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, April 27, 2017

Opportunities in Disguise: Acts 25

Paul is still imprisoned, but now he’s being held captive by Festus, Felix’s successor. Felix probably left a note explaining the charges against Paul, but he decides to hear from Paul himself, after the Jews he met with in Jerusalem asked for Paul to stand trial in Jerusalem. (Meanwhile, the Jews were setting up an ambush to kill Paul on the journey between Caesarea and Jerusalem.)
Festus, wisely says, that they are free to bring charges against Paul in the Roman court in Caesarea. Possibly Festus had an inkling that all was not kosher with the Jews’ request. Just like Felix, Festus could not determine any Roman law that Paul had broken – especially not a crime deserving death. Paul’s defense clearly outlines his belief in the resurrected Jesus, but Festus didn’t see any significance in it. So, he sent the Jews away empty-handed, but only because Paul made an appeal that he have his citizenship Roman right to be heard in Rome by the emperor.
Festus kept Paul waiting for transport to Rome. While this waiting was going on, Festus hosted Agrippa II in his court. Agrippa knew the Jewish laws and policies better than Festus, so when Festus had an opportunity, he asked Agrippa for some guidance. Agrippa wanted to hear directly from Paul. This gave Paul another opportunity to address rulers and kings as was prophesied back in Acts 9:15. And Paul took the opportunity.
While we might be tempted to say, “Poor Paul. Locked in prison for years,” God was setting the stage for Paul to fulfill the call on his life. As far as we can tell, Paul did not complain or get sullen. He took the opportunities God gave him to share the message of Christ. The challenge is for us to view our struggles as opportunities to share Christ.
One commentator put it this way: “Rather than complain about your present situation, look for ways to use every opportunity to serve God and share Him with others. You problems may be opportunities in disguise.” I actually remember a time one summer when I was in college going to a summer long training with the Navigators’ college ministries. There was a guest speaker who said exactly these words to us. He was undergoing treatment for cancer, probably a fatal cancer. Instead of acting pitiful and hopeless, he was celebrating the opportunities to be joyful and would share his hope with everyone he came in contact with: doctors, nurses, radiologists, ministers, family, friends, other patients, etc.
One thing he said still rings true and sticks with me today: “Use every opportunity as a platform for the gospel.” I can do this by keeping the salvation hope alive in my thoughts. I know that death is not the end for me. I have promises of a life to come. So, I’m trying to use some medical issues I have going on right now as platforms for joy which, in turn, may impress upon someone that my life is different. Maybe they will ask why or maybe I will be able to share parts of my testimony (as Paul did on several occasions). Either way, I keep looking for opportunities to witness for Christ and I start each day off with that as my prayer.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

God's Will: Acts 23-24

Basically I can sum up my thoughts this way: Having suffering, turmoil, dangers in our lives does not mean we are out of God’s will for our lives. This can be seen throughout Paul’s missionary trips and now his situation in Jerusalem and Caesarea.
Paul had been told by Jesus that he would be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Specifically, in Acts 23:11 “the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage, for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome, also.” Yet, disaster after disaster came upon Paul. Some would say this was proof that Paul was not doing the will of God.
In many cultures around the world, people believe that if bad things happen to people, they must have sinned or taken a wrong turn somewhere; that God’s favor had been removed from them. Yet, Paul, in the midst of suffering arrest and imprisonment, had God come to him and stood by him, telling him that His plans for Paul were not yet complete. To me, this says, Paul was doing exactly as God wanted him to do. God told Paul to not be dismayed or depressed. He would continue to witness for Jesus’ cause and even end up in Rome, somehow, to witness to the rulers and kings residing there.
We should never assume we or anyone else is not doing God’s will when bad things happen in their lives. It’s possible, just like God promised Paul, that God intends these things to happen so we can be witnesses of Him to the people around us. He may even be using our struggles to show others of His love, grace, power, and mercy. Are we ready to take up that challenge and be prepared to be witnesses for Christ whatever our circumstances or situations?
I pray daily that God would show me where I need to take action for Him and speak for Him. Even in the midst of my various struggles with bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and managing my diabetes, God may want to use me to encourage other believers or to be His witness to those who don’t know Him. My latest struggle, an unidentified mass in my neck, may open doors for me to share with a variety of people. I pray God would give me opportunities to demonstrate the hope we can have in Him. I can practice serenity in the midst of the concerns, because I know Who is ultimately in control. I pray I will see the opportunities and take them to be a witness for Christ. God has me just where He wants me. I need to look expectantly for how He will use me in this situation.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

God's Protection: Acts 23:10-35

We all know that God’s protection is always available to us, but sometimes we just don’t understand how He’s going to get us out of certain situations or circumstances. Paul must have been wondering some of those things as he was imprisoned in Jerusalem with the Jews out to get him. The Jews had tried to kill him once already during this, his final, stay in Jerusalem. They wouldn’t give up and Paul was at the mercy of the Roman commander and his soldiers. How was God going to get him out of this mess?
We’ve seen in the past that Paul was miraculously rescued from other prisons by angels. God sent His divine messengers and soldiers to break Paul’s chains and open prison doors. Would He do that this time? Or would He use some other means for protecting Paul from the Jewish mob and assassins?
In a rather long accounting of the events in Jerusalem Luke tells us how God worked in this situation. Acts 23:10-35 tells the story of Paul’s rescue from the mob and the people God used to accomplish this. First, the army gets involved. The commander saw the commotion going on in the Temple courtyard and went to investigate. Usually the Romans just let the Jews handle Jewish things on their own, but the commander (Lysias) saw that a riot was beginning to form and felt he needed to do something about it. So, upon finding Paul being attacked, he sent his soldiers into the fray and had them pull Paul out so an orderly hearing could take place. The commander tried to have a peaceful hearing, but the Jews again became agitated at Paul’s explanation of his life and ministry, and the commander had to rescue him a second time. So, God used the Roman soldiers to protect Paul.
During Paul’s night in the barracks of the Romans, he had a vision or an encounter with Jesus Christ. Acts 23:11 says, “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome, also.’” So, Paul was encouraged through a miraculous appearance of Christ as he wondered what was going to become of him. It’s possible Paul was feeling defeated, depressed, self-incriminating because he failed to fully proclaim the resurrection message to the Jews of Jerusalem; he may have been wondering if God would still use him or if this was the end. But, Jesus told him to “buck up,” “take courage,” “be of good cheer” (depending on the translation looked at). God was still in the busy of miracles and he was not using angels this time.
He was using people. Acts 23:16 tells us of a young man (possibly a child) who overheard the Jewish plan to assassinate Paul, and reported it to Paul. (The Scriptures tell us the young man was Paul’s sister’s son.) Paul then sent the boy to the commander and the commander took immediate action to get Paul out of the city and to Caesarea where the governor, Felix, held court. The accusers would have to go to Caesarea to present their side of the story to Felix. (They probably did that in short order; we’ll see what happens in Acts 24 when I get there.) So, God used a child and the Roman commander, again, to protect Paul from the zealots in Jerusalem. Not only did the commander send Paul away but he sent an armed guard of about 472 men, including most of the cavalry. And they put Paul on a horse to expedite matters. They moved swiftly away from the city in the middle of the night and were more than halfway to Caesarea (more than 60 miles from Jerusalem) by morning.
God’s protection doesn’t end there. Felix saw fit to hear the case and put Paul under guard in Herod’s Praetorium until the trial could be held. Still protecting Paul (although not as respectfully as the commander in Jerusalem had treated him). Of course, Paul is away from the rabble-rousers in Jerusalem, but the trial was yet to be held. That takes place in Acts 24 so I’m excited to see how everything turns out. Maybe I’ll write about that next week.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

18 Years: Acts 22

This week I celebrate 18 years of continuous sobriety. That’s a milestone for a couple fo reasons. First, it’s always a milestone to have another year under my belt. Second, the longest stretch of continuous sobriety I had before was 17 years. This comes with mixed feelings and many thoughts.
I owe a large part of this accomplishment to having a relationship with a Higher Power. My Higher Power is Jesus. I’m not ashamed of that. Another part of my success this time around has been the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, especially the experiences provided to me by the various groups and relationships I’ve been a part of. Remembering what life was like before, the situations around my getting sober, and what life has been like since getting sober mirror my salvation story to a great extent. And, that story or testimony follows a pattern long established by the apostle Paul in Acts 22.
There are three parts to Paul’s testimony as stated in Acts 22. Basically the three parts can be outlined like this:
1. Acts 22:3 – Paul’s explaining that he was born a Jew and had the best Jewish education available. His life before Christ.
2.  Acts 22:4-16 – The circumstances of his conversion and reasons why he believed he was called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
3.  Acts 22:17-21 – Why he went to Gentiles; vindicating his conduct among the Gentiles.
This is Paul’s salvation story: Before, how salvation came, life since.
My salvation story can follow this pattern. Salvation from sins and salvation from alcohol. Basically I was depressed and filled with total despair. I was without hope or plans for the future. I drank to avoid feeling the emotions and experiencing the thought that my life’s purpose was over. I was lonely and had no close friends. I felt separated from God and from other people. I thought there was nothing to live for and was suicidal. I first got sober (in 1978) because someone introduced me to Jesus and that relationship with Him turned my life around. At that time, I now had a relationship with another person (Jill, who shared with me about Jesus) and with Jesus (a loving, caring, helping, all-powerful God). In late 1998, another woman (Cathy) reminded me of that relationship and became a human friend. It took me until the spring to really embrace those relationships, but when I finally did, I was able to stop drinking again and start dealing with the issues plaguing my life. And since then, my relationships with God and other people have continued to develop (with the help of some therapy) and usually I can find hope in the midst of internal turmoil. I also have a sense of purpose I didn’t have before. I can be of aid to others – in their spiritual walks and/or in their recovery from alcoholism. God has used me in the past and I have a certain amount of security as I believe He will use me in the present and future.
There are many other details to the story, but the basics are all there. As I think back on some of the details, I see how God was orchestrating the events in my life to bring me back to Him and to prepare to use me to help others.
So today, as I look back, I also look forward and rejoice in the ways God can use me, if I’m open to His leading and obedient to His Word.