Saturday, July 30, 2016

Talk amongst yourselves.....If God knew, then why?

In the last couple of months, both of my kids have asked me variations on this question at completely different times and completely independent of the other knowing about it.  Basically, the question goes something like this. 

"Dad, if God knew that Adam and Eve/humans were going to choose sin and all this evil was going to happen in the world, why did he still choose to make them?" or "Why didn't he stop it from happening the way it did in the garden?" 

I gave responses and part of my responses included that we have to acknowledge that some of these questions are not things that we have answers to right now.  However, I did try to give some thoughts to them.  I am curious what your thoughts are....I will probably throw my answers in toward the end, but you know the drill.  Please participate on facebook in the comments section of the link and I will transfer all answers back to the blog when we are done talking about it.  Hoping for some good interaction. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Romans 1-4 Intro to God and Salvation Stuff

First, some external things to consider about Romans.  It is the one place that we know for certain, Paul had not visited yet at the time he wrote the letter(Colossians may also be an example.  We are not sure.).  This may be one of the reason for one of the defining characteristics of Romans.  Unlike the other letters, it does not really spend much time on specific issues going on within the church, but it is known instead to be a very thorough explanation of many of the foundational truths regarding our Christian faith.  Because of this, it also serves as a great introduction to the later material in the New Testament.

Paul seems to lay out well what he perceives to be his mission in verses 4,5, and 6 of chapter 1.

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ

We will return to that at the end of these posts.  Romans 1 proceeds to point out the sad story of humanity and how it refuses to acknowledge God as the one true God.  There is, of course, the well known statements regarding homosexuality in chapter 1.  I'm not going to camp out here except to point out an interesting thing that I noticed.  In verse 24, notice the word therefore, and in verse 26 the phrase for this reason, and in verse 28 and since they did not.  These words and phrases tell us that it was because they refused to acknowledge God as God that these things came upon them.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

My point in pointing this out is not to single out these individual people, but it is rather to point out that it seems to me that when we uncouple from the most basic linchpin of reality, other extremely fundamental linchpins will inevitably follow such as who we are designed by God to be attracted to and, as is increasingly seen in our culture, the very idea of there being self evident identity attached to gender. It is as though a tether has snapped and we are adrift. Certainly, the ongoing reality that we are all too familiar with deserves a post of its own, but today is not that day.

In chapter 2, Paul goes on to zig when you thought he might zag.  Just as he points out the tragedy of unrepentant, fallen humanity, he points to self-righteous judges.  The key I believe in understanding this and many of Paul's switches back and forth is to anticipate what people are thinking as they read his letter.  For instance, you can hear religious leaders cheering him on as his reaches his crescendo in chapter 1 and then he silences them (and everyone) in chapter 2.  The crucial point here to me is that it is incredibly easy to be deluded into thinking that just because you have some profound insights into morality, spirituality, and God that you are officially in some "other" category from the masses.  Knowing and living it out are two very different things.  Paul makes it clear that we are ALL in the category of chapter 1. This is the first distinction Paul makes. Those who know compared with those who do, even in some cases when they have limited knowledge.  So what good is it to "know"?  Oh, says Paul, it makes a big difference, BUT, at the end of the day...

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 As Paul progresses in chapter 3, he makes it clear that even people who are genuinely trying to do good and right will never be good enough or right enough in and of themselves because we are all at our core fallen, corrupted, and rebels.  However, there is a way to be made right with God.........Paul just needs to take some time here, and it WILL get revisited again later, that the way is NOT BY WORKS OF THE LAW  (works of the law simply refers to earning salvation by being a good enough follower of the law).

Once again in chapter 4, Paul anticipates an objection of someone asking, "Well what about all that stuff with God interacting with Abraham and setting the stage for the whole covenant thing??  Are you just blowing that off?"

It is at this point that Paul masterfully USES the very accounts in scripture to point out that the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures actually is the very thing that points to the righteousness that God provides.  He and other New Testament writers use this technique many times to make it clear that, not only are we not to "blow off" the Old Testament, but it is the very place we can often find the greatest clarity and be awe struck by the genius nature of the God of the universe's plan to save whosoever will.

More to come...

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Revisiting the Why

I feel the need to express what the main reasons are that I write this blog.

First, allow me to voice what I believe can be some understandably wrong ideas about what I am trying to do or why I am writing it. 

I do not want to give people the impression that I am not struggling with my own issues.  There are many things that I discuss on this blog specifically because writing about them helps me to think more carefully and clearly about stuff that I am struggling with.  When I state what I am in the process of learning from Scriptures or life in general, it is not intended to give an impression of great scholarly study (have you read my blog), but it is to show that even a truck driver can access deep and powerful truths within the Bible and by the help of the Holy Spirit throughout every day life.  Therefore, if I, the truck driver, can access these insights, anyone can.  Or...more specifically, you can. 

Also, understand this, I struggle with sin. I have shared some personal info about this, and I have been working through how to share a bit more of my personal story, but I just want to make it clear that another conclusion that should not be reached because of my uber willingness to focus almost exclusively on spiritual and Scriptural topics is that I am therefore implying that I do not struggle with sin.  This entire post makes me uncomfortable because of the degree to which the word "I" has been used.  It is not my intention to craft this blog as a voice for only my insights but I also want to spotlight others including the thoughts of any who frequent the blog. I have, however, felt a push to give my thoughts some context.  That context will be a few posts that are forthcoming regarding the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful about my life up until this point.  In these posts, I will spend some time exploring my past, important people in my life, and my present.  I bring this up now to say that if you are under the impression that I am seeking to point to myself as someone who is "holier than thou" and a faker, you are free to hold to that opinion but please know that I know who I am, and a crucial part of who I am is who I was.  God is unbelievably gracious in dealing with my failings now, but what really blows me away is how gracious He is at not bringing up my past nose dives.  That being said, one of the biggest things that sobers me up when I am feeling a bit "holier than whomever" is a short remembrance of who I am when I am not even trying to follow Christ.  I promise you it ain't pretty.  Just know that I know how profoundly screwed up I was, and I also know that I am still struggling with sin.  Just because I don't make this blog into a full on national enquirer expose on "Dennis--What Crap did he do and What Crap is he doing even now!",  doesn't mean I am not aware of that.  This is not Jerry Springer; I ain't Catholic, and you are not my priest. 

OK, enough of that. 

Why am I writing this?

1. It helps me to sort through my thoughts more carefully and clearly when I sit down and actually write about it.  Writing about it officially puts it "out there" for all to see and therefore, writing about it is a way to push my self to think more carefully and express my thoughts more concisely.  This helps me when I am later talking about some things because I already have my mental ducks in a least, on a few things.  :)

2.  I want to give some of these posts as a gift to my kids.  It will be sort of like a snap shot of how I saw the world at the time when I was writing the given post, and by the time they are old enough to care, it will be a snap shot from quite some time ago.  (I did my first blog post two months before Ella was born.)  I am hoping it will give them something concrete to consider as they themselves are sorting through some of these same issues.

3.  I want those closest to me to have a way to know my thoughts.  Myndall is the primary person in this category, but I/we have also been blessed with an incredibly large number of family that we are close to and an amazing array of friends who I cannot and would not want to imagine living life without.  However, life is insanity and slow, meaningful chats over a cup of coffee happens far too infrequently for any of us(including Myndall and I).  Therefore, this is a way to have a more continuous meaningful conversation in spite of the insanity.  I will still probably be drinking coffee.  You may imbibe the beverage of your choice.  :)

That's pretty much it. 

Smooches and sunshine

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Caring More, Carrying More

Been thinking lately about love, caring, and what it truly is.  We all know some of the distinctions.  I love hot dogs, my dogs, my kids, and my wife.  Yet each "love" mentioned is a very different concept than the other "love" mentioned in that sentence.  Thankfully.  :)

However, I am going to go ahead and assume that these differences are already grasped by the vast majority of my audience and will thus move on to some other thoughts. 

Would you say that true love is sacrifice?  Would you say that true love gives?  Me too....but....,
I have recently come across some scripture that has challenged me even in this.  Sort of.

First Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the love chapter in the Bible.  Paul transitions into this chapter at the end of chapter 12 by saying, "...And I will show you a still more excellent way."  Jesus uses the concepts of "loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength," and "loving your neighbour as yourself" as ways to encapsulate "all the law and the prophets" or that there thing we call the entire Old Testament basically!  We had better be sure we seek to clearly understand what was being spoken of if this idea can carry that kind of all encompassing expression.

What got the most recent bout of deeper thinking about this is found in verse 3 of I Corinthians 13.

"If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."


The love in the Bible is not a love that is ever accurately represented by a single act.  This may indeed be a final act that expresses with amazing force the love that captured the heart of the one who gave it all away, but love is about living "a more excellent way."  I have struggled with trying to teach my kids what a short definition of the word repentance is, but I finally settled on "turning from living a self-centered life to a life that is Jesus centered."  This is connected to this strange verse within first Corinthians also.  We are being called to LIVE more excellently. 

I think that what Paul is referring to in verse 3 is that even something like giving away all your possessions or your life can represent an act that is at its core devoid of love because it can represent an act that was sort of a method to "buy your way into heaven."  If this sound improbable or extreme, that is only because you have been hanging out with us Western softies for far too long.  If you will look carefully around the world, you will see within Islam, Hinduism, and other various religious cultures, people engaging in horrific acts either toward themselves or those around them for the very reason of attaining entrance into heaven/paradise/moksha or whatever.  In other words, it is still at its core still very much works based salvation which is not salvation at all. 

OK, so what is love according to the Bible...the kind that Paul speaks of and that Jesus points to as representation of the entire law and prophets?

Here are some thoughts, but I confess they are almost certainly not exhaustive about the topic.

Love is a transforming power within us that is transforming us from the inside out.
Love has at its core an awareness of being loved in a way that breaks us and sets us free to cry out in joy and thankfulness.
Love pushes us to care about others.  (this is a major point I will come back to)
Love is pretty much the kryptonite to self-centered living.  The two will not live indefinitely within the same heart. Eventually, one will win out over the other.
Love is patient, kind, not arrogant, rude, does not envy, is not resentful. 
Love is a way of recognizing both where your walk with God is, and where it needs to go.

Now to come full circle back to the title of this here rambling little post, I will toss out a couple of thoughts.  Love is never, ever, ever to be a means by which we seek to GAIN the love and salvation from our Father.  However, if we truly place our faith in the salvation accomplished by Jesus for us on the cross, love(as described above) should be an expected outflow of that faith.  I got four simple steps to finish out. 

1.  If you have not already repented(see above definition) and trusted in Jesus to save you, pray now and do so.

2.  Read and study the Bible prayerfully for yourself to see if I am representing this correctly. 

3.  If you find yourself either now or in the future not possessing the fruit of love I have described within this post, simply admit that to God and cry out to Him to change your heart and your life.  DO NOT seek to pretend to be something that you are not.....but also....DO NOT think that just because you have fallen short of the goal, you are somehow alone.  I can assure you, if no one else will acknowledge such failings, I most certainly will.

4.  As you continue to learn and be taught. LIVE AND BE TRAINED.  The difference between teaching and training is simple.  Teaching is head knowledge.  Training is hands on learning.  One simple example of taking the head knowledge and allowing God to morph it into a part of who you are is caring more.

 Self-centered Dennis-- cannot take even one more burden onto himself.  He's got his hands full.  You got your problems.  I got mine, and good luck with that.

Jesus-centered Dennis--still doesn't always get the warm fuzzies about caring about you and your troubles but I start taking your burdens onto myself by trying to pray for you.  I feel the emotional weight of your problems and I cry out to God for you.  Perhaps I am even able to give you some material support or help in some other way.  Caring more = carrying more! 

Was I wrong to think that I cannot take even one more burden onto myself?  Nope.  But when I choose to do it anyway, God gives me the capacity to carry it.  Think of what this accomplishes! 

It pushes me away from self-centeredness, it forces me to be dependant on God, it improves my relationships with people whom I pray for because they become much more three dimensional to me, it helps the person I prayed for and possibly helped in some other way and points them to Christ.  This is just one example of how we can be transformed as we allow ourselves to be TRAINED and not just TAUGHT by the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. 

And always feel free to revisit #3, I know I do.    :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Acts Part 5 (Chapters 21-28)

The final years of the thirty year narrative of Acts finds its focus on what I refer to as Paul's fourth and final missionary journey.  In Acts 20:16, we see that Paul is seeking to put the pedal to the metal because he desires to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost.  A side note to consider is how the earliest and final chapters of Acts both begin on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem roughly 25 years apart.  I think it is worthwhile to notice and perhaps contrast the differences.  Leaders were the primary persecutors in the early years when Peter first proclaims the gospel, but it is much more of a rejection by the masses by the time Paul proclaims it.

Paul knew what was coming his way.  From an uninformed view, these final chapters seem to detail a sad and tragic ending for Paul.  He is first nearly killed by an angry mob who reject his proclamation.  He is questioned before a corrupt leadership within Jerusalem.  Next, he appears before two corrupt Roman officials and a local king.  Finally, he barely survives a shipwreck to arrive in Rome imprisoned and awaiting his day before Caesar to state his case.  Not spoken of within Acts, but widely accepted as history, is the fact that at some point within the next few years, Paul is executed in Rome. 

The difference between the above version which sounds like the ending to a Greek tragedy, and the insights we are given as we read through chapters 21-28 allow us to see things quite differently.  Paul, as stated earlier, knew something like this would happen.  He even learns in Acts 23:11, years before he leaves, that God intends for him to proclaim his message in Rome.  We see God protecting him and those around him every step of the way.  We see God providing for his needs again and again, sometimes miraculously.  In Acts 20:18-24, Paul states the single greatest thing that transforms the final years of his life.  From the outside Greco-Roman (worldly/unbelieving) world, his ending affirms a sort of sad inevitable tragedy that seems in their minds to undermine the hope he claimed to have.  However, in verse 24, Paul opens up to the leaders of Ephesus and us the key to seeing his final days with clarity.

"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

Also, in the letter(written while he was imprisoned in Rome) to the church of Philippi, Paul writes,

"I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."  Philippians 1:12-14


"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Philippians 1:21

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Acts Part 4 (Chapters 15-20)

The shift of proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles has its first major push back over the issue of circumcision.  A group commonly referred to as the circumcision party, also referred to as Pharisees in chapter 15 verse 5, begins teaching to the gentiles that have embraced Christ through faith that they must be circumcised.  Paul and Barnabas initially argue with them, but it is wisely decided to resolve the dispute by travelling to Jerusalem and holding what becomes known as the Jerusalem Council.  The decision in Jerusalem by a meeting of the elder leaders of authority, including James the brother of Jesus and Peter, is found in verse 9, "...having cleansed their hearts by faith," and verse 11, "...we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."

The leaders from Jerusalem send out a list of four things to abstain from, and there is a reference to synagogues located in many different ancient cities.  This seems to point to some practical considerations.  We are not bound by the Mosaic covenant, but there are still many things we can and should learn from the old testament to more fully grasp our new covenant.  Paul and Barnabas return with the leaders judgment regarding circumcision.

There is an intense argument that takes place upon their return between Paul and Barnabas about whether to take John Mark with them on a second missionary journey which causes them to part ways with Barnabas and John Mark going to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas going north through Syria and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean into modern day Turkey.  This break causes me mixed feelings because it seems so tragic for such great friends and men of God to be divided by passionate disagreement, but in a strange way, it comforts me to know that they are just humans like us and that God can obviously use flawed humans in such a powerful way.

Anyhoo, Paul sets off with Silas and soon meets a young man named Timothy who becomes like a son to Paul (we see this in the  letters to Timothy from Paul, first and second Timothy, found later in the Bible).  They go off on more missionary journeys revisiting some cities and spreading the gospel to some new locations.  Paul visits and stays in many of the cities he later writes to.  These letters become preserved for our benefit.  We see him in Philippi in Acts 16:12, in Thessalonica in 17:1, and in Galatia, which is an entire region rather than a city, in 16:6.  We see Paul stay in Corinth for over a year and a half in chapter 18.  He visits Ephesus more than once in chapters 18 and 19, and in Acts 20:31, he mentions having spent three years there.  A more exhaustive look at all three of Paul's missionary journeys would no doubt be fruitful, but I am primarily going to simply point out that by the end of the 50's A.D., Paul and others have truly spread the gospel throughout the Roman empire and beyond.  This can be seen not only through the narrative of Acts itself, but by how, in the later chapters, people react in ways that show they are aware of the disciples and Christ and Christians.  Compare the Jewish leaders response to invite Paul to speak in the synagogue in Acts 13:15 to the response Paul gets from Jewish leaders in the Temple in Acts 21:28, "....Men of Israel, help!  This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people(Jews) and the law and this place(Temple)..."

The final push of the gospel's reach "to the ends of the earth" begins with Paul and Barnabas in chapter 13 and is still going on today.  Paul's "final missionary journey" will be with an armed guard and increasingly, his audience will be those with greater and greater authority.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Acts Part 3 (Chapters 10-14)

As mentioned in my previous Acts post, the stage is set by the end of chapter nine for the disciples to move into a full awareness of the scope of God's intentions for the world and how the gospel truly flips everything on its head and begins a new day for humanity.

It starts with God's man praying on a rooftop.  He gets confused and even initially resists God's message to him.  Even as the vision concludes, he is left pondering its meaning.  God then uses external forces to finish making the point He began making on the rooftop.  Visitors arrive and take him away to receive full clarity of what God was intending for him to grasp.  The gospel is to be proclaimed to the gentiles!

As we will see in future chapters, this new development is one of THE primary tensions within the church and becomes a chief tool to bring persecution against the church.  You see the many questions and tensions addressed in many of the  New Testament letters.  The door opening to the gentiles for redemption underlies the circumcision controversy which shows up in the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15.  It also seems, when read closely, to be the primary thing that incited the masses at Paul's arrest in chapter 22.  The development ushers in a whole new wave of issues that had to be sorted through.  The relationship that the Old Covenant under Mosaic law has with the New Covenant under Jesus.  This new development seems to also have drawn a sharper line between those Jews who submit to the New Covenant and those who would not. 

A new center of gentile Christianity emerges in Antioch(present day Syria).  Paul and Barnabas seem tasked with being among its leadership.  A prophet named Agabus announces that there will soon be a famine, and a collection is taken up by the gentile church and taken by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem for the relief from the coming famine.  Around this same time, there is a new wave of persecution that is launched by Herod that takes the life of James the brother of John and leads to the imprisonment of Peter.  Peter is miraculously rescued from execution by an angel and briefly visits the mother of John Mark to make it known to the Jerusalem church before fleeing from Herod.  Paul and Barnabas then return to Antioch after fulfilling their delivery.  They take the young John Mark with them back to Antioch. 

Chapters 13 and 14 tell of the first missionary journey of Paul around the Mediterranean world to both Jews and gentiles.  Barnabas is Paul's companion for this first trek, and John Mark accompanies them for the initial leg of their trip.  An interesting thing to contrast is how they are welcomed and even given a place to speak in many synagogues.  You will notice this becoming an increasingly rare thing as more and more Jews harden their conviction either for or against the gospel throughout the Roman empire. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Acts Part 2 (Chapters 5-9)

At first glance, the jaw dropping evidence of the profound mercy of God that I spoke of in the last post seems to be undermined with the story of Ananias and Saphira, they are clearly struck down by the power of God.  Just stick with me through this post, I will show how it not only does not undercut my claim but establishes it.

We also see Stephen introduced, hear his passionate narrative of Israel's history as he defends his belief that Jesus is the Christ, and witness his execution and amazing final moments and words.  We will start with this and come back to chapter five in a few paragraphs.

A man named Chuck Missler help me to see the pattern within Stephen's speech that I had never noticed before.  It is more than a recounting of Israel's history.  It is a specific focus on a pattern that reemerges.  God promises.  God prophecies.  God's prophecies are fulfilled and their deliverer emerges specifically because the people initially reject this deliverer sent by God. 

1. God prophecies that Abraham's people will sojourn within a foreign land for 400 years.  Joseph's brothers betray him and sell him into slavery.  This choice on their part ends up being the very thing that places Joseph in the position to have power and deliver his people. Joseph's betrayal by his brothers was known ahead of time by God and is the very thing that fulfils the prophecy. This does not relieve them of responsibility, but it shows the power of God. 

2. God prophecies that he will deliver Israel from Egypt.  Israel not only initially rejects Moses as their deliverer but continue to reject God and Moses within the wilderness, but of course, the people now know that Moses was God's deliverer.  Once again, the very rejection of Moses in the beginning was what God used to send Moses into the wilderness to prepare him to lead the people through the wilderness.

Point 1--This pattern which is shown here and which Stephen alludes to as reappearing in the lives of the prophets is the pattern of God's ultimate deliverer, Jesus.  Jesus's life falls precisely within the pattern of all or most of Israel's great deliverers.  Coicindence???

Another truth that Stephen brings out of their scriptures (Old Testament) is about the tabernacle and the temple.  God initially gives the pattern for the tabernacle, and it is built and brought in by the people of God into the promised land.  As foundational as this tent is, it is eventually replaced by the temple which is basically a much more permanent and grand version of the tabernacle.  The point that Stephen focuses in on is a quote by Solomon that God is too big to actually dwell within a temple made by man's hands.  The idea is that the temple itself is by Solomon's own admission a very limited thing in accomplishing the service and worship of God. 

Point 2--Jesus not only fulfils the pattern of Israel's deliverer, but He fulfils the purposes of the temple better than the temple itself does in regards to redemption and intercession before God.

As I stated earlier, Stephen is violently rejected and killed, but he provides in his death two great examples to pray for ourselves.  He clearly sees that Jesus is intently aware of his plight, and he mirrors the words of Jesus on the cross in his request for his persecutors to be forgiven of their actions.

The killing of Stephen launches a new, more intense wave of persecution that scatters many within the church.  As we read of Philip in Samaria throughout chapter 8, it is a good idea to revisit the specific names mentioned in Acts 1 of the ever expanding circle of influence that the disciples were called to move.  There are quite honestly some strange aspects to Philip's interactions that I am fascinated by.  Apparently, the people of Samaria were not given the gift of the Holy Spirit until Peter and others came to town in spite of Phillip having proclaimed the gospel to them.  Also, Phillip seems to be led about by God with amazing supernatural power and specificity.  He is led to the Ethiopian eunuch and is providentially placed in his path at the precise moment that he is reading a specific passage in Isaiah prophetic of Jesus.  God led this gentile believer to Christ even before the official breakthrough about the Gentiles that was to come in Acts 10.  Since we know what is coming in the later chapters, it is easy to see also in chapters 8 and 9 that God is setting the stage for mo gentiles, mo gentiles. In the conversion of Saul(Paul) and the positioning of Peter, everything is in place for God to drag the first generation church kicking and screaming into genuinely grasping what Jesus meant in chapter 1 by "....the ends of the earth."  Everything is about to be flipped on its head.

Now, as promised to revisit chapter 5, I would like to point out why I don't believe that the judgment imposed on Ananias and Saphira undermines the notion of God's unfathomable mercy as the foundation for EVERYTHING that takes place in Jesus's life, the book of Acts, and onto today.  Chapters 5-9 begins with the death of these two, proceeds with a faithful man of God killed precisely as he faithfully proclaims the gospel and seeks to persuade and open the eyes of his listeners, continues on with a renewed persecution of the church, sees one of the chief persecutors captured by God's mercy for his causes.  What is the common denominator that winds its way through these events?  Why did God judge Ananias and Saphira?  It was not because they did not give enough.  Read it carefully.  It was because they lied to God.  Even this seems strange, but think it through.  Why did they lie?  They lied to get the benefit of being seen as someone who gives something they did not.  By doing this, they were attaching themselves to the ongoing miracles and transformation being accomplished by God through his disciples.  How much harm has been done by people who gain a position of leadership and honor within the church only to eventually show, their hearts were in NO WAY intent on making Jesus their Lord?  Pedophile priests, sleezy con man televangelists, unfaithful pastors, greedy and unethical leaders....this couple was a forerunner of all of this.  See the way Peter deals with Simeon of Samaria in chapter 8. look at the rest of the violence that God allows to happen not only in chapters 5-9 but throughout the book of Acts.  Why??  There is a common theme.  It is that ANY thing that stands in the way of God's proclamation of mercy is in grave danger.  The internal influence of Ananias and Saphira would have corrupted the church from the inside out.  Historically, this is always the greatest real threat for the church.  The martyr of Stephen and subsequent persecution of the church served to push their influence outward, and the mercy shown to Paul ends up establishing a servant who is used to thrust the gospel out effectively to the larger gentile world.  You will see later that Herod gets a taste of this reality as he seeks to obstruct God.  God's mercy came at and comes at a horrific price.  He intends for us to extend this to our generation.  This is priority number 1.  Don't get in the way of it.  I believe the more we are gripped by this not only in our heads but in our hearts, we will grasp the will of God more clearly and walk with Him more closely.  I pray he will patiently work with my hardened heart to do just this.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Talk amongst yourselves....Luke 22:35-38

First, I want to point you to the scripture that Jesus is referring to that happened earlier in Luke.  This is found in Luke 10:1-20.  Below I have made both texts available in ESV.

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.


13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
16 “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”


17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  Luke 10:1-20


35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”  Luke 22:35-38

I know that regarding the very last verse, the disciples almost certainly believed Jesus was pointing them to a shift that involved the "long awaited" violent warfare that would be involved in bringing  a physical kingdom.  They clearly understood later that this was not the case, but, in fact, it was much bigger than anything they had imagined.  I believe Luke and God left this in there to highlight the shift in understanding when it came later.  Obviously, Jesus already understood this.  The bigger issue for me comes within the first two verses.  What is this referring to?  I have some thoughts.  Some times I choose to share my thoughts in these "amongst yourselves" things, and sometimes, I do not.  I will share my thoughts on this one, but as always, the desire is to lead off with thoughts, observations, questions, and convictions held by those other than's get cracking.

As last time, I will try to carry on the primary conversation on facebook since it lends itself to a more interactive back and forth.  When the conversation ends, I will transfer all comments from facebook to this blog in the comments section for future perusal.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Acts Part 1 (Chapters 1-4)

These represent a few thoughts I have had recently as I have listened to (audio Bible) the book of Acts repeatedly in the past few weeks. 

Chapter 1
If you are unaware, the book of Acts is basically the gospel of Luke part deux.  Luke picks up basically right where he left off.  This is at the end of Jesus' time on Earth post-resurrection.  This post-resurrection time period lasted for 40 days.  The first thing to jump out to me is that the disciples are still somewhat clueless even now regarding the scope of how Jesus has redefined all of life as they know it and are still thinking that maybe now Jesus will re-establish the kingdom in the way they have always dreamed he would.  This ushers in what strikes me as an incredibly crucial point made by Jesus.

 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

He says NOT this BUT that.  Even though, I actually believe that we may very well live in a generation that will see and has seen some fulfilment of signs that point to living in the "end times", this redirection would serve us all well.  I strongly believe that not only the disciples but all who follow Him in this age are called to expect to "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses...."  Note the primary purpose of receiving the power.  Can you honestly say you are walking in power?  I, for one, cannot. He is transforming me, but I don't see the kind of power at work within and through me that is alluded to here.  This admission humbles me, but only the power of God genuinely at work in our lives as Christians has the chance at transforming not only us but our generation before they are called to judgment.

The next thing that jumps out at me is their appointing of a replacement for Judas.  Peter points to a scriptural mandate and limits the options to one who has been with them from the beginning.

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

The only quick point I want to make here is that even at this early stage, the disciples seemed to grasp the importance of guarding the integrity and accuracy of representing who Jesus was, what he had taught, what his work on the cross had accomplished, and, of course, the FACT that they had all seen Him resurrected.  

Chapter 2
Consider the genius providential hand at work to cause the day the Holy Spirit came down to coincide with one of the three original feast days within the Jewish calendar year.  Many, many devout Jews did not live in or even near Jerusalem at this time in history.  They had been scattered all around the Roman empire and beyond by the many conquests that had happened over the last several hundred years.  However, this was one of three weeks of the year that many of those Jews would take it upon themselves to travel into Jerusalem to observe the feast.  Also consider, as we will see later within Acts, that because this phenomenon of scattering the Jews had occurred, there were now synagogues or places of the teaching of the old testament in many of these areas because of this Jewish presence.  This perfectly placed and perfectly timed event is further made amazing because perhaps the key characteristic of the coming of the Holy Spirit was not only power, but specifically, the news of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and Jesus's resurrection was announced in the native tongues of these visiting Jews!  They were brought to the exact right place at the exact right time and told the news in the exact right language even though those who spoke it would not normally have been able to in their own understanding.  The number grew from 120 to 3000 the first day!....They immediately began being consumed with Jesus and their new found family and making sure everyone was taken care of.  Many more were added daily.......anyhoo, that's chapter 2.  :)

3 and 4
I obviously was trying to point out the supernatural intelligence and power of God in bringing about the events of chapter 2.  However, chapters 3 and 4 highlight what may very well be an even more amazing act by God.  Imagine if you would that your child was sent BY YOU to people to warn them and try to save them from a horrible event that was quickly coming their way.  Now imagine that after your child spent years in a far away country living in conditions that were hard and scary, these same people, including the very ones who were your child's closest friends, wrongfully convicted, tortured and killed your child.  This is what happened to God.  He was not caught off guard when it happened.  It was all part of His plan.  But it happened nevertheless, and no one was pulling the strings of the people who killed Jesus except the devil and their own sin. 

Now fast forward to two months later.  These EXACT same people are standing before Peter and John in chapters three and four.  What is God's message for these people?  Wrath?  Judgment? No, NO, NO!  He cries out to them by way of Peter to repent.  He STILL longs to save them!  Here some excerpts from 3 and 4.

Chapter 3
13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus  has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Chapter 4
 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants  to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

As you consider the book of Acts going forward in this and future posts, please, Please, PLEASE keep this one thing in mind.  God continues to pour out opportunities to any and all who will hear and respond again and again and again.  He does this IN SPITE of what they did to Jesus.  He does this in spite of how they beat, imprison, torture, and kill his disciples.  Right to the end, the book of Acts is first and foremost a jaw dropping example of God's mercy.  I am constantly challenged as I compare His ability to pour this out and my desire to constantly mete out "justice".  Again, I am being transformed by His Spirit, but I honestly am humbled and broken as I see the chasm between who He is and who I am.  What is genuinely amazing is that He calls us to become like Him in this respect also.  This I know.  That will only happen, even partially, by His power not mine.