Finding Beauty in the Wreckage

Today’s Reading: Acts 28

God can make something RIGHT out of all of our WRONG. When we make a mess out of our lives by making our own decisions or doing our own thing, God is there to help us through the “shipwreck” we have created (see yesterday’s Morning Coffee). He takes this unplanned situation in our lives, the result of our sin, and makes something good out of it. We have stepped out of His will, but He is willing to display His handiwork if only we will put the broken pieces in His hands to fix. We let go and let God make something wonderful out of our mistakes and sin.

They had no plans to go to the island of Malta. When they left for Rome, the captain of the ship, the owner of the boat and the officer in charge ignored Paul’s warning (that shipwreck, loss of cargo and danger to the lives of all on board were ahead if they left this late in the fall). But they did their own thing, trusting in their own strength and knowledge, and they found themselves in the middle of a storm. When their ship fell apart, they all made it safely to the shore of the island of Malta – not their plan, but God is never without a plan and a purpose.

GOD IS NEVER WITHOUT A PLAN AND A PURPOSE!

Praise God! He takes our wrong directions and creates a right destination. Why? Because He intends to make something good out of all the bad. Some decisions we make have consequences – “shipwrecks”. God is able to forgive us, staying by our side as we experience the results of our sin. And He sees the value of how our story can impact others in a positive way. That is what happened on the island of Malta.

Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.

As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god. – Acts 28:1-6

AN AUDIENCE TO OUR SHIPWRECK

Unfortunately, our mistakes and messes often have an audience. Even well-meaning Christians fail us and sit back expecting to see us crash and burn. There is only one audience we should concern ourselves with – God. Forgive them. Let God work on their hearts and stay focused on Him. He may even use what He makes out of your life to draw them to Himself. Don’t concern yourself with what they say or how they judge. Keep your eyes on God so that He can use you however He intends.

Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. As it happened, Publius’ father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. Then all the other sick people on the island came and were other sick people on the island came and were healed. As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip. – Acts 28:7-10

FINDING BEAUTY IN THE WRECKAGE

God is so good! They were not even supposed to be on the island of Malta. God took their shipwreck and made great things out of the wreckage. Consider the lives of all the people on Malta that were changed forever because of Paul’s time on the island. Consider those who experienced the storm and shipwreck firsthand – the other prisoners, officers, crew – and how they were never the same. God provided for their safe journey on to Rome through the generosity of those who had been touched by God through their time there on the island.

In November of 2013, a tornado destroyed a large portion of our community, skipping across Tazewell County. Homes were destroyed and families were displaced. Block after block was leveled. From the wreckage of the tornado, artists pulled out pieces of debris and created gorgeous art pieces and furniture. What a great reminder that something beautiful can come from even the most devastating of experiences.

God can take a consequence of our sin…
God can take a bad decision made out of our own self-reliance…
God can take a storm we are experiencing…
God can take our shipwreck…
AND make something really wonderful out of it! God isn’t done with us when we mess us. He can MAKE THINGS RIGHT out of our wrong. He is not done with us. He has only begun.

Surviving the Shipwreck

Today’s Reading: Acts 27 (again)

“Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on – shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” But the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul. – Acts 27:10-11

HANDLING THE SITUATION ON OUR OWN

Been there, done that. How often do we ignore the advice of others or the prompting of the Holy Spirit because we feel we have a handle on the situation? We know what is best and believe we can handle anything that might come our way.

There have even been times in my life when someone pulled me aside and warned me there could be trouble ahead if I continue with my plans. In that moment, I had a choice – listen or do things my way. The officer had the same choice.

When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. – Acts 27:13-15

There are times in our lives when what first appears as a light wind becomes of wind of typhoon strength and, before we know it, we have lost control of our direction. No matter how hard we try to turn things around and go in the other direction, we fail and find ourselves giving up.

TRYING TO KEEP IT TOGETHER ON OUR OWN

We sailed along the sheltered side of a small island named Cauda, where with great difficulty we hoisted aboard the lifeboat being towed behind us. Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind.

The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard. The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. – Acts 27:16-20

In the midst of the storm, have you ever tried to keep it together on your own? Like the sailors, have you used ropes to try to keep your life from falling apart? Have you ever lowered anchor in order to control the situation? Things continue to get worse until there is no more light – no more hope.

WE ARE NEVER ON OUR OWN

No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” – Acts 27:21-26

Oh, we could all use an occasional “I told you so” but I much prefer the rest of Paul’s message – Take courage! You are not alone; God is here! You’ve made a mess of things and there will be consequences, but God is right here standing beside you and will keep you safe in the midst of the coming shipwreck. Like Paul, I choose to believe God – that it will be just as He said!

Thank you, God, for taking the messes we have made in our life and keeping us safe in the storms. We give up control of the situation and place this ship in your arms. You are the only Anchor worth trusting. Thank you for your promise to stay with us and take care of us, even in the midst of the consequences and mess we have made. You are so good to us and we love you! Amen.

Floating on Debris

Today’s Reading: Acts 27

AN ABRUPT CHANGE

Have you noticed how quickly the weather can change this time of year? It can be a sunny 80 degrees when we wake up but cold, wet and windy by mid-afternoon. The weather is hard to predict as new systems arrive and temperatures abruptly change.

Paul and those on the ship to Italy experienced what we call “an abrupt change” in the weather. It was not a good time for water travel because it was late fall and a change in weather was to be expected. Paul advised the men that there would be trouble ahead if they sailed – shipwreck, loss of cargo and danger to lives. But the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul (Acts 27:11b).

Even though common sense said it was a bad idea, and even though Paul had predicted trouble if they went forward with their plan, the men did not want to spend their winter in Fair Havens. They wanted to make it at least as far as the harbor in Phoenix.

Oh, how often I push forward with my own plans even though I know it is unwise!

When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather CHANGED ABRUPTLY, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. – Acts 27:13-15

This passage reminds me of the times in our lives when we see the error of our ways or the foolishness of our decisions. We try to change course or survive our bad decisions, but our efforts make very little difference. It seems like everything is going well, according to our plan, and then some circumstance ABRUPTLY CHANGES and we find ourselves in the middle of a storm.

Scripture says those on the boat were afraid. They tried everything. They threw cargo overboard, they bound ropes around the hull of the ship in order to strengthen it, and they even threw some of the ship’s gear overboard. They lowered the anchor and drug it in hopes of slowing the boat down but they were driven by the wind.

The terrible storm raged on, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. – Acts 27:20

DRIVEN BY THE WIND

When we give up, we often let the circumstances and the decisions of others around us drive our life. We have stopped trying to win the battle and we just let life happen. But that is not God’s desire for us. He wants to be the one driving our life – determining our direction and guiding our decisions.

Thankfully Paul’s story ended well. God granted safety to everyone sailing with him. Paul led them in a time of prayer and the next morning they saw a bay with a beach. They attempted to make it to shore but the boat ran aground in the shallow water. They jumped out of the boat and headed to shore – some swam and some floated to shore on debris from the ship (Acts 27:39-44).

FLOATING ON DEBRIS

Sometimes we are able to “swim” to the shore God has provided but sometimes God uses the debris from our shipwreck to get us to where He wants us to be. We find ourselves in a situation that was never God’s plan for us, but He rescues us and provides an escape when we turn to Him for help. He uses the scattered fragments of our sin to bring us back into His arms.

Sometimes it is those things that were never meant to happen that God uses to take us from the disaster we have created to the haven of rest He has prepared.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Thank you, God, for your goodness and for your grace. I praise you for you are a God who rescues, even when I am the cause of my need to be rescued. You are patient and you are kind. Lord, today I ask that you direct my path. I desire to follow your lead and sail down the path you have for me. I love you, Lord. Amen.

To Tell His Story

Today’s Reading: Acts 23:12 – 26:32

Yesterday, we looked at two very difficult days that Paul experienced. He had arrived back in Jerusalem from his third missionary journey, bringing gifts from the new Gentile believers to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. As was the custom in those days, Paul headed to the Temple for the purification ritual. When the seven day ritual was almost complete, Paul was confronted by some Jews from the province of Asia. They started a riot and drug him out of the Temple. The crowd became so violent that the Roman soldiers stepped in and rescued Paul, lifting him high above their shoulders to protect him (Acts 21:26-35).

With the Roman commander’s permission, the crowd was hushed and Paul stood on the steps to speak to the people. He had every right to be hurt and angry, but instead he used this opportunity to SHARE HIS TESTIMONY, to TELL HIS STORY. They listened quietly until he told them how the Lord had called him to minister to the Gentiles. This made them angry and they starting yelling, throwing off their coats and tossing handfuls of dust into the air (Acts 21:37-22:23).

The commander brought Paul inside and ordered him lashed with whips to make him confess to whatever crime he had committed, for surely he had done something to cause this kind of anger against him. When the commander realized Paul was a Roman citizen, he changed his approach and the next day took Paul to defend himself before the Jewish high council, which did not go well. When the commander learned of a plot to kill Paul, he put together an army of 470 soldiers to safely transport Paul to Caesarea where he could explain his situation to the governor (Acts 22:24-23:35).

Paul sat in prison for five more days, waiting for his accusers to arrive. Finally Paul stood before Felix and listened to the lawyer Tertullus present a false case against him. Now it was time for Paul to speak for himself, so he stood before the courtroom and SHARED HIS TESTIMONY, he TOLD HIS STORY. Not ready to declare Paul guilty of anything, the governor dismissed the courtroom and sent Paul back into custody. But God gave Paul favor with Felix, and Paul’s friends were allowed to visit him and take care of his needs while he was in custody (Acts 24:1-23).

A few days later, Felix sent for Paul to come and SHARE HIS TESTIMONY, to TELL HIS STORY, to Felix’s wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Felix was frightened by all Paul had to say about righteousness and self-control and the coming Day of Judgment. He sent for Paul often so that they could continue their talks. Two years of this confinement went by as Felix kept Paul in prison in order to appease the Jewish leaders, and MAYBE because he liked having Paul to talk to (Acts 24:24-27).

Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus and Paul soon stood before the new governor. With his accusers from Jerusalem making serious accusations against him, Paul stood strong in his faith and SHARED HIS TESTIMONY, he TOLD HIS STORY. It was obvious that the new governor wanted to please the Jews for political reasons, so Paul appealed to Caesar so that Festus could not send him back to Jerusalem to stand trial. Before going to Rome, Paul was given one more opportunity to SHARE HIS TESTIMONY, to TELL HIS STORY, before King Agrippa and the king’s sister, Bernice, as well as Governor Porcius Festus.

“…I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. In fact, that is why the 12 tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me for having this hope! Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?

“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.

“One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’

“Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:6-18

Paul spoke BOLDLY before the King. Agrippa interrupted him, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”

Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.” – Acts 26:26,28-29

Lord, give me a heart like Paul’s that would still be thinking of the salvation of others, even after spending more than two difficult years in prison. Give me a mouth that would speak boldly for you. Give me the courage to SHARE MY TESTIMONY, to look for opportunities to TELL MY STORY.

Heavenly Father, protect your people from false accusations and unfair treatment. Provide a way out for us when difficulties and hardships come our way. Give us favor with government officials and preserve our religious freedom and rights of conscience, but prepare us for the moments in which our faith is on trial. We love you so much, Father God. Amen.

A Spirit of Sound Judgment

Today’s Reading: Acts 22:22 – 23:11

Paul, the man who had persecuted Christians and pursued them like prey, is now the victim of the same kind of persecution. He had this incredible encounter on the road to Damascus, which became a life-changing experience. He repented of his sins, was baptized and responded to God’s call on his life. And he lived happily ever after…

No, that is not exactly what happened. Paul experienced wonderful times where the message of Jesus Christ was accepted, people were healed, and new believers were baptized. But there were also very difficult times for Paul. More than once he was mobbed, arrested, beaten and imprisoned. The crowd even followed behind him shouting, “Kill him, kill him!” (Acts 21:36)

But God had given Paul a spirit of sound judgment. Paul could assess the situation and consider even the worst of his circumstances and still find hope in the wisdom of his God – his God who sometimes spares His people from difficulties and sometimes holds them through the tragedies of life.

So here is the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Paul is an excellent example. If Paul had submitted to the Lordship of Christ and was giving his life to preaching the gospel of Jesus, why was he experiencing such horrible persecution?

I have so many friends fighting cancer right now and many who are struggling to keep their marriage intact. I have friends suffering from MS and my father suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. It seems like there is more bad news every time I look at my newsfeed on Facebookm– infidelity, divorce, disease, heartbreak, persecution, unemployment, financial hardships, suicide, loss and grief. The reality is that we live in an imperfect world. We may serve a perfect God but there is no guarantee that we will never experience a difficult time or struggle. But I am encouraged by how Paul’s story ends in this passage.

Paul had experienced two very difficult days. What started out as a morning trip to the Temple to start the purification ritual, ended up with false accusations and a mobbing, which turned into a full-blown riot. Paul was grabbed and dragged out of the Temple. As the Jews were trying to kill Paul, Roman officers arrived and arrested him, placing him in chains. The crowd was so violent they had to lift Paul over their shoulders to protect him. Paul tried to defend himself against their false accusations but the crowd interrupted him (Acts 21:26-22:23).

That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” – Acts 23:11

In the midst of the persecution, God made His presence known to Paul.
In the midst of the difficulties, God spoke words of encouragement to him.
Knowing the desire of his heart, God revealed to Paul that he would survive this experience and have the opportunity to preach the Good News in Rome.

Isn’t God wonderful? No, He doesn’t always shelter us from hard times but He never leaves us alone. He brings comfort in the midst of struggles and encouragement to strengthen us for tomorrow. Praise God for the spirit of power, love and sound judgment that He gives us in place of our fears.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

The truth in this verse we have looked at for the last four days can be found in the words of Pastor Edward Heck as he faced his battle with cancer:

“I am determined to hold tenaciously onto my faith in God at all costs! I’m learning that He is not threatened by our anguished cries or our troubled thoughts. Even in those weak moments when our minds are racing out of control and anxiety fills every single fold of the brain and the heart, He is not going to abandon us! In fact, not only do I believe He hears us and hurts with us, but I believe He is also anxious to heal us with a new, greater faith which will give us the hope we so desperately need to traverse a season of suffering in our lives. This is the glimmer of hope I seek in the harbor of the raging sea! This is the light that beckons me to the tranquil, peaceful place of residing right in the heart of God!” – https://shardsofgraceblog.wordpress.com

A Spirit of Love

Today’s Reading: Acts 21:37 – 22:21

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, LOVE and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

As we continue to review the book of Acts, let’s consider again the story of the demon-possessed slave girl:

One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

This went on day after day until Paul was so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace.
– Acts 16:16-19

There are several things that pop out to me from this passage in Acts. My first thought is for this servant girl. She was possessed by a demon and made to behave in a way that was out of her control. Jesus Christ set her free by His POWER and I wonder where the celebration is. Those around her are angry and they are dragging her rescuers to the marketplace to be punished, but who is celebrating her new freedom? I long to believe that someone wrapped their arms around this wounded young woman and celebrated the healing that had just taken place. I long to believe she began a new journey of faith that day.

My thoughts go next to Paul. How many people had just accepted this young woman’s fate and were so used to her plight that they no longer thought much of it? But Paul was “exasperated” with the situation. Other translations describe Paul as annoyed or fed up with her yelling. How often are we so fed up with a situation we see daily that we seek to do something to change the situation? Just like Paul, God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, LOVE and sound judgment. Do we love those around us enough to reach out in love? Do we truly understand the power of Jesus’ name and how He desires to make a difference in the lives of others through us?

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! – Acts 16:22-26

Doing something good for this young woman did not gain Paul and Silas popularity or praise, just like God moving us to someone else’s rescue does not always gain us points with others. Instead we are sometimes faced with criticism, negative remarks, misunderstandings and consequences. When you stand up to someone else’s bully, you often find yourself the next target of that bully.

Paul and Silas could have felt sorry for themselves. They could have become angry with God for not rescuing them from the physical beating and imprisonment that followed their act of obedience. Instead, they chose to pray and to sing praises to God. The result of their response: other prisoners were listening, the earth moved at God’s command, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The young woman was not the only person who received freedom that day. Lives were changed and chains fell off because Paul and Silas chose to trust God and worship Him, even in the most difficult of situations.

The story goes on – more captives are freed! The jailer woke up and assumed all the prisoners had escaped. In his horror and knowing what his fate would be once the authorities showed up, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself. Paul again spoke boldly and the course of a man’s life was changed, as were the lives of everyone in his house.

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. – Acts 16:30-34

The chains of every prisoner fell off! The slave girl is set free from the demon tormenting her, chains fell off of those in captivity, and the jailer and his family found faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. None of that would have happened if Paul and Silas had given in to fear. But instead they recognized the power of speaking the name of Jesus Christ, they saw the earth move when they chose prayer and praise over pity and panic, and they forever changed the lives of those around them because of their faith in God.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

A Spirit of Power

Today’s Reading: Acts 21:15-36

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of POWER, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

After Saul received his sight back, he was baptized – not just by water but by the Spirit. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately began to preach about Jesus. This boldness shows again that Paul was not consumed by a spirit of fear, but had been filled with the POWER of the Holy Spirit and lived his life in response to that infilling.

LIVING IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT

First he went to the Jewish synagogues saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” It was like this big “aha” moment he wanted everyone to know about. He had persecuted the Christians because he really did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but now he has experienced Jesus first-hand and he wants everyone to know that he was wrong – that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

Of course, the people recognized him. They didn’t see him for who he had become but could only see him for who he used to be. His reputation of persecuting the believers was well known and they did not want to accept these changes as real.

Oh how guilty we can be of this in the church! How often we continue to define new believers by where they have been instead of looking to see where God is taking them. Oh, how guilty we can be of doing this to ourselves! We continue to define ourselves by our past mistakes and sins, holding on to the guilt instead of letting the Spirit completely fill us and make us into a new creation.

Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful. No matter how hard the Jews in the synagogues tried to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah, they could not argue with the proof that Saul had. They had a choice – join him or kill him. They chose the latter. When they heard the Jews were plotting to kill Saul, watching for him day and night so they could murder him, the believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall so he could escape (Acts 9:20-25).

LIVING IN FAITH AND NOT FEAR

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he faced the same kind of opposition. This new life of faith was not coming easily for Saul. The believers were afraid of him and the Greek-speaking Jews tried to kill him. But Barnabas (this was the nickname the apostles had given him because he was a man of encouragement – Acts 4:36) stood in the gap for Saul. He told the believers how Saul had changed and how boldly he had been preaching in Damascus. The believers helped Saul escape to Caesarea and then to his hometown of Tarsus.

(Maybe God is calling us to be a “Barnabas” for someone today. Perhaps He will ask us to stand in the gap or be a source of encouragement before the day is over.)

Does this escape plan mean that Saul was scared? Did he run away from God’s call the first time things got difficult? Did he say – Sorry, God, I tried. I guess you’ll have to find someone else. Maybe this preaching thing was just for a season of my life and it is time to move on. Not at all. Paul’s testimony of this difficult time in his life gives us a little more information:

“After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance. I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’” – Acts 22:17-18

LIVING IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS

Saul was not running in a spirit of fearfulness. He was doing exactly what Jesus told him to do. God had given him a spirit of power, love and of sound judgment. This decision to leave Jerusalem can probably be placed in the category of sound judgment. God would use this persecution and the need to move from town to town to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ across the region. What could easily be defined as extreme persecution was used for God’s purposes and for God’s glory, just as He uses the difficult times in our lives.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of POWER, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Father God, we thank you this morning that we do not have to live in fear of any situation we are facing or any unknown in our future. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit living within us, filling us with a spirit of POWER that allows us to overcome a spirit of fear. Lord, help us to respond in obedience as Paul did regardless of the intensity of the problems we face knowing that your grace is all we need. We ask for a fresh infilling of your Spirit this morning and we place the circumstances of our day in your hands. We are willing to have any conversation, walk through any door you open, and go wherever you lead. Amen.

A Spirit of Fear

Today’s Reading: Acts 21:1-14

As we read on in Acts, we find all of Paul’s new Gentile friends begging him not to go to Jerusalem. They were afraid something was going to happen to him, but Paul responded bravely, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart. I am ready not only to be jailed in Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).

Paul is not afraid of what is ahead and he does not want his friends to be afraid either. Remember the fear Paul experienced on the road to Damascus? Now we are seeing in Paul the same kind of courage that Peter and John had. Let’s go back and look at Paul’s journey in the context of a powerful statement he made in his letter to Timothy. Let’s consider Paul’s challenge to overcome fear.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Perhaps Paul’s brave response was influenced by the courage of Peter and John when they were confronted after healing a crippled beggar outside the temple. An audience formed when the people saw the crippled man walking and heard him praising God. Peter took this opportunity to preach. They were arrested, kept overnight and then commanded to never again speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

Have you ever been afraid? Have you ever experienced extreme fear? It seems safe to believe that the followers of Jesus were experiencing some fear while waiting for Peter and John to be released. When faced with fear and the threats that were being made against them, the believers chose to gather together and pray – not for the threats to end but for boldness in the midst of the persecution:

“…And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.” After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:29-31

WHEN FACED WITH FEAR, THE BELIEVERS CHOSE TO PRAY.

They knew who could take their fear and turn it into boldness. They did not just pray for survival, they prayed for power. They were unsure of the kind of persecution that was ahead of them but willing to be used by God if He wanted. He took their fear of what was ahead, answered their prayer and gave them great boldness through the Holy Spirit.

One of the reasons the believers had to be fearful was a man named Saul. Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains (Acts 9:1-2).

But the man causing great fear experienced great fear when a light shone done from heaven and a voice said, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” The voice instructed him to go into Damascus until he was told what to do next. When he opened his eyes, he was blind. For three days he could see nothing – he did not eat or drink for three days.

The scriptures do not say how Saul was feeling during this time but I can only imagine how scared he must have been. He knew how vicious he had been towards those who believed in Jesus and now Jesus had come to him on the road to Damascus and said, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (9:5-6). We do not know how Saul was feeling but we do know that he spent three days praying to God (9:11). Just like the believers, Saul chose to pray when faced with a traumatic situation.

Now imagine the fear of another man – Ananias. The Lord also came and spoke to him, telling him to go to this man who had been pursuing the death and arrest of the believers. The short version of the story:
Ananias – “But Lord…”
God – “Go…”
So Ananias went…

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” – Acts 9:17-20

WHEN FACED WITH FEAR, WE SHOULD PRAY.

A simple statement but one we seem to forget so easily. Paul was blind and scared, so he spent three days praying to God. Ananias was scared to go to Paul, so he talked to God about his fear. God is waiting to fill us with His Spirit and give us strength for what we are facing. All we have to do is ask.

Fear…Prayer…Spirit …Strength. That seems to be the pattern here. When faced with fear, these believers fell on their knees in prayer to the SOURCE of their strength. God filled them with His Spirit and they overcame their fear and became bold in their faith. What a great reminder for us today. No matter what is causing fear in our hearts, God is willing to fill us with the power of His Spirit if only we will ask.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Help, Hope and Holiness

Today’s Reading: Romans 15-16

GOD – OUR SOURCE OF HELP

May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. – Romans 15:5

Not a list of rules. Not a standard to live by. Not a measurement of our righteousness. God calls us to holy living by helping us to live a holy life. This is not of our strength, but of His; not to be done on our own but through the Holy Spirit living within us. Then we give into the urgings of the Spirit instead of the urgings of the sinful nature.

In chapter 15, Paul is instructing the Romans to live in complete harmony with each other, to accept one another. If we do this out of our human ability and despite our own opinions and perceptions of other people, we get the glory and most likely fail in the end. When we allow God to help us live this kind of life Paul is describing, God is glorified (5:7) and the body of Christ can succeed in living in harmony with each other.

GOD – OUR SOURCE OF HOPE

I pray that God, the SOURCE of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope THROUGH the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

You hear the word “hope” thrown around a lot these days. It is one of my favorite words or concepts. We use the word “hope” throughout the ministry of Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center – hope for those facing an unplanned pregnancy, hope for the future of the mother and hope for the future of her unborn baby. We even named our parenting education program H.O.P.E. – Helping Others Parent through Education. Our website is www.hopeforafuture.com based on Jeremiah 29:11.

Why do we use this word as much as we use the word “life” – because we know that God is the only source of hope in her situation. If we can be there to help her trust in God for her future and the future of her unborn baby, He will fill her completely with joy and peace until she is overflowing with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see it happen every week – not of our strength or the result of our human effort but because of God’s help – to God be the glory!

I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. So I have reason to be enthusiastic about ALL CHRIST JESUS HAS DONE THROUGH ME in my service to God. Yet I dare not boast about anything except WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE THROUGH ME… – Romans 15:16b-18a

GOD – OUR SOURCE OF HOLINESS
Paul goes on to show many examples of things God can do through us when we devote our lives to Him:

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. – Romans 15:20

For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. – Romans 15:26-27

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many and especially to me. – Romans 16:1-2

Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila…they once risked their lives for me…also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home. – Romans 16:3-5

Give my greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard for your benefit. – Romans 16:6

Greet Ampliatus, my DEAR FRIEND in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. – Romans 16:8-9

…to dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord. Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me. – Romans 16:12-13

God, we give today to you. We empty ourselves of our own attempts and our own strengths and abilities and ask that you fill us with your Spirit and work through us today. Help us to be open to however you want to use us, whether that’s working hard or giving generously to those in need or being helpful to many or simply helpful to one who really needs a friend or a co-worker in Christ today. Show us those who need us to be there for them today. May our life be defined today by ALL THAT CHRIST JESUS HAS DONE THROUGH US. Amen.

Out of Love for God

Today’s Reading: Romans 13 & 14

Paul continues to give great life applications of the gospel in the next chapters. None of these are unfamiliar to us but they are helpful reminders. Just like yesterday, let’s remember that this is not a set of behaviors and customs to copy but rather a transformation of ourselves by God into a new person, changing the way we think and the way we live. So, as God daily transforms us and we grow in our faith, what will our lives begin to look like? They will begin to look like INTEGRITY. They will begin to look like LOVE.

Out of love for God…
We worship God and serve Him only, but we submit and show respect to governing authorities (Romans 13:1). We do so not out of fear of punishment but because it is the right thing to do. It is integrity.

Out of love for God…
We give to everyone what we owe them (including love) and owe nothing to anyone (13:7-8). This includes paying any taxes we owe to the government and refers to showing those in authority the respect and honor we owe them.

Owe nothing to anyone – except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of the law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These – and other such commandments – are summed up in this one commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10

Out of love for one another…
We remove the dirty clothing of indulging in evil desires and put on the shining armor of right living (13:12,14b). Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy (13:13).

The first part of that list seems pretty easy to avoid – I have no desire for those things. But notice how Paul lumps quarreling and jealousy in with wild parties, drunkenness, promiscuity and immoral living. We can have victory over all of these things if we “clothe ourselves with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:14a).

Paul goes on with this idea of refraining from quarreling, putting it in the perspective of not judging or condemning one another. When we are clothed in the presence of Jesus, we accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong (Romans 14:1). Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval (14:4). So God will do the judging and He will help us to do what we are obligated to do – love one another.

Out of love for one another…
We stop condemning each other and decide instead to live in such a way that we do not cause another believer to stumble or fall (14:13). Paul goes into the example of what we eat and drink, how followers of Christ have different opinions of what is right to put into our bodies.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. – Romans 14:14-23

Out of love for one another…
We do what we believe is right and avoid doing anything we have doubts about or that might cause someone else to stumble, serving Christ with a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. So I may have to give up something I have no personal convictions about simply because the Holy Spirit is asking me to put the needs of others before myself. It is missional. Or, going back to our first point today, out of submission to the authorities of the Church in which I worship, I may give up something or avoid doing something.

We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself…

May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. – Romans 15:1-3,5-7

Out of love for God…love one another!