perseverance in the face of persecution, & other musings from Acts 14

Then some Jews arrived from Antioch & Iconium & won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul & dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up & went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After preaching the Good News in Derbe & making many disciples, Paul & Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, & Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. Acts 14:19-22

The Apostle Paul suffered violent opposition, persecution, slander, & threat of death for his persistence in declaring the gospel. In Lystra, the mobs that had been chasing him from town to town finally caught up with him, dragged him out of the city, & stoned him until he was dead. Or at least they thought he was.

Whether he was resurrected from the dead or somehow had “shaken off” the stoning & recovered enough to walk we don’t know. (And just how might one “shake off” being pelted with rocks as big as your head?) What we do know is that Paul got up, & moved on to the next city, Derbe, continuing to preach the gospel to any & all that would hear it. If that wasn’t enough, Paul & Barnabas soon went back to Lystra, Iconium, & Antioch of Pisidia, all places that angry hordes had either wanted to or attempted to kill them. And the message they preached was Good News – & that this Good News & following Christ was worth every bit of suffering & hardship that would come, something they all knew he had experienced firsthand.

It makes me think about the confidence that Paul placed in his relationship with God, & how much he depended on the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain him through a life of such physical difficulty & suffering. What’s more, his chose to set his mind on Christ, the author & finisher of our faith. To be steadfast, firm in his pursuit of the goal, the mission he’d been given: that all would hear & come to know Christ, our hope & glory.

When Paul challenged the disciples in each city he visited to stand firm in their faith, to boldly persevere in the face of suffering, he spoke from experience. He had discovered the very real peace of God that goes beyond circumstances, & had fully committed himself to the fact that God would sustain him until such a time that he died or was martyred. And this death (& even the threat of it) had no power or sway on him, for long before, he had chosen that whether he lived or died, it would be for the glory of God.

I pray for a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit for each of us. For boldness to live & declare the Good News without fear of what may come. And I set my eyes on Christ & purpose to follow in His footsteps, & encourage others to do the same after me.

Death & life; prayer, perspective & other musings…

The violent and deadly opposition to the church that had begun with the death of Stephen had spread throughout the Roman world until finally it reached to the apostles themselves. James, one of the 3 disciples closest to Jesus, (along with Peter & John,) was martyred by King Herod. Peter was in prison, awaiting the fulfillment of his own death sentence.

And the Church was praying.

In the book of Acts, the consistent response of the Church to opposition, persecution, & threats from the government & religious leaders was prayer. And when they prayed, it wasn’t for deliverance from the difficult and even life-threatening circumstances they were in. Instead, they asked for strength & boldness in declaring the gospel. For the glory of God to be revealed in & through them with signs & wonders. For God to draw people to Himself. That they would be able to be faithful servants, even unto death.

The disciples lived with missional perspective – their primary purposes in life were to love God with their whole hearts; to declare the Good News; make disciples; love one another deeply; and to follow Christ.

So, when they experienced the traumatic events of James’ death, & Peter’s imprisonment, Jesus’ prophetic words rang in their ears:

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” & “A servant isn’t greater than his master. If they persecute Me, you can be sure they’ll persecute you as well.” Matthew 16:24,25; John 15:20.

So they prayed. And instead of living fearfully, trying to avoid any potential troubles, they committed themselves into God’s hands, so that, live or die, they would bring glory & honor to Him.

This challenges me. Rather than be focused on temporary, circumstantial discomforts, I want to have God’s perspective on life & priorities. I want to be concerned with things of eternal significance, & to live today with purpose & strength. I want to be bold, faithful, persevering, & tenacious.

So I’m praying.

fear, faith, & other musings…

Fear paralyzes us. It stirs up doubts. It rises up in opposition to faith. It crowds out every other thought, dominating the mind. It is a primary weapon used by our enemy, the devil to attempt to manipulate & control us by taking our eyes off of Christ, & putting them onto our circumstances. Fear promises us an alternate future, one void of the good & faithful promises of God.

In Acts 9, one particular disciple, Ananias, had to confront fear & make a choice: would he let fear or faith direct his life?

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Acts 9:10-12

Saul.

Ananias knew who he was. Everyone knew Saul of Tarsus. The stories of his zealous persecution of the Way had spread like wildfire. The believers he’d personally thrown into prison, the families he’d destroyed, & the stonings he’d been party to were numerous.

While every other believer in Damascus was looking to hide FROM Saul, God purposely was sending Ananias to FOR Saul. To pray for him. It didn’t make sense. Ananias wrestled with it. He discussed it further with the LORD.

And then he boldly went, found Saul, & healed him in Jesus Name.

One of the main purposes that Jesus gives His followers the Holy Spirit is so that, in the face & threat of fear, we would be filled instead with boldness. And in those moments when we’re wrestling, where fear is attempting to ensnare us, we can have the Divinely provided fuel to reject the temptations to fear, & to purposefully & boldly give ourselves to obedience to God’s purposes & plans.

Living with bold obedience to Christ affects not only my life, but those that I come in contact with. And because Ananias chose faith over fear, God used him to help Saul the leading opponent &persecutor of the Way, to become Paul, God’s chosen instrument to spread the gospel over the known world.

LORD, fill me with Your Holy Spirit today – that I would recognize (& reject) the temptation to fear, & choose faith instead. May I be boldly given to Your purposes & plans.

what really matters is being with Jesus…

Now when they (the Council) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

How our world & culture measure value, potential, and ‘specialness’ in people is largely based on brains, brawn, looks, & special abilities. This type of thinking & evaluating can find its way into the church as well – it can sound a little like:

“That person is so gifted & talented! If they became a Christian, God could really do big things through them.”

Sound familiar?

By the time Jesus had chosen the disciples, they each had most likely been passed over as “not good enough” by local rabbis seeking out promising young disciples. Sure, they’d all been taught the Torah, God’s Law & the Prophets as kids, but as they grew up, each one took a job, learned a trade, or joined the family business.

And then Jesus called them to “come & follow Me.”

The disciples were chosen not because of their greatness or special abilities – Jesus chose them because they were normal. They were common, regular people, with nothing really remarkable about them.

God sees value & potential in people, not because of their natural giftings, abilities or competencies, but because He sees what we can be when we’re called by His Name, filled with the Holy Spirit “…Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

It’s important to keep this in mind when we ‘evaluate’ our (& others) fitness & ability to be used by the LORD. Too often, we disqualify ourselves for God’s use based upon our shortcomings, weaknesses, struggles, & inadequacies, as though God didn’t know these things about us when He called & filled us.

It’s vital for us to remember that what really matters is being with Jesus. It is impossible to be with Him & not be forever changed. May the same things that were said of Peter & John, be said about us – “they seem normal enough, & there’s really nothing special about them… it must be Jesus.”

Great book resource: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus – by Spangler & Tverberg

what a difference a day makes, a new future, & other musings…

Jerusalem was jam-packed with Jews from all over the world; they’d gathered to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. This was the context God chose for the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples & gathered believers.

The city was buzzing – hearing these ‘common,’ unschooled men & women speaking the praises of God in the tongues of far-off peoples generated all sorts of intrigue & questions. Some said the disciples had just drunk too much wine, but others knew that wasn’t it, & were desperate to know, “What is going on here?”

Peter answers.

Peter. The one who, days before, had denied even knowing Christ three times. The one who had trembled in fear & wasn’t able to acknowledge his relationship with Christ to a servant girl.

Peter addressed the crowd of thousands & explained what was happening:

…Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice & addressed them: “Men of Judea & all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, & give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘& in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…”

Peter is an example of one who has been filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to live for Christ, & to give witness to what God has done & is doing in, through, & around us. His fear & timidity have been replaced with boldness. His past failures, fears, denials & inadequacies did NOT dictate his present & future, in Christ.

I believe that there was a moment as Peter gathered himself to speak to the crowd that he was bombarded with thoughts of fear & memories of his denials of Christ. It’s what our enemy does; he accuses us before God, & he reminds us of our past sins, failures, & the like. And then there’s the accusation, the lie that sounds a lot like this– “if you try to talk you will fail. You’ll look stupid. You’ll be a failure. Again.”

This accusation is one that is directed at & against the character of God – because the LORD has promised to fill our mouths, & tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us at that very moment what to say.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit’s boldness means being willing & able to reject the accusations & reminders of the enemy, & being willing & able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings for the situation at hand.

Peter did it. So can we.