Soft sponge or hard…?

Acts 28:17-31

And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death.  But when the Jews  spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you.  But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”

So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our  fathers, saying,

            ‘Go to this people and say:

             “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;

             And seeing you will see, and not perceive;

             For the hearts of this people have grown dull.

             Their ears are hard of hearing,

              And their eyes they have closed,

            Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,

           Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

            So that I should heal them.” ’

 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”  And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

 You will be ever hearing but

    Never understanding

You will be ever seeing but

   Never perceiving.

This is given as a description of a calloused heart in one translation.  Another says hardened and others say gross.  All of these words would describe one who cannot be reached.  Hearts that are closed off, do not respond, do not express emotion or compassion.  It’s as if they have been exposed to the message so frequently without responding that they can no longer sense the tug at their hearts to acknowledge the love that God extends.  We are told over and over how God loves His creation and desires a relationship with us.  We are also told over and over how self-oriented mankind is turning the deaf ear to this message of love.  The deaf ear results in desensitization.  We soon cannot hear it.  God says this is done by choice: “their eyes they have closed,” Looking at the word calloused brings to mind two words; hard and rough.  The soft, gentle, supple nature that draws an invitation to touch has become repulsive inviting rejection.  This is not to end on a depressive note, rather God also states if we choose to listen and see He will heal: “Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” ’

Paul’s response to those from the Jewish community who reacted with callous rejection was to let them know God’s message of love as expressed through the salvation brought to us by Jesus  would still be extended, but now it would be extended  to any who would listen.

Take away is this:  We want to be ever hearing and understanding, ever seeing and perceiving.  We want hearts that respond and receive.  Be immersed in the Word of God, be immersed in His love, let it fill up the sponge of who we are until we cannot hold anymore and it runs out of us onto those around us.  Be soft as the sponge receiving rather than  hard as the sponge refusing the waters of the Spirit.  Fill up and spill out.

Encouragement in fellowship

Acts 28:11-16

After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

“…When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” Paul thanked God and was encouraged.  It is of vital benefit to each of us when we are encouraged by fellow believers.  The Lord has protected Paul all along the way and now provides the fellowship that builds us up.  It is good to remember that we come together in fellowship not just for our own personal spiritual blessing, but also to be an encouragement to those who lead and prepare as well as encouraging those who come to worship.  Our coming together feeds us all.  Not only do we receive from the Lord, we also receive from each other as he ministers to us through each of us.  We are created social beings.  We have a need for common fellowship, worshipping the Lord together.  It is good to be an encourager, the benefits fall on both the one receiving and the one giving.  Thank God for one another.

Drawing faulty conclusions…or trusting God?

Acts 28:1-10

Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold. But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

In that region there was an estate of the leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and entertained us courteously for three days.  And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary.

Looking only on the outward appearances  with no knowledge of the heart or inner spiritual workings we find frequently that we have an inaccurate and incomplete picture.  The islanders demonstrate this for us in this passage.  The snake attacking spoke judgment to them.  When death did not occur, they drew the conclusion that Paul must be a god.  From one extreme to another and are we all not guilty of the same?  Then when his touch provided healing, they responded with honor and provision for the completion of the journey.  A simple approach to life on a daily basis and a simple response.  When we experience the touch of God in our storms do we respond with honor?  Or do we find ourselves going, O, Wow! And moving on with daily living.  Forgetting often times to even say thank you.  Instead do we ask Why?, and bemoan the storm?  Open our eyes that we may see truth and see clearly.  We are at the effects of our storms, often they bring us pain, but we are not defeated by the storm because we possess a greater power to carry us through.  Do not borrow from the habits of unbelievers and the rest of mankind and pass judgment on others.  Paul could have continued to give the centurion and the ship owner a hard time for even being at sea.  He could have adopted a judgmental attitude that they should have listened to God’s voice, or  they should have been better prepared for the storm, or a multitude of other complaints.  Instead he allowed the Spirit of God to dwell in him and lead, in and through the storm.Allow the storms of life to work out the transformation of spirit and mind that comes from total reliance upon the Lord for everything.

Promise in the storm…riders on the storm

Acts 27:27-44

Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”  Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.

 And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves. And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship.  So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea.

 When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible. And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore.  But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.

 And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land,  and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.

            From mikeschuerman.theworldrace.org

Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.”  A promise sent through Paul and it so encouraged him he broke the fast and encouraged all of the rest to do the same.  They saw no reason to believe they would make it to safety other than Paul’s confidence in God’s word.  This confidence speaks volumes to those around us.  When we are in the middle of life’s storms do others see our confidence in what God is able to accomplish, or do they hear  our complaining and moaning about how hard life is and what a terrible situation we are in?  Demonstrating faith as Paul does here, is an exercise of faith that is pleasing to God.  Scripture says without faith we cannot please God.  Do we demonstrate this kind of faith in our storms?  Going further into the passage here we see that they followed Paul’s example and ate and then threw what was left of the food into the sea!  They weren’t planning on needing it?  They were with Paul and expecting to find safety on land.  Once again let it be noted that while God could have calmed the storm he did not.  He took them through the storm.  In the process He was glorified, through Paul’s example.  When we are in our storms are we glorifying God or demanding an explanation?  Are we whining and complaining or are we praising God for what He is doing in us and what He will do for  us?  Are we allowing our faith in Him to be strengthened?  In all things give thanks God’s word tells us.  Paul gave thanks, ate and was taken to safety.  Let us also take our storms to the Lord, then watch as He takes us through them.  Let us be careful to give thanks and have faith.  Let us glorify the God who created us and can and will keep us.  “…he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves. “  Be an encourager, share your faith, glorify God in all things.

Another post on the same subject from a younger perspective.  It is a good read.

The Perfect Storm  at:

http://mikeschuerman.theworldrace.org/?filename=the-perfect-storm

Lose the fear…

Acts 27:13-26

When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda,  we secured the skiff with difficulty. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands. Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.

But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”

 

borrowed from:
http://doesnotwisdomcall.blogspot.com/2008/06/prayer-for-guidance.html

 I believe God.  The God to whom I belong.  The God I serve.  Do not be afraid.  To begin, do we believe God?  Not in God, do we believe Him, when He speaks, do we believe it?  Next, do we belong to God?  As we ‘belong’ to spouse, children, parents….not in ownership, through kinship; do we belong to God?  Then, are we serving God?  What does that look like?  Go to church on Sunday or whatever day is designated and that’s service?  We are engaged in service when we feed our family, provide what is needed for healthy living.  We are engaged in service when we feed our spiritual family, hearing the voice of God and sharing as Paul is doing here.  So then, again, are we serving God?  If the answer is affirmative then lose the fear.  Take note that God did not say He would stop the storm, He said do not be afraid, and this is while the storm was raging, they had lost everything and were exhausted.  Paul said , ‘I have faith in God…’ and acted on that faith in the telling to the men on board.  Paul continued to share encouragement even while the storm was raging and it looked hopeless.  Borrow courage from this passage and take heart.  We belong to God, we are in His service, we will not fear and we will accomplish what He has given us to do.  “…for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. …”  – Paul.  Say this with Paul, I believe God.

Take heed…

Acts 27:1-12

And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment.  So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.  And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care. When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board.

When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.

Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.” Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.

 Paul received warning in his spirit that all would not be well.  He was faithful to share this.  Those in charge did not follow this advice and in the next passage we will see the consequences of that choice.  We have an example here of being spirit-led and following the promptings we sense in our spirit.  Paul was faithful to advise according to what he ‘saw’ not with physical eyes but within his spirit.  It is possible to miss these promptings when distracted by the everyday life that surrounds us.  When we do sense these promptings let us be like Paul, and take heed.  Where advisable let’s be faithful to share what we sense.  God’s protection and provision will rest upon us. 

Having moved to the coastal region, it is impressed upon me the necessity to pay attention to the signs that God gives us.  Life has been likened to a voyage and that means it will be subject to prevailing winds and storms as well as smooth sailing seas.  Can we see the parallel to taking heed to the signs we receive in life.  The storms give warning that they are coming, we can prepare and ride them out surviving with little to no damage.  Or we can ignore them and be shipwrecked, suffering the consequences of not taking heed. Paul was given the sense of danger coming if a course of action was to be followed and the signs presented were not heeded.  He was faithful to share this with others who needed to know.  We may find ourselves in situations where we can see, perceive, that all may not go well.  Let us be faithful to share what we sense with those who need to know.  Let us be the channel of light and understanding to those who may not be able to receive except through us.

Words of truth and reason

Acts 26: 24-32

Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”

 But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.  King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”

 When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them;  and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.”

Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

 “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”… We believe, with Paul, the prophets and the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We believe salvation has come to both the Jew and the Gentile.  With that belief comes a transformation.  Our lives are lived not under a death sentence but under a life sentence, a life that is abundant, not lacking.  Our lives are filled with the power of God and we see the will of God done in the lives of others as well as our own.  Our lives are spent in communion with God as in the beginning of mankind thanks to the sacrifice of Christ.  With this belief we get to become like Paul was, able and willing to share what has been given to us.

While the message was not at that time embraced by Festus or Agrippa, it was clear that though the belief was different, even foolish to them, it did not deserve punishment.  Again the hand of God is seen, protecting his own to further the kingdom.  Paul is enabled to continue to share the message of Christ to the then known world. Each day begins with a fresh promise of life, life abundant, and life lived in service to the Lord. Each day the ‘words of truth and reason’ are shared and new life is brought to God’s creation.

               

For this we face hostility

Acts 26:19-23

“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,  but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

 Repent, turn to God, let your deeds prove your repentance.  This is the message that can cause rage in mankind.  Why?  It points to their weaknesses, shortcomings, failures.  We do not like when the finger is pointed in our direction.  Mankind has a system they follow and for verification that their system is ‘OK’ they want all to follow it.  When anyone comes along with a different system or idea, they want to put them out, get rid of them.  This involves the spiritual as well and when we include the spiritual, we are meddling with the enemy of creation.  Does this hinder us?  No, with Paul we continue to stand and share.  The power behind the gospel is greater and able to keep.  It is the Spirit of the Lord that draws and changes mankind.  We are the agents sharing.  Therefore as often happens, it is the messenger that receives the reaction.  We can remember that and go on with our assignment.  We can continue to share what we have received.

Stand, share, serve…

Acts 26:9-18

“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

 “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now  send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

 Stand, share, serve, send, all to receive forgiveness of sins and have an inheritance as a result of faith.  The word is given to us all, the commission becomes ours with salvation.  We too are to stand with Paul in service to the Lord who died for us.  We too are to share as Paul shared what we are given, from the Word and from our own relationship with Christ.  We too can be a part of sending the  message to those who will receive it, we will be a part of eyes opening, people moving from darkness to light.  We can be in a place to see the work the Lord will do as we are faithful to live daily the life he has given us.

 We can be encouraged by Paul’s experiences.  They show us we serve an awesome God and there is no telling where He might place us.  They show us that He protects and provides.  They show us the example of one who demonstrates commitment, perseverance and what a life of faith looks like.  Let us stand with Paul and share with others the word we are given that brings light and life.

Denying the very nature of God?…

Acts 25: 23 – 26:8

So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in. And Festus said: “King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write.  For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.”

Acts 26:1-8 

So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself: “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.

 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?

 Why indeed, if God can create us to begin with, why would it be considered impossible for him to conquer death, or the lack of life,  a second time or more?  This is more than a question of life and death, this is questioning the very nature and capabilities of God!  Are we also guilty?  When we speak negatively concerning what God can or will do,  are we denying the very nature of God?  It seems we need to take care of what we say and consider whether it in any way would cast doubt upon who God is and what He can do.  Jesus tells us over and over again that it ( whatever the it may be) is healed by our faith.  That faith is a belief in God, knowledge of His nature and being and knowledge of what He has done, is doing and will do.  That faith does not put restrictions upon God, place Him conveniently in a box of our devising.  That faith that can move mountains has no limits on the power of God.  This is the faith Paul preached .  This faith is the belief not just in God but believing God for what he says and what he does.  This faith would find no difficulty in raising anyone from the clutches of death.  Death was a judgment pronounced by God upon mankind for sin.  As it came so it can be erased.  Sin was the result of a choice made by mankind and the defeat of its consequence, death, can be had through choice. The choosing to believe what God says is true, the choosing to believe Jesus was and is His Son who paid the required price for that sin, choosing to believe God brings freedom from the judgment placed by sin on our life and brings with it the promise of eternal life reverses the choice to sin. The payment made by Christ for us erased that judgment and as he rose so may we.  Let us not be guilty of denying the very nature and capabilities of the God who created us.