“Come on Paul, don’t you listen to the TV preachers? Don’t you listen to the prophets? Don’t you read the feel good books? Don’t you know that you have to put yourself first, take care of number one before you can ever consider anyone else?“
We find in Acts 21 another very challenging narrative from the lives of the early church and the Apostles. We have been finding a lot of those as we work through Acts together here. It seems the apostles and the early church didn’t go to the same seminaries and listen to all the experts that today’s church leaders have.
I mean, here in this chapter we have Paul just setting his jaw, charging forth on his mission to return to Jerusalem after an extended missionary trip, even though he is counseled again and again not to, even by his partner Luke, the writer of this narrative.
“…a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ”
Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21;10-13
Paul leaves people who love and look to him weeping on the beach, and travels hundreds of miles by ship, visiting, teaching, encouraging believers all along the way in the many ports of call, and runs into at least two different prophets who speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit that if he returns to Jerusalem he will get into big trouble.
But Paul knew this even before he got to these cities, as he was departing from his beloved church family in Ephesus he told them:
And see, now I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, Acts 20:22-24
Doesn’t Paul know that you are supposed to listen to the fellow believers and church leaders that God puts in your life?
Doesn’t he know that when trouble is prophesied to be ahead that you are supposed to avoid it? Doesn’t he know that it’s all about you?—how you can be blessed and happy, fulfilled, and free of worry and pain? Why would you head towards it? Why would you believe God is leading you into it?
Come on Paul, don’t you listen to the TV preachers? Don’t you listen to the prophets? Don’t you read the feel good books? Don’t you know that you have to put yourself first, take care of number one before you can ever consider anyone else?
‘The Holy Spirit sets you free! Free to do and go wherever your heart leads you—Fly away, be free!’
Well, Paul’s heart was bound in the Spirit, so Paul was following his heart. And he was indeed free. Paul was free to go wherever he chose, he was free from the influences of those around him who had other agendas and ideas, even warnings and fears for him He was free to choose to follow Jesus—even right into the lion’s den.
And that’s where it gets tricky. How often do we pray for the Lord’s will to be done? Or are we afraid to? ‘Lord, my will would be great, but, if you want to get me there your way, why then sure, your will be done.’
No, that’s not quite what Jesus meant we he prayed, “Nevertheless Father, not my will but thine be done.”
I’m afraid this is a lesson the church needs desperately to hear right now. Because if we are afraid to follow Jesus into the fire, if we are not listening and prepared for the challenges to come, we will also miss the opportunities, and worse, we will have fallen away.
The time for coddling and nursing, bottle feeding those who should be eating meat is over, the battle is joined and those who are not willing to be bound to the Holy Spirit, will be left cowering in the shadows while the true warriors are taking the field. Because a true warrior, a true disciple, knows that to be in God’s perfect will, the plans are His, and it is ours only to follow.
One of the things that I have come to realize from having been in the ministry for many years, and just being involved and engaged in the world in general, is that nearly everyone carries a wound. Some have deeper wounds than others, and some have more than others, but everyone carries something inside that colors how they see the world, usually for the worse.
It might be a wound that can be poked by someone without them having any idea that it’s even there, or worse, aggravated by the person or people who created it in the first place.
I know that as a Spirit filled believer I am often able to see the wounds that many people miss, because the Holy Spirit is aware of everyone’s hurts and scars—he sees the heart, and if I’m paying attention he reveals them to me, not always in detail, just a sense that the wounds are there and the nature of them.
I was told years ago in my preparation to become a pastor, after a extensive gifting test, that one of my spiritual gifts, alongside of the prophetic gift, is encouragement, and it is a gift that I cherish. I want to be a healer. What good does it do to prophetically discern hurt if you cannot do anything about it?
But we all have that ability and we all have that call— to encourage one another. The scripture tells us to “Encourage one another daily for as long as it is called today.” (Heb 3:13)God has given me in my ministry role as a pastor, the specific assignment of creating a place of healing; primarily emotional and spiritual healing—to me one and the same, though we have seen a number of physical healings as well— it seems to me that it is the emotional healings that really have an impact for the kingdom. Because they get the healedto a place where they can be used to help others find healing.
Physical healings make a great testimony of God’s power and love but a story of emotional healing, of overcoming hopelessness─ that’s one that makes people say; “How can I get that?” People will listen to someone who has been where they desperately no longer want to be.
It takes empathy, it takes someone who really understands the healing and sustaining power of Jesus to be able to bring it to others, to share it. Because I’ll tell you what, if you start listening to people, just giving them a little bit of an inkling that you care and that you may have some experience or a bit of wisdom in what they’re struggling with—the thing that keeps them awake at night, that eats away at their souls and plagues their dreams—they are going to spill their guts to you.
Now you may be thinking: ‘I don’t want to hear people’s problems. Why would I want that? Good question, but guess what, it’s not about you. If Jesus has called you, healed you, delivered you—given you a hope and set you on a course to fulfilling your destiny, the plan he has for you—God’s plan for you will always involve you helping others, because we are the hands and feet of Jesus and he is using your mouth to speak healing.
He’s using your eyes and your ears to hear and to see what the Holy Spirit wants you to discern, and then using you to speak what he wants you to speak. And there is nothing more healing, nothing more rewarding, nothing that brings peace to your soul when you lay down your weary head at the end of the day than knowing that you made a difference, that you helped someone find hope, find release, find healing. That’s what Jesus was, and is, all about. He is calling you to be healed, and to be a healer—through and in him.
Back in the 1970’sthere was a Norwegian namedThorHeyerdahl who built a boat out of reeds that he named Ra, and tried to sail across the Atlantic. But it sank. On his second attempt, in RA II, he succeeded, sailing 4,00 miles from Morocco to Barbados.
He was trying to show that it was possible that ancient man could have crossed the oceans. I don’t know why a Norwegian wouldn’t have been more interested in building a Viking ship, maybe he just wanted to go somewhere warmer—who can know the mind of a Norwegian? (I’m married to one.)
I just remember it because they made such a big deal out of it, even making a movie about it. I guess they still make reed boats in some parts of the world. So they are still seen as strong and durable.
But a single reed—especially if it is still green and growing—if it is crushed in the middle, or bent too far, the fibers separate and a weak spot is created and even a slight wind or a passing animal can break it off and it will not recover, it’s toast. Think of a Montana wheat field nearly ready for the harvest suddenly struck by a massive hail storm—it’s devastating.
The beautiful full heads of grain cannot be harvested if they are laying on the ground on the end of a bruised and broken stalk, and they do not stand up again.
I just want you to get that picture in your mind, a semi crushed—bruised─stalk, still managing to stay upright but barely, or a lantern wick fresh out of kerosene, the flame gone but still an ember glowing as though just begging for a little more fuel and a gentle breath of wind to reignite the flame that can burn clean and bright.
That’s the human heart, it can be strong, upright and flexible, burning bright and pure, but in reality, especially if standing alone, can be a thing of great fragility. If it gets whacked just right, pelted by a few too many hailstones, all it takes is one good gust of wind and it’s broken. Or like a tiny smoking ember where once there was a flame, deprived of the air or fuel needed to revive, snuffed out and left to grow cold.
Jesus came and saw a world of bruised reeds, of smoldering wicks. He came to bring healing and life. He didn’t come seeking his own glory as so many who claim to speak for him do. Jesus came to bring healing and proof of his Father’s love.
Jesus, instead of blowing through life, trampling hearts on his way to the heights of glory, seeking the strong,the articulate and the righteous who could help him get out his message, to advance his agenda of being the conquering Messiah, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords─—he stops and gently touches the bruised, he speaks life, he looks into the eyes of the hurting, he hears the cries of the heartbroken and grieving, he feels the pain of the sick and wounded— and he heals them.
Beggars, prostitutes, hardnosed—get out of my way I’m busy— working men; the crooked I hate you and you hate me tax collectors. Drunks, homeless, lepers reeking of rotten flesh—it didn’t matter— he loved and healed them all.
Not after they repented, not after they got straightened out and got right with the synagogue and God—he healed all who came to him. And then he taught them about the love of God and the power of Heaven and they believed it, and they received it, because they had experienced it. They experienced it and it changed their lives.
They were no longer bruised and broken, no longer smolderingwicks leaving smudges of soot on the walls of the Temple, they were changed forever and they found strength in one another. They were bound together like the reeds in an Egyptian boat ready to face the storms of even the mightiest seas. They were healed and could now be healers.
That’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so compelling and powerful; because wounded and broken people, the castoffs and scorned, the hopeless and forgotten, suddenly shining brightly with new life, standing tall and strong, fearless and unwavering, they— the ones no one paid any mind to before─ they were, and are, the messengers of the Kingdom.
No one can deny the power of God available in the words of Jesus Christ when a Leper who now has the skin of a new born baby, when a blind man is now looking you in the eye, when an uneducated fisherman is leaving the theologians frustrated and foolish looking, when a scorned street walker or a demon possessed mad man is now commanding respect and dignity and shining like the sun with a radiant undeniable joy—when they are the ones sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God, the gospel cannot be denied.
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. Mat 12
The gospel is healing, the gospel is alive, the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to heal, will continue on as he, by his Spirit living in and speaking through the redeemed, carry on the message of healing, proclaiming justice until all the nations have heard, and all the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, all those who desire to hear, who long for healing, for relief from their brokenness and unbearable pain, have heard the message of hope.
We the scarred and redeemed are the standard bearers. We are now the healers, bringing the message of hope, bringing the power of God to a world of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Let’s make sure we are not just blowing through the fields and trampling the bruised into the dirt or ignoring the smoldering until the ember fades.
We have the hope. And if you still need healing, you need to bring it to Jesus, he will set you free and then he will set you on a mission because nothing helps bring your healing to completeness, nothing helps you live in the victory, like sharing with others what we you received.
No one can speak healing better than those who have been healed. No one can encourage the prisoners more than those who have been freed.
We’re all familiar with what has become known as the Last supper. But I want to look at what was going on in the room where this was happening. This was far from the thunder on the mountain, blinded by the glory, let’s start a religion kind of moment, this was a bunch of very real people whose lives had been intertwined for years who were about to have their world turned upside down.
John writes in his gospel that Jesus was very troubled in his spirit during this meal in the upper room and told his friends, one of you is going to betray me.
His disciples all looked at one another shocked and incredulous. Peter pokes Paul and whispers, “Ask him who it is.” John was sitting right next to Jesus, so close in fact that he just leaned back against Jesus and asks him; “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answers, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” He then dips the bread in the oil and hands it to Judas. Who takes it with apparently no hesitation, he’s just sharing a meal with a guy whom he has followed for three years, and whom he is conflicted over because he just seems so… so ordinary, so humble and loving.
‘Isn’t the messiah supposed to be a conquering king who will put all their enemies to flight? Wielding a sword and destroying all who stand in their way? Isn’t the Son of God supposed to come with fire and fury, thunder and smoke—just like God came to Moses on Sinai?’
What is this ‘servant of all, wash my feet, have some bread, lean on me and tell me your concerns’ kind of Messiah?
As soon as Judas took the bread and all these thoughts raced through his head, Satan entered into Judas, and he was done. He could not stand for an intimate God.
But look at John, oh how I long to be John here, leaning on Jesus like we are closer than brothers and just talking.
23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.
25 Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” John 13:23,24
Imagine the intimacy of this moment. The realness on every level.
When the scriptures tell us to draw near to God it’s not an analogous statement calling us to a higher sense of ritual or greater religious experience, it is very literal and real. “Come and sit with me, lean on me, look into my eyes and ask me the hard questions.” Nothing is ever answered by just being good, a relationship is not strengthened through do’s and don’ts. A relationship with God, like any relationship, is strengthened by being together.
Your goodness will grow out of that relationship, the answers to the questions that drive you to the brink of madness in this life will only be answered by being with, sending time with, leaning your head against the chest of the Lord looking up into his eyes and asking: “Who is it Lord? What is it, where is it, when is it? Just what am I believing for, what am I to be contending for? What do I need to work on in my life for your glory, for my own good, how can I be the best person I can be?” Only this kind of intimacy will assure you that you are Okay with the Lord, that you will be alright, that the Lord has a plan for you and that you are still his child.
I have better things to do than marvel at your dazzle.
So, Paul, Silas and their posse, are being followed about in the city of Philippi by a girl who would have been considered in that culture, an Oracle— someone who spoke for the god’s. She is kind of acting like a side show carnival barker—“Come one, come all and hear the amazing tales of the men of the Most High God!”,
In that respect she was perhaps trivializing and minimalizing the message of the gospel by casting it in the same light at the rest of her for profit retinue of otherworldly utterings. But she was playing with fire and she was about to get her fire put out by the power of the Most High God she was mocking.
Reminds me of when Donna and I went through Deadwood South Dakota this spring. Deadwood is all about tourism and the Downtown area is real good at capitalizing on it’s somewhat lurid history and wild west nostalgia.
On main street there is a big sign in front of one of the old buildings that offers Ghost Tours. Claiming that the historic structure is haunted by the prostitutes and cliental who once did business there. Of course you know what I wanted to do, the thing that any Holy Spirit baptized disciple of Christ wants, or should want to do when they come across unholy spirits— invite them to leave.
So I turned to Donna and said, “Should we go in there and ruin their attraction?” She said no. Probably a good answer. I’m sure we would not have been very popular of we had started casting out evil spirits in the middle of a tour group full of eager half-drunk ghost enthusiasts and clueless tourists.
And the owners would not have appreciated losing their profitable, if dangerous, attraction. I can’t say I really wanted to do that anyway but it sure didn’t seem right walking away and leaving Casper and his shadowy buddies to run unchallenged through the halls of an old whorehouse in downtown Deadwood.
But, then again, that whole city is probably a can of demonic worms that some other warriors are called to open and not some random vacationing pastor and his wife from Red Lodge.
Not every battle is ours. We need to fight the battles the Lord leads us to.
Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to Philippi, and he was not going to let this annoying spirit dog him anymore. This whole story is a little weird if you ask me. Why would a demonic spirit be proclaiming that folks need to listen to Paul and his retinue, and why would Paul be annoyed by this?
Well, as I alluded to earlier, it was probably a demonic ploy to cheapen the gospel. And as for the annoying part, no doubt Paul was sensing in his spirit that this was not a sincere or Holy Spirit led nor approved endorsement.
Makes you wonder how many of the noisier and boisterous elements and people in our own lives who seem all about proclaiming God are really just a distraction from the legitimate work of the Holy Spirit? All noise and no substance. Frankly I have never had much patience for that. Don’t waste my time. I have better things to do then marvel at your dazzle.
It takes a real discernment, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit by the way, discerning of Spirits, to know the difference between the sincere and the counterfeit when it comes to those who profess to be all about giving God the glory. It just seems wrong to question the motives or the spirit behind anyone or anything that comes across as godly, who claims to be wanting to know God better, or who is offering to help others know God better.
There are many people and things that appear upright and godly on the surface, that give me pause or outright make me want to avoid them. I’ve recently had to deal with someone like that and it is not fun. Someone who had me fooled for a long time yet always just seemed to work against the Lord as far as what he was wanting to accomplish on my life or the life of others. Someone who was sucking the life out of me, over and over and over again, to no purpose or gain for anyone-especially me.
Jesus warned us about wasting precious time and fertilizer on trees that never bear fruit.
‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” Luke 13:8—9
I doesn’t matter how adamant someone may be about wanting to advance the kingdom of God and help others draw near to God, if the fruit of their life only shows a trail of angry, hurt and defensive people then they are not of the same Spirit that we are, and are in fact being used by the enemy to distract and ultimately destroy all that God is doing.
Paul recognized that his annoyance was the Spirit telling him something was amiss here and so he dealt with it, decisively and finally. He commanded that spirit to depart.
Listen to your heart, annoyance can sometimes be more than just impatience.
What are the hopeless hearing from you, you, who as a believer, even if you had nothing else, should have hope?
“And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:23-25
We all have prisoners listening to us. You don’t have to be sitting in a jail cell to be surrounded by prisoners. The world around us is full of prisoners. Prisoners to fear, to hopelessness, to despair. Prisoners to addictions, to lusts, to greed—prisoners of their own minds or bodies that seem to behave and do things that make the person trapped within feel helpless and disconnected to themselves and everyone else.
Even believers may be temporarily imprisoned to certain afflictions, afflicters and circumstances as we struggle to keep moving forward in this present world of death and decay.
But we need to remember that we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and our songs are not songs of despair, our prayers are not prayers of anguish. Our songs and prayers are spilling forth from hearts that are free, that are full of the joy of the Lord and His Holy Spirit, and any and all afflictions this sick twisted world or our own flesh could throw at us is only temporary and is all subject to the one in us who is greater that he who is in the world.
And those songs and prayers of joy and victory to a God who has overcome all of this world’s heartaches and death itself are the only thingthe prisoners of the darkness around us are ever going to hear that may give them even a spark of hope and even set them free.
So what are they hearing? What are they hearing from you?
Paul and Silas had cast an annoying demon from a young slave girl who had been following them around. She had been serving her masters as an oracle of the gods. and making them money as such. They don’t appreciate this and they stir up the city against them. They are seized by an angry mob, dragged to the city council where they are given no right to defend themselves as they are accused of all sorts of sedition and trouble making, going against the social norms and speaking hateful and offensive things. ‘Who do these judgmental religious Jesus freak Jews think they are anyway!”
‘And look what they did to this poor girl who was only trying to help them. Making her look like she was doing something bad and ruining her ability to commune with the higher powers by casting some weird Jewish spell on her in the name of this Jewish God man they worship.’
‘These guys are ignorant, intolerant—they are a danger to society and must be done away with!’
“…they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison,” Acts 16:21-23
So they are stripped naked and beaten with rods, at the order of the authorities, until they are covered with long red painful welts–or stripes as they were known in a crueler age–and thrown into prison where they are chained and left to suffer in the fetid darkness of a prison cell surrounded by the sounds ofcurses and the moaning of others who had run afoul of the magistrates and influential of the day.
But Paul and Silas do neither, curse nor moan, though they certainly had reason. ‘Who do these people think they are? They cannot treat us this way! We have rights, we demand satisfaction and justice! Curse them, curse them all! Lord strike them down and make them pay for what they have done!’
They didn’t do that. Nor did they moan and complain. ‘Oh woe is me, we are finished! We have no hope, no money, no friends. All have deserted us. We are laying here in filth bruised and bleeding, naked and hungry and my everything hurts!’
“Lord where are you!? Why have you abandoned us? —’Oh, oh agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery!’”
No. they didn’t do any of that. What would it have accomplished? What would it have helped? Or better, who would it have helped?
That’s what the prisoners of the world do. those who have no God, who suffer without recourse and cannot see beyond the straits they are in. Those who heed the warnings signs as they enter into whatever hell of a prison they find themselves entering—“All ye who enter here, abandon all hope.”
Hope is what the prisoners of the world and the flesh lack. But hope is the only thing that cannot be taken away from those who belong to Jesus. And when that is all that is left—that is enough.
It was enough for Paul and Silas as they lay there chained and miserable in that dark cell watching the darkness grow as the night falls, and as the night sounds of misery and unseen vermin begin to prey on their minds, and as the indescribable smells of unwashed rancid flesh accost their noses—and God seems to be very far away.
Their God knew exactly what was happening, where they were, and he was right there as close as the spirit within them. The hope that this knowledge gave them was enough to get them through what could have been the darkest hours of their lives, and welled up in them because of their prayers and songs, and in their prayers and songs.
Paul and Silas spent their sleepless night praying to their God and singing the hymns of their faith. And all the others sounds ceased. The moaning’s ceased, the incoherent babblings, the wicked laughter, fearful whimpers and angry curses—they all ceased and gave way to the sounds of praise—to the sound of hope.
And hope does not disappoint them, any of them.
The Prisoners are listening. What are they hearing from us? Hope or despair. They need hope, if we don’t have hope, if we don’t exude hope, then we the church have failed, and all is lost. But it’s not—not yet. Not as long as our God reigns and we keep looking up.
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them.” Acts 15:1-2
I have been working my way through the book of Acts with my church, and one thing that has become abundantly clear, there was a whole lot of contention, dissension and dispute in the early church. Huh, some things never change do they? Usually it was because people were too busy talking and not listening, Same ‘ol. . .
You can say a lot of things about the past and current season this generation has been in and many of them would be argued with as soon as you said them. But that one thing that can’t be argued is that it has been a contentious season.
Contentious politically, culturally, spiritually, both nationally and on a world wide scale, as so much of what is going on or being foisted upon us affects uson a global scale like never before as the world gets smaller and smaller as populations and connectivity grow at breakneck speeds.
The enemy is tearing down everything he can, economies, nations and borders, histories, traditions and family, individualism and personal rights and identities, churches and relationships.
Everyone is being turned against everyone else and lumped into groups of us versus them. And those who dare try to have independent thoughts are slammed, shamed and silenced.
Why? Why would the enemy want this chaos and strife? Why would he want to destroy and cause all this strife?
Well, that short answer is obvious, he hates us all, especially those who know the Son of God. But the larger plan and purpose is that he wants to tear down everything that could possibly hinder him from seizing control of the world as a whole. And to destroy the people of God once and for all, Israel and the church.
For the first time on history the entire world is in a position where there could theoretically be one economy, one governing body, one religion, one standard set of laws and regulations. And we have already seen how easy it is to get everyone to comply with what would have previously seemed overreaching and intrusively untenable demands.
I mean, for a season, and still for some, we basically lived under Marshall law dictating our movements, and Sharia law as far as face coverings go, and faced communist style shortages while being policed Nazi style by our own neighbors as everyone was encouraged to report all dissension against the mandates.
And it was all justified, Marxist style, as being for the greater good of course. It all came together nicely in this season of pandemic hysteria and will continue to be pushed in the name of climate emergencies and social justice causes. We traded away all our freedoms for promised security and let fear rule the day.
And that’s why the enemy hates God’s people, there is no fear in perfect love, and perfect love is what we have.
We are now supposed to be okay with having our gender neutralized and our skin color being the sole thing that determines whether we are a victim or an oppressor. We rolled over and allowed small private businesses to be destroyed, our churches and schools to be closed, and now our speech, as far as speaking out or questioning any of that is being monitored and regulated. I have no doubt this very blog will be flagged and shadow banned by my various platforms.
And we are all supposed to be okay with all of that? And just submit? I’m sorry but I’m not and I won’t. Because I see it all as a perfect set up for the Anti-Christ to seize power, to just slide right in and declare, ‘Here I am to save the day!‘
My point is, if we want to have any hope of countering the plans of the enemy, or at the very least to survive as a church and to leave this world with our souls intact and headed for glory, we need to stop rising to the bait and bickering among ourselves. We need to stop worrying about things that in the end will not matter a whit, and keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, and treat one another with love so that all men may know that we are His disciples.
The Titanic is going down and we are complaining about the music the band is playing as she sinks.
Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, Acts 15:19
This is what came of all the arguments, of all the debates and contention and dissention in the early church about the finer points of the law, of those who thought they held the keys to the deeper things of God, the true way to the Father and his favor. Of those who kept troubling those who were deemed to be ignorant of truth and godliness.
The Apostles of Jesus Christ, the brother of Jesus Christ, James—those who had walked with him, lived with him and who were still guided and empowered by him through his Holy Spirit, all got together one day and to settle the issue between grace and religion once and for all—this is what they decided was important and necessary for those who were coming to faith in Jesus Christ and being baptized in his Spirit as a result.
Right at the top of this Supreme Holy Court decision was the admonition to stop troubling the gentiles with all your nonsense about the law and the deeper things of God let them turn to God. Let the know it all’s take notice—shut up and listen to what the Spirit says and open your eyes to see what he is doing among those you deem ignorant.
Stop troubling them. I know so many Christians who have lost their zeal and desire to go forth and plunder the enemy’s territory because some well-meaning, more learned and mature Christian made them feel stupid and ill equipped.
If you know Jesus as Lord and have been delivered from your bondages to sin and death, if you have the Spirit of the living God residing in your heart, you are a warrior, you are the Lord’s champion, you have a testimony and a name that is above all names, that will overcome the beast, that will set the captives free and will bring many sons and daughters to glory.
Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Anyone who comes against you and troubles you in that regard is an agent of the devil. As Jesus said-Get behind me Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men!
And strive for holiness.
The Apostle’s provide an astonishingly short list of things the new believers should do to keep on track and not get sucked back into the clutches of the enemy. They all had to do with not opening yourself up to his control and destructive designs for us and the world; abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
The debate was over, for a time. People just cannot let go of their pet theologies and traditions, convinced they alone are right.
We need to stop shooting at each other from our favorite theological bunkers. We need to love one another, encourage one another humbly and sincerely as we all struggle to navigate this evil world, as those who are no longer citizens of this world, and start heeding the warnings God is giving us from those who are shutting their mouths long enough to listen to him and to see what the Spirit is doing.
Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul. . .Acts 15:12
We need to stop worrying and arguing about things that in the end will not matter a whit, and keep our eyes on Jesus, we need to just shut up and listen, to stop fighting one another, and to heed those he sends to encourage and warn us.
We need to stop being the Pharisees and be the Jeremiahs, (A Jeremiah Spirit) and we need to hear the Jeremiahs. I said it the very first week this Pandemic business hit the fan last year, and it still holds true today, The Lord does nothing but that he doesn’t tell his servants.
I worked with a guy for several years who had a propensity to argue, in fact, I argued with him a lot. He was pretty stubborn and always wanted to act like he knew it all, or at least take credit for it all. When it was my work he was taking credit for, I had a problem with that.
Anyway, he also had a fondness for the beer and cigarettes, and one day the combination got him in trouble. I first heard the story on the news, and then later from him. He was sitting in his recliner one evening after having drank several beers, smoking a cigarette, and he fell asleep— or more like passed out.
He told me he remembers waking up and thinking it was really hot so he decided to go to bed. The next thing he knew someone was trying to drag him out of bed so he was trying to fight him off until he realized that his room was full of smoke and the guy who was wrestling him out of bed was a firefighter.
What happened was he had fallen asleep with a cigarette, the cigarette had started his recliner on fire, which woke him up, so instead of trying to figure out why his chair was so hot, he just went to bed.
A neighbor saw the smoke pouring out of his living room window and called 911. And of course the firemen searched the house for people as they put the fire out. They rescued him despite his fighting against them and even saved his house.
Did he learn? No, a few years later he was found dead in his bathroom of a heart attack, in his mid-forties, after years of heavy drinking and smoking. Despite the many warnings his body and his friends were giving him, he refused to even go to the doctor, he thought he knew better.
Things are heating up, maybe instead of going back to sleep, or fighting with those who are trying to save us, we should pay attention to why things are getting hot.
It’s not because our neighbors need us to straighten them out, we need to start by looking at ourselves. –Humility
“Before the Holy Spirit moved in, the flesh just ran the show. Ahhh the good old days. . . “
In Acts 11 the Apostle Peter has just returned to his home church in Jerusalem after sharing the word of God with a Roman centurion named Cornelius. As a result Cornelius and his entire household, dreaded gentiles, were saved and baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Peter is met back home with scorn and confrontation for this, him having cavorted with the filthy pagans. Peter shuts up these religious busybodies by explaining to them exactly what happened. Acts 11:16-17
Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”Who was I that I could withstand God?
Resistance is futile
Now there’s a fight I know way too much about; wrestling with the Holy Spirit. If you are serious about following the Lord, and especially if you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, be prepared for a lot of inner turmoil as the flesh will nearly always be at odds with the spirit. Before the Holy Spirit moved in, the flesh just ran the show.
Ahh— the good old days. . . Just kidding, those days were marked by emptiness and anxiety. Allowing the Holy Spirit to come in and give me new life through Jesus Christ, and then the power to overcome my flesh, just changed the nature of the struggle, but it put me on the winning side.
And still I ask, as does our title verse, who am I that I can withstand God?
An echo of the words of Peter as he relates his dramatic testimony of what he saw the Holy Spirit do amongst the gentiles as he preached the word of God to them.
Reminds me of something I read just recently a few chapters back in Acts, something that jumped out at me then and has continued to be in the back of my mind as I struggle with ‘What Lord, am I to do? Am I doing what you will for my life? Am I where I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I on the right road or did I miss a turn somewhere, or just wander off aimlessly?’
That saying I’m referring to comes from the words of Jesus to Paul as he waylays him on the road to Damascus to change his path. And that is: “It’s hard to kick against the goads.”
When everything seems to be difficult, or more of a challenge than it should be and it seems you are just getting bruised and bloodied for your troubles, it certainly makes you wonder if you are kicking against the goads.
We all struggle with that from time to time in our walk with the Lord, at least if you care enough about following the Lord to keeping pushing on in pursuit of him and working to advance his Kingdom with or through his bride, the church—the church who can either hurt or hinder you depending on who is prevailing in their struggle, the flesh or the Spirit.
A big part of the challenge is knowing who is holding the goad. Is it the enemy and the world, the weakness of the flesh, who is poking at you with that sharp metal tipped oxen poker to prevent you from following? Or is it Jesus urgently trying to get you to change course and head in the right direction?
Are we standing against evil, or withstanding God?
It can be hard to know at times. Whenever I feel like there needs to be a change of course, an attitude or perception adjustment, I am careful to not move too quickly, unless it is a clear and imminent word or prompting from the Holy Spirit, because there are ways to know. And sometimes it just means you need a rest, a reminder or a refreshing. Either way, patience usually pays a big role.
But whatever the season or the answer, In the end we must stand, we must not be silent.
That’s the thing about being baptized–filled, with the Holy Spirit–he will not leave you alone. Which is a good thing, because alone, I am very bad for my self and not much good to others. And who am I to withstand God?
I’ll let God have the last word, his words to Peter:
‘What God has cleansed you must not callcommon.’
You are anything but common. Do not let them tell you, you tell them.
The enemy wants nothing more than to silence us, but we, if we remember God’s word, always have the last word, we have the power to stop the argument, to silence the voices of accusation and slander. We are Christian.
Please pray for me my friends, I’m a little weary, as I know we all are. . .
I love studying and pondering history, the paths that mankind has walked over the centuries as groups and nations have formed, reformed, and sought to survive in whatever environment they found themselves.
One of the things that always becomes obvious is how far and how fast nations and tribes moved away from the knowledge and ways of the creator and became consumed with darkness and superstition as demons and fleshly lusts filled the vacuums left in the hearts and lives of those who wondered away from God.
They truly did end up in horrible and terrifying darkness. A darkness that left one to fear the dark, to fear the forests, to fear the sea, to fear the heavens and to look for omens above and below to dictate and foretell their fate, omens that were seldom good.
People paid homage to trees and rocks, animals and birds, told tales of strange creatures and spirits that would consume their flesh and enslave their souls. They lived in fear and paid dearly for the favor of those who claimed to have the ability to hear and manipulate those unseen powers—the shamans, the druids, the priests and the witches or whatever labels they claimed.
No doubt many of the tales our ancestors told of trolls and ogres, ghosts and goblins, curses and spells, witches and sorcerers, and on and on, were based on truth. Because the enemy was allowed—and even encouraged by we who were supposed to rule and subdue the earth—to run unabated and unleash whatever unholy terror he wanted on the crown of God’s creation, mankind, because we had turned our hearts away from him and given up our authority and protection.
But God never gave up on us, he had preserved a people, and a handful within that people, who kept clinging to the promises that one day the promised one would come and restore that which we threw away in the garden of Eden and had shunned ever since—a real relationship with the Creator, with our Father.
But now it has happened, the Son of God has come, a great light.
I don’t know about you, but I am real glad I am not trying to earn or fight my way into some ethereal beer hall, living in fear of the ghosts lurking in the dark corners and wondering what the sick twisted purpose of it all is as I draw ever closer to taking a dirt nap. The worst darkness of all has been chased away, the darkness in the heart. And we must never forget that; be grateful for that, and be passionate about sharing that.
Jesus is Lord of all and he is passionate about every person from every tribe, nation and tongue.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” Rev 5:9-10
After a crazy vision of a sheet being let down from heaven full of “unclean” animals with a command from God to eat, the apostle Peter is led to go to the house of a Roman centurion, to share the gospel. Normally, being a good Jewish boy, Peter would have flat out refused, but the sheet thing has him expanding his horizons a bit. He goes, the Holy Spirit falls on the whole house full of Romans and they all start speaking in tongues and praising God, leaving Peter to proclaim; Acts chapter 10-
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—Acts 10:34-36
Jesus is Lord of all.
We have see over and over again throughout the gospels and through much of Acts—example after example of Jesus wanting this message of the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s desire to heal and deliver, being for all persons regardless of nationality, gender or status. Jesus’ last words before he ascended back to heaven were that the Apostles were to go and make disciples of all nations.
We have seen the early church scattered and the message being brought to other nations and peoples by the persecuted church such as to the Samaritans and the Ethiopians. We have seen Paul being appointed by the Lord as a chosen vessel to carry the gospel to the gentiles.
Yet for all this, in the first years of the church there is still a deep seated and unshakable bigotry on the part of the Jewish believers, particularly on the ones who should know better, the Apostles.
They just can’t get over this notion that has been taught them since childhood, not just them, but countless generations of Israelites, that they are chosen by God, at the exclusion of all others, by virtue of their linage as descendants of Abraham to whom the promise was first made, that they would be a chosen people through whom many nations would be blessed. And that they are not to mingle, to be intermarried, have fellowship with or eat with anyone who does not worship the Lord their God lest they become unclean.
This notion originates in the law and the prophets. But it was meant to protect and preserve them from their own weaknesses, not from other people. And it was never meant to engender a hatred for anyone. The prophet Jonah learned that when he refused to go to the hated Ninevites with a message of warning and opportunity for the Assyrians, and ended up in the belly of the great fish thinking about how, apparently to God, all lives matter—even Assyrian.
Although Jonah finally went and preached to the Assyrians in their capital city of Nineveh, in the end, the Assyrians would become a larger influence on Israel than Israel ever was on Assyria, because Assyria was more than happy to share their gods with Israel. And, as a result, God would use Assyria to mete out his Judgement on Israel for their adulteries.
He would later do the same to Judah with Babylon.
But, instead of learning the importance of being a light to the Gentiles, they doubled down on separating themselves once they were allowed to return from exile. They were the chosen people and no one else in the world had any right to oppress them or had a share in their inheritance.
So now, in Peter’s day, this notion of superiority and separation has been taken to the extreme by the post exilic Jews who are determined to not get led astray again by foreign Gods and carried off once again by foreigners as punishment for their unfaithfulness.
Sounds like a good policy, but they have taken it to the extreme at the urging of their rabbi’s, priests and pharisees who see total isolation from all things non Jewish as the equivalent of holiness. When in reality this isolationist theology is preventing them from being the light to the world God had always intended for them to be.
And it was preventing them from thinking they had any personal responsibility in it all—they were children of Abraham, what else do you need to know? Even Jesus had pointed out the problem with this notion on more than one occasion. Yes they were chosen and set apart, but not because they were somehow a superior race that would just skate into God’s graces by virtue of their heritage.
It was God keeping a promise to Abraham, and being determined to bless the world as a result.
I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Gen 26:3-5
God had chosen Israel as a people set apart as keepers of his covenant and his word. Not so that no one else would have access to it, but so that it would be preserved and passed down for all to know.
And we will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, for preserving that word for us. And, for ultimately fulfilling the promises given through them that all would be blessed and that we would see a great light to lead us from the darkness, in that our Savior, the Messiah, came to us from the lineage of David, a descendant of Abraham.
And that even that message, the gospel of Jesus Christ, was shared, written and preserved for all the world by the Jewish—very Jewish— Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth.
Continue to pray that more and more of the Jewish people will come to the Messiah for salvation and for the peace of Israel.
And let the God of Abraham, fill you, let him open your eyes, let him set you free—free at last. Through His son and by His Spirit. Amen