Archive for » January, 2014 «

January 20, 2014 – Acts 20

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tied-togetherHave you ever been compelled to do something? For example, are you now compelled to ask Mr. Google what “compelled” means?  Never fear: compelled means to force or oblige someone to do something.  You may be compelled by your parents to stop beating a sibling by the threat of a spankering. You may have been compelled by the law to either slow down or pay a reminder fee.  Perhaps you were compelled by the brownies on the counter to eat their little chewy centers.

Notice that “compelled” is different than “suggested.”  A friend may suggest that you pay for your share of the road-trip gas, but they only compel you when they lock the door and start driving away from the gas station in the middle of nowhere.  A bank may remind you to pay your loan, but they only compel you when they start garnishing your wages or taking stuff from your house.


In Acts 20, Paul is visiting some friends on his way through Greece and Turkey on his way back to Judea.  However, this is different than the other times Paul has visited.  He tells them that this will likely be the last time he sees any of them.  He’s on his way to Jerusalem, and since that is the home turf of Paul’s greatest enemies, he has a strong suspicion that things are going to get a little burnt on his toast.   His friends urge him to go somewhere else, but Paul replies that he is “compelled by the Spirit.”

When Paul says he is compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, the word actually means “tied,” as in “I am tied to the Spirit.”  In other words, I am bound tightly to the Spirit, and wherever He goes, I must go. It’s a little different than “forced,” in that you can force someone to do something or go somewhere; but when you are tied to them, they go only where you go.  It’s a relationship taken to its fulfillment.  Paul does not say he wants to go to Jerusalem, and he’s praying for traveling mercies or a hedge of protection.  He’s saying “the Holy Spirit is going to Jerusalem, and since I’m tied to Him, I guess I’m going, too.”


Are you so tight with the Holy Spirit that you are forced to go where He goes?  Is your relationship with Christ to the point that you no longer say in your prayers “Jesus, please come with me,” but rather “Jesus, wherever you go, I am tied right to you.”  How many times do we pray “please, God, answer my prayer,” as opposed to “please, God, what is your heart?”

We can often get so focused on our goals and plans, that we tend to simply ask God’s blessings on what we want to do.  What a difference it would make to approach God with the attitude of “what are you doing today? Can I be a part of it?”  It’s a privilege to serve Christ; it’s not a service we provide to Him in exchange for something in return.  We are simply servants, pleased to be in the presence of our Master, wherever He might go.

Are you compelled by Christ today?

January 14, 2014 – Genesis 15

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194No question about it, the Bible has many passages that are somewhat difficult to understand. Ridiculous might be a better word. Swallowed by a big fish? Really? Coins in a fish’s mouth? And let’s not forget the ever popular maul-children-with-a-bear. Sometimes it seems like God enjoys using the bizarre to get our attention.

Yet there’s a pot of delicious Lucky Charms at the end of the Rainbow of Confusion. If we do a little bit of digging, these confusing passages not only become less confusatory, they may even be some of the deepest passages in the Bible.


So what’s going on in Genesis 15? Abram and God are hanging out shooting the breeze, and Abram tells God that he wants some little offspring to run around the tent-stead. God tells Abram to get a bunch of animals, cut them half, and put them in a line. Then Abram falls asleep, and a “smoking firepot with a blazing torch” moves between the carcasses. Seems like a ridiculously uninformative response for an omniscient being.

Once again, a little more info reveals the depth of what is going on here. In the ancient world, when a superior party made a treaty with a vasal, they would both take a “self-maledictory oath.” This is like bringing a curse upon yourself if you are unfaithful to the treaty. In this case, it means something like “if i don’t keep my end of the bargain, then may the same thing happened to me as happened to these animals.” Abram and God are making a deal; Abram will keep God’s commands, and God will bless Abram with children and other merriments.


However, Abram already knows that he won’t be able to keep this bargain. His portion of the treaty is to remain faithful to God, and to keep His commands. But Abram already knows that he’s going to fail. He’s revealed himself to be a liar, adulterer, killer, con-man, and who knows what else. Just like all of us, Abram knows that deep down he’s pretty much a despicable scumbag. He basically knows he’s signing his own death warrant.

But this is the beautiful part; God steps in. He passes through the line of carcasses alone, taking Abram’s place. What’s He saying? He’s telling Abram “yes, I know you’re going to break this covenant; but when you do, I’ll make sure the worst of the curse falls on me.” Abram didn’t need to fear; God has it in control.

Jesus fulfilled that promise on the Cross. He took the full brunt of Abram’s (and our) failure. God continues to uphold His end of the deal made with Abram, despite his failure. He was split and tortured for our inability to keep our end of the deal with God. He took our failure and weakness, our sin and selfishness, and took all the pain and curse all on Himself. Is there anything that illustrates God’s grace more?

What ridiculous thing is God doing for you today?

January 11, 2014 – Acts 11

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work-togetherMinistry can be difficult.  Look at poor Peter in today’s reading. He goes out to evangelize, has a eye-opening spiritual experience, witnesses to a completely unreached people group, sees a wonderful revival service, and then gets back home only to have his home church kick him in the spiritual cajones for “eating with uncircumcised men.” What a joyous homecoming. At least he didn’t get stoned.


The problem is that often the challenges to ministry do not come from those outside the church, but from those who are supposed to be on our side. In nearly all surveys of missionary personnel, the number one issue that missionaries deal with is other missionaries.  Many pastors state their biggest difficulty is working with other pastors.  Why is that? The truth is, this should really not be that surprising to us. There are several issues that play into this.

1) We are strongly motivated in ministry because the issues we deal with are eternal. For example, in a business, if somebody rejects your idea, you may lose a promotion or you may lose a client. For those in ministry, it could mean hundreds spend eternity in hell. (That may not be true, but that’s how it feels). In this case, the Jewish leaders believe Peter is defiling himself and throwing the gospel pearl before swine.  Peter justifies his actions by referring to a spiritual experience they all had (the Holy Spirit).

2) Ministry is intensely personal. It encompasses our whole being, our emotions, our thoughts, our actions; everything that makes us “us”. So when somebody challenges that, it can feel like a personal attack.  Notice how Peter responds when the leaders attack him; he simply relates what happened and explains his actions without focusing on defending himself.

3) Our relationship with God is truth, at least for us. In other words, we believe God has spoken to me thusly, therefore this is how God speaks to everyone. It is very difficult to accept that God speaks to people differently, and maybe the ministry that God is calling you too is not the ministry He is calling your fellow workers to. Notice that later on in this chapter, there are some groups of believers that go strictly to the Jews, and some that go to the Greeks (Gentiles). Is it so bad to accept that maybe our passion is not the passion God put into everybody else? It’s surprisingly difficult.


4) Finally, we fear other people’s calling. This is probably the harshest reality, but one that must be addressed. We are all insecure, and those in ministry seem particularly susceptible. We want God to use us, partly because we want to be used, and partly because we want to be recognized for being used. Jack Hayford once said that all pastors struggle with the giftings of those under them; the successful pastors have learned to embrace and celebrate others (especially those under them) in spite of the struggle. In this passage, the “mature” believers, the Jews, have a problem with the idea “new” believers, Gentiles, being called into the family of God. The only answer to that is time; eventually the Church accepted the Gentiles, but it was not an overnight process. We should expect to struggle with this in ministry, but also expect to overcome it.

In short, the struggle of Peter and the Jews in Acts is the same struggle we deal with today. What do we do when God uses others? Can we accept that? Can we encourage and celebrate their gifts and talents? Or will we hold them down and exalt our own ideas about how God should work? Can we work together even when our visions are different?

Are you willing to allow God to use others?