Are facebook friends really friends?

Acts 24:22-24 22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs. 24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.

facebook friendI bet you have a lot of facebook friends, maybe hundreds.  Me too.  But how many “friends” do you really have?  Many years ago, friendship was defined as someone who you spent time with, were close to, and knew alot about you.  You shared life together.  Today, it seems that friendship is defined by simply having met someone.  If we’ve met then we are friends… at least on facebook.  Think about it.  You ask someone if they know another person.  Their answer is: “yes, we are friends on facebook.”  Friendship has come a long way.  Or at least it seems.  Or maybe those we call friends are actually more like acquaintances.  After all, do we really “know” them?

Felix was facebook friends with the Way.  He liked their facebook page.  But he really didn’t know Jesus, he had just heard of him.  He knew a little about who he was and probably met some of his followers a few times.  But He wasn’t friends with Him.  It says in Acts 24 that Felix was acquainted with the Way – that’s what they called the Christian movement in the early days.  And he sent for Paul because he wanted to know more.  Paul was called to the house of Felix many times and continued to share the truth about Jesus.  We can’t be certain that Felix ever actually decided to become more than an acquaintance with Jesus, but we do know he made steps to get there.

I wonder sometimes if we treat Jesus more like an acquaintance than a friend.  I wonder if we are more of a fan than a follower.  When Jesus said follow me, He wasn’t talking about Twitter;  He really meant, “follow me.”  He wants you to more than like Him, He wants you to know Him.  Like Felix, we should be taking steps to become more than acquaintances.  We should be taking steps to learn and grow and love and know.

*What steps do you need to take to really “know” Him?  Put one into action today.

You are going to be really hungry

Acts 23:12-15 12 The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”

hungrySurprise. Paul got himself into some more trouble.  It’s not that he did anything wrong; it’s just that he was preaching Jesus and the Jews didn’t like it.  He was frustrating the religious leaders because he was teaching something that was different than they taught.  They had the same reaction to Jesus, too.  So they had Paul arrested.  While he sat in prison, some Jews got together and decided to take a vow to not eat until they had captured and killed Paul.  Little did they know they were about to be really hungry. 

God protected Paul.  These thugs thought they could just seize and kill God’s anointed, but God had other plans – He used Roman soldiers to guard Paul and usher him to safety.  They were protecting a prisoner.  A prisoner.  And it wasn’t just a little bit of protection.  He wasn’t guarded by 5 secret service agents.  No, he was sent out of town escorted by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen.  Does that seem excessive to anyone else besides me?  Paul gets a death threat and the commander surrounds him with 470 members of the armed forces.  That’s some serious protection!

Isaiah 54:17 says “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD.   That verse is for you today.  No weapon formed against you will prosper!  Your God will protect you.  And everyone who tries to falsely accuse you will have the tables turned on them.  God will take care of you and He will take care of them.  Put it in His hands.  Put your life in His hands.  He is your mighty fortress; He is your God!

*Do you feel like you are getting attacked today?  Remember to run to your protection and He will ensure that no weapon formed against you will prosper.

I’ve walked in your shoes

Acts 22:4 I persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison

shoesPaul was in some trouble. After sharing the gospel, a riot started and he was arrested.  It was quite the scene… pushing, shoving, yelling, and shouting.  Anger flowed freely from their lips as they shouted, “away with him!”  But rather than quietly accepting his chains, Paul asked to speak to the crowd.  Even though he had just been arrested, he was going to give it one more shot.  He would try once more to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.  As a man being persecuted, his opening statement begins with this: “I’ve walked in your shoes.  I used to persecute people, too.”

It’s something subtle that we forget about as Christians – identifying with those we are trying to reach.  You see, we all have a past.  We have all made mistakes.  And if we are growing, we are probably doing our best to put that past behind us.  We shouldn’t be looking over our shoulders, we should be looking ahead.  Paul said to focus our eyes on the prize set before us, to look upon the finish line rather than the starting blocks.  As we grow in the Lord and become “mature,” we hopefully stop doing some of the things we used to.  Maybe we stop swearing and drinking, judging and hating, cheating and lying.  And now in all of our maturity, we feel it is our duty to let the world know that those things offend us.  We hold them to our standard before we tell them about the Standard Bearer. 

Here’s a better place to start: I’ve walked in your shoes.  That’s what Paul did.  He told them that he’d been where they are.  When you do that, you tear down walls and open plugged ears. When people see that you are flawed and have struggled through their struggle, they are more likely to listen.  It’s not that you should start focusing or romanticizing your past sin.  No, instead use the stories of your past as a tool to bring people into an abundant future! Find common ground and identify with those you are trying to reach.  You might just find that you’ve walked in their shoes.  And if you’ll remember that, they might just someday walk in yours.

*Challenge: Think about someone you are trying to reach.  Can you find an area of life where you’ve walked in their shoes?  If so, ask God how you can bring hope to the very situation you have walked through yourself.

Blessed by liars

Acts 21:27-29  27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

imsev115-031Don’t you just hate it when people make assumptions about you?  How dare they!  I mean, I would never make an assumption about someone else.  No, not me.  My assumptions aren’t assumptions at all.  They are facts.  I know what I am talking about.  Are you seeing the double standard here?  Assumption causes more headaches than I can keep track of.  It creates fights, drama, hurt, and misunderstanding.  And it’s all because someone made a claim without all the facts.

This is what happened to Paul.  He was trying to preach the Good News in Jerusalem.  He did everything he could to show them that he wasn’t there to cause trouble.  He even participated in one of their purification rituals.  But some dudes from Asia stirred up trouble.  First they threw out a bunch of empty generalities to get people riled up. Then they brought out the big guns: they claimed that Paul brought a Greek into the temple.  Their claim was a total assumption and their assumption was based on the fact that they saw Paul walking around town with a Greek.  That’s pretty weak if you ask me.

In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus said:“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  I guess Paul had a great reward coming.  He was beat and arrested because of this false assumption.  But he knew that He was blessed.  He knew he was blessed because he was in the center of God’s will for his life.  He was preaching the gospel as he had been called to do.  He was living above reproach and made every effort to keep peace.  Blessed by liars.  That doesn’t feel like a blessing, does it?  But Jesus made a promise and a promise He always keeps.

*Have people made false assumptions about you?  Have they tried to trash your integrity and character?  Consider yourself blessed by liars, because great is your reward!

Sleeping through the sermon

Acts 20:9-10  Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.  Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”

AsleepHospital emergency rooms hear a lot of strange stories, I am sure. We humans have come up with some amazingly creative ways to injure ourselves.  You did what?  How did you say you broke your arm?  You cut your finger with a what?  Tell me again how you managed to…?  But I bet they’ve never heard this one: I fell asleep during a sermon.

Poor Eutychus.  It was so late; he was so tired.  The text says that Paul talked on and on.  Can you blame the guy?  I mean, this was a really long sermon!  There he was, sitting in the window because there were probably no chairs left.  The house was packed because Paul was in town and he ended up with a window seat.  Next thing you know… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Three stories down… thud!   Um, where did Eutychus go?  Did anyone see him get up to go to the bathroom?  There he lay dead, outside on the ground.   So outside they all went and Paul raised him back from the dead.

This is a strange story to say in the least, and I wonder what the application is supposed to be.  Maybe it’s, “don’t fall asleep during sermons.”  Yes, that’s it.  I like that one!  Or maybe the application is, “preach shorter sermons.”  I bet some of you like that choice.  Or possibly it is, “don’t sit in an open window.”  Mom’s across the world vote for that.  But seriously, what do I take away from this?

I see a couple of things that strike me in this passage.  First, God heals.  Like supernatural, raised from the dead, healing.  That’s pretty awesome!  If you are going to die while listening to God’s Word, it’s possible He will raise you from the dead.  But the second thing I see is what strikes me most.  After Paul raised him from the dead, they ate some food, and then he kept preaching.  He just about killed a guy who fell asleep during his forever sermon… and he kept on preaching!  Why?  Because he had more to say.  They had more to learn.  The Word of God needs to be taught!  So don’t stop just because you are tired.  Don’t quit because your listeners are weary.  Keep on bringing the Good News of Jesus!

*Have you felt like giving up telling people about Jesus because they aren’t paying attention? 

4 Million Dollar Bonfire

Acts 19:18-19  Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.  A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.

moneyonfireDrachma: a day’s wages.  So let’s do some quick math.  Just to be conservative, I’ll lean to the lower end of the spectrum.  Let’s say that you make $10 an hour, which is just above minimum wage.  You work eight hours a day = 80 bucks.  Now multiply that by fifty thousand.  The result? $4,000,000.  Yes that’s right, 4 million big ones.  You might make more than that, so the figure could easily be 8 million or 12 million.  So let me restate Acts 19: they burned sorcery scrolls valued at over $4 million in today’s dollars.  That’s a lot of scrolls!   That’s a big fire.

I can’t even fathom burning a 4 million dollar bonfire.  It seems painful to part with valued possessions, to light fire to hard earned money.  But these former sorcerers had a new perspective; they saw it in a different way.  You see, at one point in their lives, these scrolls were an asset – possibly their biggest asset.  Most people I know don’t part with their assets.  So we could assume that because of finding Christ, these things lost their value.  But I don’t think that’s true either.  If they had a zero value, then maybe they would have just given them away to someone who could use them.  Or maybe just put them away in a closet until the next garage sale.

They didn’t go from being assets to being valueless.  They went from being assets to being liabilities.  When you have liabilities, you should make them go away.  You want to destroy them, maybe even burn them.  They discovered through the message of the gospel that these scrolls were a hindrance to true life.  They discovered that if they kept them in their life in any way, these things would ruin them.  Bonfire time, baby!

When confronted with God’s Word, we often find that there are things in our life that shouldn’t be there.  They might be things that we f0rmerly enjoyed.  Like magic scrolls, they were our livelihood.  Then God shows us that these things have not only lost their value, they will destroy us.   And the Christian responds by putting those things away in the closet, or giving them to someone who can use them.  The problem: we are either temporarily hiding our liabilities or giving someone else something that will hurt them.  That’s not what needs to happen.  We need to have a bonfire!  We need to get out the matches and the gasoline, friends.  Flame on!

*Would you be willing to have a $4 million bonfire?

*Are there things in your life that you have “put away” but need to be destroyed altogether?

More to learn

Acts 18:24-26 24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

classroomWe’ve all met someone who really seems to have their act together.  They know what they are talking about and exude a confidence that others can only hope for.  They speak with passion, conviction, and authority.  We are impressed and are quick to listen.  Such was the case with Apollos.  He showed up on the scene in Ephesus and began to teach.  He was educated and taught with confidence.  But there was a hole in his gospel; he had more to learn.  Priscilla and Aquila picked up on it and refined his beliefs and his message.

I don’t imagine this would be the easiest mentorship for most people.  Here you have what we would call a mature believer being told he needs some mentoring.  Do you know many “mature believers” who feel they need mentoring?  Do you know many Christians who feel they have what it takes to mentor a mature believer?  Priscilla and Aquila were concerned less with offending Apollos or wondering if they were qualified, and more concerned with a solid gospel being preached. 

If we are going to be the church, we need to help those who have more to learn.  We must also realize that no matter where we are in our walk with the Lord, we still have more to learn.  It’s important to have a solid foundation of doctrine, but I have met Christians who have come to the place of no longer learning.  Everything they read or hear goes through a filter of whether or not they agree.  They don’t actually listen, they just judge the material.  And when we do that, we aren’t allowing the Holy Spirit to give us fresh revelation.  We aren’t allowing God to speak to us in a new way through ancient scripture.  We all have more to learn.

*Who would God call you to in the way Priscilla and Aquila were called to Apollos?

*Have you become so sure of yourself, that you have stopped learning?