Monday, February 25, 2013

My Light and my Salvation (Ps 27:1)

Since arriving at Philippi in Acts 16:12, there have been several additions to our cast of characters – Lydia, an unnamed slave girl, the girl’s owners, the magistrates of Philippi, a chorus of townspeople, and a group of prisoners.  I realize in looking at that list that God positioned Paul and traveling partners to minister to people at each and every level of status in the city of Philippi.  To both women and men.  From slaves and prisoners to those with wealth and power.  From worshipers of God to people previously ignorant of Him.  God desires all people – His entire creation – to know Him and come to Him (2 Peter 3:9).  Once we come to God through and in Christ, there is no longer any distinction, “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28, Amp).  If you were in class a few weeks ago (maybe a month now), that verse should ring a bell … It’s one of the aspects of our identity in Christ.  Yesterday we continued Paul’s secondary missionary journey with Acts 16:26-34.  I sense the need to remind you that nothing I say here could or should replace the Scripture itself, so before you continue with this post, please read the passage yourself…

… A character who had a cameo in last week’s lesson just became a leading man – the jailer.  Yesterday we worked our way backward from verse 34 to verse 26 – talking about:
(1) how the jailer showed genuine love for Paul and Silas (vs. 33-34),
(2) how it was hearing God’s Word and receiving Christ that gave the jailer the ability to love Paul and Silas (vs. 31-32), and
(3) how the door was opened for Paul and Silas to minister to the jailer and his family through the jailer’s question (vs. 30):  “Men, what is it necessary for me to do that I may be saved?”
Yesterday we chased the jailer’s question back to a strikingly similar question with a similar love-related response in Luke 10:25-37.  I encourage you to go there and read that passage.  Compare questions.  Compare answers.  Compare outcomes.  I pray you’ll see how the jailer was certainly a powerful example of how having Christ in you today is better than even having Him standing in front of you in the days before His death, burial, and resurrection (John 16:7).

All that being said, the direction I feel led to take this week’s post will allow us to look at the two things the jailer asked for.  We’ve already seen one of them (the second), “… what is it necessary for me to do that I may be saved?” (vs. 30), but look back at verse 29, what other thing did the jailer ask for?  Okay, he “called for” it … light.

In yesterday’s message, our speaker, John Preston, led us through a selection of Scriptures from Psalm 23 to Galatians 6:9.  Given my current Acts 16 perspective, several of the verses jumped off the page as relating to our study of Paul and his missionary journeys, but one, in particular, reminded me so much of the jailer and his two requests in that midnight hour.  Psalm 27:1a, “The LORD is my Light and my Salvation – whom shall I fear or dread?”  What did he ask for again?  … light and the way of salvation.  God had given Paul such a masterful way of knitting together Scriptures from (what we would call) the Old Testament with their fulfillment in Christ Jesus.  I imagine Paul using the jailer’s plea for light and the way of salvation to say to him, “You want lights.  You recognize your need for salvation.  Praise God!  Allow me to tell you of my Light and my Salvation.” (my own dramatization).

In reading the remainder of Psalm 27 this morning (By the way, I encourage you to read it, too.), I wonder if this Psalm may have been one of the songs of praise Paul and Silas lifted up in the moments before God shook the foundation of that prison (Acts 16:26) – along with the foundation of the jailer’s life.  I ask you today, what has been laid as the foundation of your life?  Has Christ been the Cornerstone to which you have measured everything (Eph 2:20)?  Does He continue to be your Cornerstone? 

So what?  Like Paul (Rom 15:20), God is not interested in building on the foundation of another.  Now what?  I ask you today to examine the foundation of your life.  Then what?  Where you find sand beneath it, ask that God replace it with the Rock that is Jesus Christ (Matt 7:24-27).  Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hope Floats (Acts 16:19-26)

When looking at a story recorded in Scripture, we … okay, I’ll just speak for myself … I often go into it with the mindset of identifying with the story’s protagonist (the good guy).  After all, I am a Christian, so that’s what I should be, right?  Most of the time, I’m completely oblivious of how this poisonous attitude is working behind the scenes to direct my conduct and my conversation.  Last week we watched Paul and his missionary cohort meet a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit – not the Holy Spirit.  Luke (the author of Acts) told us how this girl’s owners weren’t troubled by this spirit/demon.  In fact, it was their “hope of profit” (Acts 16:19, Amp).  Acknowledging how we can relate to the girl and/or her owners, we considered the ways in which we, too, allow demons to take/keep a place in our lives.  Why do we do that?  I can think of two reasons – either like the slave girl we feel powerless to banish it from our bodies and minds or like the slave owners there is something about the demon that gives us a hope of profit.  [For more on this, look at last week’s post, “Let Him have the things that hold you.”]

This week we continued on in Acts 16 with verses 19-26.  In these verses, we witnessed the desperation of the slave owners after losing their hope of profit.  Like a drowning man, they grabbed for whatever could.  In this case, that meant Paul and Silas.  These Jews had taken the slave owners’ hope, so the slave owners would do whatever they could to take theirs (i.e. Paul and Silas’s, Luke and Timothy seem to be excluded because of their Gentile background).

Paul and Silas were drug to the town marketplace, which basically served as the city’s courthouse (Acts 16:19-22).  It didn’t take very long for a mob mentality to take over.  Paul and Silas were stripped and severely beaten.  When the mob’s blinding rage subsided, Paul and Silas were handed over to the town jailer, who was given the strictest of instructions regarding their incarceration (Acts 16:23-24).

A few weeks ago, one of the characteristics of our identity in Christ we talked about was that we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).  We are all one in Christ because we are clothed with Him (Gal 3:27).  Like Paul and Silas, we may be stripped of our clothes … our dignity … even the skin on our bodies, but we can never be stripped of Christ!  You have to read on in Acts 16 yourself … go to verse 25-26.

Being in the innermost cell, every other prisoner would have been within earshot of Paul and Silas, but instead of hearing the sound of excruciating pain, they heard heartfelt prayers and songs of praise.  The slave owners tried to strip Paul and Silas of their hope, but instead it abounded – overflowing to men who had probably lost theirs long ago.

The truth is that, any time we put our hope in something other than our Lord and Savior, it will be taken away.  I don’t want that to make you sad; it should make you rejoice.  God is faithful, and He loves us too much to allow us to keep our hope in something false.

“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.” (Rom 15:13, NLT, emphasis mine).

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Telling Tales of Woe"

(Title quoted from  CBS/AP article Feb 15, 2013)

I wanted to take a minute (or five) to share some thoughts about that stranded cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico.  Seeing images of the two tug boats towing in the ship reminded me of a lesson from the book of Hebrews:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf…” (Heb 6:19-20, NIV)

Christ is our forerunner, but what does that mean?  I used to think of this description simply as someone who came before, but I have since learned that a forerunner was actually a type of ship that was used to secure larger ships in safe harbor before they could actually enter in themselves.  You see, at any time other than high tide, sandbars would be exposed as ships neared shore, preventing large ships from entering.  The forerunner, which was able to maneuver around the exposed sandbars, would carry the larger ship’s anchor into the harbor.  Then at high tide, the anchor acted as a tow-rope.  We – you and I – are the ships sitting dead-in-the-water (so to speak), but Jesus Himself has gone in before us and has anchored our hope in the safe harbor.  When the time is right, He will be faithful to pull us in where He is.

Back to the cruise ship … Did you notice that many of the passengers left the ship wearing white robes?  Can you imagine if you were in Mobile, Ala. and looked out your window last night to see waves of people getting off that ship wearing white robes.  Maybe you would have posed a question like one of the elders did in the book of Revelation:

“‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’  I [John] answered, ‘Sir, you know.’  And he said, ‘These are those who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. … Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.’” (Rev 7:13-14, 16, emphasis mine).

Sounds amazing, right?  The thing is not everyone gets off of the ship wearing a white robe … and that is because not everyone has their hope anchored in safe harbor.

Every time I heard updates on the news about overflowing toilets; lack of food; hot, stinking conditions, etc. I thought about how awful it must be for those stuck on that ship.  This morning, seeing the footage of the passengers as they got off and hearing them describe the conditions as “hell on earth,” I thought about how – if these people had been told what was ahead of them before boarding the ship just one week ago – very few if any would have chosen to follow through with their plans.  The thing is we have people around us every day who are boarding ships they believe to be bound for paradise when instead they are heading for hell itself … if they only knew what awaited them.

I feel certain that God allowed someone to be on board that cruise ship for the expressed purpose of communicating the very real existence of hell to those who had never before heard that truth.  Obviously I can only imagine the conditions these people suffered over the past several days, but I can say for certain that, whatever they suffered, it pales in comparison to an eternity in hell!  

Ladies and gentlemen, I need you to acknowledge that we have people all around us who are floating adrift on a ship that will sooner rather than later run ashore on the banks of hell.  We must each ask ourselves if we are being faithful to the strategic position in which God has placed us.  Are we telling people about Jesus Christ and the necessity of washing our robes in His blood … of having Him as our forerunner?  If we’re not, what is holding us back from speaking the truth to people who desperately need to hear it before it is too late?

… Now what?

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Let Him have the things that hold you" (Spirit Song), Acts 16:1-19

We’ve been studying Acts 16 for several weeks now… in Tentmakers, that is.  I know that it has been a few weeks since I’ve posted.  Thanks for the reminders Chad and Jason.  We have witnessed Paul and Silas pick up Timothy in Lystra (vs. 1-3) and allow themselves to be directed through a series of closed doors to Troas(vs. 6-8), where Luke (the inspired writer of Acts) joined them (vs. 10).  Together the group confidently and purposefully went through the door God had opened for them in Macedonia Philippi, in particular (vs. 12).

The rest of Acts 16 both what we’ve studied and what is to come is set around three households.  In each of the three, a person in a different position brings the knowledge/awareness of Christ (through Paul’s message) to the household.  First, we meet Lydia in Acts 16:13.  As she herself was a “dealer of fabrics dyed in purple” the color of royalty Lydia is thought to have been wealthy in her own right (i.e. apart from any husband she may have had).  God opened Lydia’s heart to receive and respond to Paul’s message, and then “she was baptized along with her household” (Acts 16:14-15).  A household that I believe would have included a staff and possibly a family.

As I said before, it was God who opened Lydia’s heart to receive Paul’s message.  In return, Lydia opened her home to Paul and his missionary friends.  Verses 16-19 introduce us to the next household to be highlighted by Luke in Acts 16.  Knowledge and awareness of Paul’s mission in Philippi was brought to this household by a slave girl.  Unlike Lydia, we are not told that God opened her heart.  Rather Luke tells us that she “was possessed by a spirit of divination, and she brought her owners much gain by her soothsaying.” (vs. 16, Amplified).

This girl followed Paul and his friends … for days, Scripture says (vs. 17).  Her owners the head of this second household didn’t seem to mind … until, that is, Paul cast out the demon out of the girl.  Verse 19 describes the demon as “their hope of profit.”  This idea a demon being a hope of profit is what led to the most conversation in yesterday’s lesson.  Isn’t it true that sometimes we hold onto demons (either in us or in ourselves) because of what we hope to profit from them.  Whether it is an illness or condition that profits some attention … or bitterness/resentment/unforgiveness that profits a feeling of justification for wrong attitudes/behavior.  Maybe it is guilt or an addiction that profits motivation for self-hatred and a downward spiral.  Is it public opinion or ungodly ambition…?  I could go on.  I’m sure you could to, but the important thing is that any demon we do not cast out of our hearts or our lives casting it out in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ will only lead to loss … not profit.

I have thought about this slave girl continually this week.  Scripture does not mention her after beyond verse 18 when Paul cast out the spirit within her.  I wonder what happened to her.  Did she receive the Holy Spirit?  Did her owners like Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8:18-20 attempt to profit from the Holy Spirit?  We don’t know, but what I do know … and did get out of my current study of this girl is this:

Acts 16:16 says that she “was possessed by a spirit of divination.”  Those of us who have accepted Christ have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13).  (Yes, that’s another layer to our identity in Christ.)  How often, when we speak of the Holy Spirit, do we talk in terms of our having possession of Him?  I don’t want to have the Holy Spirit.  I want the Holy Spirit to have complete possession of me!

Now what? … Father God, I ask today in Jesus’ name that like Lydia You open our hearts to receive Your Word so that we can bring life into our households.  Lord, where there are (or have been) demons, I ask that you remind us of who we are in Christ no longer condemned (Rom 8:1) … “set free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2)!  Let our lives show a boldness that can only come from clean heart and a freedom that inspires others to want to know You.  Amen.