Month: September 2020

On the Cusp of Rioting

people standing in front of fountain during daytime

The Environment

Acts 19: 38-40 (emphasis), If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.

The apostle Paul, the other missionaries, and the Christians in the city were in a precarious place. The city was in an uproar and was teetering on the edge of a riot. Roman would deal quite harshly with leaders if the city rioted.

The Action

It is with this backdrop that we read in a statement from the town clerk:

For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess…For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
Acts 19:37, 40-41

The Testimony

Notice that neither Paul nor the other missionaries or Christians in the city had dishonored Artemis, the idol for which Ephesus was famous. “This is a remarkable testimony, showing that the apostle had, in preaching against idolatry, studiously avoided (as at Athens) insulting the feelings of those whom he addressed.” – Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

On the Cusp of Rioting

As Americans, we are living in an unparalleled time in our nation of social upheaval. As Christians, this turmoil has opened doors for us to share the Gospel of Jesus to people that were previously closed-off to “religion.” Suddenly, people need more than a person, they need someone bigger. God is not just bigger. He’s the biggest!

When we act on God’s opportunities, we need to focus our message on Jesus, His death, burial, and resurrection. As the apostle Paul said to the people in Corinth, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2

Peacemakers

If we allow ourselves to get pulled into endless debates or try to be peace-keepers, then our actions will close the ears of people that might have heard and received Christ’s message. After all, Jesus didn’t call us to be peace-keepers. He called us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). 

Peacemaker – Those who strive to prevent contention, strife, and war; who use their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent lawsuits and hostilities in families and neighborhoods. – Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

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Humility

selective focus photo of woman taking selfie

Vain

Do you remember Carly Simon’s song, “You’re So Vain?” It was a pop song in 1972. I had just started working a job at the local drive-in movie theater. Just as I was about to get out of my car, this song came on the radio. That was the first time I heard it. I thought the song had an odd topic for a pop song, but I liked it. In today’s key Scripture, we find the topic of “vain conceit versus humility.” The two are mutually exclusive.

There are some formidable commands in the New Testament, and Philippians 2:3-4 is one of them:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 

Most of us consider ourselves “safe” from selfish ambition and vain conceit, but it’s the last part of the second sentence that is tough. However, giving preferential treatment of the interests of others OVER our interests. OUCH!

Humility

I won’t speak for you, but for me, I sometimes struggle to give preference to the interests of others. If God’s Word said, “Give equal treatment.” I could possibly manage that, but to potentially suffer loss because I’m not looking to my interests, I need the Holy Spirit’s help for that.

We are not just considering money. Remember, we have three things that we can give: time, talent, treasure. Stated differently, we can provide our time, provide our abilities, and provide our fiscal assets. 

Many people are very possessive of their money. However, if we are willing to pay for our vacation, we should be willing to pay for others’ mission trips. That would be putting other’s interests in front of our interests.

An example of giving our time is helping in a Vacation Bible School, participating in our church’s prison visitation program, and joining our church’s cleaning volunteers. And an example of giving our talents might be joining our church’s volunteer odd-job team that does odd jobs for the elderly, widowed, and disabled. In my life, I’ve never found any church that had more helpers than needs.

It may be tough but it’s Still God’s Will

Philippians 2:3-4 seems so unremarkable when we read it. But when we stop and consider what the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write, we are confronted with a life-altering commandment, one which we all should prayerfully apply to our lives.

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Don’t Waste Your Pain

macbook pro displaying group of people

I heard a preacher say, “God never wastes our pain.” The moment I heard this, it resonated in me. This statement is true. And, as the way God works, I had just finished reading:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. – Acts 14:19-20

Suffering

The apostle Paul suffered much for the cause of Christ. Most of his Christian life, he was a man on the move. I relate to that. During my career, I traveled all over America and around the world. I can’t tell you how many times I would be someplace and longed to share it with my wife and kids, but they were home, and I wasn’t. Sorry, that’s a rabbit trail.

The apostle Paul suffered. He was a man on the move, ministering in places that had never even heard of Jesus. Paul wrote:

and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
    and those who have never heard will understand.”

– Romans 15:20-21

The Prison Epistles

Paul was a man on the move, but God locked him up in prison. Can you imagine how painful this must have been for Paul? No longer could he get back on the road to visit and encourage the churches he planted. So, from prison, Paul wrote. And from Paul’s pain came Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Without these four Prison Epistles, we would not have:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9

Now let’s turn our attention to you. If you’re a Christian, what pains do you have? Now name one. “I have a broken marriage.” “My child hates me.” “I have cancer.” Now that you’ve pulled your pain out of the clutter in your mind, pray, and ask Jesus to show you how to use your pain. Ask Him to give you opportunities to use your pain for the good of others.

Let God use Your Pain

Yes, ask our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, to heal the cause of your pain, but don’t let your pain be wasted. This same preacher said, “Do what you can with what you have where you’re at.” If you have pain, then that’s what you have. Ask God to use your pain.

Be bold in your faith in Jesus. It’s okay to say, “I’m a Christian. I have MS, and I’m scared.” But don’t go on that journey alone; don’t waste your pain.

Talk to people, go to support groups, and say, “I know Jesus is with me and He cares for me. I’ll pray for anybody that’s scared.” Put yourself out there. The Holy Spirit lives in you. Life is in you, even if you’re dying. God will use your pain to point others to Jesus, to pour hope into people that desperately need hope.

Don’t linger in your pain, but until your pain is gone, let God use it to help people.

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Methods Change

person holding AC receiver

The Transistor

Here’s a secret. 😉 I’m not young. When I was young, I started working in electronics right when transistors were replacing vacuum tubes. It is staggering to me how much has changed throughout my career. 

11/10/1962 The Detroit tribune. Transistor radio from the Channel Master Corporation
figure 1

I remember being in an electronics class in college and the professor tossing a transistor to me. That means nothing, now, but vacuum tubes imploded when dropped, so throwing a transistor was a shocking way of demonstrating the end of a technology epoch and the start of a new one, the one we live in today.

Here you may righty posit, “Saying that we live in the same technical world as 1971 is absurd.” Well, on this point, I’d have to disagree with you. In 1962 a transistor was about this size of an Apple AirPod. However, it’s not a stretch to say that transistors are in every electronic device you own.

The Core i7 Intel® microprocessor, which isn’t the latest version, contains ~3 billion transistors, and that fits in your laptop. The method for manufacturing transistors has dramatically changed, but the transistor’s purpose hasn’t changed.

Jesus

Infinitely greater is the salvation and life which only comes from Jesus. His Gospel hasn’t changed.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – (Matthew 11:28

Christ’s statement is profoundly disruptive. Jesus said that we find rest is in Him exclusively. It exists nowhere else (John 14:6). It’s not in Buddha or money. It is not in boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, or best friends. It is not in people, places, or things. We can squander our lives trying to find rest for our souls, but we will never find it unless we turn to Jesus. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – (John 10:10)

The truth of Jesus has never changed. It was true when He said it, and it’s still true today. When we look at local churches, we find wildly different approaches. 

Some are “high” churches that emphasize reverence. Some are evangelical and quote the King James Version, some are Anabaptist where the congregation leads much of the service, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, they all are called to the same purpose, to fulfill Christ’s call. 

We are to go and lead the lost to Jesus, to provide a community for the saved, to minister to widows and orphans, and care for others’ needs. Methods have changed, but the Message is the same.

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[1] https://news-navigator.labs.loc.gov/data/mimtptc_bath_ver01/data/sn92063852/00279551345/1962111001/0361/010_0_95.jpg from the Library of Congress, Newspaper Navigator Dataset: Extracted Visual Content from Chronicling America

James and John

man trekking on gray rocks in body of water at daytime

Studying the Bible is like walking through a stoney field where underneath each stone is a treasure. It’s challenging to read straight through the Bible because it’s not linear; rather, it is a matrix (no, not that Matrix). Everything connects to everything. 

Connections

When we make a discovery, then the Holy Spirit who lives in us begins revealing our discovery’s connections to multiple places in the Bible. Yes, this just happened to me, so I had to stop and write it down while it is still fresh in my spirit.

I was reading Acts 11:1-2:

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword,

If you recall, James was in the inner circle of the apostles. There were twelve apostles, but within those, Jesus often called out Peter, James, and John, such as for Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1).

Christ’s Inner Circle

James was the first of Jesus’ apostles to be martyred. And it’s noteworthy that James was executed using the same devious process used against Jesus. 

Since a sword executed James, we know that this was a civil (Roman) execution; a Jewish execution would have been by stoning, as is seen in the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58). The Jews were using the template established for Christ’s crucifixion, having their enemies killed by Rome’s hands.

So James was the first apostle martyred. Now consider the brother of James, John. Jesus had called the brothers James and John the sons of thunder, for they were far from timid. 

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22). One of the meanings of Jesus being the “Alpha and Omega” is that He was at the beginning of all things and will be at the conclusion. 

James was the first of Christ’s apostles to die and Jame’s blood-brother, John, was the last based on Revelation 1:9 and Church history. This combination seems symbolic of the Alpha and Omega. The same “person,” James and John being of the same blood, symbolized the Alpha and Omega. 

What value do the saints of God gain from this physical prophecy of Jesus being the Alpha and Omega? I see at least two lessons. First, all Scripture is connected to all other Scripture. 

The Bible is not Merely a Timeline

The Word of God is not merely a timeline from Genesis to Revelation. Instead, the Bible is the living Word of God; each piece, no matter how small, connects to all of the Word of God. God’s Word is not about people but about Jesus and His redeeming and restoring; thankfully, people are part of Christ’s mission. Within this context, God’s Word is cohesive, coherent, compelling, and comprehensive. 

What is Death

Secondly, through James and John, we learn that the death of Christ’s followers is trivial. God’s Word is about Jesus. The martyrdom of Jame, one of Christ’s inner circle of apostles, receives just a verse or two. The deaths of the vast majority of His closest followers receive no commentary in God’s Word. Is this because Jesus doesn’t care? No! If we are close to Jesus, we know Him, and He knows us. So, then, what is death other than Jesus drawing us closer to Himself. I’d say that’s Good News.

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Being Honest With God

closed gray wooden gate during daytime

Many of us have read and heard sermons about Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 5:1-11, we learn about this husband and wife, who sold a parcel of property. They lied to the church when they said that they gave all of the money to the church. It would have been fine if they had said, “We sold the property for $10,000, and we are giving $5,000 to the church.” No problem. They would have been honest.

What happened next scared the socks off of everyone. Both Ananias and Sapphira instantly died. “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (Acts 5:11)” This brings us to the topic I would like us to consider today; being honest with God.

The Story of Achan

God’s judgment in Acts, chapter five, would have immediately brought to the Jewish minds the story of Achan, for Achan, too, lied to God. You can read the full account in Joshua, chapter seven. Here’s an important passage:

And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” – Joshua 7:20-21

Achan’s lie cost him his life. God’s command to the Israelites to not take anything from Jericho was a kind of “first fruits.” Jericho was the first city in the promised land, so Jericho’s valuables belonged to God. When Joshua lamented the Israelite’s defeat at Ai, the second city they attacked in the promised land, God said to Joshua, “...they have stolen and lied and put them [things belonging to God] among their own belongings. (Joshua 7:11)” Likewise, Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early Church. Their sin was not the amount of money they kept, but it was the lie they told.

Being Honest With God

Isn’t it foolish when we lie to ourselves about a sin? We do this to try to hide it from God. This attempt to hide sin is the same response that Adam had when the first sin was exposed. (Genesis 3:12) We should remind ourselves, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalms 145:8) We must tell God the truth even if the truth is that we’re angry at Him. He has broad shoulders; He can handle it. As your mother told you, “Honesty is the best policy.”

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Sloppy Prayers

two men staring at each other

Fickleness

Having raised five kids, I have first-hand experience with the fickleness of childish requests. It starts when they’re infants. They cry and cry for their bottle, but when you give it to them, they either won’t feed or will take a small amount and then use their tongue to push the nipple out of their mouths.

As your bundle of joy grows, so does their fickleness. “Jimmy, do you want to go to the store with me?” Mom says. No sooner does Mom cross the threshold of the store before her little tike says, “How soon can we go home? I’m bored.” 

And, yes, this fickleness continues. Adults learn to suppress their childishness, but fickleness is like an inflated beachball. You can hold it underwater for a while, but eventually, it will pop to the surface; that’s fickleness. 

Sloppy Prayers

The Bible has a different word for fickleness; it’s called being double-minded. In James 1:8, we find, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” In all his ways includes prayer. Many Christians pray sloppy prayers. They will pray sincerely but have no recollection of their prayer by the next day. Others ask the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) for one outcome today and a different one tomorrow. We cannot receive what we ask for unless we ask in faith and then set our face like flint (Isaiah 50:7).

Sincere Prayer

We find in Habakkuk 2:1,3 an excellent example of how we should anticipate God’s answered prayer:

I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.


For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

We cannot expect God to care about our needs if we don’t care. Prayers are sacred. Sincere prayer is instigated by the Holy Spirit, mediated by the Son of God, and actuated by Father God. Having a sloppy prayer life is setting ourselves up to be disciplined by God. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)

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Carrying Someone’s Water

person carrying keg tanks

To carry someone’s water” means serving, assisting, or performing menial or difficult tasks for some person, group, or organization. This term typically connotes a negative social sentiment. Of course, as Christians, we never should allow a negative social sentiment to impede our obedience to Jesus, our Master (Luke 17:13). But, today, I would like to consider a different meaning for carrying someone’s water. Let me explain.

Jesus Represented a Servant

As we know, during the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:7-23), Jesus “…laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Jesus changed His garments so that He would represent a servant. And the act that He did was a task usually assigned to servants. He pickup up a bucket of water and carried it. He was, in truth, Jesus carried the water for His disciples. When He completed this task, He said:

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[a] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. – John 13:15-16

From the example that Jesus gave us, we should see that Jesus hasn’t asked us to do something that He hadn’t done. With that said, there’s something beautiful, factually or allegorically, in the work of carrying someone’s water. Let’s take a quick peek in the book of Ruth, chapter two:

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”

Ruth 2:8-9 (ESV emphasis added)

Carrying Water

For anyone that likes romance stories, you should read the book of Ruth. For now, consider verses eight and nine. The marvelous documentary contained in Ruth has this tiny vignette:  And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.

We could preach a whole sermon on this single phrase, but let me say this: Without the young men carrying up water from the well, Boaz could not have given this exceptional privilege to Ruth. The Pulpit Commentary states:

But Boaz made Ruth free, and thus conferred on her a distinguishing privilege, that must have been at once most acceptable and most valuable.

When we look at Christ’s genealogy, we find Ruth (Matthew 1:5). Praise God for those men that carried water for Ruth! We never know how our task from Jesus, no matter how menial it may appear, might connect God’s miraculous to humanity’s needs.

[a] Or bondservant, or slave (for the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface)

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Help, I Need Somebody

person standing near lighted firetruck

“Help, I need somebody!” were the words cried out by hundreds of people in New York City on September 11, 2001.

It’s difficult for me to comprehend that next year will be the 20th anniversary of 911. I’m sure that we each have our unique memories of the attack that took the lives of so many people and changed our nation forever. I worked in a high-rise in a large city, so I was among the people that stood at an office window, looking for a plane that might be headed for us. On my way home, I stopped to top off my gas tank in case we needed to leave in a hurry. At that gas station, each of us looked at one another, not in fear, but dazed.

We also share memories, images, and emotions from that day and the days that followed. The video of the 2nd plane purposely flying into the World Trade Center and the video of the Pentagon with its damage and shredded lawn are images we all share. And who can forget the footage of people running from the World Trade Center and the people jumping from that wrecked building? But not all ran away; the heroes, police, fire, EMTs, and civilians ran to the danger. They ran to save lives, many at the cost of their own lives – we should never forget their sacrifices.

Calamities and Atrocities are not Uncommon

Great calamities and terrible atrocities are not uncommon throughout the history of Adam. Our biggest mistake is to think those things won’t happen to us. With the 20th anniversary of 911 just a year away, there are millions of young people that have no memory of life in America before 911, before the Department of Homeland Security.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, bad things happen. A new generation is growing up that has no memory of this world before the pandemic. People need to learn how Christians should live in this unstable world, which is just one reason why Sunday School, yes, Sunday School is so important. Children and Adults need to learn Truth, systematically. They need Biblical education, not a paraphrase designed to confuse rather than elevate God’s Word.

Jesus Calls us to run to the Danger

Jesus knew all of the bad things that were in store for humanity (Matthew 24:6-13), but He didn’t ask the Father to take us out of this world. He asked Father God, 

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” – John 17:24

This world is not our home. It’s little more than a tiny spot in the rearview mirror of the eternity that, as Christians, we safely abide in with God: 

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:27

Photo by Constante Ken Lim on Unsplash

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What am I to you?

person touching and pointing MacBook Pro

There are many people that have a personality disorder called narcissism. Here’s the definition of this condition:

Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.Mayo Clinic

If you’ve ever worked with or been in a relationship with a person that is afflicted with narcissism, then you know that it is beyond challenging. Yet, I wonder how many of us are spiritually narcissistic. Do we try to “use” Jesus? Do we charge into situations that require spiritual discernment but, instead, we start making commands “in the name of Jesus.” Most narcissists don’t know their condition until they are told they have that condition. Have we asked the Holy Spirit to show us if we are spiritually narcissistic? Has He been telling us, but we’ve thought, “That’s for someone else, not me.”

When I’m tinkering in my shop I sometimes listen to smooth jazz. One song they play is titled, “What am I to you? The last verse says:

When I look in your eyes
I can feel the butterflies
I’ll love you when you’re blue
But tell me darlin’ true
What am I to you?

Norah Jones

I can imagine that our Heavenly Father has this sentiment when He watches us (Psalm 121:5). He loves us (1 John 4:16), He gives joy to us (John 15:11), and He gave His only Son for us (John 3:16), but when we put our faith in things (Psalms 20:7) instead of Him, He may rightly ask, “What am I to you?”

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