Just Watch

Click here to read Acts 19.

When you walk into a room, what happens? Are you one of those people that others are drawn too? (It is okay if you say yes 🙂 ) I am very confident you have been gifted and blessed with some gift that God has given you because the people around you need it. Maybe it’s the gift of grace, comfort, prayer, teaching, etc. People know when you use your gifts for God’s Kingdom and will be drawn to you.

This is how I picture the Apostle Paul: When he goes into towns, he quickly becomes known. As we have seen from previous chapters in Acts, this is both good and bad (which actually ends up glorifying God anyway, so it is still good in some way).

Paul knows what people are attracted to. They are attracted to the gifts and graces God has given him. They are attracted, drawn, to him because he is living out God’s plan for his life and using what God has given him. People are drawn to power. So, why not present and live in and with the greatest power in the universe?

In the passage today, we see Paul first starts by telling people about the Holy Spirit. The people are intrigued because they really haven’t heard of the Spirit’s presence in their lives. When they come to the realization they can live with the Holy Spirit of the Living God within them, they are excited and the Spirit begins to do incredible work in and through each of them. Everywhere Paul goes, he shows and proclaims to the people about the Living Jesus Christ. The people experience incredible life change.

Paul teaches and preaches in the synagogues and all around the towns about the Risen Christ and his gospel, life-giving message, for all people. The people are eager to listen and to learn of the One God who absolutely cares for them. This brings about change in the people’s hearts and lives. This is what we should proclaim and emulate every where we go.

But, there are always some who are threatened by the work of the Spirit because it challenges their way of life, their income, their livelihood. This is a big deal. Whenever we bring the message of Jesus Christ to the people around us, we also disrupt the work of those who are so entrapped by worldly wealth and power. When we mess with someone’s business (even if they know deep down it is not right), there are consequences. They will do what they can to get you to leave.

At this point, it seems like the same old story: Paul goes into a town, proclaims Jesus, people are changed, leaders are outraged, something happens to Paul, Paul moves on. What a life to live. But think about this: Paul was very content and joyful with his life and his work. He knew he was doing what God called him to do and that’s all that mattered (read the letter to the Philippians).

Our challenge for today is to be who God called you and I to be, to do what God called you to do and really just watch. When we are obedient to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it is incredible to see what change happens and see what God is doing. Yes, some people will get very upset God’s Kingdom is being proclaimed; but we get to bring light into dark places and bring people with us to see what real life is…Jesus Christ.

Just watch and see everything God is doing. It is amazing.

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J

Not For Sale

Click here to read Acts 8:5-25.

When you go to a garage sale, one of the first questions asked is “how much is _______?” We want to know how much it is going to cost us to get what we want.

There is a sweet couple who grow produce in their garden. The husband refuses to sell it. Instead, he wants to give it away.

Many people hear about God, the good news of Jesus Christ and the new life he offers, and think, “How can I earn this?” “What do I have to pay?”

We have this mindset to wonder how much something is going to cost us and we begin to figure out if it is worth the asking price.

Here’s the underlying truth about God’s grace. It cost him everything. It costs us nothing. God’s grace is FREE and undeserved. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” (Ephesians 2:8)

In the passage in Acts today, we look at the story of Simon the sorcerer. He sees all of the incredible acts (done by the Holy Spirit) Philip, and then the apostles Peter and John. He was so enamored at the attention they were receiving and realized he could not do what they could. He wanted what they have. So, he offered money to them to try and buy the “power” they possessed.

Think about how this can translate to us in our society today. There is a person who is peaceful and joyful in every situation. This person is one of the most respectful and respectable people in the community. They are in a position of authority and influence and their generosity is unmatched because business has been good. Then we find out this person is a follower of Jesus Christ.

This person can easily be admired, even to the point of others wanting what they have just to be recognized as a good person. So, this person tries to find a church and begins attending. The motives for joining the church (or really any organization) are impure because the underlying thought is “this will make be a better person so I can get the same respect and attention.”

God’s grace does not work this way. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given because we try to purchase it. The price was paid by God on the cross of Jesus Christ. He paid the price so we don’t have to. When we take the time to follow Jesus Christ, learn about who he is in the scriptures, and see how the whole revelation of God changes the world (read Genesis – Revelation), we can see the gift of grace is all because of God’s great love for us and his desire for us to be in good relationship with him and with other people.

I invite you to carefully consider motivations for being part of a group, organization, even church, to see if you are part of it because you want recognition, prestige, praise, etc. If this is you, take time to repent and turn you mind and heart to the things of God. When our heart is open to live into the grace that God freely gives, our lives are transformed from the inside out and we begin to experience life in an incredible way.

Or are you part of it because you sense a great desire to be truly molded into the image of our Creator and follow Jesus Christ with every step of our lives. If this is you, allow God to continue to keep your focus on him and his direction for your life. It will not always be easy; but true and full life is always ready to be lived in and through you.

This is something my wife and I consider daily. Some days are different than others. I’m sure yours are too.

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

I Believe in the Victory of God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 3

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.  I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”? If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. We are found to be false witnesses about God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, when he didn’t raise him if it’s the case that the dead aren’t raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.  It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end, since he has brought everything under control under his feet. When it says that everything has been brought under his control, this clearly means everything except for the one who placed everything under his control. But when all things have been brought under his control, then the Son himself will also be under the control of the one who gave him control over everything so that God may be all in all.

 Psalm 110:1

What the Lord says to my master: “Sit right beside me until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet!”

Suppose I ask you to describe your life with one of these words, which would you choose? Victorious, Defeated, So-so.

So many of us are living lives that simply do not reflect the victory of Jesus Christ. Look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed:

“the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

What do you experience when you read these words? I invite you to read them again, and then read the Scriptures above and see what God may be telling you.

If we look at the words from the Apostle’s Creed, we can see at least three things:

  1. “I have a risen Lord because Jesus rose from the dead.”
  2. “I have a reigning King because Jesus ascended into heaven.”
  3. “I have a righteous Judge because Jesus is coming again to judge.”

If nothing else, when we look at this, we can see how much we have even when we hear the lies our life isn’t worth anything. We have a risen Lord who has defeated our ultimate enemy, death, so we can live life everlasting here and now and in the life to come. We have a reigning King who sits in heaven who makes sure we can have everything we need. We have a righteous Judge who is able to discern and see the truth and bring true justice and reconciliation in the world.

We have so much because of the power and person of Jesus Christ that we should be the most joyful, confident, hopeful people who don’t let the circumstance of our life bring us down. Who don’t become envious of others because they have more or their life seems smoother. We have everything we need and we can live victoriously through the power of Jesus Christ.

The verse we all know, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” should really be thought of in this way, “I can endure all these things through the POWER of the ONE who gives me STRENGTH.” See the difference?

How can you live your life in such a way that people know you have the victorious power of Jesus Christ shining through everything you do? We get to live as people of the resurrection; and as such, show the awesomeness of Jesus Christ daily.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is one of my favorite biblical characters because he definitely stands out and people take notice of him. He is memorable, not only of his message, but of his clothing and food choices.

Though the Gospel of Luke does not mention him wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, Matthew and Mark do. This is still the image we can have of John as we read his proclamation to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Mark Twain said, “the two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I imagine John felt excitement when his time had come to deliver God’s message to the people the Messiah is coming.

What joy! What exhilaration! He was finally able to go and do what he was born to do! He went out to preach a sermon that no one really wanted to hear; but needed to hear: prepare for the Lord’s Messiah, seek forgiveness and repent. I would imagine the people did not want to hear they have to change their hearts, their lives, their will. I imagine the people only wanted to hear their lives will be better and that God will com in to take care of the “real” problem: the Romans.

What message is it you want to hear at Christmas? The sweet story of a baby being born and the angels and shepherds giving God glory and praise? Or, are we preparing ourselves fully for the complete gift of God through Jesus Christ and realize His life, His death, AND His resurrection are the reason we are reconciled to God.

To fully see the beautiful picture of Christ at Christmas, we have to be different from our culture and see the gruesome death that is coming.

How do you stand out to show the full meaning of Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Motives

As we take this time to journey through the book of Philippians, we can see Paul’s joy even though he’s been locked up. I’m sure there are people that are mocking him and saying all kinds of things about him; even possibly saying that others are better preachers than him just trying to get him upset. 

I know there are better speakers, listeners, writers, readers than I am. I could easily sit back and say they are not doing their job right, they’re making me look bad, their hearts are not in the right place, etc. Have you felt this way about any person, any job, any church, any friend, any enemy? I believe this is something we all should look closely at, especially me. 

How often we can succumb to the pride of thinking that we are the only ones who can do the job, we are the ones who know the right way to do the task. Paul is reminding us of something important: look at the results of the work. I will say we need to keep this in mind, especially with the church. 

We will not always agree with each other on every point. There are those who enter ministry with selfish motives to go toward fame and recognition and prestige. And, there are those who have the most incredible spirits about them that do not want or desire any recognition or honors. What does any of this matter?

Paul is saying that thanksgiving should be given to all of those who are preaching Jesus, whether or not we think their motives are correct. It is pride that can keep us from celebrating with the body of Christ, if we are not careful, because we may be the one who want to be recognized. Paul wasn’t this way. He simply wanted Jesus Christ preached. 

People come and go, but the message of Jesus is eternal and can pierce even the hardest of hearts even if it’s not done the way we want. 

As I am writing this, I am giving thanks for all of those people, all of those ministries, all of those organizations, all of those churches who work tirelessly to proclaim Christ and the life we were meant to live. I give thanks for you!

Be motivated out of love and trust that God is working.

#BeJoyful

Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have actually advanced the gospel. The whole Praetorian Guard and everyone else knows that I’m in prison for Christ. Most of the brothers and sisters have had more confidence through the Lord to speak the word boldly and bravely because of my jail time. Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition. They are insincere, hoping to cause me more pain while I’m in prison. What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad. I’m glad because I know that this will result in my release through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭12-19‬ CEB)

Standards of Life

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Galatians 6:11-13  11 Look at the large letters I’m making with my own handwriting! 12 Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ. 13 Those who are circumcised don’t observe the Law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised, so they can boast about your physical body. 

This is nearing the end of the letter to the Galatians and Paul is giving a reminder we all should follow. There will be times when we will want to try to please people, for the sake of being accepted by them. Children, teenagers and adults are no different in this area. We all have the desire to be accepted by certain people or certain groups. But Paul is looking at the motivation of the groups or people who make us try to do things so we “fit in” with their crowd.

We see this all of the time; all we have to do is watch any TV show, movie or look at group initiations. There seems to be something we have to do in order to be like the people we want to join. But these are all “human standards.” These standards will change over time based upon the culture and the people in leadership. This is one reason why it is not good to try to meet human standards.

So now we should ask, “what have you done to try to fit into a group or get certain people to like you?” If we look back at some of our past actions, we can see that we live with the wrong motivations at times. Human standards will change; but God’s will and standards do not change. God is asking that we live holy, set-apart, lives and to be people who love God and love people. This should be our standard of living.

If we love God then we can see Him in all aspects of our lives and we will meditate on His word and actions. We will remember how merciful and patient God is with us which will cause us to be humble around other people and show compassion. Each one of us have lived lives that show we do not love God as much as we say we do; but God is always with us and has never nor will ever leave us. Just because we forget at times who we are really living for, doesn’t mean that we can’t get back on the path.

When we love God with our entire lives, we will begin to truly (not conditionally) love people. We can then see the incredible potential each person has and the giftedness God has placed in their lives. We will also see, with compassion, the brokenness each person has and do what is necessary to walk with that person or people in the manner they need.

This way of life is not to impress other people, or even to impress God. We live this life because this is how we are called to live. Called to be in relationship, not isolation. Called to serve and love God with all of our lives. There are many people who think this way of life is not right, not cool, etc; but we do not live life to impress other people, or show off how “good” we are. We live life in this manner because we are FREE to. This freedom that Jesus Christ gives is incredible motivation to do what we are called to do and be who we are called to be.

#LiveFreeInChrist

Never Forget

stone of grace

Galatians 3:1-5 You irrational Galatians! Who put a spell on you? Jesus Christ was put on display as crucified before your eyes! I just want to know this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what you heard? Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort? Did you experience so much for nothing? I wonder if it really was for nothing. So does the one providing you with the Spirit and working miracles among you do this by you doing the works of the Law or by you believing what you heard?

So here we are beginning the third chapter in the letter to the Galatians. This short letter is written to a church of believers who have drifted away from the grace of God and have tried to earn it or just add things and rituals to their faith. Paul writes this letter to admonish them and to remind them of the simple message of the gospel: Jesus Christ brings freedom not bondage!

We do not like to be told we are off base or that we are off track; but I wonder what would happen if we placed ourselves into this passage today. I invite you to read it again, this time putting your personal name in the blanks and see what the Spirit inside you might say or be doing.

You irrational ________! Who put a spell on ________? Jesus Christ was put on display as crucified before ________’s eyes! I just want to know this from ________: Did _________ receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what _________ heard? 3  Is _______ so irrational? After _________ started with the Spirit, is _________ now finishing up with your own human effort? Did _________ experience so much for nothing? I wonder if it really was for nothing. So does the one providing __________ with the Spirit and working miracles among you do this by you doing the works of the Law or by you believing what you heard?

As I was typing this, I placed my name in the blanks. Ouch! These are words I really don’t want to hear; but at the same time, they are words you and I need to hear.

We are often irrational (some translations say “foolish”) because we do not collect enough information before we make a judgment about another person. Typically this is because the other person or group says something or does something we just don’t like.

When we first believe, we knew the incredible presence of Jesus Christ and how his sacrifice has changed everything for us. We can now go to God personally. We can work in the Spirit. We can have the wisdom from heaven. We can do and receive so much. But, we forget this as we go on in our day to day lives. Instead of talking with God, we listen to negative people and news. Instead of praying or reading the Bible, we find others to talk through events, emotions, etc and we’ll read fiction books or anything else that is not the Bible.

There is so much potential in the world but we, like the Galatians, can go back to relying only on human effort. How can we do this? We do this by solely looking at our available resources and can forget that God promises to provide. We will talk bad about an idea before we try to understand what it is or how it will benefit the organization. To rely on human effort means that we forget that God is right here with us and will work and walk with us through everything in life.

This really is kind of a harsh passage; but one that we cannot overlook or assume it is really just meant for another people in another time and another place. I pray that reading the words from Paul in this letter can remind us of the greatness of God’s never-ending love for us. I pray you and I can live in the grace He provides. I pray the spark we experienced when we first believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ never dies down and we remain (or become) passionate for God because He is passionate for us.

Living free in Christ means that we are free to be loving, Spirit-filled people who do the work of God unashamedly and will reach out to all people with love and grace. This love and grace we give comes from God because “He first loved us.”

#LiveFreeInChrist

(Ephesians 4 is a great chapter as well, to help us remember this message.)