Monday, September 29, 2014
Have you ever been frustrated? Pretty silly question, right? We all find ourselves frustrated from time to time, if not all the time. Frustration can come from a multitude of occurrences in our everyday life: Spilled coffee, slow traffic, misbehaving children, plans thwarted, loss of control in situations where control was all we could count on.
Frustration has many side effects: Anger is one; confusion about where, what, why... is another; fear of what's next; hope for good results crushed; despair, depression, despondency, even deep self-deprecation and desire to just quit everything.
When Paul finally returned to Jerusalem, after many years of travel into Asia Minor and Greece, his biggest hope was to be able to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ to all who would listen; especially since he had such great news to tell them about the work of Christ in the hearts of the Gentiles. We might say he was “pumped” to get on with spreading the Gospel of Love and Grace back in Jerusalem where it all was completed many years before.
However, it seemed that he just ran into one brick wall after another:
First, he ran headlong into church leaders who had heard that “some” were spreading bad reports of what he was doing “out there” in Gentile land.These same men had collaborated with him on how to handle the subject of circumcision and had come to an agreement which was written down and signed for Paul to carry with him. Now they were alarmed that these false rumors were spreading throughout Jerusalem when they knew that Paul, himself, was true to the Jewish laws and traditions. They were not going to accuse him of anything – BUT – some appeasement was needed to dissuade these rumors. They suggested that he join a group of local men who were going to participate in a purification ceremony. That turned out really well for him. NOT.
When he was at the temple, toward the end of the time of purification, some of the complaining Jews from the province of Asia saw him. They accused him openly of defiling the temple by shouting lies about him and his teachings. “The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions.” There was a riot, during which Paul was dragged out of the temple and beaten, and nearly killed. The riot was only stopped by the appearance of the Roman Guard.
Not knowing what was going on, they came and arrested Paul, binding him in chains, as prophecied earlier in Act. As they were removing him, he spoke up in Greek and startled the guards who thought he was an Egyptian rebel.
I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cylicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.
Then he changed to Aramaic, which hushed the crowd. Then he gave his Jewish resume and continued with his testimony in Jesus Christ, ending with this statement:
Then the Lord said to me, “Go: I will send you far away to the gentiles.”
With that, the riot started all over again. And, once more, the Roman Guard stepped in to get Paul out of there.
Being frustrated themselves, they removed Paul from the situation, but tried to further the inquiry of him by ordering a flogging and questioning. Paul spoke up again and asked if it was legal to flog a Roman citizen without a trial and a verdict. It was not. They were, shall we say, astounded about what they had almost done, but the commander wanted to be sure and asked more questions. As these questions were answered, the ones who were about to flog him quietly backed out of the room.. “The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.”
I think we can be sure that this was not a good day for Paul. And, his night was surely a rough one as well.
The very next day, the Romans decided to find out the truth of all this by turning him over to the court of the Sanhedrins, the Jewish Court made up of Pharisees and Sadducees who were not even able to agree with each other about what the truth was in the laws of God.
Things went from bad to worse when they took him into custody and those near him where told to “strike him on the mouth.” - That was an illegal action according to the law to which these leaders held themselves.
Paul spoke up saying, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall...” He accused them, just as Christ had, of being clean appearing on the outside but filthy dirty on the inside; and willing to break their own laws. This did not set well with anyone and Paul was called out on failing to respect the High Priest.
Paul, being a faithful keeper of Jewish law, immediately confessed what he had done and what law he had broken. Then he challenged the Sanhedrin with the fact that he was being persecuted for believing in the resurrection, which the Pharisee half also held as a belief, but the Sadducees did not.
That did not help. The Pharisees and Sadducees began their own shouting match at each other and the whole thing became another riot from which Paul needed to be rescued. The Roman Guard once again had to step in:
“There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law stood up and argued... became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.”
They took him away by force and brought him into the barracks, like a prisoner. At this point, it can be said that Paul was beside himself with frustration over the whole situation. Even though he knew this was coming and that he would be sent to Rome, his plans to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem were shattered. His heart was breaking over the people of Jerusalem and what they were missing out on. He needed some encouragement.
Acts 25:11 – THE FOLLOWING NIGHT THE LORD STOOD NEAR PAUL and said, “Take courage. As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
If that doesn't grab your heart, break it and heal it at the same time leaving you with a conviction that you are not alone, then you are not paying attention.
Paul had just experienced the worst three days of his life and he was ready for some new energy and eagerness to go on with what was to come.
Is there anything more exciting in our lives as Christians, than the realization that Christ is at our side during every single trial that we go through; the realization that He is not off somewhere in Heaven tending to kingly duties while we struggle through life on this earth; the fact that Jesus is truly with us every step of the way as we remain bound by the forces against us on this earth? He is always at our side. ALWAYS.
THE FOLLOWING NIGHT THE LORD STOOD NEAR PAUL. He came in body form and stood right next to Paul. He is present with us ALWAYS, standing at our side, encouraging us to continue on the path He has set before us.
The riots and persecutions were not over; BUT Christ had already won this war.
Monday, September 8, 2014
I have many things on my mind this morning, but one thing is blossoming above the rest: Children being frightened into Salvation.
Some years ago, a four year old child told me that he had accepted Jesus as his Savior because he did not want to go to hell. I was disturbed by this, although I told him how happy I was for him that he accepted Christ as His Savior.
His parents were and are friends that I love dearly. They serve Christ unquestionably as He leads them down a road of wonderful and inspiring ministry in His name. But something about this profession of faith disturbed me and I could not put my finger on it.
Since then, I have heard other such testimonies and I have heard many mothers speaking in dismay because they fear their little one will go to hell if the do not realize Christ as Savior as soon as possible.
When you see this picture, what comes to mind? We know that Jesus called out for the Apostles to let the children come to him, and we see many images of what that may have looked like. But what do we think He is talking to them about? Do you hear Him saying to them, “Little Children, you are sinners and will go to hell if you do not follow me?” I doubt that anyone thinks that. So what DO you see and hear as you gaze at images such as that or this...
Can't you just see and hear Jesus telling them how much He loves them and how much His Father loves them and how beautiful they are in his eyes. Can't you just hear Him showing them the beauty around them rather than the ugly? Can't you feel the love and the children's excitement as they feel that Love?
I remember one mother telling me about her very young daughter and saying, “She just was born loving Jesus, and she is just bursting to live His love out in her life.” What a beautiful realization that the LOVE of Christ is enough to bring a child into a relationship with Him. He alone can make their little hearts long for Him and turn to Him just because they love Him and He loves them. That is definitely enough for the little ones.
They do not have to come laying out their sins before Him. They just have to answer the longing in their hearts for Him. Sins will be known and confessed later; right now it is all about love.
I know that it must be difficult for parents to take the burden of leading their children into a relationship with Christ. That has always been a huge responsibility. But I have a deep conviction that there needs to be an emphasis on Love over sin with young children. Knowing about sin will come. What they need at their tender age is a courtship with Christ.
Recently I was watching “19 Kids and Counting” and watching the attitude about dating and courting and even engagement and all the steps it takes to arrive at Marriage. I guess that is where I got this idea of the courtship of Christ in a young child's life. That, and my own testimony of His Courtship with me.
I had no actual concept of sin. I grew up in a family situation that was full of it, but I did not know it by definition.
God had known me even before my parents came into being, let alone into a sinful intimate relationship that was the beginning of me, the human named Cheryl.
We celebrated Christmas as Xmas with Santa Claus. We pretty much ignored Easter, except for the Easter Egg Hunt theme, and the big dinner. But because the Word of God says that God the Father desired me to be one with Jesus; and because Jesus, Himself was seeking after me, I am assured that Jesus was courting me even in my earliest days. I was chosen and I was intended to be His from before the beginning of my life. I had no idea of this and I just spent my time growing up a little; driving my mother insane with my constant howling; but otherwise pretty obedient to and respectful of her.
Finally, when I was eight years old, I had a chance to go to church. I had no idea that I wanted to do that, but I was very pleased with the doing. Mom sent us off to the corner church every Sunday Morning (I'm thinking... so that she could have a nice quiet Sunday morning all alone.). I loved going and I started learning about Jesus and His love for me. I was definitely interested in knowing more; so I kept going.
When summer came, Mom enrolled us in two DVBS sessions. That was her vacation, for sure. At the end of the second one, the Pastor asked those of us interested in joining with Jesus to come forward. I was ecstatic. I grabbed my brother and our friends and made them come with me. I do not know how they handled the situation, but I spent the time thanking Jesus for loving me and promising Him that I would love Him back.
I am sure they went through the required preparation prayer, but all I was concerned with was that Jesus asked me to be His friend forever and I accepted that invitation. I was in love and it was all about Jesus!
And for the next 9 years I lived on that and that alone. My connection to any church at all came to a halt when we moved away and I found that choosing a church to go to was impossible because they all had names; the churches I went to before were community churches without specific names. Mom and Dad were too busy to help me out, so I spent the next 8 years longing to go to Sunday school, but hindered by not being able to convince anyone to take me with them.
But the longing to know more about Jesus never went away. He was always there reminding me that He loves me and that He will be near whenever I need Him. I was still a little vague about sin, but I had a pretty clear view of right and wrong and God used that to keep me from many things that could have trapped me for life. He watched over me carefully.
But the point I am trying to make is that sometimes we allow fear to guide us in what we do; then we use it to try to accomplish what God can accomplish completely on His own. God is not the Author of Fear – Nowhere in His word does He tell us to fear; nor does He teach us to teach our children to fear. He tells us to give our children to Him and let Him court them into a full relationship with Him.
Sometimes we disregard the truth that Jesus knew these children LONG before the parents came to know them, and that He planted in them the longing for Him that He would use to bring them to Him. He did not plant a fear of hell in any of our children; and I think maybe we should not do that either.
All in all, it comes down to the idea presented to us this week in the sermon: God plants in us the way we should go and how we will be used for His Glory in this place.
There are many prophets and servants in Scripture who fill that bill in our minds: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Daniel, Samuel, David and several Kings and prophets through the years.
And I always default to King Cyress, who was pre-instructed that he was to let the Israelites go from their bondage and to rebuild their lives back in Jerusalem; this even before his parents were aware of the blessing of a child to be born. And King Cyress admired the One True God, but may have never submitted to that God to worship Him alone. Still, God wanted to use him at that critical point and he was pre-instructed to do exactly what God had planned.
But the need is this: that we see ourselves and our children filling that bill as well. We, and they, are in God's hands and God's plans.
May we step back just a little from instilling fear, and get on with instilling LOVE and plenty of it. Children need love; Children respond to love; Jesus LOVES us into coming with Him and doing as He wills with our lives. We can never say enough about how much and how well God Loves us.
May we allow Jesus do His courting in the lives of those we love, and in our own lives as well. He will succeed where we may fail.