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Posts Tagged ‘God’

Verse 24: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the summer of 1980, a young man went abroad to Europe and to England as part of a 100 piece student ambassador orchestra. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and he thoroughly enjoyed the 3 week trip. However, the route home had some bumps in it; you see, that was about the time that the air traffic controllers union in the United States went on strike. This impacted air travel all across America, and for connecting flights coming to America. The student orchestra’s plane was delayed 8 hours returning from Europe. While in the skies over the Atlantic, he heard rumors of what flights were still on, and which ones were cancelled. He was nervous, because this trip had been his first time flying ever! Arriving back in New York, he and his travelling companions found their return flight to Atlanta cancelled, but made it on standby at a rival carrier. All the while, the young man prayed that they could make it back to the South, because he knew his parents could come get him, if he was stuck in Atlanta. To add to this drama, he literally had to race across Atlanta airport; he arrived within 5 minutes of his connecting flight being on-time to leave to Birmingham! Never was anyone so glad to finish this race to get home as this young man.

Well, that’s the best earthly analogy I can think of when reading Paul’s words here. The apostle is talking to the Ephesian church elders, possibly for last time, and is giving them instruction and teaching. Though the Holy Spirit has told Paul in stop after stop along his missionary journey that he will suffer earthly conflict and inflictions, Paul still strives in his mission to the Lord. He wants to be a good finisher in God’s eyes, striving to minister in Jesus’s name, even up to the point of death. Now, that’s commitment!

Fellow Christian, strive to finish strong today in your race for God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verses 37-40: “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.””

I heard the story told of an elderly Christian woman who lived alone. She didn’t have much money; she lived humbly. Every day she would go out on her front porch and thank God for what she had, thank Him for His provision, and give her prayer requests to Him. This annoyed her next-door neighbor, an atheist, who always vocally jeered her prayers and her faith. One day, the atheist sought to “teach a lesson” to the old Christian lady. He overheard her asking God for food to eat for the week, so the atheist went to the grocery store, bought 2 big sacks’ worth of groceries, hurried home, and placed them at her front door on the porch. Then he hid in the bushes and waited. Sure enough, when she opened the door and saw the groceries, she raised her hands and thanked God. Jumping out from his hiding place, he shouted, “Aha, old woman! Your God didn’t provide those groceries; I bought them myself and delivered them. What do you say to that?” Once the old woman realized what the atheist had said, she smiled, raised her hands to Heaven and said, “Thank you Lord! Not only did you provide me the groceries, you had the devil deliver them to me, as well!”

God is in control. The city clerk of Ephesus, probably a high-ranking official in the city, finally calmed down the crowd. He matter-of-factly informed them that Paul and his fellow Christians had broken no laws; if they had, take them to court! That’s what the courts and proconsuls do! He further warned the crowd that if they wanted to pursue any charges or inquiry against Paul, do so in the legal assembly. Why? Because the near-riot was sure to attract the attention of the Roman Empire for violating Roman law! (And the city of Ephesus didn’t want that kind of attention!) At which point, everyone went home.

Two things jump out at me here; the city clerk probably wasn’t defending Paul and the Christians; he just wanted civil order to be restored. Also, it proves again that God can work for good in all situations. The unlikely hero here was an administrative official. The world might say, “coincidence”. I like to say “God-incidence”!

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verse 15: “And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus, I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?””

In the movie Doctor Strange, we find this dialogue when Strange is learning the mystic arts (Wong and Baron Mordo are already accomplished masters helping in his training):

[Strange is experimenting with time manipulation using the Eye of Agamotto]
Karl Mordo: [bursting in] No! Tampering with continuum probability is forbidden!
Dr. Strange: I was just doing exactly what it said in the book!
Wong: And what did the book say about the dangers of performing that ritual?
Dr. Strange: I… don’t know, I hadn’t gotten to that part yet.
Mordo: Temporal manipulations can create branches in time. Unstable dimensional openings, spatial paradoxes, time loops! You want to get stuck experiencing the same moment over and over again forever, or never having existed at all?!
Dr. Strange: …They really should put the warnings before this stuff.

The preceding quotes can be found at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Doctor_Strange_(film)

It never fails: trying to tamper with forces beyond man’s ability most always leads to disastrous results (or in Dr. Strange’s case, almost does!) Here, Strange was experimenting with magic spells that he didn’t fully grasp the consequences of. In today’s Scripture passage, verse 11 states that “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul,”. Even items of clothing that had touched Paul’s body were being used to heal the sick. The current Jewish exorcists and other magicians of the day figured, “hey, let’s try to cash in on this Jesus in our work!” Would that they had had Han Solo there to quote his famous line: “I got a bad feeling about this!”

So when these exorcists tried to simply use Jesus name to remove an evil spirit, the spirit responds with verse 15. The demon knew Jesus, and knew of Paul, but he lets these would-be magicians find out that they didn’t know what they were doing. They were trying to literally use Jesus’s name like a magic word. It’s through faith in Jesus, that all-saving faith, that Paul could do these miracles. Jesus wasn’t a magic wand; He is the Messiah, the Savior, God the Son! These exorcists found out the hard way that you don’t call on Jesus’s name flippantly. This particular section ends appropriately with verse 20: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed”.

I wish that people today who call Jesus’s name flippantly would learn from this passage.

Something to think about.

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Verse 32: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on the matter.””

Between high school and moving out on my own, I lived with my grandmother; this allowed me to stay “at home”, and at the same time, gave me some “freedom”, since I was in college. I was still living with my grandmother when I got my first job in the Information Technology department of a textile company. I would come home from work that first year of employment, and my grandmother would ask, “How was your day?” “Oh, it was fine.” “Good! So…what did you do?” Now, my grandmother was not technical in any sense; she was one of those people that couldn’t program the clock on her VCR. At first, I was in a quandary; how do I explain to my grandmother that I dealt with mainframe jobs, using procedure modules, COBOL code, and job control language (JCL)? Well, I resorted to what I like to use in such cases: analogies. My grandmother was one of the best cooks in the world, and she knew recipes! Therefore, I described what I did in a way that sounded like I was following a recipe and cooking in the kitchen. She understood perfectly.

We find Paul here with the rare opportunity to speak to the men of Athens at the Areopagus. He wanted to make the most of this chance to witness to these people, but this was not his usual audience. He had to reach them in a way that would hold their attention. I marvel at how he seized on their very idol worship, to explain that the unknown god whom he saw an altar set up for, was the One he spoke of. He then proceeded to explain the Good News in a manner that focused on God as the Creator and eventually led to the saving grace of Jesus. Paul had to explain this to them in a manner that they could understand.

Some did understand Paul; others mocked him. Still others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” According to some text I’ve read in my Holman commentaries, this merely indicated curiosity, or even polite acknowledgment. While Paul’s stay in Athens didn’t result in a crusade-like coming to salvation, there were those who did hear and believe, such as Damaris and Dionysius. Remember, even if you tell masses of people about Jesus Christ, don’t be discouraged if the number of responses don’t tally up to what we think is successful. To the Lord, every soul is precious, and all need to hear the Good News!

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verse 9: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.””

I had a good friend who was a pastor of a local Baptist church. This pastor was invited by another church, out of state, to come be their pastor. My good friend, who was a true man of God, prayed about it, and he asked me and several others to pray for him as well, for he wasn’t certain which way God was leading him. I told him I would pray for him. On the day that he and his wife were to travel and meet with this other church, I managed to get him a letter I had composed; I wanted him to read this letter on the road. In the letter, I told my friend how much I appreciated him as a pastor and as my friend. I also encouraged him that, no matter which way God led, he needed to follow the Lord’s will for his life. I knew my friend wanted to be in God’s will above all else. I told him I wouldn’t pray for him to be out of God’s will, but to know His will, beyond all matter of doubt. To end the letter, however, I did ask my good friend what side of the road he wanted me to put the “burning bushes” on, so he would take that as a sign to stay! Now, I meant that humorously, and I knew my pastor friend would take it humorously as well…the “burning bush” being the sign that God showed Moses, to demonstrate His power and His authority, and so that Moses would know it was indeed the Lord talking to him.

Paul and Silas were in the midst of the second missionary journey. They had intended to go to certain areas, but as the Scripture passage records, the Holy Spirit prevented them from going to certain areas. Then Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia imploring him to come there. Again, it is God guiding Paul, directing his paths, keeping him from going certain ways and supernaturally guiding him to where He wanted him. Paul was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading: the Bible doesn’t say how the Spirit prevented him…maybe it was another vision, maybe it was what we might call a circumstance that was God-ordained to detour Paul (I’ve heard those called “God-incidences”). Whatever form they took, Paul knew that God was giving him the signs of where He wanted him.

Like I kidded with my friend above, you need to be on the lookout for the signs God puts in your path to guide you. It might not be signs during a physical journey, but a direction in your spiritual path that God wants you to take heed of. We “follow the map” through prayer, through Bible study, and through seeking God’s direction daily in our lives. If you do these things, it becomes easy for God to send us those signs. We won’t be like the poor clueless folks in Bill Engvall’s comedy routine, “Here’s your sign!”

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verses 37-41: “Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

One of the shows my family used to watch on Friday nights was The Dukes of Hazzard. It centered around cousins Bo and Luke Duke, their cousin Daisy, and their Uncle Jesse, living in fictitious Hazzard County in Georgia, spending most of their days foiling the comical plans of the corrupt county commissioner, J.D. “Boss” Hogg, and the bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. In most all these plots, Bo and Luke were inseparable, having each other’s back while roaring around the county in their custom car, the General Lee. There was one 1980 episode, though, “Carnival of Thrills”, where Bo and Luke disagreed about Bo helping out a lady who ran a stunt show. She was trying to seduce Bo, and the rest of the family suspected foul play was afoot, since accidents had been dogging the show (it was in dire financial straits). Bo and Luke actually came to blows, fighting about who was right. For the first time since the Civil War, Duke was fighting Duke. In the end, Luke and the family saved Bo from another act of sabotage by the main culprit, Bo reconciled with the family, and Luke even helped Bo perform the stunt to save the show.

Would that all disagreements be easily resolved in the timespan of a TV show episode. You see, with the Jerusalem convention over, Paul and Barnabas decided to set out and visit the churches and to encourage them. Just one sticking point though: Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark, and Paul didn’t want to take along the one who had deserted them in their first missionary journey. Luke doesn’t go into detail, but states that the contention was so extreme between the two on this issue, that they agreed to part ways: Barnabas and John Mark would form one team, with Paul taking Silas for the other team. It seems ironic that a division threatened the early church and was resolved, yet these two partners in mission separated because of another division. However, God can work in all things for His good; from all sources I have read, maybe He intended that there be 2 teams to hit the evangelistic trail, and not just one.

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verse 29: “that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these you will do well. Farewell.”

In the movie Captain America: Civil War, Captain America (Steve Rogers) is wrangling with the decision being forced on his team, the Avengers, about accepting oversight from a governing body. Iron Man (Tony Stark) and several others are for it, but Cap and several others feel it will take away freedom to act if there is a need to. While debating this, Steve’s WWII love interest, Peggy Carter, has passed away (she had aged normally while Cap was in suspended animation). Upon attending her funeral as a pallbearer, the eulogy is given by his apartment neighbor, Sharon Carter, whom Steve discovers was really Peggy’s niece! In the words of her eulogy, including advice from Peggy, Steve decides which side he’ll stand on. Sharon stated the following eulogy (copied from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Captain_America:_Civil_War#Sharon_Carter/Agent_13)

Sharon: “Margaret Carter was known to most as the founder of SHIELD, but I just know her as Aunt Peggy. She had a photograph in her office: Aunt Peggy standing next to JFK. As a kid that was pretty cool, but it was a lot to live up to, which is why I never told anyone we were related. I asked her once how she managed to master diplomacy and espionage at a time when no one wanted to see a woman succeed at either. And she said, “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move’.”

Compromise and hold firm. The convention was ending with a decision by James and the elders to offer some guidance to the new Gentile converts. The “hold firm” part was the fact that salvation was for both Jew and Gentile; that was not going to change. The “compromise” part was probably a bit of what I would modernly call “discipleship training”. My copy of Holman’s New Testament Commentary on Acts, page 251, summed it up thusly: “We might parallel this to rules in the student handbook at a Christian college.” The Gentiles had formerly worshipped in pagan temples using pagan practices. James and the elders wrote them a letter to outline a few points of things to avoid that would offend Jews, and thus help pave the way for joint worship (they also used the letter to encourage the new converts). Again, quoting from page 251: “Perhaps it would be useful to sum up these four regulations in our modern understanding: no idolatry, no immorality, no murder, and not eating meat offered to idols.”

By sending the letter with Jerusalem representatives Judas and Silas to encourage and to continue teaching, the convention was all but finished with what could have been a very divisive issue. When God is in charge and Christians turn to God for guidance, all the issues, big or small, get taken care of.

Just a little more to come!

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