Oh no you di’int!

Acts 16:35-40 35 When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men! ” 36 The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out! ”38 Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town. 40 After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and departed.

no you di'intJesus taught us to turn the other cheek.  What exactly does that mean?  We are to endure persecution and not strike back when someone lashes out at us.  We are to be a people of peace and not stir up conflict.  We are to be lovers not fighters.  But somehow, we have the idea that we are to just lay down and get trampled on; let the world walk all over us.  We should just keep quiet and let injustice happen.  After all, we want to be like Christ.  But is that what he really meant?  Are we supposed to be silent lambs to the slaughter?  I don’t think so.

Paul didn’t think so either.  Here’s how it played out:  Paul and Silas were preaching when some jealous morons made some accusations which led  to public flogging.  Yes, they convinced the officials to strip their clothes off and beat them.  After a good humiliating beating, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail.  After a miraculous night in prison, there comes a surprising order: release them.  Now most of us would be happy that we were let out.  We might turn the other cheek and consider this trial as pure joy.  But Paul… he was ticked.

He said something to the effect of, “Excuse me?  You think you can just get away with beating and imprisoning innocent people?  And now you want us to just leave quietly? Oh no you di’int!  I’m not leaving until you come down here and personally escort us out of here.  While you are at it, you owe us an apology!”  So the officials came and escorted them out and apologized.  With their tails between their legs, they then told Paul he needed to leave town.  Instead he said, “we’re gonna have some church up in here!”  Then after church, he left.

So how do we reconcile this bold stand for justice with turning the other cheek?  I think that Jesus was speaking to humility and love.  Paul was acting out of confidence.  We think for some reason that humility and confidence can’t go together, but they most certainly can.  In fact, they should.  Just because we are called to be people of peace and love doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up for what’s right.  What happened to Paul and Silas was not right, and something needed to be said.  Friends, as Christians we are not called to be doormats.  We are called to be a people who contend for the kingdom of God here on earth.  We need to put our foot down on injustice.  We need to be a voice for what is right.  And there will be times when your cheeks take some slapping, but your aren’t called to lay down and be walked on.

*In what places have you become timid about your faith because you are trying to turn the other cheek or are afraid of getting slapped altogether? 

I don’t agree

Acts 15:36-41  36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

disagreeIt’s nice to agree on things.  Everyone feels good about decisions and we can all start moving in the same direction.  Sometimes people don’t agree.  And because we are good Christian people, we do our best to come to some sort of resolution.  There’s a little give and take and everyone will be happy.  After all, we want unity.  Right?  But what happens when you just can’t agree?  Certainly one of you must be right and the other one wrong.  They just need to see it your way and get on with it.  Or maybe neither one of you is wrong.  You just don’t agree.  How do you reconcile that?  How do you move on and agree to disagree?

We see in Acts 15 that Paul and Barnabas encountered this very issue.  Barnabas wanted to bring his cousin Mark along but Paul didn’t feel good about that.  Paul didn’t want any extra baggage and saw Mark as a potential problem.  Barnabas, however, saw it differently.  Now remember that Barnabas was the very guy who took a chance on Paul.  He had the gift of seeing potential in someone when no one else did.  He must have seen something in Mark, too.  Because later on in Paul’s letters he wrote kind things about Mark.  It appears that he eventually came around and saw that Mark wasn’t so bad after all.  But that is not how he felt on this particular day.  Today, he refused to add Mark to the team.  It wasn’t going to happen.

So what do you do when you have a stand still?  Barnabas wouldn’t budge on adding Mark to the team and Paul wouldn’t budge on not adding him.  This wasn’t a doctrinal issue or even a spiritual one.  It was a practical one.  So they agreed to disagree.  And as they disagreed, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways.  As a result, two young men (Silas and Mark) had an opportunity to step up to the plate and be mentored.  Even though they disagreed, God used the situation to advance His kingdom. 

I guess the takeaway for me today is that sometimes we just aren’t all going to agree.  I strive to have peace in my life both with God and with my relationships.  I don’t want someone mad at me and I don’t want to be mad at them.  I want us to all get along.  I want every situation to be a win-win.  But what I am finding in today’s scripture is that my idealized outcome won’t always happen.  Sometimes we will have to part ways.  Sometimes I won’t agree.  And I’ll have to be okay with that.  God can work with it if my heart is in the right place.

*Do you have places in your life where disagreement is discouraging you?  Give your disagreement to God and ask Him what to do with it. 

Dude. Paul got stoned, too!

Acts 14:19-20 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.  But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

stonesOkay, I know what you are thinking.  Paul got stoned? Yes, but not like that.  He wasn’t out getting high and advocating for legalized marijuana.  He literally got stoned.  Like… with stones.  Do you know what stoning was?  It was when people threw rocks at you until you died.  They probably tied you to a pole or a wall or something and starting hucking big rocks in your general direction.  They rocks would cause enough external and internal injuries that a person would die.  This was a slow and torturous way to go.  It involved constant pain and agony.  And Paul got stoned.

He got stoned because he was preaching the gospel.  He was bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to them and it made them mad.  He messed with their view of God and religion and they didn’t want to listen.  They didn’t want their lives messed with.  So they tried to kill him.  I don’t know about you, but if someone were to try and kill me, I’d probably decide that they aren’t going to receive what I am trying to deliver.  If they are trying to kill me, it’s probably best to move on to someone who doesn’t.  I want to help people who want help.  I want to preach to people who want to hear.  I want to go where I am accepted and welcomed, not rejected and stoned.

But Paul got up and went back.  He went back!  Are you kidding me?  He went back!  These people didn’t want to hear it; they wanted him dead.  Yet he knew that regardless of their response, they needed to hear the truth.  Regardless of the abuse he took – and it was alot – they needed to be rescued.  Impending death didn’t shake him because his mind was set on eternity.  And because his mind was set on eternity, he was desperate to change theirs.

I wonder if I would be willing to go back into the city?  I wonder if the danger would be worth it?  I would have to have God’s heart and perspective.  I would have to see God’s undying and relentless love for a people who are pushing Him away.  I would have to see my life as belonging to Him, for His cause and not my own.  It’s only then that I would be willing to live the uncomfortable.  It’s only then that I might just take a chance on reaching those who reject both Him and me.  But isn’t that who needs to hear it the most?

*What places is God calling you to that you’d prefer not to go? 

Shaking your fist…or foot.

Acts 13:49-52 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

shake fistNowadays when someone is being a jerk, you probably shake your fist.  You do it in disgust, frustration, and a few choice words… either out loud or in your head.  But back in the day, apparently they shook their foot.  They really did.  Well, sort of.  It’s not that they were shaking their foot at them.  Rather they were shaking off even the dirt from the place that mistreated them.  It was something that Jesus had taught them years earlier.  He told them that if they were not received, to shake the dust off their feet and leave.  He also told them to pack up peace and take it with them as they left.

What’s remarkable to me about this passage isn’t the fact that the word of the Lord spread.  It isn’t that they were expelled from the region.  It wasn’t even that they were filled with joy as they left.  Even though the whole shaking your feet thing is quite interesting, it’s not where the power of today’s scripture lies.  The power for me isn’t why they did it; it’s that they did it.  Even after their teacher – their mentor – had left, they were still doing the things he told them to.  Even after much time had gone by, they remembered his instructions and followed them.

It seems like we so often forget the things we learn.  We read our Bible, get hit between the eyes with truth, and say we’ll never be the same.  Then two weeks later we’ve forgotten it.  We go to church and hear a sermon that is certain to transform our lives.  Then a month later we can’t recall what was said.  Why does this happen?  How can we be like the disciples who were still doing what they were taught a long time later?  The key – application.  I’ll be more specific – instant application.  We often take so long to “think about it” or “process the information” that we don’t ever end up doing anything.  If we are going to have change take place in our lives we need to apply what has been taught as soon as possible.  Then we need to keep doing it over and over until it sticks.   That’s what happened to the disciples; they were doing in Acts what they had done so many times with Jesus.  If we would do the same, we might find victory.  We might find peace.  We might even be able to shake our foot, er, fist at the devil. Take that!

*What is something that God has taught you that you haven’t got around to applying yet?  Start applying it today! 

Open the door already!

Acts 12:13-16 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

knockingEvery once in a while, I come across a scripture that makes me laugh.  Here we have Peter who was imprisoned wrongfully and kept watch by no less than 16 soldiers.  That’s right: 1 man, behind bars, in chains… 16 guards.  In the middle of the night as he was sleeping between two of these guards, an angel woke him up and broke him out.  Here’s where it gets funny: Peter goes to a house that the other believers were at praying.  They had gathered to pray for his deliverance.  He knocks on the door and apparently says something like :”Hey, let me in!”  The servant girl recognizes his voice and rather than opening the door runs to tell everyone that Peter is here.

Put yourself in Peter’s shoes for a minute.  You are standing at the door hoping to be let in.  As you stand outside, you hear them getting all excited about you being here.  Really? But Peter kept on knocking, it says.  I wonder if it really went like this –  Looking over his shoulder waiting for guards to show up, Peter kept on knocking.  Or maybe this – Less than amused, Peter kept on knocking.  This is real life, people.  Peter stood at the door and knocked… and knocked… and knocked.   They knew who he was yet they forgot to open the door.

The Bible talks about another guy who is hanging out with Peter on the other side of the door.  His name is Jesus.  And although many people believe He exists and say they believe in the Bible, they don’t bother to open the door.  So like Peter, He stands and knocks.  And Jesus keeps on knocking.   He is asking to be let into our house, to every area of our life.  He is beckoning us to open the door to real life.  He is alive and knocking.  Open the door already!  Let Him in and find out what it’s like to fully know Him!

*Question: In what area of your life is Jesus standing outside?

Not like you

Acts 11:17 So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?

styleThe early church was comprised of Jews who believed in Jesus, were baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit.  God took their religion and pumped in some high octane fuel!  This all came at a time in which the church was running on status quo.  There had been no prophet for hundreds of years and no great move of God.  But them came Jesus, who ministered with such power and authority that it made people’s heads spin.  Some wanted to kill him, others gave their whole lives to him.  And among the latter, His church was birthed.   His church: Jesus believing, Spirit filled, Jews.

Then something strange happened.  God’s “not chosen” people began to  believe.  Not only did they believe, but He filled them with His Spirit.  They too began to speak in tongues and prophesy.  Like the Jesus following Jews, they too became God’s chosen.  And all this messed with the original members of the church.  How can we possibly let these people who are different than us in?  Why would we associate with God’s unchosen?  For starters, they look different than us.   They couldn’t possibly strive to look like Jesus; they don’t even resemble Him.  Not only that, but they have no knowledge of the scriptures.  They don’t know our history or our pain.  How can this be?  Yet God gave them the same gift that He gave us.  How can I oppose that?

Today we can so easily get stuck in the same mindset.  We gravitate toward people who look like us and have the same life experiences.  We have this idea of what a Christian should look like.  So when someone walks through the doors of the church, we wonder what they are doing here.  I’ll tell you what they are doing: they are coming to receive life.  They are coming to get the same gift you have.  They haven’t been through all the Bible classes you have, yet they are hearing the same teaching.  Jesus died for all, friends.  For all.  He died for those who don’t share your values.  He died for those who don’t live your same lifestyle.  He died for democrats and for republicans.  He died for those who root for a different sports team or drive a different brand of car.  He died for you, but He also died for someone not like you.  He died for humanity.  For humanity is who He longed to save.

If this frustrates you, if you wonder why God would use that guy, think on the words of Peter today.  “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  This was God’s plan: to love the world so much that He sent His Son to reconcile that world to Himself.  So embrace it.  Welcome the stranger who is different from you.  Embrace  those who you would prefer not to tolerate.  For if they just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, they will become your brothers and your sisters.  Then what are you going to do?

You are not his favorite

Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

favorite studentEveryone likes to be the favorite.  We want to be the favorite child, the favorite parent, the favorite employee, the favorite student.  And when you are not the favorite, you want to smack the person who is.  Stop kissing up, you ______ (not nice word of your choice).  It’s true isn’t it?  Remember the kid in school who always messed up the curve?  I remember in science class we all got a C on that one test, which made us excited because the teacher graded on a curve.  Oh, but wait.  Mr. smartypants got an A.  Thanks for that, dude.  I’ll just go ahead and use my paper for a kleenex.

Yes, nobody likes a favorite unless the favorite is you.  That’s how the Israelites lived their lives for so many years – as the favorite.  Which is really cool if you are an Israelite.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to be God’s favorite?  Here’s the problem for me: I’m not an Israelite.  So not only would I have not been a favorite, I would have been excluded all together.  That is, until the dream.  Yes, Peter’s vision from the Lord opened the door for the gospel to the whole world.  It was at this moment that “to the ends of the earth” became a reality.  It was this moment that made it possible for me to hear the message of Christ and be saved.

How grateful I am for that vision!  Israel is no longer God’s favorite.  Neither is America. Neither am I.  It says that God does not show favoritism.  Therefore you are not His favorite either.  Yes, there are no favorites.  But that also means that I am, in fact, His favorite.  So are you.  We all are.  Because He accepts men (meaning mankind) from everywhere.  He brings us all into His family and embraces us as if we were His only.  He treats me like I am His favorite and He treats you the same.  And He calls us to go out and bring Him some more favorites, so that they too could know the love of the Father.