Is anyone paying attention?

Acts 8:5-6  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.

distractedMost people reading this will talk today.  Some more than others.  Some way more than others.  Yes, God has given us words to use and mouths to speak.  We communicate with others throughout our day – sometimes giving instructions and other times being social.   And we all have things that are important to us.  We’ve all got our little soapbox on which we stand, proclaiming our values and our beliefs.  Yes there is much that we say in a day.  But is anyone paying attention?

In Acts 8:6, we learn that Philip proclaimed Christ and performed miracles… and the people paid close attention to what he said.  They were paying attention!  Why is that?  I would say it is because they both saw and heard the power of God working in Philip’s life.  They saw an ordinary man who prayed for people and miraculous things happened.  They heard a regular guy speak with power and clarity and purpose.  Yes they paid attention to what he said.  And what he said was life saving.  It was critical information.  It was meaningful, purposeful, and transformational.

So is anyone paying attention to you?  Are the things that you are saying and doing drawing others to actually listen?  You know, sometimes people get on Facebook and start posting recklessly about something they care about.  Maybe its politics or gun control or values or waffles.  Often what happens is not what they are expecting.  Instead of people paying attention, they hide their posts. (Yes it’s true, it really does happen.)  When we push our ideas on others we sound like a resounding gong. But when we live our lives genuinely by the power of the Holy Spirit, we draw others to him.  So we must step off our platforms that no one is listening to and start living like Philip did.  When we have a message of hope, love, and restoration to bring, people will pay attention.

*Ask yourself today: are the words coming out of my mouth meaningful, purposeful, and transformational? 

God said what?

Acts 7:4-8 4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. 5 He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. 6 God spoke to him in this way: ‘Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’ 8 Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.”

wide-eyed-girlI wonder what this time with the Lord was like for Abraham.  It says that God gave him no inheritance, told him his descendants would spend 400 years in slavery, and then said “time for surgery.”  That doesn’t seem like a very good prayer time to me.  God said what!?  When I go to the Lord in prayer, I am hoping for a word of encouragement, something to help me get through my day with vision and purpose.  But maybe I’ve put that time with the Lord in a box.  Because that’s not what God did for Abraham.  He just spoke the truth.

The truth was good, though! It meant that a man with no children would have many descendants.  It meant that God was going to give him a different inheritance.  It meant that he would be a man marked for God’s purpose – a man in whom God made covenant.  Now that’s a different perspective!  Sometimes we wonder what God is up to or don’t understand what He is trying to tell us.  We try to filter His words with our own outlook and it seems like bad news.  Not Abraham – it brought him hope and joy.

What would happen if we prayed differently?  What if instead of handing God a to-do list, we asked Him what He was up to.  What if instead of remaining focused on today’s issues, we let God speak to us about the bigger picture?  As I prayed today, God spoke to me saying, “I want to open your eyes to the bigger things I have for you.  Like Abraham, I have plans that span beyond what is in your reach and even beyond your lifetime.”  It’s impossible to focus on God’s bigger picture when I refuse to look past the circumstances of today.  But like Abraham, I will choose to receive God’s vision for my life.  I will lay down my own ideas and plans in exchange for His.  For I know that the God who created the universe and holds my future is the One who knows best!

The church’s first whiners

Acts 6:1-4  In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

whinerHere we have it folks: the church’s first whiners. Imagine the situation for a moment.  For years and years families were charged with the honor of taking care of their own relatives.  If there was an orphan, an uncle should step in.  If there was a widow, a niece, a grandson, or a daughter should step in.  It’s just how it was and how it ought to be.  Then came the emergence of the early church.  They started taking care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves.  They took food to widows who needed help.  Then some Greek Jews started complaining.  Isn’t that how it works?  You start doing something good and people want to tell you what’s wrong with the good you are doing.  “Hey, our widows that we are supposed to be taking care of are being left out of your charity program.  No fair!”  (Stomp foot, pout, and threaten to leave the church.)

You know what I love about this story – it’s the response of the leadership in the church.  Now at first glance it seems like maybe servanthood was beneath them.  Maybe they felt too spiritual to hand out food.  It looks like they were too important for such remedial tasks.  No!  That’s not that case at all.  In fact, as you look at their response, you will see that they genuinely cared about the Grecian widows too.  They would love to serve them.  In fact, they would love to do it themselves.  But that wasn’t their calling.  Their calling was to prayer and to preaching the Word.  It had nothing to do with whether or not they were above this work; it had everything to do with staying true to their calling.

I wonder if we have as much success staying true to our calling.  It seems that, like the Grecian Jews, we have people in our lives who want to tell us what we need to do.  They’ve got it all figured out and have no problem telling us how to walk out what God has called us to…  which would be all fine and dandy if they weren’t wrong.  You see, we so easily succumb to things other than God’s plan for our lives.  It might be social pressure or even a well intentioned friend.   It could be bad advice given with good intentions.  So we have to respond like the 12 Apostles did – know what our calling is and stay true to it.  Don’t get distracted by good things that aren’t God things.  Don’t get sidetracked by persistent needs that God hasn’t called you to fix.  Stay true to your calling and let God take care of the rest.

I’ve got a terrible idea! Who wants to join me?

Acts 5:38-39 “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

thumb downI’ve got a great idea!  I swear it will work!  How many times have you heard that one?  I know I have heard it plenty of times.  We all know people with ideas.  Some of them are even good ideas.  But I want ideas that work; I want ones that will last.  Because putting an idea into action is a lot of work and watching it fail is no fun.  Yes, I want to do things that will last.  So how I do I go about that?

Well, In Acts 5, there’s this guy named Gamaliel.  His name reminds me of a classic Queen song… mamma mia, gamaliel, figaro. Ok, maybe that’s not how it goes.  What was a I saying?  Oh yes, Gamaliel.  He had some really good words of wisdom for the religious leaders of the day.  When trying to figure out what to do with Peter and John, he told the leaders that if this was just another hair-brained uprising, it would fail.  But if it was ordained by God, there’s no bother trying to shut it down anyway.

All of which leads me to this conclusion:  I don’t want to participate in man-made hair brained stuff.  I want to participate in God ordained stuff.  We so often worry about whether or not something will succeed.  We wonder if we have what it takes to pull it off.  Maybe we should ask ourselves if what we are doing is from God.  I heard a pastor (Jim Putnam) say recently: “Jesus never promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t overcome your church; He said that the gates of hell wouldn’t overcome HIS church.”   Case in point, what’s His will last but what’s mine probably doesn’t stand a chance.

So today I think I will get myself ready to trash my grand plans and ask Him what His are.  I will throw out my brilliant strategies and adopt His.  Somehow I think it’s just gonna work out better that way!

I just can’t help it!

Acts 4:18-20  18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

excitedI just can’t help it!  There’s certain things you can’t help – loving your kids, kissing a baby’s cheek, eating a piece of chocolate cake set in front of you.  The good things of life draw us in and we can’t help but participate in them. They are so exciting or so cute or so delicious that we feel compelled to be a part of them.  It’s not that we literally can’t help ourselves, it’s just so hard to contain.  It feels impossible!  What is it that you can’t help but doing?

Peter and John, couldn’t help talking about Jesus.  They were so filled up, so overflowing, and so excited about the work of Christ, that they couldn’t contain it.  Even when ordered by the court to zip their lips, they couldn’t… no wouldn’t, do it.  It’s not that they couldn’t, is it?  It’s more that they wouldn’t.  They technically had a choice, but having weighed out all the risks, they made the decision to overflow.  They made the decision to keep talking about Jesus.

It’s a decision that we don’t often make as Christians today.  I think it happens for two reasons.  First, it’s because we aren’t overflowing.  We aren’t so connected and so filled up that it just has to make it’s way out.  We live our lives on empty and when we do grab a hold of Jesus, it’s to consume Him, not share Him.  Second, we are afraid – afraid of what people might think, afraid of getting in trouble, afraid of sounding foolish, afraid of losing friends.  What happened to a faith that we couldn’t help sharing?  What happened to our excitement about a God who has radically changed our lives?  We should start talking about Him to others.  We should return to, “I just can’t help it!”

How to get refreshed

Acts 3:19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord

refreshedThere’s nothing like a swimming pool on a hot summer day.  It’s so refreshing!  We all love times of refreshing don’t we?  It might be a getaway with a loved one or some time at the spa.  It’s so essential to unwind, relax, and be refreshed.  That’s why we look to so many places to refresh us.  We are looking for the secret to relaxation, the key to refreshing.  I think I just found it.

Repent.  Wait, what?  Say that again.  Yes, I said “repent.”  In Acts 3:19, Peter lists refreshing as a result of repentance.  Now when I think about repentance, I assume that the result will be the first thing Peter said – that my sins will be wiped out.  That’s good enough news by itself.  I mean, who doesn’t want their sins wiped out?  I don’t talk to many people who say, “I really like the gross feeling of sin in my life. I think I’ll just hang on to it.”  No, people don’t usually say that.  But we don’t repent either.   We try to suppress the sin, but we don’t confess it.  We try to exercise our willpower over it rather that hold on to His power to overcome it.  So I need to repent if I want my sins wiped out.  I have got to repent if I want to lose the gross feeling.  I must repent if I want the enemy to lose his power in my life.

Oh yes, we were talking about refreshing.  Peter said that if you repent, times of refreshing will come to you from the Lord.  Maybe that’s because repentance brings us into right standing with Him.  And right standing allows us into His glorious presence. Maybe it’s because God honors the humble and contrite heart and brings His healing presence to our every need.  Or possibly it’s because God loves His children.  Whatever the case, repentance brings refreshing.  It brings peace and joy, turns mourning into dancing, and welcomes the Father’s embrace.  Yeah, I guess that sounds pretty refreshing.  We should all try it today.  Ask God what you have in your life that you need to turn from.  Then repent… and enjoy the refreshing that only He can bring.

Dense

Acts 3:11-12  While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

denseOh, Peter.  You gotta love that guy.  I mean who opens a sermon like this?  If I were to put it into today’s terms, it would sound something like: “Really?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Do you really think I somehow magically made this guy walk or something?  Geesh, you people are dense!”   Now that’s a way to win over a crowd.  Only a guy like Peter could get away with that opening line.  His exasperation at the people’s astonishment was downright funny.  Imagine being frustrated that people just can’t seem to grasp the concept that you aren’t a healer.  Think of how annoyed Peter was that they couldn’t just accept Christ already.

He goes on and it just get better.  “You morons tried killing the author of life.  Hello… did you hear that?  You killed the ‘author’ of life.  It didn’t work either.  Because the author of life doesn’t stay dead very well.  (sigh)  Okay, I know that you are just ignorant, but here’s the deal – would you just repent and accept the fact that Jesus is the only way?  He’s the one who healed this guy, not me.  So turn to Him and save yourselves from, well… you.”  That’s pretty much what he said.  I’m not making this up, read it for yourself.

What happens next is that thousands of people get saved, right?  No, actually what happens next is Peter gets arrested.  Not for a bad sermon, it’s just that he ticked off some dense religious people.  And it was in that arrest that the power of God showed up.  It was in that circumstance that the believers began to pray and saw the miraculous released.  It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit filled them all and changed their lives forever.  All because a frustrated, Holy Spirit filled man opened his mouth to talk to dense people. 

You know, we so often think that sharing our faith is a waste of time.  We think it will fall on deaf ears or that we will be ridiculed.  We aren’t sure that we will say the right words or that we will possibly offend someone.  Peter didn’t think about those things.  He just talked to the people who didn’t get it.  He opened his mouth and what came out sounded like Peter with some Holy Spirit mixed in.  What would happen if you opened your mouth? Maybe it would sound like you with some Holy Spirit mixed in too.  Maybe the words you say will change the course of someone’s life.  Maybe like Peter, you aren’t eloquent or polished in your ability to share the gospel.  However, that shouldn’t stop you.  It didn’t stop Peter, who by the way, was a little dense himself.