Casting Lots

It’s been really neat to follow along with Jon’s recent posts about hiring people. Took me back to my days in a corporate environment and some of the hiring adventures I experienced. I can remember walking away from interviews and being surprised (even shocked, at times) at what some people shared. And then wondering what I said or did in interviews that left people chuckling or puzzled? I mean, sometimes things just come out when you’re nervous or in a pressure cooker!

At one point in my career, I was building a new team of people that needed a skill set and knowledge base that we didn’t have a lot of in house. Hiring from the outside is a really cool opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives and unique talents, but it also comes with more risk. When you leverage existing talent within the organization, they usually have a reputation of work product, and you have a longer chance to observe them…but hiring externally, you’re relying on a resume, short interviews, and their former bosses’ opinions – people you don’t have a relationship with and have little motivation to help a different organization.

Sam, a young man in Michigan, had an interview that still leaves me smiling. His personality was as big as he was tall, and what he lacked in experience, he made up in knowledge. He worked hard and knew his stuff in the financial arena, coming up with great ideas and solutions to the different interview questions.

In that first interview, Sam spoke really fast and seemed to be sweating quite a bit. Halfway through he stopped me and confessed that he was nervous/ecstatic/distracted because the night before he asked his future father in law for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage! He received his blessing and so that morning Sam picked up the ring and planned to propose that evening! He was just so excited and thrilled for this next phase of life. I will never forget his zeal in that first interview.

There was a risk in hiring Sam – he didn’t have as many years of experience, but he had heart + determination. He knew his stuff and I believed his contagious personality was just what the other salespeople in Michigan needed to get them excited. Some leaders say they just have an instinct, or trust their gut… but when I boil it down, it’s actually the Holy Spirit. Like Jon, prayer was a critical part in making hiring decisions. Asking the Lord to show me what I’m missing, give me a peace in my heart about a certain candidate, protect me from bringing in the wrong person to our company. How amazing that we have a living God that goes before us and walks beside us!

In Acts 1, we see the last account in the Bible of casting lots, and specifically it was for a personnel change within the disciple group. Talk about a high pressure “hiring decision”!  If you aren’t familiar with casting lots, it was a tradition used by men of God to make decisions. We don’t know of all the methods specifically (sticks, stones, etc), but we do know the first example is back with Aaron and which animal to sacrifice (Lev. 16:8), and continued for hundreds of years with a range of circumstances. Dividing land, determining fault, settling disputes. This continued until this last time it’s recorded in Acts. Jesus had just ascended to heaven and they were to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. While they’re waiting, Peter addresses the group of disciples and their need to replace Judas. They brought forward two candidates, Joseph of Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed over the decision and asked God to show them who to select, and then they cast the lots. Maybe they had marked sticks or stones, we don’t know… but whatever they used, it came up that it was Mathias to replace Judas.

Casting lots is never mentioned again, and maybe I’m making a leap here, but it seems to me that once the Holy Spirit arrives, living in us, guiding us, then we no longer need to cast lots. Romans 12:2 tells us:

Being transformed in the renewal of your mind that you may be able to prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect.

Discerning the will of God isn’t easy, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit and the Living Word to rely on. What an opportunity, strike that, OBLIGATION we have to transform + renew our minds! If we aren’t talking with Him or studying His words regularly, how will we know His will? Do you believe that God can and will press upon your heart, the path He has for you? We don’t have to flip a coin to make a tough decision – we have the Holy Spirit inside of us! I can’t wait for Acts 2 and what BJ has to share with us next week about the Holy Spirit, it’s going to be great!

Oh, and Sam? She said yes. And fifteen years later he is still doing great things with that organization, and he and his wife have three sweet kiddos.

Humble Servanthood

     Today, we are reading Acts 28 together.  In this chapter, the final one in the book of Acts, we continue to travel with Paul and his close friend Luke.  Luke, Paul and the rest of their group have recently been shipwrecked after a terrible storm; in fact, they have not eaten in 14 days and were forced to swim to the nearest island  (see Acts 27:14; Acts 27:33; Acts 27:43).  They learned that the island was called Malta, and they remained there for three months.  Fortunately, the native Maltans welcomed Paul and his group wholeheartedly.  From Malta, the group traveled to Rome and here Paul’s circumstances changed dramatically.  In verse 16, Luke writes, “When we actually entered Rome, they let Paul live in his own private quarters with a soldier who had been assigned to guard him.”  (Acts 28:16)   In fact, Paul was now under house arrest, and he knew that his years of ministry would soon come to a close.

Despite his imprisonment and impending death, Paul somehow managed to remain humble.  It is this character trait, humility, that I would like us to focus on today.  We see evidence of Paul’s humility right after he arrives in Malta.  Despite having just survived a terrifying shipwreck – he is most likely exhausted and starving – Paul doesn’t hesitate to help his hosts when it begins to rain:

     “It had begun to rain and was cold…Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire…:” (Acts 28:3). 

Paul’s humility is evident here in his service to others despite his own physical weakness.

When Paul arrives in Rome and begins his season of house arrest, he remains humble here as well.  We read that Paul constantly places others before himself:

“From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus…” (Acts 28:23)

Paul could easily have chosen an attitude of bitterness regarding the loss of his personal freedom, but he did not.  Instead, he chose to spend his days – from morning to evening – telling others about Christ, so that they too might be saved.

It takes humility to serve others who are treating you as an honored guest, and it takes humility to serve others when you are imprisoned with a guard watching over your every move. From guest of honor to prisoner, Paul remained humble and served those around him.  In doing this, he taught people about Jesus.  Although few of us will experience either shipwreck or imprisonment in our lives, we can all try to set aside our current circumstances, whatever they are, and serve others in humility.  In doing this, our actions reveal Christ and his love for the world.  How can you, today,  humbly serve those around you?

Testimony 101

During Paul’s time in Israel, the law was that capital punishment was reserved for the Roman government, except for one condition. The Jewish religious leaders could execute a prisoner if the prisoner desecrated the Temple. Now Paul did not do anything to desecrate the Temple but since this was the only way to kill him they manufactured an accusation that he did.

Even though it was not the law that inviting a gentile into the temple was a capital punishment crime, their accusation that Paul had done this was a way to extended the requirements for capital punishment to Paul by association. That is, he brought a gentile into the Temple and the Gentile desecrated it so, therefore, Paul caused the Temple to be desecrated and so we can kill him. To put it simply they were out to take Paul’s life.

This is a tough situation to be in, yet Paul’s heart focused on the mob and desired to see them saved. To this end, he delivered His testimony.

And from this account we find a playbook for how he gave his testimony:

  1. He accepted the situation was from God.
  2. He created an opportunity to give his testimony. 21v37 & 40
  3. He did what he could to create common ground and win his audience.  22v1-5 &12
  4. He exalted the LORD so that if the people rejected, they were rejecting God, not him. He made it all about God, not him. 22v6-11
  5. He avoided suffering. (this was a particularly interesting point. 22v25 (The sermon below talks about how Paul didn’t have what the pastor called a ‘martyr complex’)
  6. Love governed his attitude. Throughout he was focused on what he could do for the mob.

 

I often listen to sermons to prepare for these posts. These 6 points are from Paul’s Arrest Part Four: the Attitude of Paul by John MacArthur

For Everything, There Is A Season

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”

If there’s one verse I’ve been able to resonate with throughout my entire life, this is it. Growing up, the seasons of my life were marked by what grade I was in and what changes were approaching in my life. Even in college, early on after my husband and I started dating, we began to notice how everything in our lives seemed to be so seasonal. For example, we met while we were in college, I was living at home, and we were each on unique degree paths. We lived in that season for a little while. Then came the season where I transferred schools and moved out and onto campus, just five minutes away from each other. We lived in that season for a little while. A few short months later, we got engaged… another new season. Then, four months after our engagement, my husband completely changed degree paths. Six months later, we got married and moved. Four months later, we moved again. (So many new seasons!)

Now that we’re married, I can relate to this verse more than ever before. Our lives seem to always be changing. We’ll complete one goal or stage of life and start the next one. We’ll make plans, and unforeseen circumstances will adjust them. We’ll envision one thing for our year or for the next several months, and then God shuts a door and a new season begins. And here’s the thing, guys: I don’t like change. Change scares me, it shakes me, and it stresses me out.

However, lately, I’ve been forced to realize that God is a God of newness, of change, of growth, and of seasons. For things to grow, things have to change… plain and simple. I simply can’t hold on to my ideas of what I think our life is going to look like, because those things make very lousy gods when the bottom drops out on you and something does change… when another season comes. New seasons are inevitable, and the best thing we can cling to when they come is Jesus, not the thing we didn’t expect to change.

Today, we’re reading Acts 16. I can’t help but wonder what this chapter would have looked like if Paul and Timothy decided they didn’t want to embrace new seasons, changes, and growth in their ministry. Read through Acts 16 with me… Paul started out doing ministry on his own; that’s a season. Then, he added Timothy to the mix… another new season. Then, as you’ll see, the pair stayed only for a season in every single place they preached.

Yet, instead of becoming attached to their current seasons and the work they thought they had to do there, as soon as the Spirit spoke to their hearts, these two got up and were on their way. Goodness, at one point, these guys were convinced they belonged in one place for a season, but God literally would not allow them to travel there! (See Acts 16:7) Some of these seasons were fruitful and full of joy, bringing with them baptisms and entire families converting to the faith. Still other seasons found Paul and Timothy stuck in jail or beaten in front of a crowd. Yet, in each season, God worked. What an incredible example Acts 16 is to a girl like me, who color codes her planner, has goals for her goals, and tries not to panic when her plans for the weekend change!

Friends, I’m realizing so much lately that God has specific work ready for us to do in every season we find ourselves in. Sometimes, the seasons don’t last as long as we’d like them to, think they should, or thought they would. Sometimes, the seasons are hard… we’re stuck in a metaphorical jail for the evening, if you will. Some seasons are full of joy and abundance. But as we see in Acts 16, God’s hand is evident in each and every season. He has plans for each season. And there wasn’t a season of Paul and Timothy’s ministry where the Lord did not do something incredible, come through in a miraculous way, or work through the circumstances of that season.

Truly, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Be reminded of this today, no matter what season you find yourself in.

Acts 14: Not Without Testimony

I have read through Acts 14 several times while preparing to write this devotion, and each time, one verse keeps jumping off the page at me.  A bit of context, first, before I share which verse this is.  Paul is in the middle of his first missionary journey.  He has traveled already to Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, and will soon return to Antioch in Syria.  At the point where we pick up the story, Paul is teaching in Lystra and in Derbe.  Those listening to him want to offer sacrifices to Paul and to his co-worker, Barnabas, in response to Paul’s healing of a crippled man.  Paul and Barnabas immediately correct the people, redirecting their worship back toward the God who created them.  It is at this time that Paul reminds the people that God “has not left himself without testimony.” (Acts 14:17).  This is the verse that keeps jumping off the page at me.

The Message version of verse 17 reads like this:  “He didn’t leave them without a clue.”  The NIV version uses the word, “witness” in place of “clue” or “testimony”.  Clearly, Paul intends to remind us that God “made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.”  (Acts 14:15).  Knowing that we humans are prone to forget Him, prone to wander away, God left us evidence of Himself all around us.

Paul uses relatable examples from the natural world to teach about the evidence of God.  He says, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons…” (Acts 14: 17).  In Romans 1:20, Paul writes about nature again:  “But the basic reality of God is plain enough.  Open your eyes and there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see:  eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” (MSG)

When I need to feel God’s presence, His nearness, I always head outside.  I go for a walk, roam around our yard, and I can’t help but notice Him in the budding trees and flowers, in the changing colors of the leaves later in the year, and in the the blanket of snow during the winter.  My favorite place, though, to draw near to God is at the ocean.  There is something about standing on a beach and looking over the vast expanse of the sea that always turns my heart toward my Creator.

Perhaps, like me, the testimony of God’s creation reminds you of Him.  And perhaps something different serves as a reminder – a relationship restored from brokenness, coffee and conversation with a close friend, or an answered prayer.  Paul’s words, though, are a reminder to those of us who are looking at unrestored relationships, strained friendships, and unanswered prayers.  In these times, Paul reminds us to simply look outside, even if only for a moment.  We cannot help but see Him there.  His work began at creation and continues to this day.  Thankfully, “He has not left himself without testimony.”

A Lesson from the First Missions Trip

Some believe there is a reason that in this account of the first great missionary move of the church there is both the presence of a false convert and a true believer. Perhaps one of the lessons here is that this is a reality of ministry. (Matthew 13:24-30)

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. (Acts 8:5) After hearing and seeing the miracles, Simon, the Sorcerer, having in the same city proclaimed to be great and having been given heed as the same, believed and was baptized proclaiming Christ. (Acts 8:9-13) Simon the Sorcerer, after witnessing a new miracle, the laying on of hands by the apostles that the believers might receive the Holy Spirit, desired this power for himself and offered to pay the disciples to procure it. (Acts 8:18-19) The Apostles exposed him as false and rebuked him. (Acts 8:20-23)

Here we see the intention of Simon’s heart. Apparently he was not interested in God because solely because he loved God in the true sense of the word, that is; loving someone for what you can do for them, but instead, for a selfish, lustful desire, that is; “loving someone” for what they can do for you. He seemingly was not interested in God except that he might procure the power of God. Except that he might then use this power for himself and sow to the flesh more and more. (Galatians 6:7-8) In this case, Simon the Sorcerer seemed interested in the power of God to fuel his prideful quest of being great among the people. It was found out that is was really all about him and not God.

Perhaps some good questions to reflect on and return to:

  • Do we love God for what we can do for Him (serve Him) or are we more interested in what He can do for us? Are we more interested in God or His stuff (blessing, etc.)? In your heart (your deepest and most subtle desires); Are you for God or is God for you? ‘For’ here being in the useful sense of the word. 
  • Do we love others for what we can do for them or what they can do for us?

Painting: Rembrandt, The Baptism of the Eunuch, 1626