Bad news that is actually good news

Have you ever received what you thought was bad news that turned out to be good news? Recently we had a tire blow out on one of our vehicles. Bad news. When I took it to the place I bought it, I was bracing myself for the cost of a new tire, maybe two. The bad news was that the tire needed to be replaced like I thought. The good news is that it wasn’t going to cost me anything. A blowout turned into a free new tire. Good news!

flat-tire

As I was reading in Nehemiah 8 today, I saw this contrast between good news and bad news. The priest Ezra was reading the Law and the Levites were teaching it to the people as he read it. What they discovered in that moment was that their lives didn’t line up with God’s standard – bad news!

Nehemiah 8:9-12 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

When confronted with the way of God, the people had a similar reaction to those listened to Peter preach in Acts 2 – they were cut to the heart. They realized that their lives weren’t lining up with the law of God. Tears began to flow and fear likely began to grip their hearts. “Wait just a minute! Everybody stop!” declared Nehemiah. “This isn’t a time for crying. Now we know what God expects of us. Now we can actually live for Him. It’s time to celebrate!” Their mourning was turned to joy in that moment of revelation.

The gospel of Jesus Christ often hits us the same way. When we are confronted with our sin and our shame, it often brings us to our knees. We cry out to God in desperation and humility because there’s no way we can measure up to a Holy God. But while the gospel brings us to our knees, it also brings us to our feet. It causes us to stand. It gives strength, peace, and joy. You see, the gospel of Jesus may show us our sin, but it also ushers us to a place of freedom from that sin. The work of Christ on the cross paid for those places that make me want to cry.

Don’t hang your head in sorrow and shame any longer. Receive His truth. Course correct. Then live in the freedom that He brings!

 

 

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.

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?

Knuckleheads

Acts 17:5-9 5 But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

knuckleheadsI’m just gonna say it: these guys were a bunch of knuckleheads!  Really.  I mean, is this how a civilized human being handles new teaching?  It says that they went out looking for trouble and caused a riot.  Do you know anyone like that?  You try to bring them a message of life and they go all crazy on you.  You know where that comes from?  Jealousy and fear.  Jealousy over the fact that you have a hope and fear about the possibility of you being right.  So what do you do when knuckleheads try to trample your message? Do you fight back?  Do you tell them they are idiots?

You move on.  That’s what Paul and Silas did.  They left to the town of Berea.  It says that the Bereans were much more civilized than those in Thessalonica.  The Bereans were confronted with their beliefs too.  But instead of rioting, they opened the scriptures to see if what was being preached was actually true.  They opened their ears to hear the message and checked for its accuracy.  Those are the people that are a joy to share the gospel with – those who want to receive it and those who want to grow.

I know that God wants us to do our best to reach people everywhere.  And I’m not suggesting we give up on the effort to reach those who are hard to reach.  But I wonder if we waste too much time arguing with knuckleheads.  What would happen if we took that same time and energy and used it to teach and equip someone who wanted to grow?  After all, we’ve got a great hope to share!  So let’s be persistent to share it.  But don’t waste your time on knuckleheads.  Instead pray for them and ask God to calm down the riots in their life.  Then start investing in someone who wants to grow.

*Have you been wasting your breath on knuckleheads?  Ask God to show you who in your life is ready to hear.

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? 

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.