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!

The Wonder of Newness

Stepping on board brought forth a sense of excitement, nervousness, opportunity and adventure. This would be a milestone in my life – not earth-shattering mind you. Yet, stepping into the cabin of a helicopter in Glacier National Park (Montana) with three teammates from my traveling Jewish gospel music team was a thrill…and we hadn’t even taken off!

The tour of the park from the air in early August was spectacular too say the least – glaciers and mountains as far as the eye could see.  And the helicopter ride itself – a bit surreal. It felt kind of like floating – “Am I really doing this?”

That whole experience in the late 1990’s could’ve been summed up in a word – new. A new day brought forth a new opportunity for a new experience in a new place. Ah, the wonder of newness!

As new creations in Messiah (2 Corinthians 5:17), God has blessed us with the new birth. Yes – ‘His mercies are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:23). Additionally, there is a future reality for God’s people  – the new heaven and new earth – of which He says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Pondering these truths brings to mind that God is in the newness business and evokes within me praise and thanksgiving!

In context of our witness, we close the book on 2015 and enter a new year filled with the potential of new opportunities and experiences, and perhaps new relationships. For 2016 will bring forth a new season of striving to know God and making Him known.

Whether you are a seasoned missionary, feel like a witnessing flunkie, or feel somewhere in between, the truth is that none of us ever arrives. You see, we don’t rest on our laurels and the past doesn’t necessarily equal the future. For the Great Commission mandate continues and much work remains to be accomplished as the Lord continues to build His church.

So, what will the new year mean for your witness?

May I suggest a few ideas to prompt your thinking, praying, and doing:

New Learning Opportunities

You may have heard this famous quip from Ray Kroc – founder of McDonald’s – “If you’re green you’re growing, if you’re ripe, you rot.” Regarding the development of our witness, since God is not done with you or me, we should never stop seeking to grow. Take advantage of the myriad of learning opportunities 21st Century technology affords – you can watch, listen, or read online. One of my preferred ways to learn is to listen to various teaching online. For example, I listen regularly to Ravi Zacharias (RZIM.com), one of the foremost apologists in the world. Perhaps you’ll attend an evangelism/apologetics conference or seminar in your area, or read a good book or two. If you want some specific ideas and suggestions, please contact me.

New Ways to Engage

Perhaps God will lead you to engage in different ways evangelistically in 2016. Prayer should be a foundation for all our activity, for evangelism should begin on our knees. Kingdom Praying is an excellent online resource for you if you’d like some structure – it has prayers for the lost, prayer walking guidance, praying for open doors and more.  I’ve prayed biblical prayers from this website for a couple of years now and found it quite useful.

Journaling is a powerful tool in our Christian life in general. Maybe this new year you’ll begin a witnessing journal where you record interactions, prayers, what God is teaching you and how you see Him working among those in your sphere of influence.

Volunteering time and expertise, in the name of Jesus, in your community may be something new for you. That service may be for someone in your own life or with your church or local mission organization. It may even be an out of town or international mission trip. It’s been said good deeds lead to goodwill that can open doors for the good news to be proclaimed.

As you engage people in faith-based conversations about Jesus and the gospel, think about allowing others to witness to them via evangelistic books, videos, or through sharing cyber links. You may even have an opportunity to give a bible to someone who has never read one or currently doesn’t have.

New Relationships and Witnessing Opportunities

The adventure of a new season of life is a blank canvas for the Lord to birth relationships. Along with people to whom the Lord may have you connect, witnessing opportunities may also arise. Perhaps you’ll reach out and have a cup of coffee, share a meal, or watch a ballgame with someone new in order to develop rapport and trust. This summer and fall I’ve struck up a friendship with an elderly man I regularly see at Starbucks. We’ve watched some ballgames at a local sports bar and have had some good faith-based conversations.

One prayer that’s been something new for me the past couple of years is to regularly ask God to provide open doors, ministry opportunities and divine appointments. If you’ve never prayed a prayer like, I’d encourage you to do so, but with one caveat – God will answer that prayer – so be ready!

If you don’t have any regular contact with an unbeliever, perhaps you’ll pray that God will bring someone into your life for the purpose of being salt and light.

Growing Existing Relationships

Sometimes opportunities to be salt and light are already in place, but it just takes eyes of faith to see. For example, recently I had a friend ask me how to be a witness in his workplace, as he manages a store and doesn’t want to alienate those he supervises or abuse his authority. I told him he could simply ask the guy or guys he knows best out to lunch or invite them to hang out or get together beyond the workplace. This way the relationship can move beyond the professional to the personal, which is a wonderful environment for trust and rapport to be built and for faith-based conversations to take place.

I encourage you to ask the Lord to reveal if there is someone in your existing sphere of influence He would have you reach out to in order to take the relationship to the next level.

In Season and Out of Season

While newness is beautiful and fresh with opportunity, the mandate be a witness remains a constant:

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

As we close the book on 2015 and a new chapter called 2016 opens, may God renew our witness as we recommit to be salt and light to a world and people desperately in need of the ‘truth that sets men free’ (John 8:32). Amen!

Go Tell it on the Mountain

He was just out of college, not much older than us. It was my junior year of high school – an English class – fantasy literature to be exact. “What were we doing?” – I thought. Sure, I loved music, but the teacher led our class in breaking down the lyrics of some popular rock n roll songs of the day – exploring deep meanings. This was school, right?

Looking back all these years later, I ponder that exercise and think, ‘Yes, that was school, but that was cool!’ Why? Well, in one sense, it was getting us high schoolers to think, and thinking is good, yes? But more than that, there is value in understanding.

Fast forward to Christmastime 2015! I’ve been a Christian now nearly three decades and thoroughly enjoy Christmas music. Yet a high school teacher exposing this ‘once upon a time teenager’ to an educational exercise over music many moons ago had an affect upon my mind and spirit…and still does.

You see, I still enjoy studying the lyrics of music, both secular and sacred. For there is value in understanding. In the spirit of Christmas and the Great Commission, ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ (based on Luke 2:8-20) is a song of which I’d like to briefly reflect (click here to listen to a splendid rendition).

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, Tell It On The Mountain

That Jesus Christ is born.

Go and tell that Jesus Christ is born. So simple and at the same time, so profound. When Jesus gave His final marching orders to the disciples in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, He said ‘go and make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19), letting them know they would be His witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8).

Why go tell people about Jesus? Because He is good news! In fact, He is the embodiment of The Good News, the gospel. And good news is something to be shared. For sharing it blesses not only those who receive it, but also those who deliver it: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

While shepherds kept their watching

Over silent flocks by night,

Behold throughout the heavens,

There shone a holy light:
The shepherds feared and trembled

When lo! above the earth

Rang out the angel chorus

That hailed our Saviour’s birth:

The routine, mundane activity of life shattered in a moment by supernatural revelation – shepherds rocked in fear, angel chorus rocking God’s praises. And the reason? The birth of a baby in Bethlehem:

Down in a lowly manger

Our humble Christ was born

And God send us salvation,

That blessed Christmas morn

God, the Son, leaving the throne in Heaven in the dead of night – in order to bring salvation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Like those Shepherds of old, I was also rocked by supernatural revelation. But it was not only the reality of Messiah’s birth that moved me and changed me, it was also the reality of His death and resurrection. For I believed and received life in His name at 23 years of age. And because of HIs grace, I can join the angel chorus of praise. For I am eternally grateful to God and desire to proclaim His excellencies because He has delivered “me out of darkness and into HIs marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

When I am a seeker,

I seek both night and day;

I seek the Lord to help me,

And He shows me the way:
He made me a watchman

Upon the city wall,

And if I am a Christian,

I am the least of all.

A seeker I desire to be. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” To follow Jesus is to abide in Him, to seek after Him – in order to fulfill His Kingdom purpose – to know Him and make Him known!

A watchman He has made me to be. What kind of watchman will I be? In general, the Old Testament watchman served to protect from the physical enemies, standing upon city walls (Isaiah 62:6, Ezekiel 33:6). The New Testament watching is spiritual protection from enemies of the soul (Acts 20:28, I Timothy 4:16). To be a watchman is to steward a Kingdom responsibility. Oh to be a faithful watchman! But how? “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). [See also 2 Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 4:13]

The enemy of our soul and the souls of all people is sin and death. In one sense to be a watchman in regards to the Great Commission is to proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name (Colossians 1:28-29). For the Savior was born to die – that we might be delivered from the power of sin and death. And this is not only the good news, it is the very best news! So…

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, Tell It On The Mountain

That Jesus Christ is born.

Lessons from Acts: Move On!

Acts 17:1-15

The Christian walk is a walk of faith. And so is the process of sharing our faith. For there are times in the providence of God when doors of opportunity open and times when doors that were once open seem to close.

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.” For “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11)

As we journey through life, people will enter our lives along with opportunities to sow and water gospel seeds. And sometimes those same doors that once were open now close, windows of opportunity fade and a season of sowing and watering ends. Have you been there?

I certainly have!

And what ought our response be to such circumstances? Move on!

But isn’t that difficult and sometimes painful? In my life with various people through the years, I invested time, energy, prayer. There were times of demonstrating God’s love and other times I had the opportunity to proclaim the wonders of His love found in the gospel.

And then that person exits my life. It may be they move away. It may be they no longer want to hang out with the ‘Jesus freak’ – was I really that overbearing or forthright [my thoughts, not theirs]? It could be a natural or an abrupt conclusion. In any case, they are removed from my life and I’m left to simply move on.

Have you been there?

I certainly have!

As we continue our study in the book of Acts, we turn our attention to the Apostle Paul, examining the circumstances surrounding his ‘moving on’ in Acts 17. And though the circumstances surrounding his ‘moving on’ are unique and most likely different from ours, perhaps there are some principles we can draw from his experience that can inform and encourage our witness.

While Paul and Silas continue ministry during Paul’s 2nd missionary journey, their travels take them to Thessalonica, where Paul taught for 3 weeks. While there, the ministry was fruitful:

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:1-4)

So far, so good! The fruit of salvation blooming! But no so fast. You see, this blooming would bring forth brewing – namely the brewing of trouble. There was a group of Jewish people who opposed the gospel in Thessalonica. And there opposition becomes violent:

But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.” And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. (Acts 17:5-9)

The security was a pledge or bond which would be forfeited by Jason if Paul and his companions continued to share the gospel, which was trouble-making in the eyes of the authorities. Claiming another king but Caesar was a serious crime. The security granted safety for Jason and others, under the condition Paul and friends would cease and desist their activity.

Though the church at Thessalonica is born, Paul, Timothy, and Silas leave town immediately and go to Berea, a town 50 miles west of Thessalonica. When they arrive they continue in ministry – again seeing fruit. And once again, the rabble-rousers follow them all the way from Thessalonica. This time, however, it’s only Paul who leaves town. Silas and Timothy remain, but only briefly, as Paul would command they join him in Athens.

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed. (Acts 17:10-15)

In the case of Paul, Silas and Timothy, the time to move on was quite clear. And although they left, the Spirit of God remained, as did those people filled with the Spirit – those who believed through their ministry.

In our lives moving on generally won’t involve such hostile circumstances. Yet, there are times people with whom we have a gospel witness will exit our lives. And there are times the Lord may call us to stop ministering to someone in our life.

I’ve noticed in my own Christian journey it’s easier for me to discern when someone has exited my life and testimony. This tends to be fairly natural. However, I find it more difficult to know when to ‘cut someone loose,’ so to speak. How about you?

There are no cut and dried answers in this instance. For we walk by faith and must trust and follow the Lord’s leading in all areas, including this area of moving on.

As we follow the Lord, may He give each one us greater wisdom and discernment as people come into our lives and when the Lord calls us to move on. And may we praise and thank God for the time He does give us to sow and water gospel seeds into the lives of people – until that time they may exit our lives.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Lessons from Acts – Bloom Where You Are Planted

Like a vast array of of parachutists descending from an airplane, seeds travel the wind currents and gentle breezes of the earth, possibly colonizing a distant mountain slope, a fertile valley, or perhaps your back yard. Literally hundreds of species in many plant families have adopted this remarkable method of dispersal.

As believers in Jesus, the method by which God disperses us in the world is also remarkable. Instead of blowing in the wind, we are moved by the Spirit. You see, we are carried by the Holy Spirit to various locales, in order to bloom where we are planted.

Jesus, while explaining the new birth to Nicodemus, refers to this move of the Spirit:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit”(John 3:8).

Sometimes, we are easily grateful for how and where God plants us. But there are times and seasons in our lives where we are not ‘where we want to be.’ In other words, we may be currently planted in a locale, job situation, or life circumstance that is not desirable…or what we would choose. The planting of God may be a moment in time, or a season of life. Perhaps you find yourself in that situation today. If not, just wait. Soon enough you will be!

It was July 2008. A missionary friend of mine named Susan and I were handing out gospel literature at a public outdoor concert in a Long Island (NY) park – a place where the ministry we served with had experienced first amendment issues in the past.  We were illegally detained and Susan willingly was arrested for trespassing – so we could go to court. While being held by the authorities, we had a chance to witness to law enforcement officials and give testimony about Jesus. Later, in a court of law, our ministries’ 1st Amendment right to distribute literature in that park was upheld.

As Paul and Silas are engaged in ministry, we examine a fascinating occurrence where they bloom where they are planted. In this case, they are planted behind the bars of a prison cell.

After delivering a fortune telling slave girl from a spirit of divination, her masters create a riot which results in Paul and Silas being put in jail (Acts 16:16-24).

While there, the two are praying and singing hymns of praise to God, as ‘the prisoners were listening to them’  (Acts 16:25). And not just the prisoners, but apparently the prison guard was also listening:

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:26-30)

I find it remarkable that seeing the prison doors open, the prisoners didn’t run for it! Now, we don’t know what Paul and Silas may have shared with the prisoners, but obviously, there was a powerful influence upon them.

Upon hearing the ‘word of the Lord’ (Acts 16:31-34), the jailer and his entire household are baptized!

What happens next is confounding:

And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, “Let those men go.” So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace” (Acts 16:35-36).

What? Let them go? We don’t know about the other prisoners, but Paul and Silas willingly stay in the jail overnight – at least whatever is left of it!

You see, Paul and Silas had been jailed illegally. For they were Roman citizens. And now they were being released and exhorted to leave the city (Acts 16:37-39).

You could say, that in one sense, the sovereign hand of God was orchestrating all these tumultuous events for the jailer and his household to be saved. And I even wonder about the prisoners. You see, God planted Paul and Silas in a jail so they could bloom – be a witness for Jesus!

Now when Susan and I were detained illegally in 2008, it would be great to tell you God worked miraculous signs and wonders and people were saved. That was not the case.

But I can tell you there was great comfort knowing God had a plan in the planting – for we certainly were given an opportunity to be a distinct witness for Jesus.

God has a plan in the planting of your life. It may be in a moment of time, or a season of life. For “there is a time and purpose for every season under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). What is that plan, you wonder? To bloom, of course! The blooming being a distinct witness for Jesus in your unique sphere of influence.

You see, where you live, work, shop, go to school, travel – wherever God has you planted at any particular moment of time or season of life – you have a grand opportunity – an opportunity to bloom! And while it can be in the midst of ‘want,’as we’ve highlighted, it can also be in the midst of ‘plenty.’  So, regardless of whether the planting be a moment or season that is ‘uncomfortable,’ ‘desirable,’ or otherwise in our estimation, take advantage of the opportunity to bloom for Jesus!

Lord, thank You for planting me where You have chosen. May I bloom for Your glory. Amen.

Lessons from Acts – God Gives the Increase

I enjoy internet research. I find it fascinating that with a click of a button, one can access a literal world of information. Curiously, upon thinking about this submission, I wondered about our result-oriented society and the longing for success. Hence, I typed ‘three easy steps’ into the google search engine, figuring someone out there, regardless of their endeavor, wants success and a simple path to get there.

There were 417 million results for ‘three easy steps!’ So, yes – people do resonate with this sentiment. I must admit, I like a track to run on and yes – keep it simple. Three easy steps? Sign me up!

The evangelistic endeavor is not a ‘three easy step’ engagement! Rather, it is a step of faith. Can I get a cyber-amen?

Another not so easy reality of evangelism is that the result of our efforts must be left to the Lord. In fact, best definition of success in witnessing I’ve found comes from Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ:

Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.

Additionally, the results of successful witnessing may not result in salvation or even a ‘positive response’ to the gospel (click here to read more). Yet when our witness results in someone receiving the Lord, we rejoice, remembering that while one plants, one sows, and one waters, it is ‘God who gives the increase’ (I Corinthians 3:7).

In Acts 16, Paul begins his second missionary journey, accompanied by Silas and Timothy. Their travels take them to Philippi, where we find them ministering one Sabbath day:

Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there (Acts 16:11-13).

And what do you suppose Paul’s team was sharing? Well, based upon revelation in other sections in the book of Acts, often during the Sabbath we find Paul teaching things of the Kingdom, and more specifically – the good news of Jesus the Messiah. One example we’ve examined previously was Acts 13:13-47.

Open Doors

Evangelism should begin on our knees. I have a pastor friend of mine who told me he starts every day praying specifically for God to open doors, provide ministry opportunities and orchestrate divine appointments. This certainly applies in the evangelistic endeavor.

In Colossians 4:2 Paul asked the Church in Colosse to pray that ‘God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.’

Open Hearts

As the Lord directs the steps of His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), He also opens the heart of people who hear the gospel. He does this through the power of the Holy Spirit, yet with whom He does this is quite a mystery.

We don’t necessarily understand the true condition of the human heart, but the Lord does (Jeremiah 20:12, Luke 16:15, John 2:25, Acts 15:8). So how a person may or may not respond to the gospel is ultimately an issue between them and the Lord –  for we plant, we sow, and we water in faith, but it is the Lord who gives the increase when there is an increase. For the human heart is likened to the soil in the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). So we need to pray God would soften the hearts of people (make it ‘good soil’) to hear the gospel and receive the Lord.

God Give the Increase

God not only opens up the heart of Lydia, but her entire household:

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us (Acts 16:14-15).

So simple, yet so profound and powerful! This truth should encourage and inform our evangelistic efforts. Yes, we are to pray for others. We are to lovingly serve them. We are to proclaim the gospel as God opens doors. But we can’t and won’t open the heart – this is God’s work (John 6:44-45). So stop trying to ‘get them to see the light.’ Rather, pray God works in their heart and delivers them out of darkness and into the light (Colossians 1:13)!

Seek to be faithful – faithful to plant, sow and water through prayer, service, and proclamation – all done in love! And along the way praying that God will do what only He can do – give the increase!

Lord Jesus, we commit our witness and those among whom we give a witness to You, praying God would give the increase. Amen.

Lessons from Acts – When God Says Don’t Go!

Frenetic, meet confusion and chaos. Speed dating? No! Rather, the afternoon rush hour on the lower East Side of Manhattan – New York City. I’m walking around trying to find an apartment building – for I had an appointment to meet a Jewish man in order to share the gospel of Messiah Jesus. For 6 1/2 years (2003-2009) this was a core ministry as a missionary to my Jewish people – one on one visitation with Jewish men, sharing the gospel with seekers and discipling new Jewish believers.

This initial meeting was not going well. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t going at all! You see, the lower east side of Manhattan is primarily made up of immigrants. I couldn’t find anyone on the street to speak English with and ask directions of, nor would cab drivers stop! I had an address and a phone number, but the man I was scheduled to meet with couldn’t give me proper directions, as I was a bit disoriented as to my exact location and more than a bit frustrated.

After perhaps thirty minutes of wandering, I called off the search. Most of Manhattan is on a grid – simple to navigate. But the lower east side isn’t quite so simple to navigate – and on this day was kind of like the Bermuda Triangle – and I was its’ latest victim!

I never made it to that appointment. In fact, that initial visit with this Jewish man never happened!

Could there have been more to this incident than meets the eye? Is it possible there was some kind of Divine intervention in this bizarre and singular experience I encountered? Could it have been that the Lord was actually forbidding me to go?

We find in Acts 16 a very interesting passage where the Lord says, in essence – ‘No, don’t go!’ Moreover, He actually forbids Paul and Timothy from going and ministering as they had desired. As we seek understanding, perhaps there’s a lesson for you and me!

Earlier in Acts 16, as Paul begins his second missionary journey, he meets Timothy for the first time while in Lystra. Timothy then joins Paul and Silas in the work of the gospel. In Acts 16:5 we see God blessing the ministry as ‘churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.’

As they continue their journey, they are now forbidden by God to minister in Asia!

“Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia”  (Acts 16:6).

Why does God forbid them? And more so, how does He forbid them? We don’t know. Luke doesn’t tell us. At this point I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words form 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Walking with the Lord is a faith journey. And the Lord, in His providence and sovereignty, has the prerogative to guide, lead, and even forbid without explanation.

As Paul, Silas and Timothy continue, they are once again stonewalled by the Lord:

“After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them” (Acts 16:7).

Here we get a bit more information about the team’s intention as ‘they tried to go into Bithynia.’ Again, questions. I’m wondering how they they ‘tried,’ how the Spirit stopped them, and why. And again, Luke doesn’t divulge an explanation.

Proverbs 16:9 is one of my life verses, which I find applicable to this situation and perhaps to that strange afternoon years ago on the lower east side of Manhattan – “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Paul’s team had felt compelled to go into Bithynia and tried to go, yet were not permitted. I’m beginning to wonder that in spite of my desire to visit that Jewish man years ago, if it was the Holy Spirit who did not permit me. I don’t know for sure, but I suppose Paul, Silas, and Timothy didn’t get lost along the way and simply give up! “Can anyone tell me how to get to Bithynia?” – was probably not part of the conversation.

Ministry, like life, has a way of moving along. And that’s precisely what Paul’s team does. And as they do, we again see the hand of God intervening and orchestrating events:

“So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:8-10).

Some doors close. Others open. And it is God who is Lord over all! In fact, history is His story. And the Lord orchestrates all the events of history in order to accomplish His perfect will. You see, what may appear to be chaos and pandemonium to us is not to God – for He has it all under control.

When it appears to not be working, remember – God is always working. In fact, the will of God always works!

“Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:8-10).

It was God’s pleasure to move Paul, Silas and Timothy to Macedonia, where they had an appointment, a divine appointment – with Lydia. For she and her household come to faith!

You see, what may appear to be interruptions or disruptions may actually be the Lord’s way of redirecting our paths in order to accomplish His will. I don’t know how Paul and team reacted when they were stonewalled by the Spirit, but I can tell you I was not happy at all with the events of that surreal afternoon years ago on the lower east side – the day I got lost.

Saying ‘yes’ to God’s ‘no’ takes faith. And what this looks like in our lives may be different in application, yet is the same in principle. As you strive to reach others with the gospel, be flexible, seeking God’s best, allowing Him to close doors and redirect your paths, to the Glory of God and for the building of His Kingdom. Amen.

Lessons from Acts – Contextualizing the Gospel (part 2)

It was Earth Day and I happened to be visiting my sister in Atlanta. I must admit, I don’t get too excited about Earth Day, but on this particular Earth Day I was confronted with a sad reality. You see, as we meandered through Centennial Olympic Park gazing at the revelry surrounding this ‘holiday,’ I thought to myself – ‘Interesting, people worshipping mother Earth, when they should be worshipping Father God!’

Yes, people were created to worship. People do worship. Yet, in life, the object of our worship as human beings may very different.

As we think about contextualizing the gospel, a general principle to keep in mind is that all people worship someone or something whether they realize it or not.

The Apostle Paul was keenly aware of this reality as he engaged the marketplace in Acts 17.

Understand your audience

The Scene: The Areopagus in Athens. The Areopagus literally meant the ‘rock of Ares’ in the city and was a center of temples, cultural facilities, and a high court.

Earlier, when Paul entered the city, “his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). Now Epicurean and Stoic philosophers conversed with Paul:

“Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:18-21).

Epicureans believed “pleasure” was the greatest good, but the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one’s desires. Epicureanism emphasized the neutrality of the gods, that they do not interfere with human lives.  Stocism believed human virtue in accord with nature was the way to happiness. Stoicism equated God with the totality of the universe (pantheistic), which was deeply contrary to Christianity. Additionally Stoicism, did not posit a beginning or end to the universe.

Though these philosophies differed greatly from the doctrines of Christianity, Paul’s audience is curious about his message, despite its’ perplexing character. Paul, being a Roman citizen, a learned man, and God’s chosen apostle to bring the gospel to the nations (Gentiles), would have understood this particular audience.

We mentioned last time that understanding our audience will inform our witness. And one of the primary means by which we gain understanding in personal witnessing encounters is to ask leading questions, which are many. Click herefor a link with lots of conversation starter questions.

Find points of connection

Paul, knowing his audience, then contextualizes the gospel, by initially connecting with his audience:

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ (Acts 17:22-28).

In our last study, we noticed Paul in the synagogue opening up the Scriptures. This audience at the Areopagus knew little about the Scriptures (specific revelation). So instead, Paul begins by arguing for a creator through general revelation. Notice, Paul affirms points of connection while also communicating points of distinction. For example, He connects by proclaiming to them ‘The Unknown God,’ while distinguishing that He is Creator, rather than something ‘made with hands.’

This connecting of the dots for his audience is a rational argument in contrast with a scriptural argument he could start with in the synagogue. For you and I, connecting with our audience takes time and practice. Paul is a tremendous example for us.

Communicate the Gospel

Paul concludes his argument by presenting Christ ,the resurrection and the need for repentance:

“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31).

Paul, in no uncertain terms, proclaims Jesus, the resurrection, judgment and the need for repentance. Clear and direct. Paul has contextualized the gospel without compromising it.

Expect the Unexpected

As we’ve stated, be prepared for any response and you won’t be caught off guard. Over the years of experienced a wide variety of responses to gospel proclamation. The book of Acts certainly corroborates this phenomenon.

Notice in Acts 17:33-34 the response to Paul’s proclamation here at Mars Hill:

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Some mocked. Some believed. Some remained curious. The important thing for Paul was to be faithful in sowing and watering while leaving the ‘results’ to God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

May we contextualize the gospel without compromise, seeking to understand and connect with our audience – for the glory of Jesus and for the building of His Kingdom!