Man Or God? 

Acts 28:6
” 
However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.”

After the ship ran aground and all the passengers and crew arrived safely on shore, it would not take long for the onlookers to see who was who. Even after saving the lives of the entire crew, Paul is still treated as a criminal, and is sent to gather sticks for the fire. While reaching for a stick, Paul encounters what many people fear the most… a snake.

I have seen grown men scream like little girls, push their friends out of the way, and even leave friends stranded in the dark, at the sight of a snake. Paul did not just see a snake, but it struck him and refused to let go. What a sight that must have been! The darkness illuminated by the fire’s flames, and in the shadows, Paul swinging his arms around, attempting to get this poisonous viper to release its grip. The natives of the island, seeing this scene, determined that Paul must be a guilty man; although he was able to escape the sea, the viper got him. As they looked on, expecting him to be killed, their opinion drastically changed. They began to think that he was not a guilty man or even a man at all, but that he must be a god, for only a god could survive such things. What would cause them to have such a drastic swing in their opinion of Paul? I think it was due to their lack of a spiritual foundation upon which to build their understanding of God.

While we probably are not often mistaken for gods, we certainly live in a time when people seem to have little or no spiritual foundation. Outside the church, we find people searching everywhere to find spiritual encounters. Just the other day, I saw signs around our town for a “Psychic Seminar,” where people could come and have a spiritual experience. Within the church, emotions and experience are often mistaken for the moving of the Spirit; and popular opinion shapes our view of the love and holiness of God. We live in a time when a firm spiritual foundation is essential to develop our understanding of God; and that foundation can be nothing less than the Word of God.

Rather than being tossed around, wondering what God is really like, we need to take the time to see who He declares Himself to be, within the pages of His Word. It is very common to hear people say, “We can’t limit God” or “You cannot put God in a box.” While it is true that we often limit God and miss out on what He wants to do in and through us, it is also true that God has put boundaries upon Himself. Those boundaries are found in the pages of His Word. God is not different from who He declares Himself to be, nor will He change His viewpoint based upon public opinion. Let’s determine today to get to know the God of Scripture, rather than the god of culture.

Pastor Jim

 

Persuasion 

Acts 27:11 
Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.”

After appealing to Caesar, Paul was sent on the long journey to Rome. He was to stand trial for the accusations brought against him by the religious leaders of Jerusalem. Paul was released from his Caesarean prison and placed in the care of Julius, a Roman centurion. Acts 27-28 records the story of their journey to Rome. Right away, this journey faced obstacles.

Due to headwinds, travel was extremely slow and they reached Fair Havens very late in the season. The later their arrival, the greater their chances of encountering a storm that would threaten their travels, and their lives. Julius was responsible, not only for Paul, but other prisoners who were also under his care. He had a difficult decision to make. Do they press on this late in the season, or do they wait out the winter in Fair Havens?

Like most of us, when facing decisions, he sought the counsel of others. He spoke with the owner of the ship, who had a financial interest in the trip; as well as the captain of the ship, who knew the seas well. They both assured him of a safe journey. Then he received counsel from Paul; their journey would end in disaster. Julius was persuaded by the counsel of men and ignored the counsel of God. In the end, the ship was lost, their lives were threatened and they were shipwrecked on an island. It is not difficult to understand why Julius would listen to the captain and owner, while ignoring Paul. I mean, Paul was not a sailor, but a scholar and prisoner heading to trial.

I think we always assume we have good reasons when we allow ourselves to be persuaded by the counsel of men and to ignore the instructions of God. However, I think we always have good reason to obey the Words of God. This morning, in whatever you are facing, will you allow the Word of God to persuade you, or will you be tossed around by the counsel of men?

Pastor Jim

 

Incredible

Acts 26:8
Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”

It has been said,  if we can believe the first four words of the Bible, we should have no problem with the rest of its claims. “In the beginning God…” The Bible is filled with stories of the mighty workings of God. We read of Him speaking the worlds into existence, delivering a nation from the threat of death, parting the seas, providing food in a desert, knocking down the walls of Jericho, raising a shepherd boy to the palace, healing the sick, and delivering those who were possessed by devils. Page after page, we read of God being God and providing victory over the affairs of life. It seems that for many of us, we have no problem believing in the mighty workings of God. We trust the validity of our Bibles, we celebrate His mighty work in the life of others, and even sing together of His miraculous power. However, when it comes to our own lives, we sometimes act like Agrippa. We question the ability of God; we wonder if His power is really strong enough to help us in our time of need.

I love Paul’s question; “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”

What is it about God that you do not understand which makes it difficult for you to believe He raises the dead? I mean, if He is, in fact, God, we should expect He would be able to do what is impossible. It would be foolish to think otherwise. The problem is, we often reduce God to someone we can understand. Since we have taken away so much of His majesty, we also doubt His ability. Sometimes, in our efforts to relate to God, we have a tendency to reduce Him to someone we can understand. We cannot fathom His holiness, so we ignore it and focus only on His love and mercy. Since we cannot understand His majesty, we limit Him to His humanity. The result is we lose sight of the power of God.

In “The Chronicles of Narnia,” CS Lewis refers to Aslan stating, “He is not a tame lion.” I have always loved that reference. I think He is referring to the fact that God is bigger than we will ever be able to comprehend. We cannot reduce Him to someone who we understand, or else we have reduced Him to someone He is not.

If you are having trouble believing that God is able to work in your life, or give victory to your situation, it is time to cast off the limited God that you have created. It is time to introduce you to the God of Scripture. A God so great that the Heavens cannot contain Him.

Pastor Jim

 

Blameless

Acts 25:8 
Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.”

Jesus instructed His followers that their lives are to be lived as a testimony to the world. He taught “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  In other words, the way we live should testify of a living God.

Paul lived that way. He not only believed that Christ was alive, he spoke about it, and lived it. His life was a living testimony of a risen Savior. While the religious leaders were in an uproar because of his preaching, they had nothing to hold against him regarding the law or customs.

We all ought to live that way. Writing to the Church in Philippi, Paul stated,

“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, . . . ” Philippians 2:14-15

That word “blameless” really stands out to me. It speaks of having nothing of which to grab hold. I remember, years ago, watching a group of young people attempting to catch a greased pig. It was quite comical seeing them run around attempting to grab hold, only to have the pig wiggle away from them. There was nothing to grab hold of, and the pig remained uncatchable. We ought to be a bit like that. How we live at home, work, and around the community, testifies loudly of the reality of Christ. When we seek to be a witness of Christ, it will affect the way we live. The way we work, the way we talk, the things we look at, will all be affected, when we see them as a way to win others to Christ.

Let’s determine today, that we want to be those, who not only declare Christ as a Facebook status, but those who live like Jesus is actually alive from the dead.

Pastor Jim

 

Convenient Time 

Acts 24:25 
“Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”

Time is an interesting thing. We are always spending it and it cannot be saved. Failing to do something today, does not guarantee we will have the time for it tomorrow. Felix’s encounter with the Gospel message teaches us something important about how we use this moment for eternal things.

Paul had been promised, early on in his walk with the Lord, that he would have opportunity to share Christ with kings, or political rulers. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he finds himself standing before the Roman Ruler of Judea, with an open door to share Christ. In true Pauline fashion, he “swings for the fences”, and declares how Christ was risen from the dead and offers eternal life. He warns of the coming resurrection; that all men will one day stand before God to give account for this life. Those who have received Christ will enter into eternity, and those who have rejected Him, will face eternal judgment.

After hearing the truth of Christ so clearly explained, Felix’s response is striking. He sends Paul away, anticipating that in his future he will have “a convenient time” to decide for Christ. Sadly, as the story unfolds, Felix never finds that time. He is given many more opportunities to receive Christ, only to find further reasons to put it off.

Tragically, Felix is not alone in this. Many, upon hearing the Gospel, recognize it to be true; the Spirit of God is speaking to them, and stirring within them to respond. Yet, like Felix, they put it off. Perhaps they too, think tomorrow will be a more favorable day. Those who put off Christ, do so for many reasons. Some are concerned how their response to Christ will impact them socially. They are concerned about what others will think of them, how their friends will react to the news, or how their co-workers will treat them. Others are hoping for one more experience with sin. Perhaps another night of partying, or a final chance of sleeping with their girlfriend; only to find that they are never able to satisfy the craving for one more.

The truth is, there will NEVER be a more convenient time to get things right with the Lord than this moment. If need be, take time to surrender all to Jesus, and begin a fresh new walk with Him

Pastor Jim

 

The Value Of A Verse

Acts 23:11
“But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.’”

Unknown-1.jpegWebster defines a trial as, “A test of faith through subjection to suffering or temptation.” Paul’s current situation may be the text book case of a trial. He came to Jerusalem with the goal of sharing Christ with his friends and countrymen, spent his time preparing to share with them, but before he ever spoke a word, he found himself under attack. After his unjust arrest, he had two opportunities to share the Gospel; both times he was cut short, as the people become enraged with him. To make matters worse, his Christian friends had warned him not to go to Jerusalem in the first place. They said he would be beaten, arrested and perhaps killed. Paul believed the trip was the Lord and ignored their warnings.  Now, incarcerated and facing the threat of death, it would be natural to feel as though he had failed the Lord and his situation was hopeless.

I love the fact that while facing this great trial, the Lord spoke to Him. The voices surrounding him said  he was a blasphemer and he was going to die, and perhaps a voice within, saying he had failed. However, one voice cried out louder than all the rest. It was the voice of Jesus, providing Paul with a promise that would carry him through all the trials of the next few years. Prison in Rome, the threat of death, a late night escape, forgotten in Caesarea, ship wrecked on an island, and being bitten by a poisonous viper, could not shatter the strength given from these few simple words uttered by Christ. No matter how bad things became, he was promised safe passage and opportunity in Rome.

The Word of God is like that. A timely promise from God is able to sustain us though whatever difficulties we are facing. I have had times that seemed hopeless, and all I had to sustain me was a simple truth from the Word of God. As time continued, I found that no force on earth could shake the foundation given by the promise of God. No matter what you are facing, get in the Word and allow Jesus to whisper His great and precious promises, and strengthen you from within.

Mark 13:31
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Pastor Jim

 

The Whole World

Acts 22:22
“They listened to him until this word.”

After his arrest, Paul shared Christ with the mob that tried to kill him. They listened intently to him because his message was fascinating and relevant. It seemed they had a true interest, and even an openness to the Gospel. But that all changed once Paul mentioned the Gentiles. That single word caused the hearers to close their ears, harden their hearts, and reject the message of Christ.

Paul was not the only one to experience people coming close to responding to Christ, only to hear something they did not like and to shut down. We read in John 6, Jesus had developed a very large following until He spoke about His suffering and death. When they heard that, we are told they responded,

“This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”  John 6:60

To which John commented,

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

On another occasion, a man approached Jesus with a question about how to receive eternal life. Jesus spoke with him about morality then told him to forsake his old life and come follow after Jesus. He seemed to enjoy a discussion about morality, but when it came to transformed living we are told,

“But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”  Mark 10:22

What about you? Is there anything keeping you from committing all to Christ?  Perhaps the requirement of repentance or the need for total surrender? Maybe it is simpler than that; perhaps there is one area in your life that you have been unwilling to give to the Lord. That one area is keeping you from following wholly after Jesus. Sadly, this crowd that was so close to responding to Jesus, became harder and harder.

If there is an “until” in your life, surrender now, at the feet of Jesus, and begin to experience the living water He promised would flow in the lives of those who followed Him.

Pastor Jim