The Answer

The guest speaker made a simple, yet profound observation during the introduction to his Sunday morning message at my home church. He had prefaced his comment by noting he doesn’t like to get into arguments. Rather, he preferred to be agreeable with others if at all possible.

Following the preface, he proclaimed, “The world is in a mess!”

This British brother then asked the congregation – “Does anyone have a problem with this assessment of things?”

I suppose this general assessment of the world situation would, by in large, be accepted not only by people in the church, but also by people outside the church.

For there are universal realities of the human condition, like death, that provide common perspectives for people of all ilks.

And so, while most would agree with this general assessment of things, real divergence will arise when grappling with an answer to the problem. Or in other words, “Can anyone or anything fix the mess the world is in?”

And therein lies a compelling conversation starter for the believer.

As you interact with unbelievers in your sphere of influence, you can ask, “Do you agree or disagree with this statement – The world is in a mess?” This is not an overtly religious or intimidating question, but it is practical and personal.

Whatever the answer, your follow up can be, “How did you come to that conclusion?”

As we speak with others, it’s always beneficial to understand those with whom you’re seeking to share truth. And questions are like opening doors of opportunity – the opportunity to understand another.

If someone thinks the world is not in a mess, that will certainly make for interesting conversation as you follow up and also ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?”

Assuming they concur the world is in a mess, you can pose a final question along these lines: “Can anyone or anything fix the mess the world is in? Why or why not?”

As Christians, we are sometimes accused of simply wanting to speak – making proclamations and giving answers. Note how this type of conversation highlights the believer asking questions and listening! People want to be heard and understood. And many are glad to have a platform to share and be heard! This tact of asking questions and listening is certainly part of a humble and winsome witness. And personally, this is an area of my witness where I’m striving to grow and where I have much room to grow.

At some point, ask permission to share your thoughts about the question at hand. This transition requires some wisdom and discernment, as you want to allow the one your speaking with the freedom to share all they want. In other words, don’t cut them off. Since conversations are two-way, if you feel they’ve completed their thoughts, go ahead and ask if you can clarify what they’ve said so you both have understanding. This is a good exercise in listening and affirming.

When sharing your point of view, know that you can only briefly touch upon this broad topic in one sitting.

And your line of thinking could go in any number of directions. Take the opportunity to address the question, starting with the basics and branching out from there.

In general, focus on man, the source of the mess, and Jesus, the solution to the mess. Here’s a simple yet direct response.

The world is in a mess because of the sin of man. Don’t assume anyone knows the meaning of sin. In simplest terms, sin is missing the mark of God’s expectation. Any unrighteousness is sin. In fact, most people understand they miss the mark, failing to meet their own expectations, much less those of a holy, righteous, and perfect God! When man rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, the curse of death was the consequence. Additionally, ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, mankind has been born alienated from his Creator and with this propensity to rebel against God – this is called the sin nature. And this sin nature in man has brought forth mess that the world is in.

But God, in His grace and mercy, brought forth a Savior, Jesus, who brings spiritual deliverance for individuals today:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

And some soon tomorrow God will bring about a physical deliverance from the mess of this world by creating a new heaven and new earth devoid of sin, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:1-5).

Now this is only one starting point to begin answering the dilemma of the mess of this world. You may go in any number of directions biblically as you interact over the issue.

The point is this: There is an answer to the mess of this world – and His name is Jesus.

The goal is to have a healthy vibrant conversation over the issue raised – namely the mess the world is in. Our audience may neither agree or like our answer to the problem. More often than not, a divergent view will not be immediately accepted as ‘truth.’ That’s ok. Remember, when conversing with people about truth, we simply want to sow seeds.

Understand that when people are presented alternative paradigms, often the initial response is push back. This is where love and respect of others is paramount, along with trust and dependence upon the Spirit of God to give the increase of those seeds of truth that are sown.

To review, here’s the basic line of questioning to spark conversation regarding the state of the world:

  • “Do you agree or disagree with this statement: ‘The world is in mess?’”
  • “How did you come to that conclusion?”
  • “Can anyone or anything fix the mess the world is in? Why or why not?”

As you have conversations with people, try this conversation starter and let me know how it goes, confidently knowing and sharing that Jesus is the answer!

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Lessons from Acts – In Season and Out of Season

Cramped quarters. Isolation. Lack of natural light. Tiny sleeping areas, where beds are sometimes referred to as ‘coffins.’ Minimal restroom facilities. Showers – as small as possible. The food – good enough to sustain life, even after any perishable items are gone. Normal sense of time – as in day and night – is absent. “Sign me up!” – some people say.

Such is life on a submarine! I know a former sailor who had served in the US Navy on submarines. He told me he once served a continuous 6-month mission underwater without surfacing once!

For one who has not been exposed to such circumstances, I can only imagine what that’s like.

One may potentially lose track of both time and season, yet the sailor’s duties on board continue. For the sailor is called to obey orders both in season and out of season, whatever that season may be.

The Christian life is a bit like life on a submarine in this sense – regardless of season, we are called to fulfill our responsibilities. You see, just as a sailor is called to fulfill his duties assigned by the captain of the boat, so we are called to fulfill our duties assigned by the captain of our soul – Jesus.

The Apostle Paul knew well this commitment to follow Jesus was not a seasonal deployment, but rather a life-long endeavor. And no matter the season or circumstance, he remained resolute in fulfilling that commitment.

We see a terrific example of his determination to fulfill his service to the Lord while in a Roman prison in Acts 28. And it is here in this final chapter of Acts that we close our series entitled ‘Lessons from Acts.’

As the book of Acts reveals the birth, growth, and expansion of the early church, it’s interesting to note the final verses of Acts pertain to the individual believer, namely Paul. And therein lies an important lesson for you and for me.

As Paul enters house arrest here in Acts 28, during his first of two Roman imprisonments, he was given the freedom to receive visitors. And who do you think he requested to visit?

It was Paul’s usual ministry pattern to visit a synagogue upon entering a city or town. But since he was under house arrest, he invited the ‘leading men of the Jews’ (Acts 28:17) – the most important men of the Rome synagogue, to visit him.

In Acts 28:17-22 Paul initially denies any transgression against the Jewish people, noting that he was ‘wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.’

Some time later, upon witnessing to a large when number of Jewish people, Paul receives a mixed response from the audience:

So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.” (Acts 28:23-24)

And it’s just not immediately after arriving in Rome where Paul preaches the gospel. He continues throughout his imprisonment:

And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” (Acts 28:30-31)

Amazing – Paul evangelizes Rome for two years while under arrest!

I’m inspired by the fact that Paul was ‘unhindered’ in his ministry effort.

Now you could say the Lord opened the door for Paul to preach and teach unhindered, and you would be right. Certainly the Roman government could have kept in solitary confinement or prohibited visitors.

Yet, we see a great example of Paul’s heart to be salt and light no matter the circumstance or season of life. Perhaps that’s why during his second Roman imprisonment he wrote to his apprentice in ministry, Timothy, these words, as he anticipated his own martyrdom:

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

While this was originally a specific admonition to Timothy regarding his pastoral duty to proclaim God’s Word, it has a general application for the believer’s witness today.

You see, earlier Paul provided context for this admonition, writing about perilous times and the need for Timothy to remain faithful to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities (2 Timothy 3:1-17). Perilous times and perilous men would certainly pose a great challenge to Timothy. In fact, they would be potential hinderances to Timothy.

Similarly, you and I are today also living in perilous times amidst a corrupt and perverse generation. And we face our own potential hinderances in being the witnesses God calls us to be. Some of our potential hinderances today include personal time demands, political correctness, along with cultural barriers like post-modernism, cynicism, and skepticism.

For the follower of Jesus, being His witness in season and out season means there is no offseason. Because in this season of life, we can regularly pray for the lost and for those witnessing to them (Matthew 9:37-38). We can also be intentional in developing friendships with people. We can serve people. And we can proclaim truth as God open doors of opportunity.

Paul ministered the gospel while in prison and when he was free. His commitment to serve the Lord and be a witness even amidst challenges, difficulties and trials is exemplary.

Today, may we be inspired by Paul’s exemplary witness as we follow Jesus in whatever season of life we find ourselves. For people need the Lord…in season and out of season.

Lessons from Acts – Interruption and Opportunity

The Apple Watch is life-changing! It helps you manage your life in various ways. The Apple Watch can: track every step you take; manage your physical activity; monitor your diet; serve as a day-timer; check your investments; and even enhance interpersonal communication – for example, you can draw out a small doodle to send to one of your contacts, send an animated emoji character, or you can even send your heartbeat as measured by the Apple Watch. And these are just a few features. Wowzer!

As human beings, we like order and we like control. And the Apple Watch fits those desires like hand in glove…or in this case – watch on hand!

While the Apple Watch may manage your existing circumstances, it is unable to control them. This control is under the sovereign hand of almighty God. In reality, it is He who is managing the events of man. For history is ‘His Story.’

Interruptions that may appear to be inconveniences in the natural may actually be opportunities in the spiritual. How so? Well, the Lord has a singular ability to place us in the right place at the right time in order to be witnesses for Him.

Case in Point – the Apostle Paul’s journey to Rome in Acts 27 & 28.

Following Paul’s testimony before Festus and Agrippa in Caesarea in Acts 26, the Apostle is placed with other prisoners on a boat and begins a journey to Rome, where he is to face Caesar. (Acts 27:1-5). After being transferred to another ship in Myra (Acts 27:6), a port town located in modern day Turkey, he continues his trek.

In the remainder of Acts 27, things get very interesting! Soon after setting sail from Myra, the weather begins wreaking havoc, putting the boat and men on the boat in peril. The captain ignores Paul’s warning of impending doom, continuing to sail. It so happens the weather worsens to the point of the men losing all hope of being saved. Amidst the tumult, Paul witnesses to the men and says they’ll all be saved. They are spared when the boat shipwrecks at the island of Malta and the men make it land!

The tempest was not an interruption to, but an opportunity for Paul!

You see, he spends the next 3 months ministering the gospel in Malta (Acts 28:1-10). To grasp the impact of their ministry, Luke records these words upon their leaving for Rome:

They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary. (Acts 28:10)

To be sure, the honor and glory would ultimately be given to the Lord Jesus – the one who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

For you and I, how do we respond to interruptions? No doubt, some of us deal with them better than others. Yet, when we look through the eyes of faith, sometimes those so-called interruptions may actually be opportunities in disguise.

Just last week, as I was walking out of the post office in the middle of my busy day, a middle-aged man looked at me. Wearing a backpack and holding a cane, he asked me for some money so he could get something to eat.

Since I had no cash, I told him I would buy him a sandwich if he wanted. He said that would be nice. During our drive to Subway, Brian shared his story of being homeless for the first time in his life. I asked him about his spiritual condition. He said he was a believer. I prayed for him in the car, bought him a meal and gave him a bible. He was encouraged…and so was I!

I’m reluctant to tell that story, because other times in facing that same kind of situation, I’m frankly ‘too busy’ to deal with it, and simply walk or drive past.

Now, I don’t own an Apple Watch. I prefer the cheapest watch I can find that has an alarm and stopwatch!  But I know that any watch can not account for these kind of human interruptions – the opportunities God provides in the mystery of His providence.

As we follow the Lord, we must be flexible enough to know that there is a plan A and sometimes a plan B, but most certainly there is always a Plan G – God’s plan. Because “the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

The reality for us is that sometimes those opportunities to be witnesses for Jesus in word and deed are veiled in apparent interruptions. Acknowledging this potential reality, may we commit our way to the Lord, asking Him to give us wisdom and discernment in such matters, for His Glory and for our testimony to others.

So, as we begin each day, remember – putting on a watch is fine, but putting on Christ is better!

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” Romans 13:14

Lessons from Acts – Trial and Testimony: Part 4

Nervousness filled my being. I had one shot to get this right. There would be no do-over, no replay, no second chance! The one question that raced through my mind was, “Am I ready?”

It was my senior project in a Television/Radio Broadcasting course at the University of Florida. I was a telecommunications major. Our project team was presenting a start-up proposal for a new television station to a group of actual broadcast professionals. There was no fudging, faking, or flaking – these people were for real.

My job was to sell them on our hire for the Sales Manager position – his qualifications, his fit. Although I only had about 2 minutes for my portion of the presentation, I wanted to nail it. I wrote  and memorized my talk. Getting every word right, practicing the delivery. Repetition after repetition. I did not want to wilt under pressure.

It was ‘go’ time’ – all eyes were on me. It was my turn to present. I was on.

Tracking with the Apostle Paul near the end of the book of Acts, we’ve previously explored his faith under fire. Specifically, we’ve drawn out an evangelistic principle from:

[note: to read these previous posts, click bold]

The fourth and final encounter in this series of testimonies is Paul’s witness before King Agrippa in Acts 26. And it is here we touch upon one more principle germane to our witness:

Always Be Ready (Acts 25:1-26:32)

The setting (Acts 25:1-26) – Two years had passed since Felix, Governor of Judea had first heard Paul. Felix was then succeeded by Festus, a member of the Roman nobility. Paul was still in prison. Before Festus and Roman tribunal, Paul declares his right as a Roman citizen to have a trial in Rome before Caesar (Nero).

Festus grants Paul the request, but before going, Festus transfers the case to King Herod Agrippa II. Interestingly, one of the reasons Festus has Agrippa hear Paul is because he found Paul had “committed nothing worthy of death” and needed some kind of charge before sending a prisoner to Caesar (Acts 25:24-27)!

The testimony (Acts 26:1-23) – When Agrippa permits Paul to speak, the apostle gives testimony, his longest in the book of Acts.  He shares about his early life prior to his conversion (Acts 26:1-11), recounts his conversion (Acts 26:12-18), and discusses his post-conversion ministry of proclaiming the gospel (Acts 26:19-23).

Paul is certainly ready to give a defense when called upon, displaying grace under pressure.

His witness epitomizes 1 Peter 3:15, which states:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Paul’s gentleness and respect is illustrated in Acts 26:3 when he says to Agrippa, “I beg you to listen to me patiently.”

Testifying about the Lord is not only about what we say, it’s also about the spirit in which we say it!

Paul clearly shares the gospel, pointing out his charge to proclaim “light both to the Jewish people and the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). His testimony evokes a powerful response.

The Reaction (Acts 26:24-32) – Festus exclaims in verse 24, “Paul you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad!” Agrippa amazingly responds to the Apostle in verse 28, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

Finally, we see the heart of Paul revealed as he responds to the King’s comment:

I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29)
[see also 2 Corinthians 5:20]

Although in physical chains, Paul was free (John 8:32)! And he wanted all people to know this freedom (John 8:36) , including Festus and Agrippa. Upon conferring, they agree Paul “had not done anything worthy of death or imprisonment” (Acts 26:31)! In spite of that, Paul is still sent to Rome.

What does it mean to ‘always be ready?’

Readiness is a lifestyle! To always be ready requires intentionality – an intentional desire to reflect the glory of God in word and in deed. Intentionality in practical terms also includes praying, studying God’s Word, learning from others and from your own experiences, along with trial and error. As we daily abide in Christ, He will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, give us a ‘word aptly spoken’ as He opens doors of opportunity.

Following the Lord and furthering the gospel had become central to Paul’s life. And this foundation was a key to his readiness. He is a shining example to you and me.

A postscript – How did my broadcasting presentation I referred to earlier go? I nailed it! It felt good. Although our group didn’t win the proposal, we accounted well for ourselves. I had done my part. And preparation was the key! When it was time to be ‘on’ – I was ready.

An interesting thing about the Christian life is this…we’re always on! Why? Because being a witness for Jesus isn’t just about Sunday mornings, it’s about our daily walk with Christ.

Don’t worry about what you will say if put in a position to give testimony under trial. The Lord will meet you at your point of need:

But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.” (Matthew 10:19)

If the Lord met Paul at his point of need, the need to give testimony under trial, he’ll meet you at your point of need. And if under duress, how much more will He meet your need to be ready with a testimony in your daily affairs.

And God is faithful!

Lessons from Acts – Trial and Testimony: Part 3

During my missionary life in New York City, I ministered to one Jewish man who was enthralled by and attracted to Jesus. He wanted to learn more about Jesus with me.

Taking a few visits to his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I opened up the gospel of John, sharing some of Jesus’ claims to be the Jewish Messiah.

He seemed to be resonating with what the bible was teaching, with one exception. Soon after arriving at his apartment for another bible study, he stated in so many words, “You’re making me very uncomfortable.”

I said, “How so?”

He replied, “The Jesus you’re presenting from the bible is not the Jesus I’ve been thinking about. I  like a lot of things about him, except for his claim to be the only way to God” – a reference to Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

I looked at him calmly and directly, “You know. Maybe that’s exactly the way you’re supposed to feel!”

Conviction is powerful. Truth pierces – “even to the division of soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12).

In conversation with people, there are appropriate times to set aside pleasantries and social graces for bold, direct and sometimes challenging words. Regarding faith-based conversations, this time for bluntness takes wisdom, discernment and faith! There is no ‘formula.’ It may be in an initial conversation or it may occur after a relationship has been established – a connection built upon time, rapport and trust.

As we continue examining Paul’s testimony under trial in the later part of Acts, we touch upon a fascinating encounter between Paul and Felix, governor of Judea. In Acts 24 we explore another witnessing principle that can inform our witness this day: boldly and directly challenge your audience.

Boldly and Directly Challenge Your Audience (Acts 23:23-24:27) 

The setting: Paul, accused of sedition against Rome, along with the charges of sacrilege and sectarianism by the Jewish religious authorities, is brought before Felix, Governor of Judea.

Following Paul’s initial defense of himself, where he finally states that he is simply on trial for believing in ‘the resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 24:21), Felix puts Paul under house arrest. This imprisonment lasted two years, during which time Paul would have opportunities to witness to the governor – including this interaction in Acts 24:24-25:

And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.

As God opened up a door of opportunity to witness to Felix, Paul boldly, directly, and courageously challenged Felix with God’s standard of righteousness and self-control. You see, Drusilla, Felix’s wife, was someone else’s wife when Felix lured her away – for she became his third wife. Lacking righteousness and self-control and facing the judgement to come, Felix is convicted. In fear, he sends Paul away. Conviction of sin will do one of two things – draw a person to the Lord or send them running. In this instance, Felix flees, sending Paul away.

When people are willing to interact over the gospel, it’s ok to challenge them with truth. And let’s be honest, the truth cuts (Hebrews 4:12-13). Certainly we should go to God on behalf of people before we go to people on behalf of God. Yet, in humility and gentleness, take opportunity to be direct, speaking the truth in love.

Paul would have future opportunities to share with Felix, although the governor’s motives were mixed at best (Acts 24-26-27). And you can bet Paul took advantage of them.

As a postscript regarding my witness to the gentlemen in New York – that was the last time we visited. I was grateful for the opportunity to share the biblical Jesus. Part of the exclusivity of the gospel is that God requires us to come to Him on His terms (John 14:6), not ours. On the other hand, the grace of God’s inclusivity is that “He so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

As you engage in faith-based conversations with others, the appropriate time to boldly and directly challenge your audience requires wisdom and grace:

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:5-6).

It takes faith to boldly and directly challenge your audience. It also entails a degree of risk. As we relate to others and have those conversations surrounding spiritual matters, may the Lord Jesus guide us and be glorified through us as we share the ‘truth that sets men free’ (John 8:32).

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that being bold and direct in conversation is a challenging aspect of being a witness for you. Lord, I acknowledge my complete and utter dependence upon You in this matter. Please grant me wisdom, grace, and love to boldly and directly challenge others with truth in Your time, in Your will, and for Your glory! Amen.

Lessons from Acts – Trial and Testimony: Part 2

The party crashers had arrived! It was the annual Israel Day Parade along 5th Avenue in Manhattan (New York City). Our team of missionaries were wearing shirts that stated in Hebrew and in English “Jesus is Messiah”. Over 100,000 people lined up along the parade route to cheer Jewish groups, floats and others making a statement in support of Israel.

As you might imagine, our group wasn’t so well received for making a statement in support Y’shua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah!

I experienced real human trepidation as we handed out gospel tracts and spoke with anyone open to conversing about Jesus. And God is faithful.

My most memorable encounter that day occurred along a path in Central Park, just adjacent to the parade route. I was cornered by a couple of young Jewish men who began loudly interrogating me regarding my presence at the event. As I began sharing truth with them, they were none to pleased with any of my words. People along the path began to stop and see if a riot would break out.

I took advantage of the opportunity to share loud enough for all to hear. And thankfully, no physical harm was done. The young men soon left and the small crowd dispersed.

Incredibly, with one simple statement on a t-shirt – “Jesus is Messiah” – we created a powerful reaction and response. You see, among today’s unbelieving Jewish people, virtually any kind of Jewish belief and expression is generally considered acceptable, except belief in Jesus! In fact, 2000 years of anti-semitism, real and perceived, under the banner of Christianity, evokes visceral suspicion from the Jewish community toward Jesus followers.

We continue to examine Paul’s trial under testimony in the latter part of the book of Acts. In this blog entry, we find Paul in Jerusalem giving testimony before a very hostile group, the Sanhedrin. Here, Paul makes one statement that evokes a polarizing response. From this statement we draw out this evangelistic principle germane to our witness today: speak into your audience’s reality.

Speak into Your Audience’s Reality (Acts 22:30-23:10)

The Setting – After addressing the mob, Paul is arrested by a Roman Commander, then interrogated and scourged. Upon learning of his Roman citizenship, the commander releases Paul and convenes an unofficial meeting between Paul and the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin, made up of both Sadducees and Pharisees, was the supreme Jewish religious body at the time. Paul takes advantage of this opportunity to share truth that compels a defense and creates a conflict:

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks. (Acts 23:6-10)

With one statement Paul rocks their world and crashes their ‘Paul-bashing’ party! Here, the Apostle shapes his defense around the resurrection. Why? Because among the Sanhedrin, Paul ‘perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees’ (Acts 23:6). Paul, himself raised a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), understood resurrection was a sharp point of contention between the two groups. In fact, the concept of resurrection was perhaps the biggest theological difference between the two groups. In light of this, Paul exclaims, “concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”(Acts 23:6)

This hot button issue among the Sanhedrin – namely resurrection – was central both to the gospel message and to Paul’s statement. I find it quite fascinating that the name of Jesus isn’t mentioned. Yet the Sanhedrin certainly would have understood the claims of the early church regarding His resurrection.

With the battle lines drawn, the Pharisees interestingly side with Paul. The Sadducees become  incredulous. As the two sides begin to argue, Paul is whisked away by a Roman commander.

It’s also intriguing that the Scripture records the salvation of Pharisees (Acts 15:5), but not Sadducees.

As you interact within your own sphere of influence and have conversations about spiritual issues, be aware of your audience’s reality and speak into that reality. For in doing so, you affirm that person or people and provide the platform to connect on a personal level.

For example, last summer, while addressing a high school in Honduras, I shared my testimony mostly from my high school days. When speaking to a group of athletes, I’ll draw from my tennis playing and coaching experience. And years ago while ministering at Teen Challenge, a ministry for people struggling with life-controlling addictions, I shared much about my own drug-addiction struggles and how, through Christ, I now am clean.

In sum, speaking into areas germane to your audience’s reality is personal and powerful.

Recently, while conversing with a self-proclaimed agnostic named *Bob (not his real name), I had an opportunity to speak into his God-paradigm while we watched our daughters at a gymnastics class. Bob, a retired Doctor, had attended ‘Christian’ churches at times in his life, but was currently attending a Unitarian Universalist church. He said he was taught for years Jesus rose again and is coming back, but now didn’t believe it. He said he came to a point where he concluded that Jesus isn’t returning because he can’t – he’s dead!

I responded by pointing out another viable option – that Jesus did resurrect, just as the bible claims, and will, in fact, return just as He promised.  I added that the reason He’s not yet returned is because of God’s patience and longsuffering – not desiring anyone die apart from faith in Jesus, but that all would come to trust in Christ. Upon asking Bob if this position was possible, he agreed.

As I consider how to continue the conversation with Bob, I recently read a Christian apologetic book penned by a surgeon-scientist entitled, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”. Now, I wonder if that book has the potential to speak into Bob’s reality?

Lessons from Acts – Trial and Testimony: Part 1

What’s your story? It certainly is a topic that on occasion comes up in conversation, during an interview, and in other venues. For most of us, sharing some of our story is in the context of safe, non-threatening situations. But what of the rising pressure against believers sharing their faith worldwide, even here in the United States? When given an opportunity to stand up and speak up amidst the pressure to shut up, how might you respond? How do you respond?

The Apostle Paul was often thrust into dangerous, emotion-filled, tumultuous moments in time where he gave witness under immense pressure. He is a tremendous example of grace under pressure amidst the swirl of chaos and pandemonium that can characterize gospel opposition.

I find it quite fascinating that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, includes Paul giving testimony on no less than four separate challenging occasions in Acts 22-26:

  • Acts 22 – He addresses a Jewish mob in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 23 – He addresses the Sanhedrin also in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 24 – He gives a defense before Felix, Governor of Judea, in Caesarea.
  • Acts 25 & 26 – He testifies before King Agrippa, also in Caesarea.

There is much we could discuss and meditate upon, and I commend you to study these chapters and discover some principles and personal applications on your own. For our purposes, I offer one principle to ponder from each of these four testimonies, beginning in this entry with: contextualize your story.

Contextualize Your Story (Acts 21:27-22:24)

The setting – Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21. By this time, his reputation has preceded him. Upon being recognized at the temple, an angry mob sought his harm (v. 27-31). After being taken from the mob and interrogated by the Roman commander, Paul is given permission to address the same mob that has murder on its mind – his murder (v.32-40)!

In giving testimony of God’s grace in his life, Paul provides his audience context:

I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.” (Acts 22:3-6)

Once a murderer of those following Jesus as Messiah and Lord, Paul now is willing to lay down his life for Jesus (Acts 21:13). This stark contrast of ‘how he got here from there’ is powerful.

Paul establishes his Jewish pedigree and training to this Jewish audience, and in doing so, identifies with them. In sharing his persecution of believers, he also connects with the mob, who is persecuting him.

The Apostle Paul in essence is saying, “I know how you feel. I felt the same way.” Soon enough he’ll add in so many words, “But I found out Y’shua (Jesus) is Messiah and Lord.” [Acts 22:6-21]

Everybody has a past. What is your BC (‘before Christ’) experience? Communicate those elements and experiences that shaped your ‘God paradigm.’ This is important because everybody has one – it may atheistic, agnostic, or religious in some fashion.

The context of where you came from will bring into sharp relief the difference the Lord has made in your life. For the gospel is transformative, and that transformation is personal. As Jesus stated, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

For example, when speaking with a Jewish person, I share from my Jewish background:

I grew up in a reform Jewish household, a liberal Jewish religious expression. Our family was more culturally and socially Jewish than religiously and spiritually. Yet I received religious training, including becoming Bar Mitzvah (a ceremonial right of passage when a Jewish boy becomes a man) and always believed in God.

When I came to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord in 1987, I was transformed!

In sharing with an individual or audience, I will sometimes state: “How is possible that this Jewish man (speaking of myself), who for the first 23 years of his life, usually uttered the name of Jesus only in vain – now for the last 28 years call Him Messiah, Savior, Lord, and God?”

Transformation, the difference Jesus has made in our life is the difference we want to share.  Before I came to faith, I walked in fear, without direction, and without hope. Now I experience abundant love, joy, and peace that transcend my circumstances, which frankly, at times, are quite painful.

And you? What shaped your God-paradigm growing up? How did you get here from there? Who were you before you trusted in Jesus and what difference has He made in your life? Providing  context authenticates and personalizes your story.

What aspect of your audience’s God-paradigm can you relate to and connect with? Listening and learning about them plays a critical role in facilitating your effort.

As you have faith-based conversations with people, ask the Lord to give you wisdom and actively listen, so you can speak directly into their reality.

As the Lord provides opportunity to give testimony, whether in a friendly or hostile environment, be ready to contextualize your story and speak into your audience’s reality – for the glory of Jesus and benefit of your audience!

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
(Proverbs 25:11) 

Lessons from Acts – “It is More Blessed to Give”: Part 2

“Less is more,” I simply stated as looked into the eyes of my student. To their surprise, once they took my words to heart and applied this principle, they discovered it to be true. Yes, they actually hit the tennis ball harder when they held the tennis racquet looser!

As a professional tennis coach for 14 years, I commonly found newcomers to the game thinking that if they squeezed the grip tighter, they might actually create more pace. Hence I would often have to explain that the ‘death grip’ is counterproductive, for it slows down the racquet’s speed through the hitting zone, therefore slowing the pace of their shot. Once they properly held the racquet, applying the right amount of pressure with their fingers to the grip, they could move the racquet faster and hit the ball harder without the racquet coming out their hands.

If you play tennis, that tip is a freebie. If not, thanks for indulging me.

While less is more is an example of a counterintuitive principle in the physical, we again turn our attention to a fundamental counterintuitive principle spoken by the Lord Jesus:

It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

When the Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders one last time prior to heading to Jerusalem to face severe persecution in Acts 20:17-37, he told them to remember these words of Jesus. In fact, these are his final words to them before they prayed together – this was Paul’s parting shot – so it was important. Interestingly, this is the only direct quote from the Lord’s earthly ministry outside the gospels.

This principle in a worldly sense doesn’t make sense. For the world says it’s more blessed to get than to give – the dominant sentiment of the world being ‘look out for number 1.’ But these words of Jesus are for Kingdom citizens, namely believers, and are contrary to human wisdom. Additionally, they are spiritual, not worldly, and flow out of divine wisdom.

As we ponder this principle in light of our personal witness, as we learned last time (if you want to access part one, click here), the Apostle Paul gave testimony to the elders of his giving for the cause of the gospel. Last time we briefly touched upon the reality that Paul gave for the gospel humbly, sacrificially, publicly and personally Acts 20:17-21).

How else did Paul give towards the gospel in his witness?

The apostle gave with the finish line of his journey in mind:

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

Paul gave with the end in mind: Despite knowing the upcoming persecution that awaited him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23, 25), Paul wanted to stay faithful to the end of his life. He set his mind on things above (Colossians 3:2), so his sacrifice and giving were framed with an eternal perspective.

Are we storing up treasures on earth or treasure in heaven? When it comes to our witness for Jesus, it’s good to remember this fact: Evangelism is the one thing you can’t do in heaven!

May this reality motivate us give of ourselves evangelistically to the lost while we still can – striving to be faithful to pray for, serve and proclaim the gospel until we go to the Lord or He comes to receive us to Himself.

No matter your age or how long you’ve known Christ, we all are on a journey of unknown duration (to us). Yet, while we reside on this side of heaven, we are called to ‘redeem the time for the days are evil’ (Ephesians 5:16). Today is all we have, for we don’t know what a day may bring. Ask the Lord to show you what it means to redeem the time evangelistically, giving of yourself with the end in mind.

Finally, Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders to be on guard and be in the Word:

Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:31-32)

Paul gave himself to the Word: The Apostle was warning the elders to be on guard against false teachers, commending them to the Word of God. For the way to combat error is with truth.

As Paul also exhorted Timothy to ‘rightly divide the Word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15), that same charge applies to us. Today, it’s imperative that we understand and effectively apply the Word in our witness, because ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God’ (Romans 10:17).

Regarding our investment in God’s Word, I’m reminded of a wise sage who quipped: “If you’re not getting into the Word, what are you getting into?” and “Get into the Word of God and let the Word of God get into you, because if you don’t, you’ll get into the world and the world will get into you.”

For when we actively live out the Great Commission mandate in our daily witness, we will be not just hearers of the word, but also doers of the Word (James 1:22-25).

May our witness in 2016 be characterized by giving with the end in mind and giving ourselves to the Word of God – that many walking in darkness would be brought into the light!

Lord Jesus, here I am, send me. I desire to be a shining light for Christ amidst those walking in darkness. Show me what it looks like to give evangelistically as I seek to know You and make You known. And as I give for Your glory, help me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of your words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Amen.

Lessons from Acts – “It is More Blessed to Give”: Part 1

Did you know that forest fires generally move faster uphill than downhill? Upon first glance, the uphill versus downhill dynamic is perhaps something we think about initially in relation to walking, jogging, driving, or snow skiing. It’s a bit counterintuitive to think of anything moving uphill faster than downhill.

Yet, upon review, the scientific fact bears out that wild fires usually move faster uphill than downhill. Why? In simple terms, flames lick upward, so they’ll ignite things above them sooner than things below. The heat also rises, making a wind that fans the flames up the slope. In short, this idea that forest fires generally move faster uphill than downhill is, in the physical, counterintuitive.

In the spiritual, counterintuitive principles abound. For example, Jesus said, ‘the first shall be last’ (Matthew 20:16) and the Apostle Paul wrote ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:10).

When the Apostle Paul met with Ephesian elders in Miletus prior to his departure to Jerusalem in Acts 20, his final words are an exhortation to remember this overarching counterintuitive principle uttered from the Lord Jesus Himself:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

As one bible commentator states: “The Lord Jesus speaks with an economy of words that is staggering.” This principle is so simple, yet so profound and transformative.

The Apostle Paul’s life and witness as a follower of Jesus certainly exemplified this principle. And as we’ll see, there is much we can glean from Paul’s exhortation that, if applied in our lives, can also have a profound and transformative effect upon our testimony for Christ.

In Acts 20:17-37, while Paul shares with the Ephesian elders the various ways he gave of Himself for the cause of the gospel, he also exhorts them to also give in the same way. And how did Paul give?

From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews. (Acts 20:17-19)

Paul gave humbly and sacrificially: Paul served the Lord with humility, even when it meant being misunderstood & rejected. He served amidst tears and trials because of people rejecting the Lord (Romans 9:2-3), struggling immature believers (2 Corinthians 11:24, 26) and the threat of false teachers (Acts 20:29-30).

Paul understood that the salvation of the lost was more important than his personal safety and comfort. He was also thoroughly committed to raising up to maturity those in the family of God.

The Apostle’s commitment to the Great Commission is a tremendous example to us. For we are also called to humbly serve and give of ourselves to the cause of sharing the light of Christ with those among us who are walking in darkness.

And as sowers of gospel seed, we don’t necessarily know the condition of the soil – namely people’s hearts (Matthew 13:1 -23; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18). Yet we’re called to sow in prayer, good deeds, and in the proclamation of the gospel, even though we may face misunderstanding, trials and rejection. Did Paul give until it hurt? Yes…and then some. This is to give humbly and sacrificially. We shouldn’t be surprised by the struggle – we should expect it. And yet, people are of inestimable value to the Lord…so we ought to press on, serving the Lord humbly and sacrificially.

Paul continues to remind them of his giving:

how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21).

Paul gave publicly and personally: While he gave testimony in synagogues and in the marketplace, Paul’s ministry was also personal. He would reinforce his teaching with further instruction in households and with individuals.

In our PC world of today, believers are often discouraged from having a public faith. But being a witness for Jesus is not exclusively either a public or private matter, it’s a both/and endeavor.

I had an hour-long spiritual conversation with a self-proclaimed agnostic as we watched our daughters participate in a gymnastics class. It was a blessing for a variety of reasons – one being was there was a family from my church seeing me witness to this man in public.

Another neat dynamic about sharing truth in a faith-based conversation in public is you realize you have an audience that may be eavesdropping – how dare they! 🙂

I’ve since seen him again at another class and we’re continuing to converse. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do here. I’ve begun to pray for this man and look forward to further opportunities to be salt and light.

In your walk look for opportunities to be a witness in the marketplace, yet also strive to give testimony among those closest to you.

Perhaps you have an existing friendship with someone who doesn’t know the Lord – someone with whom you’ve never intentionally shared your faith. Pray God would show you what it looks like to be more intentional in your witness to that one, asking Him to open up doors of opportunity to share truth.

In our witness, to give humbly and sacrificially in public and personal ways is challenging. Yet, in giving of myself in this way along my journey of faith, I have found that yes – ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” How about you?

As we ponder our witness, may we seek the Lord as to how He may have us give evangelistically in 2016.

Lord Jesus, here I am. I desire to be a faithful witness for you. Show me what it looks like to give evangelistically as I seek to know You and make You known. And as I give for Your glory, help me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of your words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Amen.

Lessons from Acts – “Mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24-28)

Billy Graham once was asked, “Billy, how do you grow in the Christian life?” Billy responded, “That’s simple. If you want to grow in the Christian life, wallow in God’s Word like a pig wallows in the mud.”

Sometimes the most basic of endeavors are also the most fundamental, profound and powerful!

In games like tennis, golf, and baseball, watching the ball is at the same time elementary and essential – for you can’t hit what you don’t see.

In the Christian life, knowing and applying the Scriptures, is like watching the ball. You see, understanding and application of God’s Word is not only essential to living out the Christian life, it’s also profound and powerful:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

As we continue our series of lessons from the book of Acts, we are introduced to Apollos, a man ‘mighty in the Scriptures.’ For his knowledge and use of God’s word in his witness for Jesus is an excellent example for us:

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.” (Acts 4:24-25)

Apollos came from Alexandria, Egypt – one of the best learning centers in the ancient world. ‘The Scriptures’ would have been the Old Testament. Although he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, his understanding was limited to a view of Jesus through the prism of John the Baptist. And what was John’s understanding?

In Luke 3:3 we are told: “He (John the Baptist) went into all the country around the Jordan preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John identified Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. In John 1:29, he said of Jesus: ”Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (see also Isaiah 53:4-7), and then added: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).

In short, Apollos, in the tradition of John the Baptist, was teaching:

– repent of sin and be baptized, this is the way of forgiveness;

–  and follow Jesus, He is the Messiah.

Application #1 – Becoming Mighty in the Scriptures includes Growing in God’s Word

To strive to become mighty in the Scriptures is no doubt a godly aspiration. Yet, as with any discipline, it takes time and commitment. Apollos could effectively use the Scriptures because he had spent much time in the Scriptures. For us, time and commitment invested in growing in God’s Word is going to be opposed by the enemy of our souls – the devil and his minions (Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 Peter 5:8) and our old man, the flesh (Romans 7:13-25, Galatians 5:16-25).

May I point out a powerful manifestation of the above-mentioned opposition that hampers this effort – distraction. Our 21st Century life is dominated by the pitfall of distraction – from our devices to our entertainment to our busyness…and on and on.

Take time and make time to invest in eternity through the discipline of bible study. And as you do, you’ll grow closer to the Lord and your witness will also grow – for God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11; 2 Timothy 2:15)!

Now Apollos was teaching accurately the way of Jesus as best he knew, yet his teaching was incomplete. And here we see another exemplary quality in the man:

“So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 8:26)

Paul had met Aquila and Priscilla earlier in Acts 18:2-3. They probably were believers when they met Paul, but if not, they became believers while spending time with him. Consequently, they understood the grace of God found in the gospel message – believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If Apollos preached in the tradition of John the Baptist he would place insufficient emphasis upon the grace of God. Hence, Aquila and Priscilla would have explained to Apollos a fuller understanding of the grace of God found in Messiah Jesus – that:

  • Forgiveness of sins was through faith in the sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary.
  • Repentance must be accompanied by a willingness to submit to Jesus – trusting fully in his saving work on the cross.

Application #2 – Becoming Mighty in the Scriptures requires Humility

No matter how learned we are in God’s Word, nobody ever arrives. We are always in process. The Psalmist wrote, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (Psalm 25:4). Growing requires humility, for humility and teachability go hand in hand. Apollos learned ‘the way of God more accurately,” demonstrating humility. And when we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, “he will lift us up” (James 4:10).

After receiving instruction from Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos goes on to disciple believers and be a witness to unbelievers with a fuller understanding of God’s grace found in Jesus and the gospel message:

“And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 18:27-28)

Application #3 – Becoming Mighty in the Scriptures includes Utilizing Your Spiritual Gifts

Apollos was fulfilling his role in the Great Commission, utilizing his gift of teaching to strengthen the church and witness to the lost. And what about you? Do you know what your spiritual gift(s) are and how He wants you to utilize them for His glory?

We are called to be not only hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word (James 1:22-25). So becoming mighty in the Scriptures includes both understanding and application of God’s Word.

As we begin 2016, may we strive to become ‘mighty in the Scriptures’ – by investing in God’s word, by demonstrating humility, and by utilizing our spiritual gifts – for God’s glory and for the building of His Kingdom!