The Weakest Link

Message:  In Romans 15 Paul was talking to the church as mature believers and calling them (and us) to a higher standard. He said that those of us who are “strong” have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Verse 2 tells us that “each one of us must please his neighbor for his good to build him up” and he compares this to Jesus who did not please himself. At first glance this almost sounds like enabling. Right away it made me think of the parents who take a toy away from an older child to appease a screaming younger child. This is NOT what Paul is talking about because this is supposed to be done for the good of the weaker one, not necessarily for their pleasure. I believe what Paul is describing here is having patience with weaker ones who are learning. If we are impatient with them in their learning process, or if we ignore them and leave them in the dust because of their weakness, they will not grow. Truth be told, if we act like this, we are actually revealing our own immaturity and weakness, since the hallmark of immaturity is selfishness and demanding our own way. This is expected of infants but infant behavior is not supposed to be found in an older person (although we have definitely seen an older person throw a fit and marveled at the ridiculousness). I love that Paul spoke to them all as if they were all mature because naturally, everyone wants to be seen that way. I wonder how many of them in the room would want to own up to being the weaker one? Truthfully, we are all at different stages of maturity, but we were not intended to stay in a state of infancy with our faith. We should be growing and changing every day and we should be able to recognize those who are more mature than we are, as well as those who are less. The bottom line here is that we need to be aware of those around us who are immature in their faith. Our obligation is to encourage them to continue taking steps in their growth while being patient with them as they learn. If we model this in our own behavior, we will be teaching them how to also do this for others as they grow. Have you ever noticed that we increase our own learning when we teach someone else? We will never “arrive”, but we increase our own faith and understanding when we help others, and when we help others along, we continue to shed layers off of our own immaturity.

Convictions

Message:  In Romans 14 Paul was talking about the importance of honoring each other at our different levels of maturity when it comes to our convictions. Most of Paul’s references were about food because of what food represented to them. For the Jews there had been strict laws to follow about which types of meat they were allowed to eat and which things were considered unclean, while for the Greeks there was a background and culture of idolatry where foods were offered to idols as a sacrifice. Paul personally had no issues eating meat that was previously offered to idols because he understood that idols were just an object that had no actual power. The meat offered to them meant nothing to him, but he understood that for other people, eating that meat would violate their conscience. For some people food might not have been the issue, but they had convictions about certain days that should be kept holy and used to honor God. He urged them all to understand that convictions are a matter of the heart. Paul explained that even though we have a freedom in our understanding for certain things like Paul did with the food offered to idols, if we have a guilt conscience in anything we do it becomes sin to us. This is the primary reason he was asking them (and us) to be honoring and respectful to those around us with “weaker faith” that believe certain things are sin. If we talk them into doing something that violates their conscience, then we are causing them to sin. There should be somewhat of a tension in this though because someone with a seared conscience could do all kinds of things without feeling an ounce of guilt. This doesn’t ever make outright sin right and this is not the kind of freedom Paul was talking about. Sin is sin whether we feel bad or not, but convictions have the potential to become sin if we do them with a violated conscience. Where a lot of Christians get tripped up is they identify so deeply with their convictions being sin that they make it black and white for everyone and they judge other people according to their own convictions. The bottom line here is that we have to be careful that we don’t cause anyone to violate their conscience by doing something they feel convicted about, even if we ourselves feel a freedom in it.

Authority

Message:  Romans 13 is s heavy duty topic written in such simplistic terms that it leaves us feeling uncomfortable and unsettled.  We had this very same topic discussion at our home connect group last night so my mind is fresh with thoughts from our discussion and so many more thoughts brewing. Simply put: God established governing authority for our good and we are not excused from honoring it and living our lives with respect to those in authority and obeying the law of the land. There is a popular culture of rebellion that has taken hold of society for believers and non-believers alike. Christians often excuse their rebellion by saying they answer to God, not man but based on this chapter and many others, that justification doesn’t stand. A believer who directly disobeys the word of God is not answering to God. He is answering to himself and using God’s authority improperly. God doesn’t give us permission to slander or disregard authority for those we dislike or disagree with. We are required to respect the authority given to them and if they abuse that authority we need to appeal to a higher authority. This does not ensure a smooth ride by any means. It does ensure that we have God’s favor as we walk out the process if we are obedient to God and allow him to lead us through it. We are all well-aware of the amount of corruption in our government and in other authoritative places. This is not new! Before you disregard Paul, consider the circumstances he lived under when he wrote this. We read through the book of Acts where he was falsely accused by the Jews and unfairly placed in custody. They tried to plot to kill him by using the system of the law to request more questioning in the hopes of an opportunity to bring him out of protection. Paul appealed to a higher authority in that case and many others and though he was unlawfully held in prison. At one point he had been beaten unlawfully and when he revealed his citizenship they were scared and tried to get rid of him, but once again, he appealed to a higher authority and held them accountable. While in prison the walls shook him loose as he and Silas sang, but even then, he honored those that held him unlawfully by staying in place. This led to their salvation and his release. When Paul wrote the book of Romans he was still living under house arrest because of the corruption of the Jews who falsely accused him. He had appealed to each level up in government all the way to Caesar himself. He remained in prison through this entire process, but he used it all as an opportunity to spread the gospel. If you think Paul didn’t understand the corruption of our religious systems, political systems, governments and correctional systems you are missing it! Paul wasn’t living in simpler times. He was living in one of the most brutal times recorded in history and he was living it all out as an example for us. He was not passive by any means. He was bold and he knew his rights, but he didn’t use those rights as an excuse to dishonor or disobey. If you read back through Acts, you can see where he called out certain things that were lawfully wrong and continued to appeal to authorities. Time after time they saw nothing that could lawfully prosecute him, but Festus still left him in prison as a favor to the Jews. Most of us will never experience what Paul went through at even a smaller scale, but we see the corruption all around us. God didn’t make a mistake when he told us to submit to and honor authority. We don’t have to understand it all, but God is teaching us how to honor Him by honoring those in authority over us. Man is fallible and corrupt but God is not.

We Are Family

Message:  In Romans 11 Paul was talking about the importance of us seeing ourselves as one body with many parts that do different things. I feel like that topic is so heavily discussed that sometimes we nod our heads, zone out and move forward with what we’ve already heard about this. In the rest of Romans 11 it almost seems like he changed the subject because he started talking about loving each other and seeing each other like family, giving honor, detesting evil and treating our enemies well. He urges us not to take vengeance for ourselves but leave room for God to avenge us. This was a huge paraphrase of an entire chapter, but I started to pick up on something as I read it all. If we truly see ourselves as one body, we will treat each other like we are all in the same family. Some families fight like enemies just like some individuals harm themselves like an enemy (or worse). I think this is why it’s important to see the body of Christ both as one singular being, and also as a close family. Although we all want the best for ourselves and our families, we all do some things that are harmful to ourselves, even though would give our lives to protect a family member. At the same time, families fight and sometimes we act out of self-preservation against the very same people we would give our lives to protect under other circumstances. It’s interesting how we shift from self-preservation mode, to self-destruction and protector of the family to enemy of the family. I’m always amused by siblings that fight like cats and dogs with each other, but will defend each other to the death when it comes to someone from the outside. So when Paul was talking about us all being one body having different gifts, he was also talking to us about honoring and protecting each other like one body and one family. We need to respect the gifts in each other because those gifts contribute to us as a whole. Our hands are not the enemy of our feet and the feet are not in competition of our hand. Our feet take us where we need to go while our hands handle some of the fine details. We wouldn’t be able to handle those find details if our feet didn’t take us there. But what about the times we are in self-destructive mode and we do things that harm ourselves. The feet can also take us out of that situation. These are the times we are not happy with our feet for taking us out of our self-harm but this is the beauty of family and unity of the body of Christ that we honor each other, and serve the best interest of the whole body and not ourselves or the individual parts that we like best.

In & Out

Message:  In Romans 11 Paul explains that God used the rebellion of the Jews to bring in the Gentiles. This is explained several different ways throughout the bible. One example is in the parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22. Jesus gave a scenario where a king prepared a big, beautiful banquet for his son, and all the distinguished guests were invited. The king sent his servants out to bring in the invited guests, but they refused to come. The king sent his servants out again to let them know the feast was ready and was full of wonderful things but this time they took the servants, abused them and killed them. The king was enraged and he punished them for the harm they inflicted, and he sent his servants out again to invite anyone in the streets that they could find and the wedding hall was filled. In this story, the servants that were harmed and killed represented the prophets (and ultimately Jesus) in the old testament that had been harmed and killed by corrupt Jewish leaders.

In Romans 11 Paul explained it another way. He described God as a cultivated olive tree with rich roots, and the Jews as the natural branches. God cut off the unfruitful natural branches and grafted in branches from a wild olive tree. If you have never seen this done, it’s fascinating. We once owned a “fruit cocktail tree”. This was originally a grapefruit tree but some of the branches were cut down and some branches from a lemon tree and an orange tree were grafted in. They do this by putting the new branches butt up against the chopped down stubs and wrapping them up until the branches grow into one. We are actually about to try this process ourselves as we just acquired some baby citrus trees from a friend, so this is a timely message. When this process is complete there will still be some of the natural citrus branches and fruit as well as some other varieties. In our case we will have lemons, limes and tangelos all on one tree. In the scenario that Paul gave he explained that those of us Gentiles who were grafted in should not become prideful, but we should maintain a godly fear, because the same God who cut off the natural branches and grafted us in can also cut us off and regraft in the natural branches. Paul also explained that the blindness that the Jews were experiencing as their punishment would not be permanent. Their sight will eventually be restored when the full number of Gentiles are in, and so will their inheritance. Verse 26 says that in this way all of Israel will be saved. Paul explains that God was bringing in the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous, and he will use the salvation of the Gentiles as a catalyst to provoke the Jews into salvation. Paul tells us that the Jews being our enemies of the gospel is for our advantage, but they are still loved because of the patriarchs. There are promises that God made to the patriarchs that will bless their lineage. These promises are not irrevocable because God is faithful. Paul ends this reminding us that none of us are in the position to question God. We may not understand it, but not one of us are qualified to council or question God.

Submitted to God, Not Just Morality

Message:  In Romans 10 Paul was still talking about the Jews. In the last chapter he had been talking about justice almost like he was wrestling to understand the justice of God and it seemed that maybe in his grief he was talking himself through understanding it. I related to this a lot because that’s how I process through things too. In fact these times of sitting and writing about what I read each day literally brings out all of the things I’m internally wrestling with and allows me to talk myself through understanding. Even as I write that though, I fully understand that it’s the Holy Spirit who teaches us so when I begin to write it gives him room to speak to me about what I read since I could never concoct these ideas on my own. Throughout chapter 10 Paul was explaining that although the Jews had a zeal for God, they were lacking in knowledge. Not the academic kind of knowledge, but the kind you gain from investing yourself. Verse 3 says that they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness. Then the real bomb hit with the next statement, “They have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness.” They created their own system of righteousness and held everyone to it but they were not submitted to God. This is religion and this is what Christians all over America have done to the gospel. Christianity has become a system of moralities which we impose on other people but many who call themselves Christians are not submitted to Christ. They have chosen a lifestyle of morality, but they don’t have a growing relationship with Jesus. It’s easy for any of us to get sucked into a life of morality without actually growing in a relationship with Jesus. Our morality and our desire to see God’s laws rule the world trick us into believing we’re on track, but if God actually ruled in our lives the way we believe we want him to in our land, we would find ourselves a little bit rattled. When we are actually submitted to God he shakes things up. He requires us to deal with the junk in our attitudes and in our thinking. He holds us accountable and requires us to apologize to people we don’t even like, and to honor people in authority that we don’t agree with. We are on track when we are able to hear God dealing with us about the things we need to change, and instead of just feeling guilty about it, we actually do it. Submitting to God means we are listening for instructions and we obey him. When I stop hearing these kinds of prompts from God I know I am distant and I’m just walking out a life of morality. This challenges me today to ask God to open my heart and my ears to listen and be faithful to obey.

Hard As a Rock

Message:  In Romans 9 Paul was talking about his anguish for the Jews because he understood that salvation was created for them, but they were on the outs while the Gentiles were invited in. Being a Jew himself, he anguished for them almost to the point of wishing he could sacrifice his own salvation for the sake of seeing them fulfill what was promised to them. Paul was wrestling with knowing that God knew in advance that the Jews would reject Him and he quoted the prophet Isaiah when he prophesied that the Messiah would be a stumbling stone and a rock to trip over because the Jews were pursuing righteousness through the law apart from God instead of pursuing God and allowing the law to teach them his heart and his ways. At first, reading this sounded like a predestination argument, but as I continued I realized that this was about the Jews. God had always intended to be their king and priest, and lead the Jews by using the law as a teacher. Instead, they pushed God out and tried to rule themselves by using the law as a pathway to obtain their own righteousness. God made a living analogy out of Hosea for the Jews to see by calling him to marry a prostitute that he would love, but she would continuously stray back to her unfaithfulness. Hosea loved her, searched for her during her unfaithfulness and brought her back home repeatedly. He never divorced her, but he brought her back home and repeatedly restored her dignity while humiliating himself as he served as priest in front of the very men who were sleeping with his wife. God used this analogy to show the Jews their own unfaithfulness to God, and Paul was using this story to explain that what looked and felt like injustice was actually a continuation of a pattern of unfaithful behavior for the Jews. God had given everything to them, and in spite of their unfaithfulness he continuously restored their dignity and gave his favor to them above everyone else. Like Hosea’s unfaithful wife, they continued they prostituted themselves even though they had literally anything they could ever want. Hosea’s wife would try to act like a wife for a short time, but her desires were elsewhere and she never saw herself as a wife to Hosea. She was drawn to another life. Likewise, the Jews would try to act the part for a short time, but their constant rebellion hardened their hearts and pulled them away. In their unfaithfulness they never did see God as their Lord. They rejected the promised Messiah because in their state of hardness they didn’t recognize him because they didn’t know the heart of God. Reading this reminds me of the importance of paying attention to the beginning signs of a hardened heart-before it’s too late. Feeling distant from God is the first indicator and the most important thing to keep in check.

Two Dogs At War

Message:  In Romans 8 Paul talks about our war with the flesh. What really stands out to me in this chapter is verse 7 that the mindset of the flesh is “hostile to God” because it doesn’t submit itself to God’s law. This means our selfishness can’t co-exist with a mindset to serve God. They are literally going in opposite directions. Not only are they non-compatible but they are hostile because when we desire to follow after God our flesh fights against us for control. If we chase after our fleshly desires, our spirit wars within us so we can never be at peace as long as we’re trying to appease both sides. There is an analogy of two fighting dogs within our souls. The dog that wins is the dog we feed. Today this challenges me to think about what fleshly desires I allow to war within my soul. To feed those desires even a little bit is to give it control. For me, these things are attitudes of the heart and negativity. I need to starve the desire to entertain negative thoughts and stop giving myself permission to vent them.

Not Just a Ball & Chain Marriage

Message:  In Romans 7 Paul makes another comparison of the law to marriage. He reminded them that marriage vows were bound under the legal law that could only be released by death. Paul specifically uses the death of the husband as his example because in those times women often didn’t have the right to consent in the first place. She was given in marriage and the only thing that could release her was the death of her husband. Paul used this example to show them that the death of their flesh released them from their marriage to the law and allowed them to be joined to another- Jesus. What I love about this analogy is that it reminds us that our salvation is not just a freedom of the Jews from the law, it was also a marriage to Jesus. Where obedience to the law was a duty, marriage to Jesus made it become personal. This kind of faithfulness is something we understand because we are committed to a person, not being held hostage by a set of rules. The nature of mankind is to look at rules and find loopholes to justify our disobedience, but in the context of marriage we aren’t obeying rules, we are honoring ourselves and our spouse with our faithfulness. This is what our relationship with Jesus should look like. We are faithfully committed with a desire for a meaningful relationship that grows and deepens. In comparison, many Christians have a relationship that resembles those who are miserable and unfaithful in their marriages. They are the ones who refer to their spouse as a “ball and chain”. They are not emotionally invested in the relationship and they either grudgingly maintain their faithfulness, or they pretend to be faithful while sneaking around, lying and cheating. This comparison prompts me to think about my attitude toward faithfulness. Sometimes doing the right thing feels like a chore or a burden. It’s a fight that needs to become a heart change. Imagine how it would feel if our spouses were grudgingly accommodating to us. They don’t really want to do things for us, but they grudgingly do it out of obligation. This would not feel like a loving relationship and this is what I want to examine in my own commitment to Jesus. What acts of obedience am I doing in a state of obligation only that my heart needs to follow? Obedience is a good starting place, don’t get me wrong but the relationship and the burden of obedience takes on a different direction when our hearts are matched with our obedience. I remember when this hit me in my own marriage. There were things I didn’t do because it made my husband mad. Not anything big, just things I knew irritated him. For a long time I stopped doing those certain things to avoid being on the other end of his irritation, but as I matured in the relationship I avoided the things he didn’t like because I loved him and wanted to honor him. Although the act was the same the heart was different, and it caused our relationship to flourish and grow. This is the heart I want to have in my relationship with Jesus. Not to just avoid making him mad, but a heart to honor him. This is love and this is matu

The Parallels of Death, Resurrection & Baptism

Message:  In Romans 6 Paul continued making comparisons between our natural lives and the spiritual representation of the resurrection of Jesus. Once again he seems to debate with himself in order to talk out loud through the things he knew people were wrestling with. These same topics are the very things people wrestle with today. If the price for sin was paid, why not just continue in the pleasure of sin? To this Paul says “certainly not”. Where most of us try to explain this by talking about the disrespect, Paul goes a different direction. He compares the act of His death to our spiritual death to our sin and fleshly desires, and the resurrection to our new life without the bondage of sin. This death and resurrection is represented in baptism. It’s a physical symbol to represent our spiritual change. This means the death and resurrection of Jesus didn’t give us a free pass to sin without consequence. It took away the bondage of sin so that we no longer have to be a slave to our lusts and desires. This doesn’t mean we won’t face temptation. It means that we have a choice and we no longer have to let our sin defeat us. Just as Jesus was obedient to death, we are to be obedient to the death to our flesh and just as Jesus resurrected, we spiritually resurrected into people who are changed and new.

Suffering With Purpose

Message:  In Romans 5 two big things stuck with me this morning. The first thing was in verses 2-5 where it says that in the same way we rejoice in the glory of God, we also rejoice in our affliction. I have read these passages and heard them quoted for years but I could never quite relate to the idea of ‘rejoicing in affliction’ except in the context of knowing there was something to be gained from it later. If I suffer by exercising, I gain the benefit of being fit. But today I noticed that not only are we to rejoice in affliction, but the verse before that tells us that we should rejoice in our affliction in the same way that we rejoice in the glory of God. You have to be a little bit warped to feel good about that thought until you go in a little deeper. Actually, a lot deeper.  Verse 3 continues on to tell us that our affliction produces endurance (this is good) and our endurance produces proven character (even better) and proven character produces hope that will not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Still not feeling it? Well as I mentioned, I have heard this and read this for years but what I really grasped onto today was the parallel this has with Jesus. When he walked the earth, they liked the miracles he did, and they followed him for that- and also because they hoped he would overthrow the corrupt Roman government and rule over them. But Jesus wasn’t talking about ruling that kingdom. He was talking about another kingdom- His kingdom. His disciples struggled to understand but they were loyal and they followed him until he died. But after he resurrected everything changed. A new boldness rose up in his disciples because although his miracles were amazing, his resurrection actually revealed who he was. Now they really knew he was the Messiah where before they were just really hoping he was. This may not seem big to us, but the Jews knew how incredibly important this was. They were taught and read prophesies about the Messiah their entire lives. The Messiah was the promise and their whole purpose was wrapped around waiting for this Messiah.  Suddenly, all of that suffering they had watched Jesus endure now had a purpose that made sense because his resurrection proved he was the Messiah. How does that relate to us? Because when we suffer, and we build endurance and when that endurance builds our character people are watching and they begin to recognize Jesus in us and it gives them hope. Not because we look so good, but because when his character and likeness shows up in us people recognize that change and know it is God working in us.  When we have hope we are able to suffer with some purpose. This reminds me of having a baby. The suffering is painful and often long, but that suffering has a purpose. We know that on the other side of all that pain and suffering is a beautiful baby. That baby is the purpose of and the hope we look forward to during our suffering. The other thing that stuck out to me today was the fact that when Jesus suffered and died our sins were cleared, but when he resurrected, this is what reconciled us to God. This is what changed everything because when he died he was just another martyr and a blood sacrifice. The Jews sacrificed animals all the time to atone for their sins, but when Jesus resurrected, that sacrifice became permanent. No more sacrifices were needed, we became reconciled to God and were brought in as co-heirs with Jesus. How’s that for hope? We often forget the power that this status gives us, but remember, Jesus didn’t use that power for his own gain. He used it to reveal the father to others. He was the example, and this is our purpose. We don’t suffer just for the sake of suffering, and we don’t suffer only to gain something good. All of it has purpose and it will not go to waste if we are suffering for the purpose of making God known. Just like Jesus did.

Physical to Spiritual Circumcision

Message:  Romans 4 continues a lot of back and forth ideas about the law and about circumcision. Paul was showing them why it was wrong to expect the new Gentile converts to be circumcised by reminding them that Abraham, the father of all was called righteous long before God required him to be circumcised and certainly before the law even existed. It’s also important to note here that Abraham was called the Father of many nations, but Israel was the only nation that was given the law and that God required to be circumcised. It was a sign to them because he also gave them special favor. Because of this Jesus came to them first and when they rejected him he came to the Gentiles. Since we aren’t fighting about circumcision we can’t relate to this topic, so what I really pulled from it is the fact that we all have different experiences even though we walk with the same God. The children of Israel came out of slavery and a land of idolatry. God led them through the wilderness to teach them how to follow and obey him. He required them to cut their own flesh to symbolize that they belonged to God and in turn he gave them favor. What was physical for them was a spiritual example to us. We don’t cut our flesh physically, we do this spiritually by cutting away the fleshly desires that would distract us from following him. He is also teaching us to follow him exclusively and he gives us favor when we do.

Two Truths Collide

Message:  Romans 3 can be a bit confusing if you just read a few verses. It would almost seem like Paul is arguing with himself or in contradiction. What is really happening is that he is evaluating two different extreme mindsets. One as an attitude of lawlessness and the other as an attitude of religiousness. One represents Jews and the other represents the Gentiles. He is not favoring one over the other. He is explaining the importance of understanding both so that we understand how they work together . The gospel wasn’t throwing out the old law. The old law was a way pointer to the new covenant. This is so important to understand or else we find ourselves rejecting one in order to follow the other. We don’t circumcise anymore as an obedience to being Jewish. We now circumcise the heart. This is a step above following rules because now we have to care. The law revealed our sinful conscience and our deceitful tendencies and the new covenant prevents us from creating loopholes to get out of obedience. What a beautiful collision of truth!

Double Standard

Message:  Romans 3 is a truth smack right to the face! Paul calls us all out for our judgement of others and he exposes the fact that we judge people for doing the very same things we are doing. Our minds are so deceptive that we take in all of God’s patience, kindness and grace that was intended to lead us to repentance and we use it to continue in and then further justify our sin. Not only do we withhold grace from others, but we feel entitled to receive God’s grace for ourselves. Because of this verse 6 says that we store up wrath for ourselves. It has always amazed me just how blind we are to seeing this in ourselves, and just how blatantly we see it in others. This further proves the state we are in. Today this chapter reminds me of the importance of self-evaluation. We were intened to judge ourselves now before the time comes that we will be judged by God. When we are aware of our own issues and we are working them out, we lose the ability and the desire to focus on others. We simply don’t have the time or the effort to focus on anyone else.

Darkened Minds Illuminate

Message:  Romans 1 begins the start of some difficult truth. Paul is talking about people who have heard the truth but rejected it. Verse 18 says that they suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. I really felt the weight of that sentence and I sat and reread it a few times. I think I always assumed people lived in sin and rejected God because maybe they didn’t know better until someone came along to share the gospel. Verse 20 takes it further by saying that his attributes, eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, so people are without excuse. Verse 21 says that they knew God but didn’t glorify Him as God or show any gratitude so their thinking became senseless, and their senseless minds were darkened. God didn’t stop them. He gave them over to their thinking  and their cravings so now they not only live impurely, but they applaud others who do as well. This is a hard read but remember, Paul was one of those who knew God but was blinded to the truth until God literally knocked him off of his high horse. This chapter challenges me to pray for people who are stuck in darkness. That God would shine a light on the truth and allow them to see it. I pray this for myself as well that anything I am deceived by because of sin or disobedience in my life would be revealed and exposed. I pray that my mind would be illuminated by my gratitude and acknowledgment of who God is.

Rejection

Message:  In Acts 28 Paul and the shipwrecked crew ran the ship aground and it was destroyed exactly as Paul said it would. They ended up on the shore of an island called Malta. The people were very kind and hospitable, but they didn’t know who they were dealing with so they were watching. When a snake wrapped itself around Paul they speculated that he was a murderer, but when he shook it off and didn’t die they speculated that he was a god. Talk about extremes! As I thought about all of this I realized he was being tested by lots of people. The Jews didn’t trust him, but the Gentiles received him and so did the people of Malta. Paul had quoted old prophesy from Isaiah telling the Jews that they would hear but not listen so the message would be shared with the Gentiles. That was exactly what was happening at that moment, but even that didn’t change their minds. As I thought about this I thought about the relationships in my life. Some were difficult to cultivate and others fell into place. The main driving force behind all of it is the gospel. People either trusted or distrusted Paul because of the gospel. The same is true of us as so this is why it’s so important that we stay focused on the mission. We can’t change the message to appease those who reject it. Paul didn’t change the gospel and he considered his chains a symbol of his suffering and their rejection. The bottom line is that some people will love us and some people will not love what we represent so they will reject us. We can’t allow the rejection to detour us from sharing the gospel. They rejected Jesus also after all.

The Perfect Storm

Message:  Acts 27 is one of my favorite chapters in Acts. Paul was being  transported by ship with other prisoners. They were struggling with weather and doing all of the typical things to navigate through it but Paul saw disaster ahead and and he tried to warn them. They disregarded Paul’s advice because naturally, it made more sense to listen to the experienced ship captain. As things progressed just as Paul said they would and the crew struggled to do what they knew, Paul warned them again and he gave very specific details of what was ahead and what they should do. They fought as hard as they could using their experience and eventually Paul convinced them to eat to gain strength before dumping the excess weight overboard. Everything happened exactly as Paul said it would and everyone lived just he said they would. I’ve thought about this story many times simply because we all have areas of expertise and experience, and we all know people of expertise and experience. We tend to listen to the experts on their particular topics because that’s what wisdom does, but when God speaks something, he will put to shame the experienced in order to show up. When the experts do all they know and come up empty it just may be a moment to pay attention to see what God is doing. Although he gave the smart people their gift of knowledge, he will also use it to turn knowledge on it’s head just to give people a view of himself. God should never be our last ditch option, but we also should never abandon common sense. When common sense seems to  elusive we just might be set up in the perfect storm for God to make an entrance.

Encounter

Message:  In Acts 26 Paul was standing in front of King Agrippa giving his testimony. He was not only testifying in defense of himself in a court setting, but he was also sharing his personal testimony of growing up as a Jewish Pharisee and meeting Jesus on his way to persecute the church. Paul’s testimony amazes me every time I read it because I’m both amazed by the encounter Paul has and horrified at the possibility that we could live a devout life fighting against God so religiously with such an intense dedication to him. Paul really believed he was fighting the battle on behalf of God. He was determined and unmoved until he had an encounter with Jesus himself. As Paul stood before each crowd and testified in front of each leader he was trying to convince them of what he knew by relating to them. I don’t think he considered the fact that they would be as difficult to convince as he was. Before his encounter he had heard the testimonies and he was not moved by them at all. What changed everything was his personal encounter with Jesus. He had no argument in the way. His words were “who are you Lord?” and God revealed himself through Jesus. In the same way we often think we can logic people into believing the truth when what they really need is an encounter with Jesus.

Appeal to a Higher Authority

Message:  In Acts 25 Paul was passed from Felix to Festus. Neither knew what to do with him because the charges were about the law of Moses and even those couldn’t be proved. Festus asked Paul if he would like to be sent back to Jerusalem to be tried and Paul appealed to a higher power. This meant he would instead stand in front of Caesar. This is probably not the move that was expected because being tried by Caesar was more serious and probably had more serious consequences, but the Jews were out to kill Paul and were being dishonest so he knew he wasn’t safe there. By appealing to Caesar he knew the consequences were serious, but he also knew they had nothing to find him guilty for. As I read this I thought about times I have tried to have a fair argument with someone who was already bent and determined in their judgment against me. In these “stuck” moments I appeal to a higher authority. The authority of God is not to be played with. We all know that God knows all and the fact that he knows our hearts is not always to our benefit because our hearts are deceptive and his punishment is severe. But when I know I am being falsely accused this is where I know that I can appeal to the authority of God because although his judgment is severe it is also fair when people are not. I have called on him on many of these times and like Paul, I felt imprisoned still, but I felt safe in the judgment of God. What a strange and wonderful thing to say!

Whitewashed Convictions

Message:  In Acts 23 Paul was taken before the Sanhedrin to be questioned. The priest ordered for him to be smacked in the mouth because he believed Paul was lying about his integrity. They used the law to accuse him but Paul used the law right back at them and called them “whitewashed”. The footnote sin my bible explain the term “whitewashed wall” to mean that they showed an image of outward purity but they were actually corrupt inwardly. This term was also used by Jesus during his encounters with the religious. Paul was a very educated man and because he grew up in the elite Jewish circles he understood the social structures and practices. He recognized at some point that the crowd that was accusing him was mixed with both Pharisees and Sadducees. He used this to his advantage because he knew that there was a very hot-button disagreement between their belief in the resurrection. Paul introduced himself as a Pharisee, and the son of Pharisees and used the resurrection of Jesus as a point of contention. Immediately, the Pharisees flipped from wanting him dead, to supporting. They said “Maybe he DID hear from an angel or a spirit.” What an instantaneous shift! What I got out of this is that once we align ourselves with a belief system, we will flip one way or the other in order to support it. It doesn’t seem likely that they really changed their mind about Jesus as Messiah. What happened is that they abandoned their current fight in order to win a bigger one- the resurrection. As I read this I thought about all of the Christians I have seen support people or subjects while turning a blind eye to other things. I don’t want to make this about politics but it certainly does not exclude it from the conversation. Instead of seeking to find the truth, they were using Paul to further their agenda. They happened to be on the right side of the topic, but for all of the wrong reasons. 5 minutes prior they were all ready to kill him until they discovered his cause supported theirs. It was more of a political move for them than an actual heart change but for Paul, this was a brilliant move. The crowds turned against each other and this shifted him into the care of the Gentile government. There he was protected and sent away. If we aren’t careful we will choose one favorite issue to fight for and we will turn a blind eye to all kinds of corruption in order to support our one. Not because we are seeking after truth, but because we have deceived ourselves into elevating one thing above it all. Lord please unveil our eyes to the deceptions in our hearts. Help us to seek truth and not latch ourselves to an agenda no matter how righteous it may appear.