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, March 30, 2017

Using Our Gifts, Acts 21:10-11

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing all I can for God and for furthering His message of love and salvation. Scripture tells us that we all have received gifts of the Holy Spirit to be used for the building up of the body. We find a list of spiritual gifts and their overall purpose in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
The purpose: for the common good. It is clear that not everyone is given the same gift. Each is given a gift that they may be part of the edification of the church. In Acts 21:10-11, we see one example of one man’s giftedness.
As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
I came to question whether or not I was using the gifts the Holy Spirit has given me. Here’s a man, Agabus, exercising the gift of prophecy. Basically he proclaimed the truth already told to Paul, that he would suffer many trials in his work for Christ. This is not a new prediction in the sense that it’s something no one’s ever heard before. God gave this message to Agabus to prepare Paul for the specifics of what was to come. So, what is the definition of a modern day prophet? In looking at various sources the most simple, and I believe very accurate, description said, “I think in over-simplistic terms, you could say a prophet is a truth teller.” Agabus was certainly that.
Back to the question of whether or not I am using the gifts God gave me . . . through various people and various gifts of the spirit inventories, I’ve been called a modern day prophet. My first impulse is to run and hide. Telling the truth to people who don’t necessarily want to hear it can be a rough job. However, another way to look at it, is that I’m just repeating the truth of Scripture as the Holy Spirit leads. I don’t usually know when I’m doing it. I just share from what God’s been showing me, and somehow it ends up being the truth someone in the “audience” needed to hear. So, in a way, as was pointed out to me by a friend, I am using that gift through this blog and through the notes I send to people via snail mail and technology. So, running and hiding is not really an option the Holy Spirit has given me.
I may also have other gifts (we all usually have at least a couple), but this one scares me the most. It’s a big responsibility to regularly/always tell the truth. Fortunately for me, I have a truth-guide. I have the Word of God. If I’m just saying what the Word says, I’m assured of telling the truth. I have to be careful to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and I need to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance as what to share. Like I said, I often don’t even know when I’m doing it. That’s all the work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t set out to preach specific messages to specific people. I let God make all those arrangements.
What are your spiritual gifts and are you open to using them for God’s glory and for the building up of the church? Just something to think about.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What's Real Fellowship Look Like? Acts 20:36-38

At the end of Paul’s time with the Ephesians’ leaders before Paul left on his final leg of the journey to Jerusalem, a couple of things took place that indicated to me that true fellowship involves focus on Christ and prayer. These leaders were greatly moved by Paul’s message to them and greatly saddened by the fear that they would no longer have an opportunity to fellowship with and learn from Paul. They would miss Paul immensely. There was real affection and care for Paul on the part of these elders. There was also great affection and care for the Ephesians on the part of Paul. A mutually loving and caring relationship existed between the believers.
Acts 20:36-38 describes the relationship and gives us some ideas for improving our fellowship.
And when he [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
First off, they had been listening and discussing Paul’s ministry among them. That’s the “these things” the passage was talking about. Paul had covered several key points in his longest recorded message to Christians. He discussed four concepts with them:
1.  Paul’s ministry as an example to them (vs. 18-21)
2.  Paul’s future prospects (vs. 22-27)
3.  Warnings of coming heresies (vs. 28-31)
4.  Proper attitudes toward material goods (vs. 32-35)

Having finished the discussion, Paul, and presumably the rest of the elders, knelt down to pray together. I know we say a prayer at the end of the sermon on Sunday mornings, but for many of us (myself included) that is the only time we engage in group, corporate prayer. I feel this was a pattern in Paul’s life: to pray whenever meeting with believers. I find that is an, often overlooked, aspect of the times we get together for what we call fellowship. I try to involve prayer with others in my activities with others, but I’m not always successful. Maybe that’s because what we are doing is not actually “fellowship.” Maybe it’s just having fun with other Christians.
I also find it interesting that they knelt to pray. This is from Acts so it’s not a “rule” or “commandment” for us to follow. And I’m not going to say that we always need to be in a kneeling position when we pray. However, Paul left us with that example of reverence and respect, an we should make sure we pray from a position of reverence and respect. Kneeling is one way of doing that. I know that it is not always possible to position ourselves in such a way (I can’t get up after kneeling and my husband can’t kneel due to knee surgeries), but we should, at the very least, position ourselves in a way that shows reverence and respect to God.
I noticed their attitudes when parting with Paul became eminent. They were weeping aloud and embracing Paul. There was grieving over the possibility of never seeing Paul again. Do I feel anything like that when leaving the presence of fellow-believers? Probably not because I have a reasonable assurance that I shall see them again. But that’s taking a lot for granted. I should not be so cavalier because it’s quite possible that those we part with may never be seen again. We should make sure they know we will miss their fellowship and that we will be praying for them.
Finally, parting should be hard to do. The elders wanted every last minute with Paul so they accompanied him to the ship he would be sailing on. I confess, sometimes my attitude is “will they ever leave?” It may be hard to find closure for our fellowship times, yet if we have shared Scripture, prayed and loved on each other, the parting may be less traumatic than it was for these believers.
I’m going to try to pray more with the groups (or individuals) I meet with. I think we need to include more prayer into our meetings and partings.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Turning to God: Acts 20:1-16

Several thoughts came to mind while studying this section of Acts. And, it just so happens, my Quiet Time (based on the Our Daily Bread guide), also addressed some of these same issues. Primarily, the thoughts were about turning to God in times of struggle.
Just like David, Paul had trials and tribulations to deal with. Some of the struggles were from without. In David’s case, these without struggles were often about trying to deal with the death threats and persecution from King Saul. Paul’s struggles were often with the non-believing Jews he encountered on his various missionary journeys; they wanted to kill him and squash his message. I have external conflicts I have to deal with also. And, like David and Paul, when I turn to God and try to do things in a way pleasing to Him, sometimes things get better and sometimes things get worse. We can’t control what other people do or say in response to us no matter how kind and compassionate we tried to be. In those situations, my peace comes from knowing that my salvation is not reliant upon the actions of other people. It’s dependant only upon God’s love for me and my response to Him.
However, both David and Paul had their inside struggles to deal with. These internal struggles seem to be conflict with who they are and who they want to be. Those struggles often lead to what appears to be a depressed state in both of those leaders. I can also relate to those struggles. I like Psalm 30:1-5, one of David’s songs to God, because it talks about how we may feel we are without hope, but then there’s God:
I will extol Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast lifted me up,
And hast not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O Lord my God,
I cried to Thee for help, and Thou didst heal me.
O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol;
Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

David says he was in a state where he needed help and healing. He felt his soul was in Sheol (Hell) and he was afraid he would go down to the pit if it weren’t for God’s hand on his life. He indicates that weeping was a part of his life. Yet, despite his depression thoughts and feelings, he knew the remedy was to turn to God. He says that God has kept him alive, that God has healed him. And he focuses his attention on God. He sings praise to the Lord and gives thanks to His holy name.
In Acts 20, we find a situation where Paul also may have been feeling alone, afraid, in the pit, and there were times of weeping (Acts 20:19 says, “. . . serving the Lord with all humility and with tears . . .”). It is speculated by several commentators the Paul experienced depression, yet he kept proclaiming the message of Christ in the midst of that. At one point in Acts 20 (verse 13) Paul chooses to go by land while the rest of his team went by ship to a designated place of meeting. There are lots of possible reasons why Paul decided to do this, none of which are explained in the Scriptures. However, I like what Spurgeon had to say about this walk: “A quiet lonely walk of twenty miles suited Paul, it would give him space for prayer and meditation, and help him to shake off some of the depression which had gathered over his mind while he waited in Philippi. Those who labor much for the Lord must have their times of retirement for self-examination, prayer, communion with God, and preparation for future efforts.” Again, I want to say that we don’t know why Paul, in this particular situation, decided to go by land because the Scriptures don’t explain it. However, I like to think Paul was communing with God and praising Him (as David did when he was down).
I see that as the way out of my depressions. When I get my eyes set on Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s great power, I feel loved and cared for. That goes a long way towards lifting the depression, at least for a period of time. Then it’s good for me to keep praising God and giving thanks for His compassion, love and care for me, each day to maintain a spirit of hope. It works for me if I let it. Maybe it can work for you.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sharing Truth: Acts 19:35-40

We can learn several things from the town clerk’s message as he tried to quiet the mob in Ephesus, which were inciting violence against the Christians, especially against Paul. The clerk, once he quieted the rioters, made 6 main points about the accusations against the Christians. Basically he said that the assembled citizens of Ephesus were creating a riot over nothing and that the rioters were in danger of breaking the Roman laws.
I want to specifically look at one of the things the clerk said because it tells us about Paul and the other Christians in Ephesus. Acts 19:37 records one part of the clerk’s message: “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess . . .” The point the clerk was trying to make was point number four: “The persons accused were not guilty of breaking the civil laws.” What does this tell us about Paul and the other disciples who were preaching the Messiah message throughout Ephesus?
It tells us that Paul did not go about offending the inhabitants of Ephesus by forcibly destroying their goddess’s temple (Ephesus was the main place where the worship of Artemis was strongest) or ridiculing the people for their beliefs. What Paul and the others preached was the truth about Jesus Christ. And the truth was changing the people’s hearts. It wasn’t by force that the exorcists and evil-doers repented of their sins (see Acts 19:17-20 where it says that the “word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”) It was the message, the truth, and the God-ordained miracles Paul was espousing. No one was forcing them or directly confronting their goddesses and gods. They were just reasoning and speaking the truth to the people and those people responded favorably to the message.
(One statement made by Paul may have been directly aimed at the concept of multiple gods and goddesses. In verse 26, one of the rabble-rousers gave an example of Paul’s examples to the people: “. . . this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying, ‘that gods made with hands are no gods at all . . .” So Paul was questioning the reality of man-made gods, but he didn’t directly attack Artemis.)
This passage impressed upon me the idea that we need not be destructive or confrontational with unbelievers as we try to reason with them and show them the truth. We do not have to become aggressive and harsh. We do not need to ridicule sinners to get them to see the error of their ways. We can speak boldly with love and compassion. And, most importantly, we can speak the truth of Jesus’ death on the cross, His resurrection, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. None of those key truths attack anyone else. It’s just the sharing of the truth. It’s up to God’s Holy Spirit to convict and change people’s hearts.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Examples of Apollos: Acts 18:23-28

There are two principles in the story of Apollos found in Acts 18. First a little background on Apollos. Acts tells us about him (verse 24 – 25):
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, and Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John . . .
Apollos was essentially speaking and teaching the characteristics of the Christ as told in the Old Testament. He knew what the Christ would be like from the Scriptures and was preaching that the Messiah was coming. Basically, he knew three things from listening to the teachings of John, the Baptist. He had learned John’s message well, but that was as far as his knowledge went. From John he had learned: 1. Forgiveness of sins on the basis of repentance, 2. Expression of repentance by baptism, and 3. One was coming who would complete their salvation. That was fine and good as far as it went.
When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching in Ephesus, they were impressed, but also knew his message was incomplete. So, in following the tradition, and obeying a principle we’ve seen throughout Acts, “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Verse 26). They met him where he was in his knowledge and shared with him all about Jesus. They filled him in on the happenings since John.
They did this by sharing the key elements found in the messages of Peter and Paul throughout the book of Acts. The keys to the gospel message. They shared about what was missing from his preaching and teaching. These elements should be familiar to us all because they were, and continue to be, the keys to a complete gospel message. Priscilla and Aquila, in private, explained to Apollos, 1. The Cross (Jesus’ death), 2. The Resurrection, and 3. The Holy Spirit’s Baptism.
The result was that Apollos went to Achaia (Corinth) with the blessings and letters of introduction to the Corinthian church, and “helped greatly those who had believed through grace; for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Verses 27 – 28). The building up of the church in Corinth was accomplished through many, none-the-less of whom, was Apollos with a now complete message of salvation to bring to the people.
So the two principles? First, when sharing with other, we need to meet people where they are in their understanding of the gospel and the truth. Priscilla and Aquila did this by taking Apollos aside, in private, and giving him the rest of the story. And second, making sure the gospel message includes the death and resurrection of Jesus, because in doing that, we are proving that the Messiah of the Old Testament and Jesus are the same person.