Entertainment or Emergency?

Acts 24-25

We are suckers for entertainment.  Good entertainment does lots of things for us.  Perhaps the most simple is passing time.   I confess, I just binge-watched Ted Lasso.  That’s 22 shows at an average of 35 minutes each or 12.8 hours.  Yes, I can hear your judgment.  Before you go there, check out these stats on binge-watching.  Apparently, you are doing it too (and yes that makes me feel better).

Ted Lasso is a great example of entertainment because that show does exactly what entertainment is supposed to do; hold our attention and give pleasure or delight to the customer (so says Google).  But, at what point does entertainment lose its value?  What would make you stop watching Ted Lasso?  Let’s take a look at today’s reading and see what we find.

Read back through Acts 24:22-27 and pay attention to Felix.  Now, Felix was the governor who had just heard the Jews’ case against Paul.  Rather than offer a quick conviction, Felix delays.  Not only would delaying the case allow him to defer responsibility, but it would also give him an opportunity to have some time alone with Paul.  In some weird way, Felix was looking to Paul for entertainment.

Remember what Google said about entertainment.  It is designed to produce pleasure or delight.  This was true for Felix.  In fact, he even invited his wife, Drusilla to come along.  Unfortunately, this encounter quickly became less than entertaining.  For most of us, this comes from boredom, but not Felix, not this time.  Instead, Felix becomes alarmed while listening to Paul (v23).

In order to determine why Felix became alarmed, let’s examine the conversation.  Paul spoke about faith in Jesus Christ and reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment (v24-25).  Somewhere, in this conversation, Felix became agitated.  Let’s see if we can figure out why.

Imagine Felix listening intently as Paul talked.  If he was anything like me, I can see him nodding in agreement when talking about Jesus and righteousness.  “yes, this is who we are created to be,” Felix would agree.  “Preach on brother.”  Of course, when listening intently, he begins to contrast his own life with that of the righteous.  With every new word, he sees the gap widen.  The reality of that large gap begins to look insurmountable.  Unless… “I changed,” he considers. “What would it take for me to be that righteous?”

This is where the entertainment ends.  The list of changes becomes overwhelming.  Felix would easily remember his faults, big and small.  He may start with the little white lies, no big deal there.  Then, he remembers the drunkenness and debauchery. Perhaps he moves on to the bribes and the affairs.  But “don’t sweat it,” he thinks, “I’ve got this under control.”  Maybe he does have it under control.  At least it feels that way until Paul starts in on the coming judgment.  Now, there is no way out.  ALARM!

As I thought through that scenario, I was reminded of an excerpt from  Knowing Christ Today, by Dallas Willard.  He says “We can fail to know because we do not want to know—because what would be known would require us to believe and act in ways contrary to what we want. It often strikes first-time visitors to large cities, such as New York City, how the residents have taught themselves not to look at the problems surrounding them—for example, the homeless or victims of muggings. Looking makes you responsible. Avoidance is one reason for the lack of knowledge among humanity—knowledge can be and often is rejected.”

It’s that simple.  Felix rejected – no, he ran from – the knowledge that Paul offered for the simple reason that knowing it would require him to act contrary to the way he wanted to act.  Ouch!

We all have the same choice when the Holy Spirit calls.  How are you responding?

 

Calling

As I read Acts 9, I am stuck on the notion of calling. In fact, we get two interesting looks at callings today. First, God is literally calling Saul (v4).  Second, but no less powerful is a calling of Ananias.

To start, it’s helpful to identify what a calling is.  According to Os Guinness, “Calling is the truth, that God calls us so decisively to himself, that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have, is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

I like that definition and without a doubt, it describes Saul.  Beginning in verse 19, Saul is a new person.  The Gospel has overtaken his heart and become him.  It is no different for us.  When we are called, and we respond affirmatively, it affects every aspect of our lives.  In fact, it requires our instant and passionate reaction.

That freaks me out.  Why?  Because I don’t always give God my instant and passionate reactions.  Ok sure, there are times when I live with a “special devotion,” but dynamism?  What gives?

To answer that question, it is worth considering a second definition of calling.  This one is from Oswald Chambers.  He says, “God gets me into a relationship with Himself whereby I understand His call, then I do things out of sheer love for Him on my own account.”

Effectively, Chambers is saying that our calling is the natural outflow resulting from our contact with God.  This is what I see in Ananias.  In verse 11, Ananias is being summoned to do dangerous work with Saul.  The invitation is a direct result of his talking with God (sometimes we call that praying).  Then, Ananias responds just like Chambers suggests, “out of sheer love.”  Why else would he risk his life?!

So that brings me back to my freak out.  If I am living without a calling, I am also living without any special devotion and certainly no dynamism.  Sadly, as Chambers suggests, that lack of call is a direct reflection of how in touch we are with the nature of God.  It’s that simple.

Thankfully, this situation does not have to be permanent.   When we seek Him, “He calls us back to that for which we were created— to worship the Lord God and to enjoy Him forever. And then out of our deep worship flows our work for Him.” (A.W. Tozer)

It took Saul three days of blindness to finally seek and see (v9).  How long will it take you?

 

Works Cited

Guinness, Os.  The Call: Finding and Fulfilling The Central Purpose Of Your Life. (p. 4) .  Thomas Nelson

Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition. Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

Tozer, A. W. (2009-02-16). The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship (p. 95). Gospel Light. Kindle Edition.

If – Then

If –  then.  It’s a conditional response.  If something happens, then this will be the result.  It’s predictable.  Conversely, if something doesn’t happen, then you can’t have that result.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  In John 14, Jesus uses five if statements. Did you notice?

Verse 7 “if you had known me”

Verse 14 “if you ask me”

Verse 15 “If you love me”

Verse 23 If anyone loves me

Verse 28 If you loved me

Now here’s the thing.  Each of these is tied to a result.

Verse 7 – If you know me, [then] you know my Father

Verse 14 – If you ask me, [then] I will do it

Verse 15 – If you love me, [then] you will keep my commandments

Verse 23 – If anyone loves me, [then] he will keep my word

Verse 28 – If you love me, [then] you will rejoice (tense adjusted)

One thing strikes me as I read these.  They are all reactionary as opposed to actionary.  What I mean is that no additional action is required on my part.  Learning about Jesus and knowing him (v7), for example, means that I also know God.  Nothing further is needed from me.  Continue with verse 15.  Our love for Jesus is all that is required for obedience.  In other words, keeping his commandments is a natural outflow of our love for him.  Now, follow the rest through.

As I review Jesus’ If-then statements, I see that I overcomplicate my relationship with him.  I only need to know him.  It is that simple.  To know Him is to love him and, as you can see, our lives become rightly ordered if only we put Him first.

Talk It Out

Luke 24

I am an external processor.  What does that mean?  It means I like to talk.  Well, that’s part of it.  You see I like to talk about thoughts and ideas that I have not fully formulated.  As I do, I gain clarity find direction.  There is another benefit.  I also get to hear your thoughts.  Sometimes, I find that my direction is completely off and the conversation reels me back in.  No matter the outcome, I am always encouraged and emboldened by the people that are willing to engage in these conversations.

Today, in Luke 23, we see the disciples engaging in a similar conversation.  They are recounting the last couple of days up to and including Jesus’ death.  It’s a grim conversation, to be sure.  Even so, the conversation helps them process.  Through it, they will gain clarity about how it happened and what is next.

Follow the story now as a curious stranger joins the conversation.  I can picture the disciples getting all worked up at this man’s ignorance.  No, they are not annoyed, they are provoked.  “What things?”  That is all the man asked, but it is enough.  They spend the next several minutes telling, in detail, the events of the last few days and how they unfolded.  It would be like telling someone about last night’s game.  Whether your team won or lost, the story is filled with passion and emotion.

Of course, for the disciples on this walk, hope was lost.  They are filled with sadness.  They are filled with defeat.  Jesus knew that and he was disappointed.  How many times had he told them?  How many times had he forecast his own death?  How many times had he shared that these events would bring boundless joy?  Until at once, he couldn’t hold back any longer.  “You foolish people,” he cries! (verse 25).

While the rebuke was stern, it was necessary.  Now with their attention, the curious stranger was able to reel in the conversation.  He reminds them of the prophets, the predictions and the scriptures that point to the Messiah.  He reminds them of the suffering that would occur and also of the ensuing glory.

Now, we know how the story ends.  We know that soon after this walk, Jesus would reveal himself.  But, before then, as they shared with each other, their hearts were warmed.  More than that, their hearts burned (v32).  This is different than the sadness and defeat they experienced just moments before.  Don’t you feel their excitement, exuberance even?  That’s what I want!  Don’t you?

As I reflect upon how they went from sadness to exuberance, one thing is clear.  Jesus.  It was not his presence, though, it was his story.  You see, the disciples found life in recounting the events.  Then, they experienced true joy when Jesus connected the events to hope.  Don’t you know that he does the exact same thing for us?  We would do well to talk out the gospel message the same way more often.

The Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11

If you grew up around the church, you learned the Lord’s prayer.  Not only did we recite it in every service, but it was also a song.  Now, the good part about that is I know it by heart.  So do you.  The only time I get in trouble is when I go to a different church.  I never know if they have trespasses or debts.  It gets me every time!

Did you know that’s what happens when you memorize like that?  I get so worried about which “right” word to use that I forget all about what the words actually mean.  In Luke 11, I think Jesus is far less concerned about the actual words and far more worried about what they mean.  Let’s slow down for a moment, and consider how this perfect prayer is constructed.

Father, Hallowed be your name

This first line is about who God is.  First, he is our Father.  Thinking deeper into that, we know that he is our creator.  In fact, he is not just my creator, but the creator of the universe.  He is the Father of all things.

Now, Father is a common name for us but God, our Father, is anything but common.  That is why we use the specialest of all special words Hallowed.  To be hallowed is to be truly set apart.  Yes, it is about being revered and honored, but it is more.  It carries with it holiness and consecrated.  Perfection in one word.  I think it is fitting.  It is only God that gets this title.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done

This is a statement of hope and our deepest desire.  It asks him to bring the perfect righteousness of his kingdom, right here, right now.  To make such a request requires humility and surrender.  You see, when we ask for God’s kingdom to come, we are confessing that it is better than our own.  Additionally, we are asking that His will reigns supreme over us.  That means that my kingdom and my wants are not just secondary to his, they are irrelevant to his.

Give us each day, our daily bread

A simple request for provision.  I need to be reminded that it is a request, one day at a time.  It’s not about provision for the year, or for retirement, just today.  Then, of course, it’s bread.  Why not steak?  I mean, if you are going to ask, then go big, right?  This simple request leaves the provision up to God.  If he wants to give you more, he can.  We, however, will be content today, with the simplest of God’s provision.

And forgive us our sins

This line puts us squarely in the jaws of grace.  It is a reminder that we are less than perfect.  We have fallen well short of God’s expectations.  It is also our confession that we do no measure up and have no means of payment.

For we forgive everyone who is indebted to us

Fittingly, this falls after our request for forgiveness.  For me, it is a fitting reminder that if I am to receive God’s grace, I must also extend grace to those around me.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

This last line acknowledges our humanity.  We know that in the moment, we will make poor choices.  We also know that God is a great protector.  He can, and in fact, promises to deliver us when temptation and evil show up (1 Corinthians 10:13).

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, and ever

Sorry, that line doesn’t exist in the Bible.  I don’t know when or who added it but it is a fitting and dramatic ending for the song, leaving my heart right where it needs to be with God at the center.

Faithfully Forsaken

Mark 15

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Those were the last words of Jesus. At that moment, he was alone.  He could feel it in his soul.  It was empty and hollow.  The pain was too much to bear.  The physical torture had taken its toll, not to mention the mental anguish.  Just yesterday, his best friends betrayed him.  Not only did they hand him over, but they also denied knowing him.  Even the political system didn’t go in his favor.  Pilate took the simple and self-serving route.  He could have set him free.  He didn’t.  No help.  No people, no angels, no God.

Maybe you have been there?  The circumstances of life have stacked against you and they just keep coming.  Perhaps your friends have betrayed you, just like Jesus.  Maybe it’s illness or financial pressure that keeps you from living a joy-filled life.  It could be death.  For many, it’s more than one at the same time.   That is when we cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do those words signal the end of our faith?  Are they the suggestion that we have found such ongoing despair that we no longer believe God is good?  Maybe not.  According to John Calvin, these are words of strong faith.  It is only the faithful, in fact, that are able to question God in this manner.  It stems from the foundation of promises that God made to us.  We cry out because we know them to be true.  We want them to be true, we need them to be true.  They are true.

Today, we know that Jesus’ death was temporary (1 Corinthians 15:4).  We know that He now sits at the right hand of God (acts 7:55).  Because of this, we also know that God’s delay was temporary.  It was perfect.  Just enough that Christ would facilitate our redemption.  Today, it is this redemption that we build our lives upon.  While it may not relieve us from the troubles of this world, it does assure that we can have peace, hope, and love, today, forever, and always.

Disheartened

Mark 10,11

Several years ago, the state of Illinois changed the title printed on real estate licenses.  Way back when I earned my license, it was titled “Real Estate Salesperson.”  Today, we get the more prestigious title of “Real Estate Broker.”   For some, this is a setup for heartache.  It happens in the first couple of trainings where newly minted licensees learn how to sell.  “Wait a minute.  I’m NOT a salesperson,” is the decree.  A shocking 50% of real estate agents drop out within the first year.  Why?  They become disheartened when they learn what it takes to be a successful salesperson.

The same is true of Christ-followers.  Today, in Mark 10:16-22, we read about the rich young ruler.  He came to Jesus excited.  So excited that he ran up to him.  He even knelt down in front of Jesus so that he could learn the secrets of eternal life.  Unfortunately, he got an answer that he didn’t like.  Jesus told him, simply and lovingly, go and sell all your possessions.  This, sadly, was not something the rich young ruler was willing to do.  The Bible says that upon hearing Jesus’ words, he went away disheartened and sorrowful.

Before you begin thinking that this does not apply to you, take a minute to reflect.  What, exactly, are you willing to endure to follow Christ? In today’s world, it is not unfathomable that you could lose your job for declaring Christ as king.  Is that why you keep quiet?  What about prison, or death?  I took a trip to Morrocco once where there was a real possibility for sharing my faith in Jesus.  It definitely gave me pause!

This was not the case for the disciples.  Instead, their amazement (Mark 10:32) of Christ led them to push through their fears and successfully live Christ-following lives.

As He Said

I am afraid of many things.  So many, in fact, I don’t know how to start.  Some are dumb, some are very real.  The real estate market is one.  It’s crazy! We all know it.  When is it going to crash?  That’s what I am afraid of.  How about cancer?  The Doctor said she got it all, but what if it comes back?  I am afraid of that too!  Every day, I think about what I am afraid of.  Not until I read Matthew 28 today, did I realize the root of my fear.  It is not what I am afraid of that is the problem, it is why I am afraid.

From today’s reading in Matthew 28, we join the two Marys visiting Jesus’ grave.  Upon their arrival, they are greeted by the angel that is now in charge of the tomb.  Knowing the terror that he could trigger, the angel quickly interceded saying, “do not be afraid.”  Then comes the reminder.  “He is not here, for He has risen.  As he said.”

Look a little closer at that last sentence.  “As he said.”  It is easy to miss.  The angel was not telling them something they didn’t already know.  In fact, Jesus had been telling them all along.  Remember in Matthew 16?  Jesus tells the disciples that he will go away and suffer many things.  But, he assures him, “I will rise again on the 3rd day” (Matt 16:21).  So, what were the Mary’s afraid of?  A scary angel, for sure.  But don’t you think they were also afraid of an empty grave?  Those are the whats.  But, remember, the better question is why.

Why were the Marys afraid?  The root of their anxiety is belief.  Or, more accurately, they were afraid because of their unbelief.  Their gut reaction is that Jesus was a lie.  He died and now he is gone.  Not just the man, but their hope was gone.  It makes sense, of course.  There were no witnesses to see Jesus leave the grave and we humans must make sense of it so we do what we do best.  Make up a story that makes sense to us.

Thankfully, the angel quickly led them back to Jesus’ promises. “As he said.”

He said…. that he would die, and rise again (Matt 16:21).

He said…. That he will never leave or forsake you (Deut 31:6-8)

He said… He will work all things for our good (Romans 8:28)

He said…. That he will complete us (2 Tim 3:17)

He said…. That we shall inherit the land (Psalm 37:9)

He said…. That he will always be with us (Matt 28:20)

It does my soul well to remember the things God says. Now, I am not afraid.

 

Who Inspires You?

Matthew 14

I watched a video last week of Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger.  It has over 135,000 views on YouTube in five days.    This HBO documentary about Buffet boasts nearly 3.5 million views on YouTube.  Why are people flocking to this?  Why did I watch it?  Simple.  To get well.

A quick review of my YouTube history suggests that I don’t just want to get well financially.  Mentally, I need some help too.  John Maxwell, Tim Ferris, and David Goggins also appear.   They are experts at imparting worldly knowledge and confidence.

How about you?  Where do you get the inspiration that you need?  If you don’t watch YouTube, look a little harder.  Maybe you are into TED talks.  What about podcasts?  Books?  All of these are legitimate and useful resources for us, and yet, not quite enough.  They just aren’t working.

Today, in Matthew 14, we see countless examples of the same thing.  Simply put, it’s people’s quest to be well.  Maybe they suffer a physical disability or sickness.  It could be depression or oppression.   It could be that their lives were just train wrecks!  Whatever the cause, they heard about someone that was helping,  healing, and restoring.  His name was Jesus.

They gathered in mass to see him, hear him and touch him.  They followed him everywhere, even to places that had no food.  It was worth it.  He fed them.  He made them well.  All of them.  No exceptions.

Who will make you well?

 

You Do Amazing Work

This morning, I awoke to the sound of birds singing.  They were enjoying the first morning light and the calm air.  As I listen to their song and the stillness surrounding me, I find awe.  It comes from knowing that God has done this.  He set the sun to come up, every day.  He made the trees and created the air that we breathe.  He set us all in motion around his creation so that we can know him.  As I listened, I said, “you do amazing work, God.”

This is what Psalm 148 is all about.  When we are finally still enough to see and experience God, what do we do?  When we are awed by creation and realize at that moment that God is right here among us, how do we respond?  We praise him!

When I think of how we praise, I am reminded of a man that I knew a long time ago, Dan Olsen.  We were standing on a beach, overlooking a gorgeous bay.  He said simply, “you do amazing work, God.”  I was caught off guard by his audible comment, yet the intentionality of the remark was profound.   You see, he clearly understood the beauty of that place, at that moment, was the good work of God. He knew there was only one appropriate response to the awe.  Praise!

Today, I pray that you will see the beauty around you.  It has been carefully crafted for each one of us so that we can experience God.  When you do, remember to praise Him.