ACTS, working out, & other musings…

This year, I’ve probably read through the Book of Acts at least 10 times for “me,” & another 10 times for a chapter-by-chapter blog series. Now, I’m going through it again, this time in ‘study mode’ for the ‘story by story’ series at Hillside. So, this morning I was reviewing my notes for tomorrow’s speech from Acts 8:3-25, & a couple of elements from Philip’s story hit me fresh. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times I’ve read a passage, or how familiar it is to me, the Holy Spirit brings life to it, & shines a bright light onto areas I’d never seen, noticed or considered before.

Philip (& the other believers) were on the run from the wave of persecution that arose in the wake of Stephen’s martyrdom. All but the apostles had left Jerusalem & headed throughout the region of Judea, & even to Samaria… in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words from Acts 1:8. I guess the “Jerusalem, Judea, & Samaria” passages are so familiar that I never really considered that the very thing that drove the disciples out of Jerusalem (persecution & threat of death) led to the gospel message being spread everywhere they went, going places that they’d never even considered going before.

God didn’t CAUSE the persecution as a way of shaking up His people; rather, its an example of one way that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him & are called according to His purpose (ala Romans 8:28.) There was no master plan the disciples followed – they were on the run. And in the middle of their flight, their faith provided an anchor, a safe place, a point of encouragement to keep them going.

It gives me great hope to know that our faith is made for times EXACTLY like that – times of uncertainty, danger, threat, fear, illness, when the darkness is closing in. At those times, we find that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, provides for our every need. Sustains, strengthens, & gives us life. Love it.

Lately, I’ve got a new workout partner: theWeez. Its been fun hitting the gym together & getting to teach her about different exercises, free-weights vs. ‘the machines,’ & of course, kettle-bells. Today, she told me that she thinks that she’d like to get into MMA. As in mixed-martial arts. As in cage fighting.

Sigh. This should be interesting.

All I know, is I’m loving our time together.

It’s official. ThePasty Gangster is on his way to Knoxville, Tennessee. Countdown: 32 days.

I am an uncle. Again. Moe & Jen took baby TyWill home from the hospital last night, so 2 year old TBone has a little brother. I love that my brothers’ have little kids & that I have big ones. Family.

At no point in my life have I ever felt the need to try to plant flowers or plants in the ground, to nurture, water, & talk to them.

Until now. For some reason, I have a vested interest in seeing the 5 grassy willow-y plants in the backyard stay alive. I speak to them. Water them multiple times a day. Command them to survive in the spite of Nevada’s weather & my feeble attempts at caring for them. If they last, I may even post a picture.

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.

on the run & other musings from Acts 8…

The Martyrdom of Stephen instigated a firestorm of persecution against Christians, and the members of the thousands-strong Jerusalem church were faced with the choice: be imprisoned (or worse,) or run. They ran.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Acts 8:1,4

As they fled for their lives, I wonder if Jesus’ last words to His disciples rang in their ears… “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, & Samaria, & to the ends of the earth.”

Because it was happening. They were now going throughout Judea. Samaria. To the ends of the earth. And everywhere they went, they were preaching the word & sharing the gospel.

I bet they didn’t think it would be like this.

Still, in the middle of their flight, they had the surety of God’s promised Holy Spirit, indwelling them, filling them with strength to keep going, and boldness to keep sharing the gospel. Grace. Repentance. Forgiveness of sins. New life in Christ.

Even on the run.
Even when we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Even when the whole world seems to be turned upside-down.

Our faith in Christ is precisely for such times of adversity; our need for a Saviour is never so obvious as when we’re faced with suffering and difficulty. Its at these moments we discover the depth and breadth of what it means to have a Rock of Salvation in Christ; a hope that goes beyond this life; a peace that goes beyond understanding, that transcends circumstances.