Friday, August 30, 2013

There's Something About Him That I Don't Like About Me (Acts 24:1-16)

Acts 24:1-16 … That’s what we studied this week in Tentmakers, but let’s make sure we set it up with last week’s passage.  Paul had been sent to Felix the Roman governor in Caesarea and was awaiting the arrival of his accusers before Felix would hear his case.  Acts 24:1 tells us that five days after Paul’s arrival, the plaintiffs (if you will) – the high priest Ananias and other Jewish elders – arrived in Caesarea and began their complaint.  Let’s read both sides’ opening arguments in this case.  Fill in the blanks as you go (NIV used):

Tertullus:  Acts 24:2-4
“We have enjoyed a long period of peace under                       , and                            has brought about reforms in this nation.                                 and in                        , most excellent                    ,                                      this with                               . But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.”

As you fill in the blanks for Paul’s opening argument, compare (and contrast) Paul’s words with those of Tertullus.

Paul:  Acts 24:10
“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a                    over this nation; so I                      make my defense.”

What is different about Paul’s opening?  I want you to think about that question as you turn to Psalm 55:21 (turn slowly).  Once there, see which speaker sticks out in your mind – Paul or Tertullus?

“Smooth as butter,” pretty good description, don’t you think?  I love to get buttered popcorn when I go to the movies, but something happens to me when I eat too much to quickly … I start to feel sick.  I don’t know about you, but sick is exactly how I felt when reading Tertullus’s oily flattery of Felix.

If you read last week’s post, we talked about giving credit where credit is due.  That also applies to the trajectory of our gratitude.  Tertullus thanked Felix for his peace and his foresight (Acts 24:2), when God should have been the One toward whom they were directing their gratitude – thanking Him for any and all blessings the Jewish nation enjoyed.  

Yesterday morning, I caught the Wednesdays with Beth segment of Life Today with James Robison.  Her teaching from Deuteronomy 8 really jumped out at me in thinking about the misplacement of Tertullus’s gratitude.  Deuteronomy 8 is only twenty verses, so if you have time (or can make time), go ahead and read it all.  If you don’t (can’t), then at least scan the following verses for the chapters theme.
      Vs. 2:                         how the Lord your God led you all the way …”
·     Vs. 11:  “Be careful that you                                               the Lord your God, …”
Vs. 18-20:  “But                     the Lord your God, for it is                        who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.  If you ever                             the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.  Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

At some point along the way (long before we met Tertullus or even before the birth of Jesus Christ), the Jews stopped giving God the credit – and with the credit went the glory that He was due.  At that moment, their focus and their thanksgiving turned away from God and toward other things – such as their own interpretations of the Law and the Roman government.  Anyone or anything that tried to draw their attention away from those “other gods” (from Deut 8:19) was seen as a  … Let’s hold that thought for a minute.

I watched the first few seasons of the Dr. Phil show, and one his sayings has stuck with me, “There’s something about him that I don’t like about me.”  Paul was one of those people to the unbelieving Jews of his day.  They still had so much in common – worshipping the same God of their ancestors, having the same confidence in the Law and the words given through the prophets, a hope of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:14-15).  So much in common, and yet there was something about Paul that the unbelieving Jews did not like about themselves, and they hated him for it!  

In our next study, we will continue with Paul’s trial before the Roman governor, Felix.  Until then, let’s follow Paul’s lead, exercising (figuratively) our bodies … “endeavoring in all respects to have a clear conscience, void of offense toward God and toward men” (Acts 24:16).

Now What?!  When someone irritates you this week, I want you to ask God if He has allowed that person or situation in your life to show you something in him/her that you need to acknowledge and change in yourself (Matt 7:3), and let’s give glory where glory is due (Col 3:17).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Right Person + Right Place + Right Time = ? (Acts 23:10-35)

Before we get started, I want you to know that there are some Scripture addresses I have provided as references in paragraph three.  Don’t think that the words preceding these references actually quote those verses; they don’t.  I provide them as actual Scripture for your study.  They are some of my favorites, so I hope you’ll look them up.

I almost titled this post, ‘Uncle Paul.’  That’s right, Paul had a family, and we get to meet one of them in today’s passage.  This week we read the remainder of Acts 23, starting with verse 10.  Luke’s words allow us to be a fly on the wall when, “[that same] following night the Lord stood beside Paul and said, Take courage, Paul, for as you have borne faithful witness concerning Me at Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” (Acts 23:11, Amplified).  If we’re truly engaged in Paul’s journey (as I hope we are), we may be wondering how God was going to make this happen.  We’ll see the beginning of this answer today and continue it in the weeks to come.

Read Acts 23:10-16.  And there he is … Paul’s nephew.  God had positioned Paul’s nephew to learn about this plot.  We don’t know for sure how He did it, but we know that He did.  The Bible is full of examples of God positioning the right person @ the right place @ the right time, and He still operates that way in our lives today.  So why don’t we see it?  I think it’s because we aren’t looking … even worse, it’s because we often give credit where credit is NOT due.

Compare the number of times you credit luck or coincidence or random chance or karma (cringe) or the gods (double cringe) when good things come your way instead of thanking God for His providence and blessings in your life.  In studying for this lesson, I’ve wondered how lives would change if our minds instinctively gave God glory in these times.  Being a math teacher by trade, I always encourage my students to stop and think for themselves before hearing my take on the solution to a problem.  I encourage you to do the same.  Like the students in my class, your thoughts are every bit as valuable as mine.  So how would your life change?  Meet me back here once you’ve come up with your own answer…

My thoughts are ordered as a trickle-down effect.  If my mind instinctively glorified God for “every good and perfect” thing (Jam 1:17), then my outlook would be one of hopeful expectation (Ps 5:3, Amp).  With an outlook of hopeful expectation, my attitude would be one of sustained gratitude (Ps 118:24).  With gratitude marking my attitude, my words would be filled with thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:18), and my actions would be a blessing to those around me (Gal 6:10).

Picking up with verse 17 in Acts 23 (and continuing through the end of the chapter), you’ll see what happens as a result of Paul’s nephew’s warning and how God gets Paul started on his journey to Rome.  I’m not saying that Paul’s nephew had a mind that instinctively glorified God.  (In fact I wonder if his nephew may have actually been among the unbelieving Jews at that time.)  What I am saying is that God used Paul’s nephew as the right person at the right place at the right time, and God wants each one of us to be His right person for someone else, “For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Given God’s words to Paul in verse 11 (before the planned ambush), if Paul’s nephew had kept silent, I have no doubt that Paul would have made it to Rome, but he would have missed this opportunity to be a part of the Story.  In writing this, I keep singing a VBS song:

“God made me a part of His story.  I will live all for His glory – every day and every night.  Let’s all shine and serve.  Let’s all live and love until the whole world knows that Jesus loves them.” (Shine and Serve, Yancy)

“…Who knows but that you…” Yes, you!  “…have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion?” (Est 4:14).

Now What?  Will you ‘live all for His glory’ today?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Clear Conscience ... Bad Memory??

Mark Twain said that "a clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory."  What do you think?  This week we studied Acts 22:30-Acts 23:11.  Read this passage and then meet me right back here.  (It wouldn’t hurt to read it again, even if you were in Sunday school this week.)

You can probably guess (from the quote above) caught my attention in reading this passage.  In Acts 23:1, Paul said, “I have lived before God, doing my duty, with a perfectly good conscience until this very day.” (Amplified, emphasis mine).  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t always felt as if my conscience was perfectly good.  I will say something carelessly … and then stew about it for days.  I will remember things from years ago ­­– things that I have long ago repented of – and suddenly feel bad about all over again.  I know that Christ’s work in me was perfect and complete … that, because I have accepted Him as my Savior, my conscience is “good,” but too often Satan tries to convince me otherwise.  And too often he is successful.

I wanted to know Paul’s secret to a “perfectly good conscience,” the truth is it has been here all along ­– close relationship to God in large part through His Word.  I know that we are all sometimes plagued by attacks of our conscience, so I would like to share some Scriptures I found relating to the conscience.  I am going to try to limit my own comments because I want you to allow the Holy Spirit to speak directly into your heart.  May God bless the reading of His Word!

Fill in the blanks below (NIV was used).
Hebrews 9:14 (Reading vs. 13 will make vs. 14 make even more sense.)
“How much more, then, will the                of                    , who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,                        our                  from acts that lead to death, so that        may                the living God!

Hebrews 10:22
“Let us                        to God with a             heart and with the full                   that     brings, having our               sprinkled to cleanse us from a                  conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
(Really love this verse in the context of vs. 19-25!)

Hebrews 13:18
           for us.  We are                      that we have a                      conscience and                                to live                                      in                    way.”

Each of these verses from Hebrews tells us something important about our consciences.  Hebrews 9:14 reminds us that we have a conscience that is good because of what Christ did for us.  It also tells us why having a good conscience is important for the body of Christ.  Hebrew 10:22 tells is where we can and should go once we acknowledge this cleansing work, and finally Hebrews 13:18 warns us that, despite the good nature of our consciences, there will be times when doubt creeps in.  We must be convinced!  

The question we haven’t addressed yet is how.  How do we keep our consciences “perfectly good” as Paul described his in Acts 23:1?  I think I found the answer (at least in part) during my quiet time this morning.  Turn with me to Psalm 19, and read verses 12-13.  

Now What?  Well, if you feel led to, you may say the prayers along with me.  

Vs. 12, “But who can discern their own errors?  Forgive my hidden faults.”
God, I have said and done things that are outside of Your will, and out of ignorance, I haven’t given them a second thought.  Lord, I ask Your forgiveness for these things, and I thank You for separating them from me.

Vs. 13 “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.  Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.”
God, I only want to serve you – not sin!  For the times I have known Your will and yet have chosen to ignore it … Lord, I ask Your forgiveness.  The next time Satan brings it back up in my heart, I will not be downcast and ask again to be forgiven for the same thing; instead I will lift my eyes to You and thank You again for Your forgiveness.  Amen.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hit the Ground Running (Acts 21:15-22:22)

Hit the ground running … This phrase could describe the apostle Paul throughout his life and ministry, and it is exactly what we’re going to do here today with this post.  I believe that we last left off with Acts 21:14.  If you would, please grab your Bibles read Acts 21:15-22:22.  As you read, allow the words to draw you in – asking (and answering) some questions before moving on.  For example, right off-the-bat, verse 15 says, “After these days” … after what days?  Familiarize yourself with what has been leading up to this time in Paul’s ministry as well as what is going on at this point in Scripture.  I’ll be waiting (in the next paragraph) when you’re ready for some discussion.  No rush…

This passage is so large that there are many details and phrasings we could focus on; instead today, we’re going to take this opportunity to step back and see a wider picture.  In the Acts 21:15 – 22:22 passage, we see two occasions where Paul was positioned to speak to a group of people.  One group was friendly (21:17); the other hostile (21:31, 22:22).  Paul took each of these opportunities to relate his own, personal testimony – not to preach a sermon.

God had very clearly called Paul to be a witness to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21).  As a part of Christ’s body, we as believers are to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).  Peter even said that we are “always to be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks [us] to account for the hope that is in [us] … courteously and respectfully” (1 Peter 3:15b).  The very idea of this can be so intimidating, especially if you feel as if you don’t know enough about the Scriptures to preach a sermon on command.  Paul’s example here in Acts 21 and 22 reminds us that sometimes (often times) when God presents us with opportunities to talk to someone about Jesus Christ, He is opening the door for us to testify about what God has done through Jesus in our own lives.
Now What?  I would encourage you to begin thinking – even journaling – about the things God has done in your life.  Like Paul (Acts 22:3), start from the beginning and work your way up to the present.  God made you a part of His story.  Make Him a part of yours.