).
• At the heart of the commotion was a financier and businessman, who had a financial motive to promote paganism (19:24-25).
• At the heart of the attack was not true religious belief, but rather a self-interest and wealth motive – but that will fade in the reasoning and be hidden behind some faked spiritual devotion (19:26-27).
• Watch carefully and identify the fingerprints of the enemy. First, there was a stirred “rage” (19:28), then a tumult and “confusion” all about (19:29). Crowds pounced on believers who were not doing anything to incite the people (19:29b), while the leaders were divided about the safety of helping the disciples (19:30-31).
• Paul went to stand as defender of the faith (19:30).
• The enemy used the “bandwagon effect” to draw a crowd that was not even specifically informed as to the nature of what they were “against” (19:32). They found themselves shouting down people without any guiding principles (19:33-34).
• The “moderate pagan speakers” offered their own conclusions as if they were obvious “facts” and anyone who opposed them clearly – but tried to get the people to follow just procedure (19:35-41). If you listen carefully enough, you will note there was nothing the individual believer was doing that caused the attack (19:40, note the phrase “no real cause”).

Demetrius’ logic was all about his wallet. The bandwagon goons jumped on without even knowing the depths of meaning in the cause or considering the reality of their positions and the consequences of their stand. We are seeing it more and more. Someone is gunned down. Riots ensue, and in the end looters steal from their own neighbors in the name of injustice. None of it fixes anything, and it doesn’t make sense. It is a display of self-interest masked as public good. Stay tuned, it will stay with us, and has been around since the first century. That’s ok, because we have a pattern to follow, and that is what we needed.

Black Bart was a professional thief whose very name struck fear as he terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line. From San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier. Between 1875 and 1883 he robbed 29 different stagecoach crews. Amazingly, Bart did it all without firing a shot. Because a hood hid his face, no victim ever saw his face. He never took a hostage and was never trailed by a sheriff. Instead, Black Bart used fear to paralyze his victims. His sinister presence was enough to overwhelm the toughest stagecoach guard. -Today in the Word, August 8, 1992.

We don’t need to be afraid; we know the face of our enemy very well. God’s Word unmasks his identity and makes clear his methods – so that we are not ignorant of his schemes… We must anticipate the battle, and we must use the model to effectively combat the enemies of the Gospel – but God gave us a manual to accomplish the task.