What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, November 24, 2016

God Uses Others: Acts 10

So, I’ve been studying Acts 10 and 11. Part of the story is how God worked in the lives of people to lead them to other people. Cornelius was told to seek out Peter and Peter was told to go to Cornelius. Yes, there are the miraculous visions from God that each of those men had received. But the visions only contained part of the message from God that each man needed to carry out God’s will.
To complete God’s message to Peter about saving the Gentiles Peter needed to converse with and fellowship with Cornelius. To give Cornelius what he and his household needed to be saved, God used Peter. Without each other, God’s message would not have been clear to either man alone. God often completes His messages to us through our fellowship with other believers. We need each other to get the total message from God. God uses people to confirm what the Scriptures tell us to do. God uses other people to give us insight into the Scriptures. God uses other people to direct us to appropriate passages of Scripture. God uses other people to encourage us as we learn to fellowship with God in deeper ways.
Without other wise people in my life, I would take off in the wrong directions often. I need others to encourage me, support me, guide me, and instruct me with God’s Word. I also need people who may be thinking more clearly about my situations and feelings. I think of when I first got sober, back in college. God put people in my life to bring me His message of salvation and hope. Those people knew me and had seen my dysfunctional life in action. Those people taught me how to read God’s Word, pray, study (my college academics as well as the Scriptures), and relate to other people. They brought me the Truth just as Peter brought the truth to Cornelius.
When I needed help getting sober again (about 20 years later), He again put the right people in my life. These people hadn’t necessarily seen me drunk like the first group of people in college, but they were sent to give me a message. One woman, Cathy, was used by God to bring me a specific message: Go to Alcoholics Anonymous. And, I did , with her help in finding meetings. At those meetings, I met other people I believe God put in my path. They were able to say and do the right things to help get me sober, again. Basically, God uses people to speak to us, and we should listen carefully t what they have to say.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Best Kind of Congregation: Acts 10:33

In Acts 10:34 – 43 we are given an overview of Peter’s sermon to Cornelius (Roman Centurion) and his gathered friends and family. Cornelius had a vision to send for Peter and Peter had a vision to go with Cornelius’ messengers. As Peter arrived at Cornelius’ home, there was a crowd gathered. This crowd were the people Cornelius had invited to come hear God’s message as told by Peter.
I was struck by the description of these congregated people found in verse 33 as mentioned by one of the commentators in my notes on Chapter 10. This commentator said that this was, “the best kind of congregation a preacher can have.” And went on to describe them for us. Before I get into the commentators description, let’s look at verse 33:
“And so I [Cornelius] sent to you [Peter] immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
At first I didn’t see anything significant in this verse. Cornelius, in fact, is describing the spirit in which this group of people gathered. The commentator (Spurgeon) breaks it down for us. This describes what we should be like in our church congregations or wherever Christians are meeting together.
First, “Peter’s congregation was unbroken.” Taken from the phrase “we are all here,” it means that they had come together with the specific purpose of hearing God’s message. They weren’t scattered or wandering around. They were an unbroken group. Possibly also meaning that they were all of one mind.
Second, the group was “devout,” taken from the phrase “present before God.” When I looked up the word in several dictionaries some common descriptions came up. One said, “Having or showing a deep religious feeling or commitment.” Another said, “loyal to something : devoted to a particular belief, organization, person, etc. : serious and sincere.” I’m getting a sense that these people were not uninterested bystanders. They were devout to what they knew about God, mostly from studying the Old Testament. They were ready to hear a message from God. They were prepared.
Third, they were “attentive.” In the King James Version of the Bible it says, “to hear all things.” They were not daydreaming or talking among themselves. They were eagerly waiting to listen to Peter. They were not distracted by their own concerns or problems. They were set to be attentive to what Peter had to say.
And, finally, they were “teachable, for they desired to know  “all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” The commanded implies they were ready to obey. Many of these people were probably soldiers under Cornelius’ leadership. They understood the meaning of “commanded” and they were ready to do whatever was necessary to obey the Lord. There is a definite willingness to obey.
So, I can’t make everyone in my church have these four characteristics, but I can be prepared to have a spirit like those gathered at Cornelius’ home: Unbroken (unity), devout, attentive, and teachable. I can do my part and maybe show by example the spirit with which we should approach our Sunday celebrations.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Needing Many Lessons: Acts 10:1-22

Sometimes I feel and think I’m going nowhere; that I’m not growing, learning, changing. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get “it,” whatever “it” might be. I’m not talking about how to work the various remote controls for the television. I’m talking about knowing how to live a healthy, happy, joyous, content life. I feel like God is trying to teach me how to do this and I just don’t get it. I’m afraid He will give up on me. Have you ever felt that way? Take courage. We are not that much different than the apostle Peter.
In Acts 10, we see people getting instructions from God through the Holy Spirit (or angels or some other messenger from God). One of those people is Peter who is staying in Joppa (a seaport). God had instructed a Roman Centurion (a Gentile) to send messengers to Joppa to ask Peter to return with them to Caesarea to give a message to the Centurion (again let me emphasize, a Gentile). While the messengers are on their way to Joppa, Peter has a vision. This vision showed Peter a bunch of “clean” and “unclean” creatures and a voice said to Peter, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” Peter’s response was, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” (vs. 13, 14) Then the voice said to Peter, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (vs. 15)
But what encouraged me the most was verse 16: “And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” Peter had to be told three or four times the same thing, and then he still didn’t get it. He was still “greatly perplexed in his mind as to what the vision . . . might be.” (vs. 17) So, even Peter had to be shown/told multiple times in multiple ways what God wanted for his life.
I might not get what God is trying to do in my life right now. He may have to show me and tell me from His Word, multiple times before I get what He wants me to do. When I feel like it’s all hopeless, I can remember that God may just be in the process of teaching me a hard to get lesson. However, there’s progress if I look for it. In earlier times, it seemed like nothing could lift my spirits and bring me out of a depression. It would run its course, including my being hospitalized to keep me safe from myself. Then a new med might start working or I’d start to feel better and less depressed (possibly on the way up to a manic state). Now I feel like I have tools to combat the downswings. Certain people are in my life that can encourage me. I have David and his Psalms. And I have a greater understanding of and commitment to obey God’s Word. As I’ve learned that God is greater than all my troubles, I am more likely (and possibly more quickly) to turn to praising God and acknowledging that He is in control and I have value in His eyes.
So even though I’m not great at “it” and will probably have to be taught again (and again), God has worked. Looking back at the ways He’s worked in the past in one of the tools He has given me as I am perplexed, right along with Peter, as to what God has in mind for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Use Our Gifts For God: Acts 9:36-43

This section of Acts returns to Peter’s story and the situations that lead up to sharing with Gentiles. Peter performs two miracles in this section: 1. Heals a paralyzed man, and 2. Raises a woman from death. Those miracles are interesting enough, especially the raising of the woman from death because this is the first record of the apostles doing that. However, what I want to look at is the characteristics of two people mentioned in this passage.
First, we are introduced to Dorcus (Tabitha) in verses 36 – 39. Several things are said of Dorcus. She was a disciple living in Joppa (36). She abounded with deeds of kindness and charity (36). She was a seamstress who apparently made garments for many widows (39). The Scriptures don’t tell us that she held Bible studies in her home or spent massive amounts of time in prayer or preaching. What it tells us is she used her gifts to serve the people she was in contact with. It does say she was a disciple, but what characterized her in the Scriptures was her service to others. And what was her gift? Sewing. That’s plain and simple. God used what He gave her to reach out to the those who were in need. She continually performed acts of kindness and charity. That’s a mark of a disciple.
Next, a man is mentioned in verse 43. He is characterized by his occupation: tanner. His name was Simon, and later in Acts 10:6 we are told he lives by the sea. We don’t know much more about this specific man, however, tanners were generally seen as undesirable to hang around with because of their contact with “unclean” things (hides, blood, sinews, etc.) But, God uses this tanner to serve Peter as Peter stayed in Joppa for many days. We can only speculate why Peter would hang out with someone the established religion of the time considered to be unclean. But, one thing is certain. Simon the tanner had the gift of hospitality and was willing to and able to house Peter for many days.
Neither of these gifts, sewing or lodging others, seem to be great spiritual attributes, yet God used these people and their gifts. And they were willing to use their gifts in service to God however He directed them. So, that brings me to a question. Do I use the gifts God has given me to serve Him? Or am I still waiting for God to endow me with some miraculous, powerful, showy gift that will reach millions of people in one fell swoop? I’m probably not going to be the next Billy Graham, but that doesn’t mean that the gifts God has given me are not just as important when used in service to God. Serving God is what gives my life purpose and meaning. My hope is in using the gifts God has given me in service to Him.