Raw Reflections from the Journey

Thursday, November 17, 2011

About Face, Serving and Suffering

Got a bit distracted with the Acts of God in my own life the past few days; opportunities to serve as a counselor, proffering God's Grace and Truth to many desperate for a chance to try again, and His truth to be successful.

Acts 8 is Saul's sudden conversion. After Steven's death the Church scattered and "Saul went wild" persecuting the church. The blood on his hands from Stephen's death seemed to make him bloodthirsty. The language of The Message is poignant in regard to his angry incursions into homes of believers. Quite a contrast to the peaceful and harmonious fellowship they had been enjoying. Thus, Saul was feared.

But Jesus had had enough, and in one fell swoop stopped Saul dead in his tracks. "Why do you persecute me?" The Good Shepherd made a move to protect his flock, and in a surprising move, drafted a franchise player as His chosen man to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Not surprisingly, this move was met with some doubt and consternation by those who'd know Saul as their nemesis.

But conscripted service isn't without a price, "Now I'll show him how much he must suffer for my name." Paul would now get to experience the other side of the persecution he'd perpetrated. Rejection and threats on his life were soon to come.

Still, Paul persisted in preaching, and eventually won the trust of believers.

What was it like to be Paul? His writings show increasing humility to his sinfulness. "Chief of Sinners" was a title he ascribed to himself. "Christ and Christ alone", "I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, have fellowship in his sufferings, and somehow attain to the ressurection from the dead". His passion turned 180 degrees from destruction of the Church to building and protecting it, all the while fully enjoying and passionately pursuing his own relational journey with Jesus.

For anyone with regrets Paul is an inspirational example, "Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Paul had a lot to forget. Regrets were probably numerous, including his sanctioning of Stephen's murder...let that soak in. From Killer to Evangelist. It wasn't the first time a rabble rouser had been gripped by God and it won't be the last.

What do you have to forget? If in Christ Paul could do it, so can we. Time to do a bit more running of the race.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Growing by leaps and bounds, men full of The Holy Spirit, Stephen’s death

Things were going swimmingly. The Way was growing by leaps and bounds and then there was a snafu…accusation of discrimination in food distribution.

This wasn’t the first time the disciples had seen and experienced a problem in their ministry. Jesus had some pretty rough going, remember? And they’d stuck it out even when others left. They had on the job training and now the advantage of the Holy Spirit. They called a meeting and apparently agreed on an effective solution, because the next you know, they are continuing in prayer and teaching/preaching God’s word while men full of the Holy Spirit AND good sense were selected to manage the food distribution.

“and good sense” jumps off the page. It wasn’t qualification for leadership to be filled with the Holy Spirit. They needed “good sense” too. Lots to be said for that. Practical wisdom; probably a factor of maturity and experience…

The Calling Journey, Tony Stoltzfus (www.coach22.com, or www.thecallingjourney.com) emphasizes that one’s calling is shaped over time through life experiences that give us the opportunity to find our identity in Christ (as opposed to various roles and titles) and to depend wholly on God for direction, discernment, provision, etc. Many a lad and young lady set out to do great things for God, or yearn to, but lack life experience that seasons, conditions and ultimately provides the background needed for wisdom to be cultivated.

Interesting that men full of the Holy Spirit (and good sense) took food distribution seriously and did it well. What if they didn’t? The Way may have sputtered or had a lull, but rather, it continued full steam.

Then Stephen, (the same Stephen named first as one of the seven chosen to oversee the food distribution?) is targeted by jealous and mean spirited dissenters for public debate. “they tried to argue him down” from a position that many would aspire to; “..brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.”

Why can’t good stories continue uninterrupted? Why does there always have to be a villain to spoil the day? You see it in movies all the time. Peaceful and loving scenarios interrupted by tragedy or evil. In Ghost (Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze) the young couple in love is headed home from a date, smiling, laughing, loving and the man is accosted by a mugger and killed. Sudden violence and death. Why?

It’s the reality of the world in which we live, eh? And the same today as then. Evidence of an enemy at work to taint and tarnish all that is good, beautiful and righteous.

Acts 7 depicts Stephen’s demise, but notice that he doesn’t go down without making further inroads for The Way, and it’s leader. Similar to Peter in earlier chapters, he seizes the opportunity to preach to an audience by describing the history and context of the appearance of Messiah. The chronology continues for some time, and nearly lulls the reader into complacency when Stephen applies the coup de grace to the audience, seeking the same type of repentant response that Peter and the others had obtained in earlier episodes of public preaching, “And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors…”

Well, so much for a warm welcome and a polite audience. “At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed-he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side.”

Us preachers, teachers, writers and public speakers would be wise to take a lesson from this; to have eyes for God when presented with any opportunity to declare truth and to invite the unsaved to repentance. By doing so, we’ll make the most of every opportunity to present a life-saving message and truth; that God so love the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish, but have ever-lasting life…

Better to offend for a moment by confronting others with the disturbing truth that Jesus is Savior and Lord and that they (we) are sinners doomed to damnation unless and until we repent of sin and surrender to Him, than to offend them forever by NOT telling them.

Being careful to not offend was not the way for those of The Way when it first began, and so it shouldn’t be today.

Finally, following the example of Jesus, Stephen prayed for Jesus to take him, “Master Jesus, take my life”, and then his final worlds, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin”….Sounds a lot like “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Stephen appears to have been a pretty good student, and so he didn’t miss his opportunity to live for Jesus and then to die for Him as the first Christian martyr.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Acts 5 - Sudden death, harmony, additions, healing, jail break and a whipping

Could a single chapter pack any more information? The happenings in Acts 5 are worth an entire book!

First, there’s the duplicity of Annanias and Saphira. Bad choice to lie about money…not sure all the lessons to be learned, but The Message puts it this way, “God is not to be trifled with.”

It is interesting how this couple would dare to be duplicitous in the context of all they’d probably seen. They’d probably witnessed at least the results of the descent of the Holy Spirit onto and into the Apostles and all who were saved, the healings done by Peter and others, etc.

Striking them dead seems an Old Testament behavior by God, and not the grace-walk of Jesus who liberated sinners from death sentences (e.g., the woman caught in adultery). So why this severe response?

One thought is that He wanted to protect the purity of the fellowship that had just begun by sending a stern message about fidelity to Him and His way as the imperative for His presence and power in their lives; ‘follow me wholeheartedly and you will really, really live (preach, teach and heal in ways that compel others to live for me too), but live for self and manage your own affairs with your own wisdom instead of mine and you will die; sooner or later you will die.’ Both NT and OT teaching is about the destructive consequences of sin…so perhaps He thought it was a good timely and not so metaphorical reminder?

Then there’s the harmony of the believers. How did that happen? My thought is that it was the side effect of their focus worshipping Jesus and doing the Great Commission. Have you heard that a peace-time Army turns inward and has a lot more conflict during peace-time than during war? During war it comes together to work toward common goals, but in peacetime there is time and space to pick fights about essentially inconsequential matters…to me this is a possibly accurate analogy re: what it takes for harmony; focus on the main thing.

Then there’s a curious statement, “But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both.”

Why were they admired? For their steadfastness in the face of persecution? For the remarkable signs and wonders they performed? For their unity, harmony, generosity? All are unusual spectacles for sure. And it was pretty radical, “…outsiders were wary about joining them…” BUT, those who put their trust in Jesus were added right and left. Seems that once they had revelation of Jesus being who He said He is that fears about being identified as part of the persecuted “WAY” fell away. The remarkable unparalleled Jesus was worth following even if it cost them.

Healings were 100% it seems. WOW! Can you imagine how crowds would flock for such healing today? It seems that in the west we hear of an isolated miracle here and there but not entire outbreaks….why? If it happens at all couldn’t it happen en masse?

Jail break – if it was me breaking out I’d be laughing hysterically. “What’s next? Isn’t this a hoot? Can you imagine having any more fun? They can scold us, warn us, jail us, but unless they kill us they aren’t going to silence us or stow us away!” And don’t miss this point: The angel that opened the jail house door and led them out gave instructions to be followed immediately, “Go to the temple and take your stand. Tell the people EVERYTHING there is to say about this life!” Wow, now that must have taken awhile. That’s a lot to tell! And note that they were freed for a purpose, to proclaim the Gospel. We too are freed from sin for purpose, to make Him known and to walk fully and wholeheartedly in The Way.

And finally there’s another scolding, warning, and a whipping. “That ought to silence them…physical pain.” But the irrepressible disciples have an answer for that one, too!

“The apostles went out of the High Council overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored on account of the Name.”

Nothing was going to stop the spread of the good news and the growth of the number of those who would join “The WAY”. Nothing ever has…and nothing ever will!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Acts 4 - We Can't Help but Speak about What We've Seen and Heard!

Acts 4 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit continues on a roll of courageous preaching that has spectacular results! 5000 now believing in Jesus! Good thing he waited for the Holy Spirit just as Jesus instructed, “Wait for the Holy Spirit and then you will be able to do these things.” I think the same applies today regarding the beginning of ministries, churches and even speaking truth or exhortations in love, “Wait on the Holy Spirit and then you will be able to do these things.”

But now for some consequences; The Temple police and Sadducees have Peter and John arrested, “Indignant that these upstart apostles were instructing the people and proclaiming that the resurrection from the dead had taken place in Jesus.” (The Message). Why were they indignant? Two reasons: 1. In a sentence, it was their job to instruct the people, “The religious responsibilities of the Sadducees included the maintenance of the Temple in Jerusalem. Their high social status was reinforced by their priestly responsibilities, as mandated in the Torah. The Priests were responsible for performing sacrifices at the Temple, the primary method of worship in Ancient Israel. This also included presiding over sacrifices on the three festivals of pilgrimage to Jerusalem.” (Wikipedia on Sadducees). 2. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection. That is why they were sad…you see? J

Just one more reason Jesus was offensive to the religious establishment, and still is, I think. He upset the order of society/religion by making the proclamation of the Gospel a free for all. Anyone filled with the Holy Spirit could proclaim it and teach it. As the Wiki article on Sadducees says, “Their religious beliefs and social status were mutually reinforcing, as the Priesthood often represented the highest class in Judean society.” In other words, they had a lot to lose is they allowed “these upstart apostles” to continue preaching and teaching. How sad that they didn’t realize the fulfillment of the Scriptures that Jesus represented; that history was made in their midst. Concerned with preservation of the status quo, they decided instead to persecute the messianic rabble rousers followers.

Chapter 4 is so full of memorable statements. Peter and John’s umbrage about being questioned for healing a crippled man, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross!” “Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.” I’m getting chills as I type.

“They couldn’t take their eyes off them-Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education….then there was this man undeniably crippled all these years, and there he was, standing upright – so healed! – what could they say against that?” ummm. More chills. I think I get excited cause I want to take walks to the temple and to give the gifts of God…the things that people need and that will cause them to celebrate with exuberant joy…One of my favorite childhood Sunday School songs was about how this healed man went leaping and dancing and praising God. The visual Bible, Acts also portrays the scene of him dancing up the steps of the Temple and it provokes joyful laughter.

I love the fact that Peter and John had the religious leaders over a barrel. Intimidation and threats weren’t effective with them. They were bent on telling as many as possible about Jesus so that they might find salvation in Him, and whether jailed, beaten, killed, they were going to preach and teach, “Judge for yourselves whether it would be right for us to listen to you instead of God. As for us, we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard.”

Peter’s courage was no doubt fueled by Jesus’s mercy on him after his many mistakes; trying to take the head off the high priest’s servant and denying Jesus. It’s easy to imagine the conversation in his head, “No way, I’m not making the same mistake a second time. It’s all too fresh that I lied to save myself. But now, after watching Jesus give himself up for us, and very specifically giving me a second chance I’m not going to blow it…even if it costs me my life." And eventually it would.

Acts 3 - Silver or Gold Have I None, But What I Have I Give Thee!

I just love this story…Peter and John on the way to a prayer meeting…a man crippled from birth carried to a place where he could solicit for handouts. Peter saying, “I don’t have what you want, but I can give you what you need!”

How does Jesus continually do the same for us. We ask for what we want, but He gives us what we need, including the experiences we need in order to have opportunity to have Him formed in us! (Romans 8).

And then Peter, realizing a crowd has gathered in response to the celebration of the man who was healed, seizes the opportunity to make clear how the man was healed, “Not by my/our piousness or our own power” but by God through his son Jesus, who He glorified….and then on to the same type of message of conviction he’d preached at Pentecost in chapter 2.

Makes me think of I Peter, 3:15 “Always be prepared to speak about the reason for the hope that you have.” These words were in Peter’s heart and mind…he was ready on a moment’s notice to testify to what he’s seen, and to preach a message of truth unto conviction and repentance.

The point shouldn’t be missed how Peter’s courage to preach such a bold message was in stark contrast to his cowardice during the passion when he denied knowing Jesus, and the restoration process that followed on the beach, “Peter, do you love me…” Yet more evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead. Peter wouldn’t be preaching like this for a lie, and certainly wouldn’t be risking his neck after a history of saving it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Acts 2 in three parts

I chapter 2 in three parts.

First, the disciples at Pentecost still awaiting fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to fill them with His Holy Spirit, his very presence which he promised them would be with them till the end of the world! Earlier, he’d said something like this, “It’s good if I go, for if I go then I will send the comforter the counselor, the One who will remind you of everything I have taught you, the One who will empower you to do what I did and even greater things than these.” (that’s a composite paraphrase of the things that come to mind that Jesus said one time or another about the promise of the Holy Spirit; I may look them all up later and study each verse separately).

Pretty amazing promise, and if I was a disciple, I’d be pretty excited about it, especially after watching the things he did; heal lepers, blind, deaf, paralytic, cast out demons, raise the dead (Lazurus, et al), and even raise from the dead himself. Calm the seas, empower Peter to walk on water, heal the sliced off ear of the high priest (thanks for the opportunity to demonstrate more of my divine power, Peter), etc., etc. the end of the gospel of John says that if the sky was a parchment and the oceans wells of ink it wouldn’t be enough and there wouldn’t be enough room on earth to hold the volumes of books that would be written…so there’s even more than we know!

And suddenly the place where they were together was filled w/out warning w/ gale force wind…and like wildfire the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks….and no doubt, they knew that Jesus had kept his promise to fill them w/ the Holy Spirit. In fact, before the crowd could make any accusations to the contrary stick, Peter speaks authoritatively, quoting from Joel about God pouring out His Spirit in the last days and the different manifestations that would verify that it was from him; young men and women prophesying, etc.

Second: Peter doesn’t stop w/ explanation of what has happened. He preaches to enlighten the crowd about Jesus; who he was and is, and what they’d done to him. Under conviction, many asked what they should do, and Peter responds succinctly w/ the infamous words, “Repent and turn to God. Be Baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!” And many do, about 3000 of them. Pretty cool altar call!

Finally, body life is described as a generous community of fellowship. Not only did their practices of gathering together frequently, sharing meals and giving to one another according to need meet needs and edify the believers, but also provided a compelling example to the masses, “who liked what they saw and were compelled to join , ‘the way’ Sounds easy. Sounds fun. Sound like something I’d like to be a part of.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

21 Days of Reading the Book of ACTS - and ACTS 1

A friend shared over dinner the other night a desire to be a man of the Word of God, and to do so means regularly ingesting it. The next day I suggested that we form a covenant to do a daily daily reading plan. The day after he suggested ACTS for the next 21 days, beginning today (Nov.3) and ending Thanksgiving. His thought was to be inspired by the actions of the early believers. Would you like in on this? Acts is actually 28 chapters so some days will cover more than one chapter…your discretion how much to read each day.

I’m going to make some notes and probably SOAP (see below) portions of passages and share w/ you. If you are inclined to do the same it would be cool, like a virtual fellowship meeting. You could post your reflections in the comments section of this blog, or not...Just thought I'd invite some interaction...

Here is the introduction to ACTS from The Message:

Because the story of Jesus is so impressive- God among us! God speaking a language we can understand! God acting in ways that heal and help and save us!- there is a danger that we will be impressed but only be impressed. As the spectacular dimensions of this story slowly (or suddenly) dawn upon us, we could easily become enthusiastic spectators, and then let it go at that – become admirers of Jesus, generous with our ooh’s and aah’s and in our better moments inspired to imitate him.

It is Luke’s task to prevent this, to prevent us from becoming mere spectators to Jesus, fans of the Message. Of the original quartet or writers on Jesus, Luke alone continues to tell the story as the apostles and disciples live it into the next generation. The remarkable thing is that it continues to be essentially the same story. Luke continues his narration with hardly a break, a pause perhaps to dip his pen in the inkwell, writing in the same style, using the same vocabulary.

The story of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him. The supernatural does not stop with Jesus. Luke makes it clear that these Christians he wrote about were no more spectators of Jesus than Jesus was a spectator of God- they are in on the action of God, God acting in them, God living in them. Which also means, of course, in us.

Acts 1

The following really stands out to me:

- “After his death, he presented himself alive to them…” what a simple, non-assuming statement, yet so profound! After his death he…..

- People don’t do anything after their death! What kind of man was this?

- “he talked to them about things concerning the Kingdom”

- of course! Kingdom things were the most important things!

- “they ate meals together” Well, if there was any question about Jesus being raised from the dead in his physical body, let this put it to rest. He ate!

Next is his instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them

- “When the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be ABLE to be my witnessed in Jerusalem, Judea and unto the ends of the earth!

o Not until the Holy Spirit comes on you will you have the ABILITY to do the great commission.

o Don’t try in your own strength by human wisdom; dummies!


- they didn’t take matters into their own hands due to impatience. They followed his instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them

o how do we know today when the Holy Spirit has come upon us?

§ Physical signs and manifestations?